With a speed limit never greater than 45 miles per hour, the Blue Ridge Parkway evokes a simpler era when families packed picnic lunches and went "motoring" to fill sunny Sunday afternoons. This 469-mile linear national park, a Depression-era public works project, dips and bends through the gentle mountains of the Southeast, connecting Virginia's Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
The Parkway starts in Rockfish Gap, Va. If you need gas, get it here, because there aren't many convenient opportunities ahead. You'll quickly notice the mileage markers that line the road. They're the Parkway's universal language: Starting at Rockfish Gap with MP (Mile Post) 1, the markers run south to MP 469 and are used to locate nearly every attraction along the way. For instance, near MP 6, Humpback Rocks Visitor Center is the first of many pullouts where you can pick up a Parkway map. You can also tour a historic working farm or hike to Humpback Rocks. Between MP 13 and 14, Route 664 heads down one mile to Wintergreen Resort. A regional skiing center, this four-season resort is also famous for its exquisite golf courses.
Bluff Mountain Tunnel (MP 53) is the first of many tunnels, while Otter Creek Campground (MP 59) is typical of the excellent National Park Service campgrounds available. From here to Roanoke, the Appalachian Trail often parallels the road, offering a chance to hike the famed "AT."
Roanoke is near MP 120. The "Star City" got its name from the lighted star on Mill Mountain. Bikers should hit Explore Park (MP 115) while urbanites will want to head downtown to the Roanoker, whose sausage-and-gravy biscuits are a state treasure. Depending on the time of day, you can stop at Mabry Mill (great pancakes) or the Chateau Morrisette Winery (try Our Dog Blue).
You hit the North Carolina state line around MP 217. Except for areas around Boone and Asheville, the North Carolina portion of the Parkway is remote (especially south of Asheville), so check your gas gauge and kids' snacks.
The crafts shopping in North Carolina's mountains is superb. Drop into the Northwest Trading Post (as in "northwest" North Carolina) in Glendale Springs (MP 259). Non-shoppers can hit Moses H. Cone Park (MP 294) to hike on former carriage trails. From Boone (MP 291), you can head to ski resorts like Sugar Mountain, 15 minutes west. Or climb Grandfather Mountain in Linville (MP 305) or cross Mile-High Swinging Bridge, of which Charles Kuralt noted, "This is a sufficiently awesome experience to dissuade many otherwise brave men and women from walking across."
Asheville (MP 382) is home to authentic Appalachian crafts at the Folk Art Center. The Parkway's southern tip is beautifully remote as you approach Cherokee and Mile Post 469, the end of the line. From here, you're just a few miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Or you can pull a U-turn and motor north for more adventures, this time counting down from MP 469.
Drive Length 469 miles
Drive Time Two or three days, but with so much to see, why push it?
Try To Avoid Driving the Parkway on holiday weekends, especially around Roanoke and Asheville.
Don't Miss Unrack your mountain bike and hit the many fire roads running parallel (level) or perpendicular (steep) to the Parkway.
Get Out of Your Car Look for "AT" signs at several pulloffs in southern Virginia and hike a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail.
Contact Blue Ridge Parkway, 828-298-0398, www.nps.gov/blri.