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The History of the Blue Ridge Parkway: 469 Miles Through the Appalachian Mountains

The History of the Blue Ridge Parkway: 469 Miles Through the Appalachian Mountains

Spanning 469 miles through the rugged Appalachian Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of our country's most precious gems. The idea for the Parkway began in the early 20th century when the National Park Service sought to create a scenic road connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Construction of the Parkway began on September 11, 1935, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program to provide jobs and stimulate the economy during the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps, other government agencies, and many private contractors built the road, which winds through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the eastern United States. This monumental project took hundreds of workers a total of 52 years to complete. Many laborers were local residents displaced by the economic hardships of the Great Depression, and the Parkway provided them with much-needed jobs and income.

Being designed to blend in with its natural surroundings, the Parkway's low bridges and tunnels closely hug the contours of the terrain. The route was also intended to showcase the cultural heritage of the Appalachian region, with exhibits and displays that highlight the history and traditions of the people who have lived in the mountains for generations.

The Blue Ridge Parkway quickly became a popular destination for travelers seeking a scenic escape from the pressures of city life. It is now a National Park and one of the most visited attractions in the eastern United States, drawing millions of visitors each year who come to experience the beauty and history of this iconic American road.

Why is the Parkway such a popular travel destination?

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular travel destination for many reasons. First and foremost, the Parkway offers breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains and the surrounding natural landscapes. The road winds through lush forests, rolling hills, and rugged mountain terrain, providing visitors with stunning vistas at every turn. In addition to its natural beauty, the Parkway also offers visitors a chance to experience Appalachia's rich history and cultural heritage. Along the way, visitors can explore historical sites, learn about the local art, and experience the traditional culinary delights of the region.

The Parkway is also an excellent destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a wide range of activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, and many other recreational activities. Whether you're an experienced hiker or just looking for a scenic drive, the Parkway has something for everyone.

Overall, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a must-see destination for anyone who loves nature, history, and outdoor adventure. It's no wonder that millions of visitors flock to the Parkway each year to experience the beauty and wonder of this iconic American road.

Planning your trip

Best time to visit:

The best time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway depends on your intended goals. Spring is a popular time to visit. The wildflowers are in bloom, the weather is mild, and the animals are active. Summer can be an excellent time for outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. Still, visitors should be aware that the summer months in Appalachia are hot and humid, and since school is out, this tends to be an exceptionally crowded time on the Parkway. The peak season for fall foliage is late September through early November when the leaves turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. So all those chasing fall colors will want to plan their trips around these months. Winter is a quieter time to visit, with fewer crowds. But with Winter comes the possibility of snow and ice, which leads to the closure of sections of the road. Ultimately, the best time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway depends on your preferences and what you hope to experience.

Creating your schedule:

Creating a schedule for traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway depends on your interests and time constraints. When scheduling your trip, it's important to do your research and come up with a list of things you want to do and see; this will be of great help when planning your adventure. A good tip is to build in a few extra days to allow for the exploration of things that you may find along the way. The Parkway has several visitor centers where you can get information and maps to help plan your route. Whether you have a few hours or many days to explore, there are opportunities for all on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Packing for the Trip:

When packing for a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's important to consider your planned outdoor activities and prepare for changing weather conditions. Some essential items to pack include comfortable hiking shoes, sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses, and a refillable water bottle. Even in the summer, nighttime temperatures in the mountains can dip dramatically, so it would be a good idea to pack a warm layer just in case. Similarly, pop-up rain showers are common, so make sure to bring some form of rain gear. Layered clothing is also essential, as temperatures can vary widely throughout the day. In many places along the Parkway, emergency service can be hours away. Because of this, it's a good idea to bring a map and compass, a guidebook, a first-aid kit, and any other emergency items you may think you need. With these essential items, you'll be well-prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip.

Camping and Lodging Options:

Several camping and lodging options are available along the Blue Ridge Parkway. For those who prefer camping, there are eight campgrounds located along the Parkway, offering a range of amenities from primitive tent sites to RV hookups. Many campgrounds are only open seasonally from May to October, but some are available year-round. Some popular campgrounds include Linville Falls, Julian Price Memorial Park, and Mount Pisgah Campgrounds.

For those who prefer more comfortable lodging options, there are several hotels, inns, and cabins located near the Parkway. These accommodations offer a range of amenities, from basic to luxurious, depending on your budget and preferences. In addition to traditional camping and lodging options, there are several unique options for those looking for a more adventurous experience. These include yurts, treehouses, and camping cabins located at various spots along the Parkway.

Regardless of your preferred lodging style, booking your accommodations well in advance is important, especially during peak season. Whether you're looking for a rustic camping experience or a luxurious mountain getaway, there's an accommodation option to suit your needs.

