American Road Trip: The Blue Ridge Parkway

I drove hundreds of miles to get there and made a fairly monumental screw up that caused me to miss the northern end but the truly stunning Blue Ridge Parkway was definitely worth the effort and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

After a mammoth and stressful drive the day before, I woke up in Roanoke, Virginia still not really knowing where I should go next in order to get on the Parkway.  I searched the web and whilst I could find out where Mile 0 was there was no point of reference for me to head to, as in an actual town or location that Google Maps seemed to understand.  I decided to try my luck with my GPS which was in the car and as I dropped my room key in reception I just happened to spot a Blue Ridge Parkway brochure that I grabbed as I headed out the door.

As luck would have it there was a detailed map inside but the problem was the map cut off the top of the road and when I flipped it over all I noticed was a map of The Skyline Drive which hooks up with the Parkway.  For some stupid reason I didn’t notice that it also covered northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway in plenty of detail.  I’ve worked with enough underfunded local tourist organisations in my life to know that mistakes like this happen so I just wasn’t surprised that the map I was looking at was cut off and I didn’t bother to inspect further.  It sounds crazy but I took it at face value and headed off on a wild goose chase through Virginia for the next hour or so.

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The fateful map.

The nearest location to the northern end I could see (on the only side of the map I was looking at) was Laurel Fork so I plugged that into the GPS and off I went.  After backtracking for a while down I-81 I exited at Christiansburg to drive through picturesque Virginia farmland.  I eventually saw a sign stating that the Parkway was 11-miles away and I was relieved to know I was on the right track.  In the town of Wills the road came to an end with only two options; right or left.  But guess what?  No sign telling you which way to the Parkway.  I pulled over and attempted to verify things as my GPS was telling me to go right but my instincts where telling me the Parkway was left.   Remember my GPS was taking me to Laurel Forks and didn’t know that I wanted to get on the Parkway.

In the end I decided to follow my GPS and turned right.  After about 30-minutes of not seeing any more signs for the Parkway I realised that was a mistake.  I ended up on dirt roads in deepest Virginia passing farms and trailer homes.  I actually saw an old man in a cowboy hat whittling a piece of wood on his porch.  In a rocking chair no less.  I was driving a hillbilly cliché and was not happy because I had no clue where I was and I worried about my tires on dirt roads.  After seemingly going in circles like this for about 40-minutes the GPS spat me out on a paved road and miraculously there was a sign for the Parkway but I have to say I never found Laurel Forks.

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I took this shortly before I was on a dirt road with the whittling cowboy.

I ended up in the very cute little village of Meadows of Dan and realised this was the ‘of Dan’ on my tourist map that you can see in the photo.  After gassing up I headed onto the drive and felt the stress of the past day and a half melt away.  This was an absolutely beautiful road with hardly anyone else on it and all I had to worry about was following it.

I’d woken up exhausted that morning and had decided that my only mission today was to find the Parkway then just head to the nearest motel for a break.  So after less than an hour on this lovely drive and already managing to take about 50 photos, I exited to Galax, Virginia to spend the rest of the day chilling in this small quiet town.

The next morning I was excited to get back on the Parkway and made it there by exactly 7.03am.  At precisely 7.05am I crossed into North Carolina for one of the nicest days of my trip so far.    This was incredibly beautiful scenery and pleasant easy driving.  The landscape showcases fairy tale forest that varied hugely depending on your elevation.  There were breath taking views so vast that I sometimes thought I could see the Atlantic Ocean.  The mountains could be gentle and forest covered or steep and rocky.  Did I mention the views?

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Words can never do justice to how incredible this drive is so I won’t even try.  I doubt my photos can either but hopefully they will give you a taste of the beauty of this region so please check out the slideshow at the bottom of the page.  Trust me that if you take the time to do it you won’t regret it.  To spare you the trouble I went through I’ve included some tips below for anyone smart enough to spend some time on this road.

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Tips for the Blue Ridge Parkway

The maximum speed limit for the whole drive is 45mph with a few short sections at 35mph.

The road is mostly in good condition and when I was there the traffic was very light so it is an easy drive where you can generally maintain the speed limit.

You could easily drive most of the road a lot faster but please don’t!  There are many cyclists that would be all too easy to hit if you took a corner too fast or weren’t paying attention in one of the many tunnels.  Just take it easy and enjoy the views.

You can choose to drive just part of the road on a full or half day trip or you can do the whole thing in about 3-days.  You could do it in 2-days if you don’t mind lots of driving, early starts and late finishes not to mention forgoing the many short hiking trails on offer. If you had time and wanted to explore some of the trails you could spend the best part of a week there.

If you want to do the whole 469 mile drive you need to start at either Waynesboro, Virginia in the north or Cherokee, North Carolina in the south.

It is very easy to do sections of the road if you don’t have time to spare due to the numerous feeder roads along the way.

In winter parts of the road can close due to snow but don’t let this put you off as lower elevations may well be open and again, it is easy to get on and off as you need to.

I didn’t see any gas stations on the road after Meadows of Dan however there are many towns nearby that you can exit to in order to gas up.  Due to the speed limit you don’t use a lot of gas.  I went through less than a tank in my sedan between Meadows of Dan and Waynesville which is about 230 miles.

Whilst there are some limited accommodation and camping options along the road it is just as easy to exit to nearby towns where you’ll also be able to get food.

Rather than visiting a restaurant for lunch you should take adavantage of the numerous overlooks with tables and pack a picnic lunch.  You’ll be hard pressed to find lunch spots with such great views again.

The best place for information and a downloadable map is www.blueridgeparkway.orgWikipedia also has some helpful information.

My biggest regret:  Not looking at the very detailed map I had properly.  It is an oversight I can’t really explain that caused me to miss the first 190 miles of the drive.  And just not being able to figure out where to head to in order to start from the northernmost end of the road.  I think that is where a traveling companion to double check my logic would have been handy.  I was so tired from all the driving that when I got to motels in the evening I just wasn’t mentally sharp enough to properly research things.

Slideshow

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One thought on “American Road Trip: The Blue Ridge Parkway

  1. Pingback: American Road Trip: North Carolina – The Wandering Wincer

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