Winding through woodland and curving across mountain ranges, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most spectacular drives. From the north it adjoins the densely forested Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, then snakes past the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the mighty Appalachians, and dives down into western North Carolina and Great Smoky National Park. The whole drive measures 469 miles, with a speed limit of 45 mph, giving plenty of time to gaze over the rolling forests and rugged crags. Now, let's take a look at some of the highlights of the trip.
Joining the Blue Ridge Parkway at its northern tip, Skyline Drive soars 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park. The Park’s tree-covered landscape, glinting with patches of marsh and lake, rolls out beneath your tires on either side of the road. There are loads of viewpoints, where drivers can stop to take in the view, study the road’s border of wild flowers, and look out for deers and bears in the undergrowth.
At the north end of the Blue Ridge Parkway lies Shenandoah National Park, a vast flowing landscape of oak and chestnut forest. These trees cover a substantial section of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which rise to a bare-crested 4,000 feet with the park’s two highest peaks, Stony man and Hawksbill. Hiking routes lace through the park, threading between trees and running alongside streams and waterfalls. Shenandoah is a wide and wild home to myriad birds and animals, and is located only 75 miles from Washington D.C.
Spread across central and southwest Virginia, this grand pair of forests cover the rugged heights of the Appalachian Mountains with oak, hazel and pine trees. Hiking trails follow copper streams in the depths of the forest and break out onto rocky viewpoints looking across the undulating landscape. The trails are rarely crowded, and walking in these forests is a great chance to commune with nature in peace and seclusion. Not directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway, these forests are nevertheless just a short detour.
Little is more pleasurable than a big meal and a few drinks at the end of a hard day’s hiking. Located in southwest Virginia, Roanoke, a picturesque valley town surrounded by the forested slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the perfect place to relax after a stretch of time out in the wilderness. It’s has some good restaurants, cheap bars and stunning viewpoints which might just lure you back out again.
Pisgah is a dramatic patch of forest, split by rushing rivers and rearing into bald outcrops of jagged rock. The higher points open out onto wondrous views of the Black Mountains to the west and the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest. Despite its wilder reaches it also contains some accessible picnic and camping spots for less hardcore hikers.
Near the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Parkway sits the town of Asheville, perched at 2,130 feet on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Asheville is a lively and creative city, with a funky downtown area with lots of street art and impromptu performance pieces. As well as great views across the surrounding mountains, the city also has a couple of lovely parks and gardens, and a renowned foodie scene.
As the Appalachian Trail cuts its way south-west across America, it climbs across Great Smoky National Park. This is a wildly uneven expanse of mountains and woodland, ranging in height between 800 and 6,500 feet. This variation invests the park’s ecosystems with a vast array of plant and animal species. The Great Smoky mountains stitch together Tennessee and North Carolina, and are found towards the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.