Early in 1933, at the peak of our nation’s Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized that construction of a scenic route linking two new national parks – the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks – would not only attract tourists to a part of the country that had previously been all but inaccessible, but would also provide much-needed jobs at a time when poverty in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina was severely affecting rural populations there. Roosevelt approved the concept of the new motorway, and two years later the magnificent new Blue Ridge Parkway was under construction.
Visiting the Parkway
Today, millions of visitors annually drive along the scenic roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway – more visitors, in fact, than view the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone parks combined. Stretching from the northern tip of the roadway in Front Royal, Virginia all the way down to Cherokee, North Carolina to the south, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful stretch of roadway in the U.S., renowned for stunning vistas, outstanding hiking trails, and peaceful outlooks along 469 miles of picturesque roadway.
The enormity of the 52-year project is evident form the sheer number of both natural and man-made features along its spectacular route:
- The nation’s highest peak east of the Mississippi River and highest in the Appalachians: Mitchell, at almost 6,700 feet.
- 26 tunnels, almost all in North Carolina
- The deepest gorge east of the Mississippi: Linville Gorge, comprising almost 12,000 acres around the Linville River
- America’s largest house in America: the Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, NC
- Over 250 scenic overlooks, offering breathtaking views and opportunities for hikes and picnics.
Blue Ridge Highlights
Marked by milepost stops along the way, dozens of the Parkway’s scenic viewpoints offer unique and interesting places to explore and things to do.
Grandfather Mountain. Near Linville, North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain features a nature museum, daily educational programs, walking and hiking opportunities and the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge: the nation’s highest suspension footbridge.
Chimney Rock, at Chimney Rock State Park. Hiking trails or a thrilling elevator ride to the top of the Rock provide spectacular mountain views. This family-friendly park includes the Animal Discovery Den, Great Woodland Adventure Trail for kids, musical entertainment, especially during the warm summer months, and rock climbing and rappelling for all ages and skill levels.
Mast General Store at Valle Crucis. A visit to the famed, original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis is like taking a step back to a time when a local general store provided crucial supplies, a place for farmers and craftspeople to trade their items, and a social hub to local rural communities.
Cherokee, NC. Located in the center of the western portion of the state, Cherokee is a sovereign native American nation and one of the best jumping off points for exploring Appalachia and the Great Smokies.
Sliding Rock. Located close to Brevard and Asheville the Pisgah National Forest, the legendary natural water slide called Sliding Rock entertains thousands of visitors each year with opportunities to ride the water down the 60-foot sloping boulder into an 8-foot pool at the foot.
Folk Art Center. Asheville’s Folk Art Center is in fact a museum, store and visitors’ center displaying ongoing exhibitions of Appalachian arts and crafts and offering educational events, craft demonstrations and unique shopping opportunities.
Linville Falls. The spectacular 3-tiered waterfall is accessed via one of two scenic hiking routes, one of which is markedly more strenuous than the other. Plunging into Linville Gorge, the spectacular Falls are visible from multiple surrounding overlooks.