Thelma is an award-winning writer living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She enjoys writing about rural America, especially Appalachia.
Virginia Portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic and beautiful rural roadway that stretches between two national parks in the southern United States. It connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
If you are looking to traverse the distance between these two national treasures in a hurry, then the Blue Ridge Parkway is not the best choice for your trip. The 469 mile drive is on a two-lane road with a maximum speed of 45 mph. However, if you are looking to experience long range mountain vistas, wildlife, wildflowers and historic sites, travelling the parkway at a leisurely pace will not disappoint you.
This portion of the roadway runs south from milepost 0 at Rockfish Gap, Virginia to milepost 199.4 at Fancy Gap near the Virginia/North Carolina border. The elevation ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 feet, mostly located in the George Washington and the Jefferson National Forests in the Appalachian Mountains. Crossing such terrain during the building of the road accounts for the reason the construction took 52 years to complete! It also explains the spectacular mountain views that attract visitors from all over the world.
Many Visitors on Bicycles and Motorcycles
Visiting the Parkway on a bike, whether a bicycle or motorcycle, is a great way to get close to nature and see details that you might miss while riding in an automobile. Here are a few recommendations to make your "two wheel" exploring a memorable experience:
- Wear a helmet! The Parkway passes through several counties in Virginia that have bicycle helmet requirements.
- Be aware the road shoulders are very narrow in most places, so pay extra attention if you need to pull your bike off the road. The small shoulders add to the beauty of the Parkway as the meadows and forests are close to the road.
- Because of the many curves in the road, your sight distance will often be limited.
- There is no striping painted on the sides of the road. This, again, is to not disturb the natural beauty of the ride through the forest and meadows.
- Remember, as the National Park Service likes to point out, "Enjoy the View - Watch the Road".
The area offers numerous opportunities for hiking including a location which was designed for people with mobility issues in mind. Limberlost Trail at milepost 43 is a 1.3 mile hike recommended for people of all ages. It has a 5 foot wide trail made of crushed greenstone with a very gentle grade. There are many benches located just short distances apart, a wooden walkway in one area and a bridge. Limberlost Trail meanders through an old apple orchard and a stand of mountain laurel that blooms in June.
Two waterfall hikes are very popular. Apple Orchard Falls at milepost 78 has a viewing platform underneath the falls which will give you a shower in the summer months! A little further down the road at milepost 83, Falling Water Cascades is another scenic hike.
Hiking maps are available at the Parkway Visitor Centers for the trails mentioned here as well as several others.
The National Park Service advises that you should carry your own drinking water on your hike and not drink from streams or springs.
Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed on any of the hiking trails. Dogs must be on a leash and in control of the owner at all times.
Mabry Mill at Milepost 176.1
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Humpback Rocks, located at milepost 5.8, features a visitors center and an outdoor farm museum. There are several buildings that represent the architecture of the area in the 1800's. Interpreters in period costumes give demonstrations of household chores of the settlers such as weaving and basket making.
The rock outcropping that gives Humpback Rocks its name, was a visual landmark for the wagon trains heading west in the area during the 1840's.
Located at milepost 176 is another historical site that demonstrates the agricultural way of life that has prevailed in this part of Virginia for many years. Mabry Mill is a gristmill that was built by Ed and Lizzy Mabry over 100 years ago in the community of Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Visitors to the mill proclaim it is one of the most picturesque spots on the Parkway and chances are you have seen it on calendars and post cards.
In the summer and fall, the sights, sounds and smells of Appalachia abound with park rangers and volunteers providing demonstrations of weaving, chair making and spinning. You may be lucky enough to catch the smell of apple butter being cooked over a fire or watch the blacksmith showing his skills. If you listen closely, you may hear sounds of a banjo in the distance.
Blacksmith Demonstration at Mabry Mill
Motels and other overnight accommodations are available at most of the exits from the Blue Ridge Parkway. At milepost 86, Peaks of Otter Lodge is the only lodging located directly on the Parkway in Virginia. Located on the banks of Lake Abbott, it offers a lodge and a full service restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dining room has magnificent views of the lake.
Peaks of Otter Lodge is a pet friendly facility but is definitely not cell phone friendly as there is no cell phone service in the area. If you are looking for a stress-free, get away from it all vacation, you won't be disappointed in this picturesque lodging option.
