Escape to the Blue Ridge Parkway
At 468 miles long, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway with the designation of All-American Road, the highest classification in the National Scenic Byway system. Starting at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Parkway follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, winding its way through North Carolina before terminating at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park's Cherokee entrance. At its highest point, the Blue Ridge Parkway reaches 6053 feet in elevation near Mount Pisgah in North Carolina and at its lowest 649 feet along the James River in Virginia. Along the way, you will see spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays.
289.5 Raven Rocks Overlook
At the end of 2019, I was beyond excited when we received an assignment in Roanoke, Virginia. The Blue Ridge Parkway had long been on my bucket list, and Roanoke is located right on it! I was happily researching hike trails, planning weekend trips, and impatiently waiting for Spring to arrive when COVID hit.
During the lockdown, the Blue Ridge Parkway became my escape. When I could not stand to be in the house a moment longer, I would go up to a nearby overlook where I could be entirely by myself and photograph these magnificent views. I couldn't have asked for a better location to spend that time. It was such a blessing!
I mistakenly thought I would be the only one up on the Parkway, but all the locals were sneaking up there too. There was always a "deer in headlights" moment from the people at the overlooks when I would pull in in the early days of lockdown. So many times, they would grab their things and run to their cars even when we had 50 feet of space between us.
As restrictions began to loosen up, the trails became packed. As a result, I didn't complete any of those hikes I'd planned, but I did manage to drive the entire Parkway and visit all the overlooks.
Virginia left their trails open while North Carolina gated the entrances to locations when they could. Unfortunately, I was off to another assignment before most of the significant Parkway sites reopened.
I missed out on so much of the Parkway because of closures that I'm hesitant to consider this one of my travel blog posts. Although, I did add a few of my favorite Parkway trip planning links and some very basic information at the end of the post. I think the title sums it up nicely; it's a photographic escape to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tuck this post away for when you need a virtual retreat to the mountains.
A Little History
U.S. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia initially presented President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the idea for a Parkway through the Appalachian Mountain Range connecting Shenandoah to the Great Smoky Mountains when Roosevelt visited the newly completed Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park.
Roosevelt loved the idea. America was in the midst of the Depression. The opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had been an enormous success. Another scenic drive through the most impoverished economic area of the country would help put Americans back to work and eventually put tourism dollars where it was desperately needed.
Private contractors working under federal contracts were hired to do most of the road construction. Italian and Spanish stonemasons completed the stonework on the bridges and overlooks, while the Civilian Conservation Corps completed most landscaping and trails.
63.7 The James River
Progress on the Blue Ridge Parkway was slow. The CCC crews had to survey deep into mountains that had never been mapped. Landowners were often reluctant to sell their property. There were extreme weather conditions at the highest elevations, and the terrain was rocky along the entire route. Snakes were encountered frequently. It was difficult getting the construction equipment to the top of the mountain since the roads were little more than ruts and retaining the natural beauty of the surroundings without doing more damage was a significant concern. Construction took place in sections as the right-of-way was approved and land purchases secured.
243.4 Bluff Mountain Overlook
42.2 Irish Creek Overlook
By 1966, the Parkway was almost complete. The missing link was a seven-mile stretch around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. Known as the Linn Cove Viaduct, it is regarded as an engineering marvel and considered one of the most successful fusions of the road and landscape on the Parkway.
303.9 Yonahlossee Overlook
451.2 Waterrock Knob Visitor Center
296.7 Price Lake Overlook
The Blue Ridge Parkway is beautiful at any time of year, but I would recommend planning your visit for either mid-June or mid-October.
From June through early July, the rhododendron and mountain laurel bloom is like nothing you have ever seen before. In some Parkway sections, you will drive through walls of flowers on both sides of the road, and there are many hikes through rhododendron.
Autumn is a little harder to predict because of the extreme elevation changes along the Parkway. Color change above 5000 feet begins in early October and works its way down into the valley by the end of the month. Peak time is usually around mid-October, but Mother Nature does what she wants. In 2020, color didn't peak until the end of the month. The North Carolina section of the drive has higher elevations and colors up before the Virginia section. The color will vary significantly along the Parkway.
10.7 Ravens Roost Overlook
Living History of the Blue Ridge
While the Blue Ridge Parkway is best known for its natural beauty, don't miss out on the Appalachian mountain history sites that can be found along the way.
176.2 Mabry Mill
190 Puckett Cabin
238.5 Brinegar Cabin
Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Basics
There is a 45 mph speed limit on the Parkway. It's even slower in the steep, curvy stretches of road and locations that are busy with pedestrians. Parking on the side of the road is permitted as long as you are entirely off the road. Watch out for bicyclists. There are quite a few of them on the Parkway.
Plan for a leisurely trip with a lot of stops at overlooks. There are multiple overlooks in a one-mile stretch of road in some areas, so it takes a lot of time for the miles to add up. I would recommend allowing at least four days to do just the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially if you want to do a few hikes along the way.
It is easy to get "beauty overload" on this drive. I recommend planning for a midday off-parkway excursion to break up the day and then stay up in the mountains for sunset. The early morning and late afternoon sun gives you the prettiest light to enjoy the mountains.
The temperature varies greatly with the elevation changes, dress light, and bring layers.
There are many Parkway areas where you will not have internet on your cell phone, so plan and don't rely on your phone for information.
Useful Planning Links
Always check the National Park Services Blue Ridge Parkway website for Parkway closures before traveling. The Blue Ridge Parkway Map is easily found along the Parkway but, here is a link to it for planning purposes.
I found Virtual Blue Ridge to be one of my favorite websites for Blue Ridge Parkway planning.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner was the one reference guide I wanted with me on every trip down the Parkway. You can access the online version here or request one by mail. I found it most helpful in finding food, gas and for those off-Parkway excursions.
Susan's photography is available for purchase as fine art prints and wall art in various sizes and many different print substrates. It is also available on home decor, gift items, and apparel in her Photo Gallery.
Check out the Virginia and North Carolina Collections for more Blue Ridge Parkway photography.
snapshots that evolved into a desire to capture every location and object as âart.â By meshing her two loves, photography and design, she has come full circle.
6/23/2021 11:26:56 pm
Wonderful photographs and story, Susan
6/24/2021 09:15:03 am
Thank you, Tatiana! So happy you enjoyed it.
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I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling, and I jumped at the chance to go with him.
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