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America’s Favorite Drive + Longest Linear Park: Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway, street sign, north, south, arrow, mountain, HappierPlace

The Blue Ridge Parkway is an All-American Road famous for its colorful views of mountain ridges, lush valleys, and the curvy road ahead, from Virginia to North Carolina. Did you know it’s also America’s longest linear park?

Overview: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches for 469 miles (755 km) from the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.

The road follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Mountains. It reaches its highest point (6,053 feet) is south of Waynesville, near Mount Pisgah in North Carolina. The lowest point (649 feet) happens along the James River in Virginia. If by Rocky Mountains standard, the Blue Ridge Mountains don’t seem very high, one can still be impressed by the difference of elevation along the drive.

elevation here, Mount Mitchell, sign, mountain vista, North Carolina, Blue Ridge Parkway
The elevation here: 6,578 feet… comes with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Mount Mitchell parking lot, 100 feet below the summit. The trail up to the summit is paved, but rather steep.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is not only a U.S. National Scenic Byway, but also one of only 31 All-American Roads, which are defined by being exceptionally unique and worthy destinations in and of themselves.

But it’s much more than just a road. It’s also a park – managed by the National Park Service, which owns the land directly adjacent to the road. Like the High Line in New York City, it’s considered a linear park since it is much longer than it is wide.

The project of building the scenic byway was started in 1935 – and completed in 1966, except for the Linn Cove Viaduct, which finally opened in 1987. Since the 1940s, the Blue Ridge Parkway has been the most visited “unit” of the National Park Service. Maybe not surprising, since its south-west end leads right into America’s most popular national park: Great Smoky Mountains NP.

View from Blue Ridge Parkway into the valley surrounding Burnett Reservoir, North Carolina
View of Burnett Reservoir from Blue Ridge Parkway, which snakes around the valley along the ride of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor FAQs and Tips

You don’t have to pay a fee to drive on the parkway. And in theory, the parkway is open year-round. However, due to changing weather conditions from fall to spring, sections of the road may be closed. So check the real-time road open/close status for the Blue Ridge Parkway before you head out. The National Park Service for Blue Ridge Parkway also has a phone number: (828) 348-3400

Spring snow fall, mountain, forest, in the cloud
… and suddenly you’re up in the clouds and snow starts to fall.

Almost all of the visitor centers, campgrounds, concession facilities, and picnic areas are only open from April/May to November. The Asheville Visitor Center, at mile 385.5, is open daily from 9 to 5.

People flock to the Blue Ridge Parkway in autumn to see the leaves change and take in the stunning views of fall foliage and the Appalachian Mountains in their autumn colors.

However, if you’d like to avoid the crowds and still want to see a variety of colors and even weather, we recommend a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway in springtime. Looking into a valley, you’ll be astonished to see signs of all seasons displayed along the different altitudes.

Colorful foliage along mountains of Blue Ridge Parkway
Colorful foliage atop mountain ridges in April.

Access Points to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Besides accessing the scenic byway from its starting and end-points at the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, you can join and leave via many major highways. Directions to the parkway can be found from interstates 26 and 40 in North Carolina and 64, 81, and 77 in Virginia – from the towns Asheville and Boone, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia.

GPS is does not work well in all areas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That’s why all points of interests and addresses along the parkway are listed by mile markers. Those mile markers can be found along the road – they’re charmingly old school posts close to the ground. Make sure you print out the official milepost-referenced NPS Blue Ridge Parkway map, or pick one up at one of the visitors centers. And here is a comprehensive list of places sorted by mileposts.

Mile Post 401, Ferrin Knob tunnel, Blue Ridge Parkway
Milepost Marker 401 one the left and one of the three Ferrin Knob Tunnels.

Things To Do And See Along The Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s more to do along the Blue Ridge Parkway than just drive… or ride a bike, if you’re so inclined. First of all, there are so many scenic stops with pull-outs and helpful signs letting you know what you’re looking at and “how high you are”. Stop. Look. Appreciate. Take a photo… or a video… or make a sketch… even if the view just disappeared into a cloud.

Buck Spring Gap Overlook in the clouds on Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Buck Spring Gap Overlook lost in the clouds on Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Next, there are hiking trails to be found at a lot of the stops along the highway. Some trails go up to a summit, e.g. Craggy Pinnacle Summit or Mount Pisgah. Other trails connect parking lots and picnic areas. You can even hike part of the North Carolina Mountains-To-Sea Trail, which leads from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.

Light green lichen grows on tree in North Carolina, Blue Ridge Mountains, rain drops
Get onto a hiking trail and take the time to discover what grows in the lush forest of the Appalachian Mountains.
Glassmine Falls, visible from Mountains-To-Sea Trail, North Carolina.
Glassmine Falls is over 800 feet high and visible from the Mountains-To-Sea Trail… and actually also directly from the highway.
But why not stop, get out, and stretch those legs?

There are several notable mountain peaks worth visiting along the Blue Ridge. Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet / 2,037 m) is the highest U.S. mountain peak east of the Mississippi. Grandfather Mountain (5,946 feet / 1,812 m) is famous for its swinging bridge. Mount Pisgah (5,722 feet / 1,744 m) used to be home to George Vanderbilt’s hunting cabin and now features a restaurant.

Mount Mitchell sign, highest peak east of Mississippi River, elevation, view
The Mount Mitchell sign declaring it the highest peak east of Mississippi River… and the view towards Grandfather Mountain.
Driving around mountain peaks along Blue Ridge Parkway
Driving around mountain peaks along Blue Ridge Parkway.

Last but not least, you can go fishing in along the mountains. There are over a hundred miles of streams and thirteen artificial lakes full of native and stocked fish, like trout, bluegill and bass. Blue Ridge Outdoors recommends 10 Fly Fishing Holes.

