The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most scenic road trips—a slow-paced drive through connecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south to Shenandoah National Park in the north. Along the way lie stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the parkway’s namesake: the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a peaceful escape from hectic urban life. Get off the grid by heading out on a road trip, or take a day trip from Asheville, North Carolina, on which you can hike through the Appalachian wilderness and visit scenic waterfalls. Artistically inclined visitors can hone their photography skills on a small-group photo tour of the parkway and capture wild landscapes under the guidance of a local Asheville photographer. If you travel to the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, make sure to stop off at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a guided nature and history tour, rafting trip, or scenic helicopter flight.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The parkway’s speed limit never exceeds 45 mph (72 kph). Due to steep roads and occasional wildlife crossings, careful driving is essential.
- There are plenty of stops along the way to sightsee, hike, or picnic—many travelers take four or five days to complete the whole route.
- The weather along the parkway can vary greatly due to changes in elevation, so dress in layers.
How to Get There
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs 469 miles (755 kilometers) through the Appalachian Highlands between North Carolina and Virginia. You’ll find markers along every mile of the parkway, and it’s best to carry a map to determine where you want to go, as GPS directions often do not understand the milepost system.
When to Get There
While the parkway is open 24 hours a day, visitor services (picnic areas, visitor centers, and restrooms) may be limited during evening and night, and are closed from November through April. The road closes only due to inclement weather, which occurs most often in winter. Summer brings balmy temperatures in the lower elevations; temperatures can remain cool higher up. Autumn weather can vary, but by mid-October the landscape is drenched in red, orange, and yellow, making this a superb time for leaf-peeping.
Exploring Asheville, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center near Asheville is a popular place to start an Appalachian road trip. Nestled away in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the city of Asheville is known for its vibrant arts scene and historic architecture, including the 19th-century Biltmore Estate, a massive historical mansion built by George Vanderbilt. Don’t miss the downtown Art District, which is filled with galleries and museums, and the nearby River Arts District, where former factory buildings house artists’ studios. There are also numerous hiking trails in the area, along with a cheery nightlife scene of hip craft breweries.
The speed limit on the Blue Ridge Parkway is only 45 mph at most, and there are many points along the way to stop and sightsee, hike, or picnic – so taking 4 to 5 days to travel the whole thing isn't unheard of. Careful driving is essential, especially with the steep roads and occasional wildlife crossings.