Fall colors from the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of Asheville
Although the Blue Ridge Parkway is often seen primarily as a scenic byway with many natural attractions, it is also a cross-section of Appalachian mountain history. Stretching almost 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains through North Carolina and Virginia, it encompasses some of the oldest settlements of both pre-historic and early European settlement. Overlook signs, visitor center exhibits, restored historic structures, and developed areas, all point out and explain the interesting history.
The Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, and the Monacan, Saponi, and Tutelo Indians of western Virginia, were among the earliest inhabitants of the Blue Ridge, leaving artifacts and changes in the landscape as evidence of their existence. Many of the fields still visible at the base of the mountains date back centuries to ancient American Indian agricultural methods of burning and deadening the trees and underbrush to provide needed grazing and crop land. Mountain and river names along the Parkway also reflect the American Indian influence. The best place to learn about the pre-history of the Appalachian chain in Virginia is at the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center museum (milepost 85.9). Arrowheads and early tools found in the Peaks area are exhibited. In North Carolina, the Parkway enters the Cherokee Indian Reservation at milepost 457.7 and features an informational display on the reservation at the Lickstone Parking Overlook (milepost 458.9).
There are many surviving examples of early European pioneer structures along the Parkway, beginning at Milepost 5.8 at the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center and Mountain Farm exhibit. The easy Mountain Farm Self-Guiding Trail takes you through a collection of 19th century farm buildings, and in the summer months there are often living history demonstrations. The Visitor Center exhibits represent the most complete effort at interpreting the Blue Ridge region with stories about early housing, community, entertainment, and transportation. At the Peaks of Otter (Milepost 85.9) there is a moderate loop trail leading to the Johnson Farm, in which generations of the Johnson family lived and worked with other members of the now-vanished community. Another structure of interest here is Polly Woods Ordinary, representative of the early days of tourism in the area. The Trail Cabin (Milepost 154.6), Puckett Cabin (Milepost 189.9), Brinegar Cabin (Milepost 238.5), Caudill Cabin (Milepost 241), and Sheets Cabin (Milepost 252.4) are all 19th-century log cabins illustrating the occasional isolated existence of mountain residents and the efforts of the original park planners to save log structures as opposed to other types of larger farm houses they found. The Jesse Brown Farmstead (Milepost 272.5) consists of a cabin, spring house, and the relocated Cool Springs Baptist Church.
Just about every form of 19th-century industrial development in the mountains has its story told somewhere along the Parkway. Yankee Horse Ridge Parking Area (milepost 34.4) has a short stretch of reconstructed narrow-gauge railroad track once known as the Irish Creek Railway, along with an exhibit on logging in the area. The James River Visitor Center (Milepost 63.6) has an exhibit on the ill-fated James River and Kanawha Canal, with a self-guiding trail to a restored lock dating from the mid-19th century. Mining operations in the Appalachians are remembered in place names such as Iron Mine Hollow (mile posts 96.2, 96.4) and at an exhibit in the North Toe Valley Overlook, Milepost 318.4. Of all the points of interest on the Parkway, perhaps Mabry Mill (Milepost 176.2) is the best known. The Mabry Mill Trail features a black smith shop, wheel wright's shop, and whiskey still, as well as the most photographed structure on the Parkway, Mabry Mill itself. As anyone who has traveled in the Appalachians knows, mountain crafts are one of the most popular attractions. Traditional crafts and music still thrive in the Blue Ridge mountains of today. Along the Parkway in North Carolina are several places to view and purchase locally made items, such as the Northwest Trading Post (Milepost 258.6), the Moses Cone Estate and Parkway Craft Center (Milepost 294.1), and the Folk Art Center (Milepost 382).
By the 20th century, the Blue Ridge was viewed as a desirable location for men of wealth to build retreats. The Moses H. Cone and Julian Price Memorial Parks (Mileposts 292 - 298) are examples of this. The Cone estate includes a turn-of-the-century manor house and 24 miles of carriage roads, while the Julian Price Park offers several short trails and a lake.
The most obvious modern contributor to the landscape is of course the Parkway itself, conceived and designed over 60 years ago as a scenic motor road and conservator of the natural and historical treasures of the Blue Ridge. Groundbreaking took place in September 1935 and the work was contracted and completed in "sections." By World War II, about one-half of the road was completed and by the 1960s, all but one section was opened to the public. Fifty Celtic laborers died during the construction, earning the nickname of Bealach Báis. In 1987, the last section was completed around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, including the Linn Cove Viaduct at Milepost 304, an environmentally sensitive, award winning bridge. Today, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited site in the National Park system.
A drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway is slow paced and relaxing. Almost any overlook or trail will reveal much of the natural and cultural history here. Explore the many communities along the route that make the region so special.
From Milepost 0 at Rockfish Gap, Virginia to Milepost 355 near Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina, the Parkway lives up to its name by following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, averaging about 3,000 feet in elevation, and occasionally dipping down into the coves and hollows or crossing low-elevation water gaps. At Mount Mitchell, the Parkway veers westward through the Black Mountains, then into the Craggies before descending toward Asheville. From there, the road climbs to elevations over 6,000 feet in the Balsam Mountains before entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee.
Along this route an unsurpassed diversity of climate, vegetation, and geological features are passed. The more than 81,000 acres (32,779 ha) of Parkway lands pass through a highland area of five degrees longitude and approximately 3 degrees latitude, making it the third largest unit of the National Park Service in terms of area covered. The Parkway includes 400 streams, including 150 headwaters. Forty-seven Natural Heritage Areas (areas set aside as national, regional or state examples of exemplary natural communities), a variety of slopes and exposures, and possibly 100 different soil types.
With an elevation range of 5,700 feet (1,737m) the Parkway provides a home for both southern species at the lower elevations and northern species on the mountaintops. Taking advantage of this diversity are 14 major vegetation types, over 1,200 vascular plant species (50 threatened or endangered), and almost 100 species of non-native plants. Nearly 100 species of trees grow along the Parkway, about as many as are found in all of Europe. Added to that are estimates of almost 400 species of mosses and nearly 2000 species of fungi. The wide variety of trees makes for a particularly colorful autumn landscape.
Purple rhododendrons bloom from early June around the Peaks of Otter in Virginia to the third week of June at Craggy Gardens in North Carolina. Any time between those dates, there are spots of this variety blooming. Larger white rhododendrons begin in mid to late June and bloom into July, primarily through Rocky Knob, Virginia. Flame Azalea, Pink Azalea or Pinxter Flower bloom early to late May in many Parkway areas. Mountain Laurel blooms mid to late June and into July in higher elevations.
Many species of animals live along the Parkway. Fifty-four different mammals, more than 50 salamanders and 40 reptiles can be found on Parkway lands. One hundred fifty-nine species of birds are known to nest here with dozens of others passing through during fall and spring migrations.
The Parkway's varied vegetative habitats, successive floral displays, autumn foliage, geological features, and animals are major attractions each year for 20 million visitors--the highest visitation in the NPS system.
The Parkway varies in elevation from just under 650 feet at Virginia's James River to over 6,000 feet south of Mount Pisgah in North Carolina. Weather can vary tremendously over these elevations. Keep abreast of weather conditions for the area you will be traveling in and be prepared with extra clothing or blankets if appropriate.
The Folk Art Center in Asheville, the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Spruce Pine, and the Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant north of Roanoke are open year round. Other facilities, including visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas, begin opening on a staggered schedule in late April and stay open through the fall leaf color.
MP 0 The northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Connects here to Skyline Drive, which runs north 105 mi through Shenandoah National Park. Route 250 and I-64 go to Charlottesville to the east and Waynesboro andStaunton to the west.
MP 1 Afton Overlook
MP 2 Rockfish Valley Parking Overlook
MP 3 Shenandoah Valley Overlook
MP 5 to 9.3 Humpback Rocks Visitor Center Has a self-guiding trail through a collection of antique Appalachian farm buildings. A hiking trail from the parking area (at mile 6.1) leads 0.75 mile to the Humpback Rocks. Picnic area.
MP 10 Dripping Rock Parking Area
MP 10 Rockpoint Overlook
MP 10.7 Ravens Roost Overlook Views of Torry Mountain and the Shenandoah Valley.
MP 12 Hickory Spring Parking Area
MP 14 Three Ridges Overlook
MP 16 Route 814 crosses. Sherando Lake4.5 miles from the parkway. A recreation area in George Washington National Forest with swimming, picnicking, and camping. Fees.
MP 17.6 The Priest Roadside exhibit about hickory trees.
MP 34.4 Yankee Horse Ridge where a Union soldier's horse fell and had to be shot. A reconstructed spur of an old logging railroad is on the trail to Wigwam Falls.
MP 37.5 VA Route 605 crosses.
MP 38.8 Boston Knob Overlook Birds of the Parkway exhibit.
MP 43 View Irish Creek Valley
MP 45 White's Gap Overlook
MP 45 Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook
MP 46 View Buena Vista
MP 48 Indian Gap Parking Area
MP 49 View House Mountain Overlook
MP 52.8 Roadside display. The Appalachian Trail runs parallel to this section of the Parkway.
