The Blue Ridge Parkway is the very scenic highway that connects Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive in Virginia, with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. The whole trip along the Parkway, which traverses Virginia and western North Carolina, encompasses a 469 mile drive that can take up to a leisurely 10 days, including stops to explore along the way.
It’s a highway and a journey surrounded by natural beauty. The majority of the Parkway in Virginia runs through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and into North Carolina along mountain crests. The road itself is a two lane highway with a 45 mph speed limit, but for travelers who enjoy “driving trips,” traveling the Parkway can be a very special experience.
The attractions along the Virginia portion of the Parkway differ slightly from those on the North Carolina side. In Virginia, the recreated mountain farm near Humpback Rocks at the beginning of the Parkway and Mabry Mill, further south, give visitors a glimpse of traditional mountain life in the early days of settlement. In North Carolina, Linville Falls, the Cradle of Forestry, and other natural wonders, feature the natural environment.
In addition to the stops right along the Parkway itself, the road is next to historic towns from top to bottom, making for fascinating exploration of the heritage and culture of the region along the way. The headquarters of the Blue Ridge Parkway is located in Asheville, North Carolina, a city well known to literary figures including Carl Sandburg, Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Exploration of their homes and haunts in the Asheville area presents an interesting side trip and a one or two day break from driving.
If you don’t already have an appreciation for nature, you will after visiting The North Carolina Arboretum. The 434-acre site includes 65 acres of cultivated gardens, 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, indoor and outdoor exhibits, guided Segway tours, two gift shops, the Savory Thyme Caf6 and one of the finest bonsai collections in the nation.
An affiliate of the University of North Carolina, The North Carolina Arboretum educates visitors in a fun, hands on way. For example, the arboretum was the first to offer Segway tours in the Asheville area, a concept that is now hugely popular.
Where can you find awe-inspiring views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lush emerald fairways and Tiger Woods?
That’s right – only in Asheville, where the plethora of beautiful, mountaintop courses make the area a golfer’s paradise.
As for Tiger Woods, the mega-champion has chosen to design and build his first golf course in the United States here in the area.
Woods’ new course joins more than 20 championship courses in the region, several of which were designed in the 1920s by legendary Scottish architect Donald Ross, the father of American golf.
The free-flowing French Broad River that winds its way through the scenic Pisgah National Forest in Asheville is recognized as one of the most exciting whitewater destinations in the country.
River currents range from easily navigated Class II – which are suitable for beginners – to thunderous Class IV whitewater – recommended for experienced rafters only.
And you don’t have to bring a thing to get in on the action. Local outfitters can set you up with rafts, instruction and experienced guides for an excursion that is appropriate for every generation of your party.
Breathe in the sweet scent of flowers at one of the area’s garden spots, situated in the heart of the most botanically diverse spot in North America.
Increase your gardening savvy at the 434-acre North Carolina Arboretum and The Botanical Gardens at Asheville, where you can enjoy beautiful hiking and walking trails and other educational programs.
You won’t want to miss nearby Chimney Rock, State Park and Grandfather Mountain, which was named a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.
With more than a dozen world-class spas and wellness centers, Asheville earns its reputation as a premier spa destination.
In fact, rejuvenation is something health-seekers have flocked to Asheville for since the 1800s, thanks to the area’s natural hot-spring mineral waters and refreshing mountain air.
A wide range of holistic treatments are offered at ‘ area day spas, ranging from a river rock massage an( a Pom Fruit Fetish body treatment to hot-tub soaks, lip-blooming treatments and herbal body wraps.
Try booking the treatment of your choice at an ? area spa for an experience that will soothe body and soul. Or better yet, book two – because what could be more romantic than a double massage?
“Eating out” taktes on a whole new meaning when you do it at one of Asheville’s signature sidewalk cafes.
With colorful street performers and talented musicians livening up downtown, you can count on some delightful entertainment with your meal.
Whether you choose an outdoor table or sit under the awnings, al fresco diners undoubtedly have the best seats in the house.
From April to October, during Friday evening Art Walks, leave your table and join the fun. You’ll be inspired as you browse through downtown’s distinctive galleries and mingle with local artists.
Asheville residents’ passion for delicious, health conscious, locally produced food is an important thread in the city’s cultural fabric. That’s why Asheville is home to the world’s first Foodtopian Society, an initiative of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau that celebrates the city’s thriving food scene. “Asheville has a truly unique restaurant atmosphere,” says Dwight Butner, owner of Vincenzo’s Ristorante & Bistro. “Those of us in the food industry here see ourselves as colleagues, but at the same time, there’s enough rivalry among us to keep us all producing great quality, creative foods.”
To learn about the Foodtopian bliss Asheville residents and visitors enjoy, curious epicureans may visit the official Web site at www.foodtopiansociety.com and watch food videos, snag recipes from area restaurants and read suggestions for local food adventures. There are even profiles of local chefs and farmers and an interactive Ask a Farmer feature that lets visitors talk with local producers directly about everything from starting a backyard vegetable garden to the benefits of eating organic foods.
Many of the Foodtopian Society’s member restaurants are also part of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, or AIR, a flourishing organization of more than 60 restaurants dedicated to fostering a stronger business environment for locally owned and operated restaurants. Vincenzo’s is one such enterprise.
To experience yet another form of passionate expression where the area reigns supreme, take note of the sounds around you.
In 2008, The Orange Peel Social Aid & Pleasure Club was named one of the top five rock venues in the nation – yes, the nation – by none other than Rollinq Stone magazine.
The reunited Smashing Pumpkins played a remarkable nine-show run at the landmark club, choosing Asheville and San Francisco as stops on their two-city U.S. tour.
Catch a live performance at the many intimate clubs, bars and brewpubs, representing genres from jazz to Appalachian mountain music.
Blue Ridge Parkeway – Highlights of Spring & Summer
Diversity is a hallmark of the Parkway and the keen observer will take notice and marvel at the variations in the southern mountains. One reason for the variation is, quite simply, the change in altitude. The Parkway ranges from a mere 650 feet above sea level at Virginia’s James River, to over 6,000 feet south of Asheville in the rugged Pisgah range. For each thousand feet gained in elevation the temperature decreases several degrees.
This means that a trip along the Parkway, in search of spring wildflowers, is ever changing. If you miss the early blooms at lower elevations, rest assured that you will get more opportunities in the higher elevations where the blooming is a bit later. A variety of wildflowers decorate the Blue Ridge most of the year, beginning in late February or early March as May apple, spring beauty, and a variety of violets come into view. Buttercups and bloodroot are common along the roadsides in April. Without a doubt, May is the best overall month for all elevations along the Parkway as trillium, fire pink, and Bowman’s root cover the ground under the purple and white blossoms of redbud and dogwood. Rhododendron, mountain laurel, and a variety of azaleas put on their big show from May through late June. Catawba rhododendron is the purple variety that blooms from early June around the Peaks of Otter in Virginia to the third week of June at Craggy Gardens in North Carolina. Any time between those dates, there are spots of this variety blooming.
Rosebay rhododendron is the larger white variety that begins in mid to late June and blooms into July, primarily through the area of Rocky Knob in Virginia. Flame azalea, pink azalea or pinxter flower bloom early to late May in many Parkway areas. Mountain laurel blooms mid to late May and into June in higher elevations. Don’t think for a minute that wildflower season is over when the calendar turns to summer because you won’t want to miss the fields of black-eyed Susan, ox eye daisy, tall coneflower, andcoreopsis that blanket fields from late summer into autumn.