Guidelines From the National Park Service
Following are some rules provided by the National Park Service which will make for a more enjoyable visit for you and other visitors:
- Pets - The Parkway is a wonderful place to vacation with your pet. They love the clean mountain air as much as you do! Due to the wildlife that is so prolific, it is understandable that pets must be on a leash (no longer than six feet) anytime they are outside of your vehicle. This is especially true on hiking trails.
- Flora and Fauna - All wildlife, wildflowers and other vegetation are protected. The wildflowers are beautiful but you must capture them on pictures and not pick them. Do not attempt to feed the animals that you will see. Not only for the sake of safety, but "people food" can be very harmful to the animals. Hunting on the Parkway is prohibited.
- Camping - Although you will see many beautiful meadows that come right up to the side of the road which would make amazing camping sites, you must resist the temptation. Camping is only allowed in park campgrounds or designated back-country sites which require a permit. More information on the 8 campsites managed by the National Park Service is available at their website.
- Roadside Parking - You are allowed to park on road shoulders and can get some wonderful photos from these vantage points. However, make certain that you are well off the pavement. You may be better served to take advantage of the numerous roadside pull-offs for parking.
- Lakes and Ponds - Fishing in the scenic lakes and ponds is allowed with the proper Virginia fishing license. However, no swimming is permitted.
- Alcoholic Beverages - Open alcohol containers in vehicles are prohibited. They are allowed for registered campers in campgrounds and in picnic areas.
Organization Works to Maintain the Area's Beauty
Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a group of volunteers whose mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the Parkway. Members of all ages provide much needed assistance with maintenance, special projects, financial donations and fund raising efforts.
On a recent visit to Mabry Mill, I came across a lady sitting on the ground in front of a wooden directional sign with a paintbrush in hand. Wearing a brightly colored safety vest, she was patiently re-painting the letters and sprucing up the signs in the area. Libby Wilcox, a member of the Rocky Knob chapter of the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a volunteer that donates approximately 10 hours of her time each week to enhance the beauty of the Parkway. Libby says, "Most people drive down the Parkway admiring its beauty at every turn. I look for things that don't look as nice as they should and add them to my list of projects to work on."
Even if you aren't fortunate enough to live near the Parkway like Libby, you can still help the cause to protect this national treasure for future generations. Visit www.FriendsBRP.org to become a friend of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Each season offers its own rewards for area visitors:
- Spring affords you the opportunity to view the beautiful wildflowers. Many say it is their favorite time of the year to enjoy a sense of renewal as the mountains "come to life" after the snows of winter. When planning your visit, keep in mind that below-freezing temperatures are common in March and into April. Pack a jacket and sweater!
- Summer temperatures vary with the elevation. It is recommended that you keep an eye on the weather as afternoon thunderstorms can move in quickly. Spectacular flowers including Bluets, Turks-Cap Lily, Bee Balm and Wild Hydrangea among many others are summertime bloomers.
- Fall on the Blue Ridge Parkway is an amazing time of year. The oranges, reds and yellows of the leaves reflected on the long range mountain views is known as "fire on the mountain". Warm days and cool nights are the norm but keep in mind that snow is a possibility in November. Pack your clothing accordingly.
- Winter definitely requires advance planning and weather watching before visiting. This is especially true for some of the higher elevation destinations. Wind, ice and snow can approach quickly and extreme conditions can require roads to be closed by the Park Service. You absolutely must dress for the conditions and have an emergency kit, rations and blankets in your vehicle. The park information line at 828-298-0398 should be checked to see if the road to your destination is passable and safe. You can also see real-time road closure maps which are updated daily throughout the year by the National Park Service.
- Additional information about visiting the beautiful state of Virginia is available at www.Virginia.org or by calling 1-800-VISITVA.
It Belongs to All of Us
Whether you are visiting for the first time or the hundredth time, there is always something new to see. The scenery changes every day depending on the time of the year, the time of the day and the weather conditions. There is nothing like meandering through the meadows and peaceful valleys to make you relax, lower your blood pressure and let you reconnect with nature. Remember to slow down and take time to stop and smell the roses!
Did you ever take a walk through the forest
Stop and dream a while among the trees
You can look up through the leaves right straight to heaven
You can almost hear the voice of God
In each and every breeze
You got to Stop and Smell the Roses
— Singer Mac Davis in 1974 Song, "You Got to Stop and Smell the Roses"
Video of the History of the Blue Ridge Parkway
© 2015 Thelma Raker Coffone