There is a road that runs for nearly 500 miles through some of the most beautiful places in the eastern and central United States; it is the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Running as its name implies, along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the parkway travels through the states of Virginia and North Carolina. Along the way this scenic wonder takes in all the region has to offer and provides scenic views that are stunning.
While on the final two days of my weeklong trek in western Virginia, I drove the parkway and then spent the night at a National Park Service campground. Without fail, at each turn I was stunned by the beauty and peacefulness of the roadway. But if I had the time to do it again, I would be driving the parkway in the fall when the beauty of the area would take your breath away.
Since I had a limited amount of time, having to be in the Roanoke Va. area by the end of the week, I chose to take in a 100 mile section of the parkway. This placed me at the National Park Service Roanoke Mountain Campground and only a short drive into Roanoke. I began my shortened trip at the parkway entrance at Fancy Gap Va., which is only a few miles from the North Carolina border and just under 100-miles from Roanoke Mountain.
The Blue Ridge Parkway starts in north eastern Virginia and runs for nearly 500 miles south west along the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Roanoke Mountain Campground is one of nine NPS campgrounds and numerous private campgrounds along the parkway. This campground is considered rustic, providing modest amenities such as a modern restroom and water spigots, all for a nightly fee of $16. There is no electric service and sites are available on a first come first served basis.
At Peaks of Otter, Price Park, Linville Falls and Mt. Pisgah campgrounds reservations can be made for some sites. At these campgrounds you will find much more modern facilities such as electric service at the sights and updated restroom facilities.
Reservations can be made on line at Recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. There is also a downloadable brochure that lists the locations of all of the USFS campgrounds along with developed private campgrounds along the parkway.
The actual start of the parkway is in Waynesboro, Va. It then travels roughly southwest along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The roadway is only two lanes wide and has a speed limit of 45 mph, which makes for an incredibly relaxing drive, taking you to overlooks that are stunning. Along the way, there are 15 visitor centers, some large and others small, that offer information on campgrounds, historic sites, restaurants and other accommodations.
Some of the attractions along the parkway include:
- Humpback Rocks at Mile Post 5.8 - Only a few miles from the Virginia start of the parkway there is a place that offers stunning views, hiking trails and at Mile Post 8.5 there is a wonderful 91 site picnic area. In the summer there are interpretative programs and in the fall, the colors of the trees paint the area in a stunning canvas.
- Blue Ridge Music Center at Mile Post 218 - Dedicated to preserving the music native to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the music center offers displays and programs that profile the music's roots. The Music Center is home to a 3,000 seat outdoor amphitheater, and indoor performance center and exhibits that both inform and entertain. It is not to be missed at the southern end of the parkway near the borders of Virginia and North Carolina.
- Parkway Visitor Center at Mile Post 384 - Even though mile post 1 is in Virginia, it is here that you can find out just about anything you want to know about the parkway. Take the time to watch a 20-minute film on the history of the parkway shot from the perspective of a father and daughter traveling the road and check out the "I-Wall", a 22-foot long interactive map of the parkway which offers a multimedia presentation.
The Parkway is one of those places that represents something different to everyone that visits. For me it was a chance to enjoy the peace and solitude of the mountains, taking in the views, the wildlife and enjoying a few quite nights in a campground. For others, it is the drive and stops at attractions along the way and overnights in one of the many hotels that are in towns nearby the parkway.
Whatever you are looking for, you will find the beauty of the mountains stunning. At one point during a rain, I slowed down on the wet road and as I crested a hill, there was a doe with two beautiful fawns. They stood by the side of the road, so calm that the little ones began nursing. It was a sight beyond imagination. The beauty of these two small creatures finding nourishment from their mother while surrounded by the beauty of the mountains is an image I will never forget.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Association website offers a massive amount of information, from where to stop and stay to some of the key attractions along the way. It is the first place to look on the web for information when planning your trip. You will also find the Request Information page where you can select to have delivered to you a huge number of brochures about the parkway and the surrounding area.There is also an online and a downloadable version of the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitors Guide that contains a wealth of information.
Since the parkway is part of the National Park Service, the NPS website on the Blue Ridge Parkway offers information on programs, activities to take part in, historic information and a complete listing of NPS campsites along the way.