As we learned in the previous features of this series (to start at Part 1 click here), the Roanoke Valley has a great deal to offer travelers who enjoy history, natural beauty, the arts and more.

The last day of my visit was one of the best, as it was when we embarked upon one of the Roanoke area's claims to fame-the awe-inspiring Blue Ridge Parkway.

View slideshow: The Natural Beauty of the Roanoke Valley (Part 5)

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the most recognized roads in the country, the Blue Ridge Parkway extends 469 scenic miles from the Virginia's northern Shenandoah Valley (The Roanoke Valley is located approximately 120 miles from the northern end), winding its way through the storied Appalachian Mountains, coming to rest in North Carolina at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One of the Roanoke area's claims to fame is the awe-inspiring Blue Ridge Parkway. One of the Roanoke area's claims to fame is the awe-inspiring Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo credit:  Lysa Allman-Baldwin

But a drive along the Parkway, which is the most visited site in the National Park system, encompasses much more than spectacular views, beautiful forested areas and enchanting side roads and trails-all found within a whopping 47 Natural Heritage Areas. It is rich in Appalachian history and culture that still today lends to a unique ambiance of magic and mystery that makes a visit here a truly remarkable and memorable experience.

The early history here dates back to the Native American populations-the Tutelo, Saponi and Monacan tribes of western Virginia, and the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina-who were experts at navigating the dense landscape here, ultimately forging an agriculturally sustainable lifestyle. Once the Europeans came and settled in the area, the Parkway soon also encompassed 19th-century log cabins and other homes, transportation centers, community outposts and other structures and entities.

The advent of commercialization and industry also played roles in the history and development of the Parkway, including the railroad, water travel, goods trading and expert craftsmanship. In the 20th century, the development of vacation resorts and supporting amenities began to bring more exposure and visitors to the area-the more well-to-do at first-eventually leading to further development of the Parkway as a major scenic motor road and natural, national treasure.

Today, visitors can find numerous Visitor Centers, historic structures and trails, significant peaks and outlooks and other aspects that offer distinct insights into this celebrated region of America.

If you embark upon the Parkway, an absolute must stop is at one of the most photographed sites along it-Mabry Mill. Located at Mile Post 176.1, the site is a restored gristmill, sawmill and blacksmith and woodworking shops where visitors can enjoy the stunning beauty and peaceful ambiance as well as "Old time" activity demonstrations including spinning, basket weaving and other mountain skills.

In our last adventure, well enjoy a few (OK, several!) gastronomic spots that are simply not to be missed!

To start at Part 1 click here.