The Blue Ridge Parkway provides both stunning scenery and close-up views of the natural and the cultural history of the southern Appalachian Mountains. The Parkway meanders 469 miles and connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. There are many overlooks, picnic and camping facilities, hiking trails, and natural and cultural areas for visitors to enjoy. There are many historic structures, museums, folk art centers, visitor centers, and points of interest along the way.From Rockfish Gap in Virginia to near Mount Mitchell State Park in North Carolina the Blue Ridge Parkway follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains occasionally dipping down into the coves, hollows and gaps of the southern Appalachians. The road climbs to elevations over 6,000 feet high. The eastern edge of the Blue Ridge has the rugged river drainage of the Linville Gorge and Rockcastle Gorge. This scenic byway has lmany natural attractions.
There is a huge diversity of flora and fauna on the Parkway. Park biologists have identified 1,250 kinds of vascular plants 25 of which are rare or endangered. There is a wide diversity of animals that make the Park their home some of which are rare or endangered species. The wide diversity in plant and animal life in the Park is a result of a wide range in elevation as well as a north-south axis with the two ends being nearly 500 miles apart. At lower elevations deciduous forests with a wide range of trees including oak, hickory, maple, beech, birch and buckeye dominate. At higher elevations spruce and fir make up evergreen forests along the ridge tops and mountain peaks.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a cross-section of Appalachian Mountain history. It encompasses some of the oldest settlements of both the pre-historic inhabitants and those of the early pioneers. The Cherokee Indians of North Carolina along with other Indian tribes of western Virginia were among the earliest inhabitants of the Blue Ridge. They left artifacts and other evidence of their existence including arrowheads, early tools, and evidence in the landscape of early grazing and croplands, as well as names of mountains and rivers. Early Appalachian pioneer structures can still be seen along the Parkway. Old farmsteads and a number of 19th Century pioneer log cabins can be seen on the journey. Many forms of 19th Century industrial development can be seen along the Parkway including a short stretch of reconstructed narrow-gauge railroad track and an exhibit on logging in the area. Mining operations, mills, blacksmith shops, whiskey stills, and retreats built by the 20th Century wealthy are all points of interest on the Parkway. One of the most popular cultural attractions is the mountain handicrafts which can be viewed and purchased locally at trading posts and art centers along the way.
If you are on the Blue Ridge Scenic Byway at night you may be fortunate enough to witness the natural phenomenon of the mysterious Brown Mountain Lights. The Brown Mountain lights can be seen streaking across the skies on many clear nights, and sometimes even on cloudy nights. They are one of North Carolina's oldest and most famous legends, and scientists are still debating the possible explanations for this intriguing light show in the night sky.
The Blue Ridge Parkway can be accessed near Cherokee, North Carolina, just about 30 minutes from the scenic Nantahala River Gorge. Allow 2 or 3 days to drive the full length of the Parkway providing for stops so that you can enjoy the beauty and the culture.
To see more on the Blue Ridge Parkway go to the website www.nps.gov/blri/