Bluff Mountain Tunnel
MP 53.1 Bluff Mountain Tunnel 630 ft long.
MP 54 View Rice Mountain
MP 55 White Oak Flats Overlook
MP 56 Dancing Creek Overlook
MP 58 to 63.6 Otter Creek Overlooks Otter Creek runs 10 miles to the James River. Otter Lake is at MP 63.1 with a handicapped-accessible dock. The Park Service runs a campground at MP 60.8 with sites for 42 tents and 26 trailers. Facilities include water, comfort stations with flush toilets and sinks but no showers or hook-ups. Enjoy the campfire circle where interpretive programs are given during the summer.
MP 63.7 US Rt. 501 crosses. Lowest point on Parkway at 670'.
MP 63.8 James River and Kanawha Canal Visitor Center A footbridge leads across the river to some restored canal locks and exhibits. A self-guiding trail along the river bluff.
MP 71 Onion Mountain's short loop trail leads through rhododendron and mountain laurel.
MP 73 View Terrapin Mountain Box turtle exhibit.
MP 75 Thunder Ridge Overlook
MP 76 View Arnold Valley Overlook
MP 76.5 Apple Orchard Mountain Overlook
MP 79 Sunset Field Overlook
MP 80 Onion Mountain
MP 80 View Black Rock Hill
MP 81.9 View Headforemost Mountain Tulip tree exhibit.
MP 83.1 Fallingwater Cascades can be seen along a 1.6 mile loop trail.
MP 86 Peaks of Otter Visitor Center Peaks of Otter Lodge and restaurant, campground, picnic area and historic farm. Trails ranging from less than a mile to more than four miles, with nearby access to Appalachian Trail. A shuttle bus provides service to Sharp Top. Fee.
MP 89 Flat Top Trail Overlook
MP 90 Upper Goose Creek Valley Overlook
MP 90 Porter's Mountain View
MP 92 Mills Gap Overlook
MP 92 Purgatory Mountain View
MP 93 Peaks of Otter Overlook
MP 93 Boblett's Gap Overlook
MP 95 Pine Tree Overlook
MP 95 Harvey's Knob Overlook
MP 96 Iron Mine Hollow Overlook
MP 96 Montvale Town Overlook
MP 97 Iron Mine Hollow
MP 97 Taylor's Mountain View
MP 100 The Great Valley Overlook
MP 101 Quarry Overlook
MP 107 N & W Railroad Overlook
MP 107 View Coyner Mountain
MP 110 Read Mountain Overlook
MP 110.6 Stewarts Knob Overlook
MP 113 View Roanoke Basin Overlook
MP 115 Roanoke River Gorge a short walk takes you to the overlook.
MP 115.1 Virginia's Explore Park,  depicts Virginia's role in westward expansion. Historic buildings, demonstrations and exhibits. Fee.
MP 120.4 Roanoke Mountain is a 3.7 mi side trip on a one-way loop road over the mountain for great views. Steep grades. Towed vehicles not permitted.
MP 121.5 US Route 220 crosses.
MP 123.2 Buck Mountain Overlook
MP 129.6 Roanoke Valley Overlook Views of Roanoke, Virginia.
MP 292 to 295 Moses H. Cone Memorial Park Horse and hiking trails. Flat Top Manor houses the Parkway Craft Center.
MP 295 to 298 Julian Price Memorial Park. The largest campground on the Parkway is here. Interpretive programs, fishing, and boat rentals for Pice Lake. Extensive trails including the Tanawha Trail across the face of Grandfather Mountain.
MP 304.4 Linn Cove Viaduct, a design and engineering marvel, skirts the side of Grandfather Mountain. Visitor center and trails.
MP 320.7 Chestoa View A .6 mi. easy trail with scenic views of verticle cliffs and forests below.
MP 331 Museum of North Carolina Minerals, 828-765-9483. Open every day 9AM-5PM. Renovated and expanded in 2002, educational exhibits on minerals and mining.
MP 333.4 Little Switzerland Tunnel 547 ft long.
MP 337 Deer Lick Gap Overlook
MP 339 Three Knob Overlook
MP 339.5 Crabtree Meadows Campground with both tent and RV sites, picnic area, restaurant/gift shop/camp store. Walk down to Crabtree Falls -- if you are prepared to hike back up.
MP 344.6 Twin Tunnel 240 ft long.
MP 344.7 Twin Tunnel 401 ft long.
