Maintained by the National Park Service, the Blue Ridge Parkway, in effect, is a continuation of the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, running another 469 miles southwest through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Magnificent vistas and the natural beauty of the forests, wildlife, and wildflowers combine with pioneer history to make this a scenic and fascinating route.
Unlike the Skyline Drive, which is surrounded by a national park, the parkway runs through mountain meadows, farmland, and forests (some, but not all, national forests) for most of its route. Nature hikes, camping, and other activities are largely confined to the visitor centers and to more than 200 overlooks. There are about 100 hiking trails along the route, including the Appalachian Trail, which follows the parkway from Mile 0 to about Mile 103.
In Virginia, the 62-mile stretch between Otter Creek and Roanoke Mountain is the most scenic part. It crosses the James River Gorge and climbs Apple Orchard Mountain, the highest parkway point in Virginia (elev. 3,950 ft.). At times, the road here follows the ridgeline, rendering spectacular views down both sides of the mountains at once. It also passes the peaceful Peaks of Otter Lodge, the only hotel actually on the parkway.
South of Roanoke, the parkway runs through lower country, with more meadows and less mountain scenery.
Happy 75th! -- The Blue Ridge Parkway turns 75 years old in 2010. The road was conceived during the Great Depression as both a source of jobs and as a link between the country's two newest national parks, Shenandoah in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. Construction began in 1935 and took 33 years to complete. For a list of birthday parties and other commemorative activities, go to www.blueridgeparkway75.org.
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