Blue Ridge Parkway - Virginia Scenic Byway

Blue Ridge Parkway
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Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway extends 469 miles along the crests of the Southern Appalachians and links two eastern national parks—Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains, crossing the North Carolina and Virginia state line at mile 216.9. The 1749 party that surveyed the boundary included Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas.

The parkway follows the Appalachian Mountain chain and provides seemingly endless views of many parallel ranges connected by cross ranges and scattered hills. From Shenandoah National Park the parkway follows the Blue Ridge, eastern rampart of the Appalachians, for 355 miles. Then, for the remaining 114 miles, it skirts the southern end of the massive Black Mountains, named for the dark green spruce and fir that cover them, weaves through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, the Balsams, and ends in the Great Smokies.

Trees, trees, trees are nearly everywhere. And come fall, many of them burst into color. Dogwood, sourwood, and blackgum turn deep red in late September. Tulip-trees and hickories turn bright yellow, sassafras a vivid orange, and red maples add their multi-colored brilliance. Finally various oaks put on a dash of russet and maroon. Evergreen trees include Virginia pine, white pine, hemlock, spruce and fir.

Flowering shrubs put on a springtime snow that rivals the display of trees in fall. Because of the range in elevation from 649 to 6,047 feet, peak blooming occurs at different times and places—somewhat earlier in Virginia than North Carolina. Flame azalea is at its best south of Roanoke to Rocky Knob about mid-May and in the high mountains west of Asheville about mid-June. Mountain laurel blooms along Otter Creek in mid-May and elsewhere on the parkway in the first two weeks of June. Dense thickets of catawba rhododendron turn purple north of Peaks of Otter to Onion Mountain and along the bluffs of Doughton Park the first week of June and in Craggy Gardens and through the Balsams after mid-June. Various wildflowers begin to bloom in April and continue into fall.

Wildlife is a delight to see along the parkway. When the sun is high, groundhogs sit erect and chipmunks and squirrels chitter and chatter. At night, skunks, bobcats, foxes, opossums, and raccoons may be seen along the roadsides. Whitetail deer and black bears are present but seldom seen Look for them in the early morning or evening. More than 100 bird species can be seen during the spring migration season.

The stories of the independent mountain people are told at many overlooks and facilities along the parkway, including Humpback Rocks, Peaks of Otter, Mabry Mill, Brinegar Cabin, Northwest Trading Post, and the Parkway Craft Center at Moses Cone Memorial Park. In the Asheville area, be sure to stop at the Folk Art Center for craft demonstrations and for general parkway information and trip planning.

For a more detailed description of the southernmost section of the highway, from Asheville to the Great Smokies, see "Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway."


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