In 2012 the Blue Ridge Parkway celebrates 77 years of scenic glory for the millions of visitors that have traveled its winding road. Began in 1935 at Cumberland Knob, near the North Carolina and Virginia state line, the Parkway was born from a grand vision. This special roadway was created not only as an economic stimulus during the tough post depression years but also would eventually link two great national parks, Virginia’s Shenandoah and the Great Smokies of North Carolina and Tennessee.
On a recent trip to Georgia my friend Diane and I had the opportunity to meander along this scenic byway, and what a joy it was. It had been many years since I’d been on the Parkway. I made a promise to myself it would not be so long before my next trip. A photographer at heart, Diane used to make annual pilgrimages to the Blue Ridge to satisfy her shutterbug addiction. It too had been a while for her so we had a grand time swinging in at every overlook snapping shots, stopping to look around old log homesteads and just enjoying the slow paced, beauty of the ride. Had we not been running out of daylight we would have continued along the Parkway on into Asheville, North Carolina, our destination for the night.
The 469 mile Parkway was only recently completed in 1987, not that long ago. Now considered a national treasure, more than 850 million visitors have enjoyed the Blue Ridge, since the Parkway began counting in 1939. The goal of the Parkway’s construction crews back then, and the National Park Service for today and into the future, is to continue to preserve the natural surroundings, magnificent views, historic structures, and fragile ecosystems that make up this unique and beautiful stretch of America. It truly is an engineering masterpiece of roadwork.
With the Parkway speed limit at 45 mph and occasionally less in some places don’t plan on navigating “America’s Favorite Drive,” in a hurry. If you are in a hurry this is not the route to be taken. A drive along the Parkway should be made for the purpose of slowing down, enjoying the scenery and the beauty you experience along the way. With winding curves, occasional steep grades, and the distractions of the beautiful views, wildlife, and other vehicles, including bicycles and motorcycles, driving the Parkway does require you pay attention to the roadway but there are plenty of places to pull off and enjoy the views.
For those interested in staying at a lodge along the Parkway there are three lodges available: Peaks of Otter (Mile Post (MP) 86), Doughton Park (MP241.1), and Mt. Pisgah (MP408). Cabins are available at Rocky Knob (MP175). A number of visitor centers are located along the Parkway and some have exhibits and programs for visitors to enjoy. Although restrooms are scattered along the route they are not plentiful so take advantage of any you come across.
If you enjoy camping nine campgrounds are available to pitch a tent or park an RV. Campgrounds offer restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables and grills. Most campgrounds have hiking trails for campers to enjoy. Some campgrounds offer Ranger talks and campfire programs on the weekends. Campgrounds are open early May through October and run $16.00 to $19.00 per night.
For 24-hour Blue Ridge Parkway information, including road conditions, call (828) 298-0398 or visit www.nps.gov/blri. For information on campgrounds visit, www.recreation.gov , or call (877) 444-6777.