The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

A Tale of Two Travelers…

For Thanksgiving this year, we decided to head out of town for a break. Our destination was Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee. If we had ridden solely on interstate highways, we could have arrived there in ten hours. That’s my preferred way to drive. The quicker you can reach your destination, the better – that way you have more time to go places and see things and do stuff.

Road trip Blue Ridge Parkway so you have a better view than this.
My usual view as we travel along the Interstate.

Hubs, however, is my polar opposite when it comes to driving. He can’t stand driving on big highways and prefers long, circuitous, and scenic drives instead. He had been on the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this year with his motorcycling friends and insisted that we drive at least part of the way to Tennessee on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We knocked out about four hours of the drive the very first night and got a hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we were discussing what time we wanted to get up in the morning, my husband said to me, “Well, we need to get up early. We have 12 hours of driving to do tomorrow.”

I just about had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was thinking that with six hours left to travel via interstates, his route would take us eight or nine hours at most. But twelve?!?!? I was so flabbergasted I could not even speak. When I recovered my ability to form sentences again, I calmly informed him that being in the car for 12 hours was neither practical nor desirable.

Fortunately, he revised his plans and pared down our road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a 50 mile stretch. I was quite relieved.

But First, History!

I am nothing if not a history geek. Please bear with me…

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long, running through the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. (If you’ve never heard of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s helpful to know that they are a section of the Appalachian Mountains.) The parkway runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The parkway actually continues on through Shenandoah for an additional 105 miles, but the name becomes Skyline Drive.

The original name for the route was the Appalachian Scenic Highway, and it was begun as a project in Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. During World War II, conscientious objectors serving in the Civilian Service Program worked on the project.

Over 50 years passed before the construction of the parkway came to an end. The route has:

  • 26 tunnels constructed through the rock (1 in Virginia, 25 in North Carolina)
  • Six viaducts
  • 168 bridges
  • Elevation of 6,053 feet at its highest point (Richland Balsam – Mile Post 431)
  • No tolls/fees for usage

Our Drive

Even though I was reluctant to go from 70 mph on the interstate to 45 mph on the parkway, once we got on the parkway and started driving, I kinda fell in love with the scenery.  The roads were a bit twisty and 45 was probably the safest speed at which to travel. Some of the trees still had leaves, but most were bare.  I couldn’t help but imagine how gorgeous it must be in peak autumn foliage season (mid to late October, depending on the elevation).

Our first stop to pull over and admire the scenery was a rocky overlook with a couple of big boulders and a view of the valley below.

Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway - there are many opportunities to stop and admire the scenery.

As I looked out at the patches of green fields and the blue-purple mountains, I realized this was waaayyy better than anything I could have seen on the interstate.

If you look at this shot, you might notice a spot of blue just below and to the right of the center.  That’s a river running through the valley.

Beautiful scenery abounds on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway

We drove along through the Peaks of Otter, where my husband stopped on his previous trip through the area.  (Fun fact: you can get one of those oval shaped abbreviation stickers here. It says POO for Peaks of Otter.  He totally got one the last time he was there.) We didn’t stop at Peaks of Otter, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a lodge right there, with mountains behind it and a lake in front of it.  What a gorgeous setting!

We stopped a little farther along at another overlook. This one reminded me of Yorkshire, with the patchwork of fields decorating the valley.

Stopping at scenic overlooks while on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many beautiful vistas.

We even got to see a dam!

Taking a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many interesting sights, like this dam.

If you’re traveling north or south between Virginia and North Carolina and/or visiting either the Great Smoky Mountain National Park or Shenandoah National Park, I highly recommend taking the Blue Ridge Parkway, even if only part of the way. The views were breathtaking, the weather was gorgeous, and it was a much nicer drive than I-81!

 

Traveling through Virginia and/or North Carolina? Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains and/or Shenandoah national parks? The Blue Ridge parkway is a great road trip, showing off some of the Appalachian Mountains' most beautiful scenery.

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