MP 355.4 Mount Mitchell State Park, 2388 State Highway 128 (4.8 mi from Parkway), Burnsville, (828) 675-4611, . Picnic area, lookout tower. Highest point east of the Mississippi River.
MP 361.2 Glassmine Falls Overlook, views of the 800 foot waterfall.
MP 363 Graybeard Mountain Overlook
MP 364.4 Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel 176 ft long.
MP 364.4 Craggy Gardens Visitor Center In mid to late June a sea of purple rhododendron. Craggy Pinnacle Trail and other trails are here at MP 364.1 - 364.6. Also a road to picnic area and trails at MP 367.6.
MP 365.5 Craggy Flats Tunnel 335 ft long.
MP 382 The Folk Art Center, . Open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Jan-Mar 9AM-5PM; Apr-Dec 9AM-6PM. The flagship facility of the Southern Highand Craft Guild. It offers sales and exhibits of traditional and contemporary crafts of the Appalachian region. Intrepretive programs, three galleries, a library and book store.
MP 408.6 Mount Pisgah Visitor Center At almost 5,000 ft elevation this is the highest developed area on the Parkway. Pisgah Inn, (828) 235-8228, has 52 rooms, a restaurant, and gift shop. Campground The concessions-operated campground at MP 408.7, has sites for 70 tents and 67 trailers. Facilities include water, comfort stations with flush toilets and sinks. No showers or hook-ups. Camp Store/service station/gift shop during summer. There is a 50-site picnic area at milepost 407.8. The area was originally developed as part of George Washington Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate. The estate became home of the first forestry school in America and the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest.
MP 410.1 Frying Pan Tunnel 275 ft long.
MP 411.8 US Route 276 Four miles to The Cradle of Forestry in America. The first American forestry school, the Biltmore Forest School was established by G.W. Vanderbilt, and operated from 1898 to 1913. Today it continues to teach visitors about American forestry. Visitor center, exhibits, movie, and interpretive trails.
MP 417.4 Looking Glass Rock is known for it's sheer face comprised of exposed Whiteside granite. Although it looks impossible to climb, there are many rock climbers that come here for what is considered one of the most strenuous climbs in our area. Fortunately for hikers there are easier ways to the top.
Graveyard yellowstone second falls
MP 418.1 Graveyard Fields flat high mountain valley is located where the Yellowstone Prong of the Pigeon River originates.
MP 420.2 Shining Rock Wilderness is the largest wilderness in North Carolina with over 18,000 acres, 25 mi of trails and peaks over 6000 ft.
MP 420.2 Black Balsam Knob is a grassy knob with panoramic views just outside of the Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest. The Wilderness also includes Cold Mountain.
MP 422.1 Devils Courthouse Tunnel 650 ft long.
MP 422.4 Devil's Courthouse is a rugged exposed mountaintop rich in Cherokee traditions. A walk to the bare rock summit yields a spectacular view of Pisgah National Forest.
MP 423.5 Herrin Knob Overlook. A hiking trail goes around Tanasee Bald and Herrin Knob. Legend says that Tanasee Bald is the home of the mythical Cherokee giant Tsul 'Kalu.
Seasonal restaurants at Otter Creek (MP 63), Mabry Mill (MP 176), Bluffs Coffee Shop (MP 242), and Crabtree Meadows (MP 340) offer local cuisine and the opportunity to extend your Parkway travels. Local cities and towns provide an expanded array of dining choices.
Four lodges along the Parkway provide accommodations from spring through the fall foliage season. Many Parkway travelers may find that getting off of the road and into the local towns and communities in the region is an enjoyable option for lodging as well.
The Peaks of Otter Lodge, milepost 86, 1-800-542-5927. The only year-round lodging on the Parkway offers dining, trails, fishing and seasonal interpretive programs at the park amphitheater.Located twenty miles north of Roanoke, VA.
Rocky Knob Cabins, milepost 174, (540) 593-3503. Open from May through the fall foliage season. Located near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, these are small, rustic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the early days of Parkway construction.
Bluffs Lodge, milepost 240, (336) 372-4499. Open from May through the fall foliage season. Located at Doughton Park in North Carolina, this is one of the largest developed areas on the Parkway. Extensive hiking trails are available and the Bluffs Coffee Shop offers food service.
Pisgah Inn, milepost 408.6, (828) 235-8228. Open from early spring through the fall foliage season. Phone for reservations. Located south of Asheville, North Carolina, Pisgah Inn is the highest elevation lodging on the Blue Ridge Parkway at over 5,000 feet.
Fee is $16 for all campgrounds. Camping is only permitted in established campgrounds.
