Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
Running for 469 miles (755 km) along the famous Blue Ridge mountain chain, Blue Ridge Parkway connects the Shenandoah National Park in the north to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. Starting at Rockfish Gap, this road trip picks us up where Skyline drive ends. The Parkway itself is not a National Park, but is a National Scenic Byway. Around every bend you’ll find another surprise for the eye, whether it’s a hawk’s-eye view of a river valley, a tree-covered peak or a peaceful pasture crowded with cows.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The road construction started on September 11, 1935 on Pack Murphy’s farm, beginning the parkway’s initial 12.5-mile (20km)-stretch from the Virginia- North Carolina border to Cumberland Knob. It was the first of the in total 45 segments of the parkway. The planners envisioned the parkway as a new kind of road. It is the first use of the parkway idea, this road was purposely created as a destination and not as a way to get somewhere.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Along the two-lane road, there is not a single billboard, stop sign or traffic light. Utilities are buried. Signs are few. Only the mile markers are a constant. Entrances to the parkway appear regularly, but they are unobtrusive. The only hint of civilization is the road itself. Cruising along at the speed limit of 45 miles per hour is like taking a step back in time.
The parkway tops mountain crests, dives into river valleys and gently meanders through farmlands and forests. It crosses four major rivers, more than 100 gaps and six mountain ranges, dropping to 649 feet (216m) above sea level near the James River and climbing to 6,053 feet (2000m) near Mount Pisgah, so there’s a wide range of ecosystems.
View from Blue Ridge Parkway
Virginia's Natural Bridge (mile 61,6)
The size alone of the 20-story Natural Bridge is jaw-dropping, but the sense of history is also inspiring when you realize just who walked through the solid rock portal hundreds of years ago. Surveyed by George Washington and deeded to Thomas Jefferson by King George III two years before the Revolutionary War, the natural wonder was also spiritual place for Monacan Indians. Indeed it's still known as nature's cathedral, and if you are there as darkness falls, be sure to catch the choreographed light show which transforms the bridge into a natural theater.
Virginia's Natural Bridge
Roanoke River Gorge (mile 115)
Even if you are afraid of heights, bite the bullet and pull over at the Roanoke River Overlook. It's hard to take a bad photo of the breathtaking scenery of the Roanoke River Gorge below. When you are ready for a break, take the nearby mile-long road off the Parkway into Virginia's Explore Park. The Visitors Center has three galleries with exhibits, including a miniature model of the Parkway that shows just how long the parkway is.The 1,100 acre park contains a living history museum, a 17th century Indian village, and an 18th century frontier fort.
Roanoke River Gorge
Marby Mill (mile 176)
When Edwin Boston Mabry built his water powered mill in 1905, he had no way of knowing it would become one of the most photographed places in the United States. Today the Mabry Mill is one of the most popular attractions on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The gristmill and sawmill have been restored by park naturalists in order that visitors might see live exhibits, a real mill, and a working miller to demonstrate the milling process. The grounds of the mill include other interpretive media, all designed to tell about mountain industry. The Matthews Cabin is an outstanding example of mountain architecture and workmanship and offers an intriguing look into the tanning and shoemaking crafts. There is also a whiskey still, a sorghum mill, and a working blacksmith shop.
Linville Falls (mile 316,3)
These falls move in several distinct steps, beginning in a twin set of upper falls, moving down a small gorge, and culminating in a high-volume 45-foot (14 m) drop. Several hiking paths around lead you to overlooks.
Looking Glass Rock (mile 417)
Looking Glass Rock is named for the way its face reflects the sunshine. This enormous block of granite rises from the valley floor to an elevation of almost 4000 ft. Looking Glass Rock is a popular rock climbing destination. The rock can be seen from different locations along the parkway.
Looking Glass Rock
Map & tips
You can download a detailed map of the Blue Ridge Parkway here.
Speed limit: 45m/h. No gas stations available on the parkway itself, you have to exit the road and drive to a village or town neaby.
Best season to drive: fall, when the leaves are colored red and yellow.
Blue Ridge Parkway during fall