From the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is approximately 469 miles along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is known as one of the most scenic drives in the United States. This is particularly true throughout mid-October to early November. Due to the changing of the leaves, people come out in droves to get a view of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. The chilly air combined with the vibrant hues of yellows, oranges and reds gets everyone in the mood for fall. Spring is another big time of year. Everything is beginning to bloom on the trees. Rhododendrons have bright orange, white, pink or red blooms appearing from May through June.
The parkway was first proposed in the 1920’s and constructed in several stages from 1935-1967. The last section of the parkway, the Linn Cove Viaduct in Linville, NC was completed in the mid-1980’s. When you follow the Blue Ridge Parkway you will notice the absence of commercialization. One of the key focuses on the parkway was making sure your eyes are drawn to the scenery (and, of course, the road).
Smoky Mountain Retreat is located only 7-8 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. This backbone of North Carolina have the highest and most memorable views. There are a couple of worthwhile detours between Asheville to Blowing Rock to make the most of your day of cruising the parkway.
Milepost 469.1 – From Smoky Mountain Retreat this is where you will enter the parkway. Since this is the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway you can choose to go toward Blowing Rock or head to Smoky Mountain National Park.
Milepost 431 – This is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway with an elevation of 6,047. There is a well-worn path through a spruce and fir forest.
Milepost 382 – You can find the Folk Art Center, which also serves as an Eastern National bookstore and information desk for the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Milepost 364.6 – The best time to visit this post is late spring at sunset when the rhododendron have fully bloomed. The pink sky mixed with the lush green makes for a picture-perfect moment.
Milepost 355.4 – Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi. It is well worth the short drive off the parkway to get to the state park. There is an easily accessible observation deck where you can see the most breathtaking views.
Milepost 316.4 – This stop will lead you to the Linville Gorge Welcome Center. It is here you can decide how long or short of a hike you would like to take, either one is going to be worth your time. Linville Falls is beautiful as it crashes through a rough gorge.
Milepost 308.2 – This short half-mile trail leads to 3,995 foot Flat Rock landing for a beautiful view of Grandfather Mountain.
Milepost 305.1 – Grandfather Mountain boasts its mile-high swinging bridge ($22 for adults, $9 for children over 4). Your admission provides you with a navigated CD you start on your way up, and get a narrated trip up the mountain.
Milepost 304 – The Linn Cove Viaduct is a 1,234 foot long S-Curve built into the side of a mountain at an elevation of 4,100 feet. Is an engineering marvel.
If you choose to continue further in the day, you can find yourself at Julian Price Park, Price Lake and little further down Moses Cone Memorial Park. Cone Park is run by the National Park Service and receives approximately 250,000 visitors per year. The park offers tours through the 13,000 square-foot mansion with hiking trails, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.