Otter Creek (MP 61) is located at the Parkway's lowest elevation near Virginia's James River. Sites for 42 tents and 26 trailers. Facilities include water, comfort stations with flush toilets and sinks. No showers or hook-ups.
Peaks of Otter (MP 86) near the Peaks of Otter Lodge, Abbott Lake, the restored 1930s Johnson Farm, and a magnificent trail system. A 144-site campground at the foot of Sharp Top mountain, with sites for 92 tents and 52 trailers or RV's. Facilities include water, comfort stations with flush toilets and cold running water sinks. No showers or hook-ups.
Roanoke Mountain (MP 120) with easy access to Virginia's Explore Park and the largest city along the Parkway corridor.
Rocky Knob (MP 167) with easy access to Rockcastle Gorge and just nine miles from Mabry Mill.
Doughton Park (MP 241) near Basin Cove, Bluffs Lodge, and an extensive trail system
Julian Price Park (MP 297) near Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina and close to the Moses Cone Estate. This is the Parkway's largest campground and reservations can be made for portions of this campgound on-line at RECREATION.gov or by calling 1-877-444 6777.
Linville Falls (MP 316) on the Linville River and with access to the trail system into Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Reservations can be made for portions of this campgound on-line at RECREATION.gov or by calling 1-877-444 6777.
Crabtree Meadows (MP 340) near the Crabtree Falls Trail and within fifteen miles of Mt. Mitchell State Park.
Mt. Pisgah (MP 408) is the highest Parkway campground at almost 5,000 feet elevation. Formerly part of the Vanderbilt Estate and near the US Forest Service's Cradle of Forestry site. Reservations can be made for portions of this campgound on-line at RECREATION.gov or by calling 1-877-444 6777.
Driving Obey the posted speed limit, drive especially slow during rainy or foggy conditions, and watch out for wildlife. Be alert for tight, spiraling curves that could catch you off guard. It is always a good idea to carry a few emergency supplies in the trunk of your car. Watch out for bicycles.
Large recreational vehicles Large RVs are popular means of travel on the Parkway, but be advised that going up or down steep grades can be slow. Pull over often to let faster moving traffic get by. You may want to check the heights of the Parkway's twenty-six tunnels (mostly south of Asheville) to ensure that your rig will negotiate all of them.
Bicycling Wear high visibility clothing, helmet and the required reflectors. Ride single file and well to the right of the lane. Especially during rainy or foggy conditions.
Hiking Wear good hiking shoes, stay on designated trails, and carry a few emergency supplies along with adequate water. Be aware of any approaching weather systems and avoid ridgetops during thunderstorms. Let someone know where you are headed and when you plan to return.
Virtual Blue Ridge Parkway, Free source for information, photos and maps of the Blue Ridge Parkway and surrounding areas. Special Feature - Proprietary 360 degree tour of overlooks, trails, visitor centers, and parks.
Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, We work with the National Park Service to provide funds that educate visitors of all ages, help protect the park’s natural, historical and cultural resources and maintain visitor facilities on the Parkway.
FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway, A non-profit, volunteer organization that is dedicated to preserving, promoting and enhancing the Blue Ridge Parkway, a national treasure. Primary role is to recruit volunteers to repair and maintain the trail system.
End-to-Ender, (Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation) Special program for those who have traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway from one end to the other. Read stories from those who have and fill out an application to receive an official certificate.
Kids in Parks, (Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation) The Kids in Parks Initiative is sponsored by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Working together with partners throughout the country, their mission is to promote children’s health and the health of our parks by increasing physical activity and engaging families in outdoor adventures that foster a meaningful connection to the natural and cultural world.
Parks as Classrooms, (Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation) Introducing school children in 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties to the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Parks as Classrooms program is helping to build the next generation of Parkway stewards.The Foundation has provided annual operating support to this program conducted by the National Park Service since 1998.
Junior Ranger Program, (FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway) A cooperative endeavor between FRIENDS and the Blue Ridge Parkway. FRIENDS engages youth to explore, learn and protect through tree plantings, Bog Turtle presentations and other educational programs. Through their involvement with FRIENDS, young people develop an appreciation of the Parkway's natural resources and their commitment to environmental stewardship.
Trails Forever, (FRIENDS of the Blue Ridge Parkway) Volunteers adopt, construct, maintain and enhance over 100 trails spanning more than 350 miles. FRIENDS provides financial support for trail equipment and materials, trail head kiosks, maps and signage. Volunteers also improve trail accessibility for physically impaired visitors.
This is a usable article. It has information about the park, for getting in, about a few attractions, and about accommodations in the park. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!