Popular Attractions and Landmarks:

There are many popular attractions and landmarks to visit along the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of the most iconic landmarks is the Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243-foot bridge that hugs the contours of Grandfather Mountain. Other popular attractions include Mount Mitchell State Park, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, and the Peaks of Otter, a group of three mountain peaks surrounded by scenic trails and a tranquil lake. The Blue Ridge Music Center and the Folk Art Center offer a chance to explore the rich cultural heritage of the region, while the Mabry Mill showcases traditional Appalachian crafts and culture. With so many attractions to choose from, there's something for everyone on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Hiking trails and scenic overlooks:

Various hiking trails and scenic overlooks are available for visitors to enjoy on their trip. Some of the most popular hiking trails include the Crabtree Falls Trail, the Rough Ridge Trail, and the Linville Gorge Trail. These trails offer stunning views of waterfalls, wildflowers, and mountain vistas. Many scenic overlooks along the Parkway provide panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. A few of the most visited overlooks include Craggy Gardens, Devil's Courthouse, and the James River Face Wilderness Overlook. Whether you're an experienced hiker or just looking for a leisurely stroll, there are plenty of trails to explore and views to take in along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Wildlife and natural beauty:

A wide array of wildlife calls these mountains home, and an incredible natural beauty can be found in them. Visitors can expect to see a variety of birds, including hawks, eagles, and warblers, as well as mammals, such as black bears, deer, bobcats, coyotes, and more. The Parkway also offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and forests, with colors that change through the seasons. Wildflowers, waterfalls, and sprawling vistas all contribute to the natural beauty of the Parkway. With its rich natural heritage and diverse wildlife, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers.

Historical sites and cultural experiences:

The Parkway's scenic drive offers a wealth of historical sites and cultural experiences for visitors to explore. One such site is the Mabry Mill, a historic gristmill located at milepost 176.1. Visitors can watch demonstrations of traditional crafts, including blacksmithing and weaving, and learn about the history of rural life in Appalachia. Another historical site on the Parkway is the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, a 3,600-acre estate featuring a historic mansion, carriage paths, and hiking trails. Visitors can tour the mansion, which has been preserved as a museum, and learn about the life and legacy of Moses H. Cone, a wealthy textile entrepreneur, and conservationist. The Blue Ridge Music Center, located at milepost 213, offers visitors the opportunity to experience traditional Appalachian music and culture. The center hosts live music performances, workshops, and exhibits showcasing the region's rich musical heritage.

Overall, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a rich tapestry of historical and cultural experiences, making it an ideal destination for those seeking to explore the cultural heritage of Appalachia.

Local Food and Drink (the best restaurants along the Parkway)

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers a variety of restaurants, cafes, wineries, and breweries that provide delicious food and stunning views. A few favorites include the Pisgah Inn, located at milepost 408.6, which serves up classic American cuisine and offers breathtaking mountain views. The Peaks of Otter Lodge, located at milepost 86, features a restaurant serving local Virginia fare while overlooking the picturesque Abbott Lake. The Dan'l Boone Inn near milepost 286 is a family-style restaurant known for its classic Southern comfort food. Whether you're looking for a scenic breakfast spot or a hearty dinner, you'll have plenty of options to choose from.

Local breweries and wineries:

Within this region lives many local breweries and wineries, allowing visitors the opportunity to sample the best of Appalachian craft beer and wine. Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, Virginia, offers stunning mountain views and a rotating selection of craft beers. The Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, North Carolina, features a beautiful taproom and outdoor seating area. Several wineries in the region, such as the Biltmore Estate Winery in Asheville, offer tours and tastings of its award-winning wines. Whether you're a beer or wine enthusiast, there are plenty of options to explore and sample during your trip.

Farmer's markets and farm-to-table dining:

The Parkway's route through the mountains is home to many farmer's markets and farm-to-table dining options, offering visitors the chance to experience the best of local agriculture. These markets provide a variety of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and baked goods sourced from local farms. Visitors can also enjoy farm-to-table dining experiences at restaurants such as the Harvest Table Restaurant in Meadowview, Virginia, and the Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina. These restaurants source their ingredients from local farms and offer a taste of the vibrant regional cuisine.

Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Trip

Staying safe on the Parkway:

Staying safe while traveling on the Parkway is essential for a successful trip. It's important to remember that you'll be traveling on a winding, two-lane road with many sharp turns and steep drop-offs, so be sure to drive carefully and maintain the posted speed limit. Visitors should also be alert for rapid changes in temperature and weather. In the summer, visitors should be prepared for warm temperatures and high humidity, while snow and ice can create hazardous driving conditions in the fall and winter months. It's always a good idea to check the weather forecast and road conditions before setting out and make sure to carry appropriate gear for changing weather conditions.

Additionally, visitors should be aware of potential road closures due to weather or construction and plan alternate routes if necessary. By following these safety tips, visitors can enjoy a safe and enjoyable trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Respecting wildlife and the environment:

Respecting wildlife and the environment is crucial when visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway. Visitors should always follow Leave No Trace principles, including packing out all trash and staying on designated paths. It's important to respect wildlife and keep a safe distance from animals, particularly black bears, which can be found throughout the region. Although typically not aggressive, it is recommended that visitors carry bear spray with them while hiking. Feeding wildlife is prohibited and can harm both the animals and the environment. Additionally, it's important to follow all posted signs and regulations and to stay on designated trails and overlooks. By respecting the natural beauty and wildlife of the Blue Ridge Parkway, visitors can help preserve this unique and special region for generations to come.


The Blue Ridge Parkway offers a unique and unparalleled experience of natural beauty, rich history, and cultural diversity. To get the most out of your visit, it's important to research the various attractions, landmarks, and hiking trails along the route and set your itinerary accordingly. Remember that the Parkway is a scenic drive, so be prepared to take your time, enjoy the beautiful views, and allow time for unexpected detours or stops along the way. The Parkway also offers a wealth of cultural experiences, from exploring historical sites to enjoying the local cuisine and craft breweries. It provides a peaceful and tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, allowing visitors to unwind and reconnect with nature. Whether you're a nature lover, a history buff, or simply looking for a scenic drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a must-see destination that offers something for everyone.