Wild trout water, Bent Creek, Lake Powhatan, North Carolina, public mountain, Blue Ridge Parkway, sign
Trout water sign at Bent Creek near Lake Powhatan in North Carolina.

Other Nearby Attractions

As mentioned above, at both ends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will find a U.S. National Park. At Mile 0, you can explore the Shenandoah National Park (Virginia), and Mile 469 is at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina).

The charming and always hip town of Asheville, North Carolina, is an excellent starting point or home base for Blue Ridge excursions. There’s so much to love about this cultural mecca in the mountains: the food (e.g., Laughing Seed, Tupelo Honey, French Broad Chocolate Lounge), the beer (e.g., New Belgium, Wicked Weed Brewing), the music (e.g., at Orange Peel or Asheville Music Hall), that book store (Malaprop’s) and all the friendly and interesting people from town or afar.

Around the Asheville area, but a little further from the actual parkway you will find more natural attractions, like the “Land of Waterfalls” in Transylvania County, the Dupont State Forest, and Chimney Rock with its picturesque views. We haven’t explored the Virginia side yet – so we don’t dare to make any recommendations up there… yet.

Sunset over Blue Ridge Parkway
As the sun sets over Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s time to get back to Asheville and get some food and beer.
And yes, we’re a bit partial to New Belgium Brewing since we lived in Ft. Collins for a spell, a long spell.

More Photos

The Blue Ridge Mountains were named for a reason, blue, ridges
The Blue Ridge Mountains were named for a reason.
Iconic Blue Ridge Parkway sign, north, south
Iconic Blue Ridge Parkway sign.
Colorful valleys and hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Colorful valleys and hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Up, around, up, around... Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains.
Up, around, up, around, up… Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains.
Colorful foliage, trees, curvy mountain road, grey sky, Blue Ridge Parkway
Sometimes grey skies just make the colors of the trees and grass pop even more.
Colorful rock walls covered in lichen and moss, highway, Blue Ridge Parkway, mountains
Also colorful; rock walls covered in lichen and moss along the All-American Road.
Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel, Blue Ridge Parkway, cuts through rocky mountain
The Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel cuts through the mountain rock and is one of many reasons why it took 30 years to finish the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Black bear walks along Blue Ridge Parkway, near Asheville
Black bear walks along Blue Ridge Parkway… and heads back into the hills as soon as we stop to take its picture.
Car on mountain road, tall trees, Blue Ridge Mountains
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway during spring with its invigorating fresh green.
Green trees, blue ridge mountains, distance view, blue sky
What’s green up close, turns blue in the distance in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
colorful trees, mountain ridges, North Carolina, Blue Ridge Mountains
Colorful trees and mountain ridges all the way up to the horizon.
Bunches Bald Tunnel, sky and the mountain in-between
The Bunches Bald Tunnel, the sky and the mountain in-between.
Plants growing on plants in the forests along the Blue Ridge Mountains
Plants growing on plants in the forests along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Spiral curve, golden hour, mountains, scenic byway, North Carolina
One more spiral curve during Golden Hour before another trip to a Happier Place comes to an end.

Liked the post? Save one of these images to Pinterest:

469 miles of colorful views, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, Virginia
Iconic Blue Ridge Parkway sign, America's Favorite Drive and Longest Linear Park in the USA, Happier Place, Virginia, North Carolina
Scenic Road and Stunning Vistas: Blue Ridge Parkway - from Virginia to North Carolina.
Blue Ridge Parkway: America's Favorite Drive and Longest Linear Park in the USA from Virginia to North Carolina. Mount Mitchell, highest peak

All photos in this post were taken by Luci during spring 2019. By clicking on most images, you can see a larger version (and even purchase a photo). You can see more of our North Carolina photos on Luci’s photography website.

Let’s Inspire Each Other

Have you been on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Which was your favorite part – or nearby attraction? Which other scenic byways, roads, or linear parks would you recommend?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

14 thoughts on “America’s Favorite Drive + Longest Linear Park: Blue Ridge Parkway

  1. I live in North Carolina and absolutely love driving through the blue ridge. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh, you’re so lucky that you live in North Carolina and get to drive through the Blue Ridge whenever you feel like it. This was our first trip there and we’re already thinking: could we maybe relocate…

  2. I am totally in love with those views. I will definitely save this place on my bucket lists.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Gladys. I think it’s a very worthy place to put on your bucket list – maybe combine it with the two National Parks at either end. Hope you get to visit.

  3. Blue Ridge Parkway is beautiful. Never been, but worth looking into. Thanks for the views.

  4. Wow, this place is amazingly beautiful, I love everything about it and no wonder why a lot of people like to be there.

  5. So many beautiful things to see. I have been but didn’t get great pictures like you have here.

  6. What a wonderful scenic drive to Blue Ridge Parkway, so much to look at and I am sure you did not feel the journey. I think it’s great that there are lot of helpful signs so you are well informed as well. I would love to visit Blue Ridge Parkway if we are ever close by.

  7. Looking at all these beautiful pictures makes me really want to visit Blueridge Parkway.

  8. I’ve heard so many great things about the Blue Ridge Mountains! I would love to visit there one day.

  9. We love road trip and have a done one from California-Arizona-Nevada for about 16 days and love it so much. Glad to learn about Blue Ridge Parkway and the mountain and lake view is just heavenly beautiful.

  10. I love going to national parks a lot!!! This one looks amaaaaazing…I can’t wait to check it out for sure, soon i hope.

  11. I did not know that. We crossed into N.Carolina from Gatlinburg up in the mountains. It was beautiful. Like this. We need to do this too.

  12. Oh wow these pictures are just stunning. I would love to visit here one day and experience Blue Ridge Parkway

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