Bass Lake, Blue Ridge Parkway (Adam Jones/Photodisc/Getty)

Fall trees along Blue Ridge Parkway (NPS)

Fall trees along Blue Ridge Parkway (Bill Russ/North Carolina Tourism)

Natural Bridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains (PhotoDisc)

Sunset over Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia (Robert Cable/Photogs Choice/Getty)

Foggy morning in the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina (Adam Jones/Digital Vision/Getty)

Fall Foliage on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina/Virginia (iStockphoto)

Blue Ridge Parkway in the Fall (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Spring flowers on the Blue Ridge Parkway (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

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What to do in Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway winds 469 miles through Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, starting at Shenandoah National Park and ending in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The scenic route offers a perfect escape for travelers wanting to take a week or two and experience the entirety of the road, or for those who prefer to spend a few days driving on one section of the parkway, stopping to admire the views and visit the many attractions along the way.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was born when President Franklin Roosevelt visited Skyline Drive, which extends through Shenandoah National Park, in 1933. Virginia senator Harry Flood Byrd proposed extending the road to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Roosevelt endorsed the idea, and construction began on what was then called the "Appalachian Scenic Highway." It would be more than 50 years before the entire project was complete—the last 7.7-mile stretch over Grandfather Mountain, in North Carolina, prolonged construction by 20 years because of its rugged terrain.

Much of the Blue Ridge Parkway extends through national forest, passing Appalachian hardwoods spread across dramatic valleys and mountains. October brings fall color to the parkway's 130 species of trees, and mammals like red and gray foxes, bobcats, river otters, and even black bears can be seen spring, summer, or fall from the parkway's many hiking trails, waterfalls, and scenic vistas. Birders will find Appalachian species like nuthatches and warblers unlike anywhere else in North America, and wildflower enthusiasts can check out the parkway's nearly 2,000 species of indigenous plants.

But don't think the Blue Ridge Parkway's natural grandeur equates to a lack of culture. Regional music—from traditional honky-tonk, jug bands, and bluegrass, to the roots of modern country—comes alive in the hills. Visitors will want to stop and possibly spend a night in many of the small towns here, such as Floyd, Lexington, and Culpepper in Virginia or Greensboro, Asheville, and Mount Airy in North Carolina. Blue Ridge folk art is on display in a number of galleries near the Parkway as well, and art- and music-related events happen often during the summer months.