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America’s Favorite Drive: The Blue
Blue Ridge Parkway is considered by many to be America’s favorite drive. A
National Parkway managed by the National Park Service, the parkway connects two
of the most popular national parks in the United States: Shenandoah National
Park and the most-visited of all the parks, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
It’s an All-American Roadway and the longest parkway in the US at 469 miles
long. Opinions vary, but we consider fall to be the best time of year for a
drive along the parkway. There’s nothing quite like those scenic vistas
arrayed in the pageantry of autumn.
Blue Ridge Parkway was conceived as a public works project. Inspired by
Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive, the parkway picks up at the southern
terminus of Skyline Drive on Afton Mountain at Rockfish Gap, Virginia. It runs
south to Cherokee, North Carolina. Construction began September 11, 1935 and was
completed September 11, 1987, 52 years later. The serpentine roadway twists and
turns as it follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Virginia into
for the leisure traveler, the
are encouraged to stop at the many pull-off areas to enjoy the view or hike some
of the 350 miles of hiking trails located along the parkway.
There are several areas within the park where visitors can stop and learn
a bit more about the region and its history.
One such location,
Milepost 176 is Mabry Mill, the most-photographed gristmill in Virginia. When
Edwin Mabry built his gristmill, he had no way of knowing how wildly popular it
would one day be. The mill has been restored by park workers so visitors may
observe an actual working gristmill. Mabry spent time working as a blacksmith in
the West Virginia coalfields before returning to his native land in 1903 to
begin construction on his mill (which was first a blacksmith and wheelwright
shop, then a sawmill and finally a gristmill in 1905. Whatever Mabry needed, he
built for himself. Mabry Mill stands as a testament to his self-sufficiency and
hard work. Having no children, Mabry Mill is his legacy, there for all to enjoy.
There is a gift shop and restaurant adjacent to Mabry Mill. The restaurant features a country-style menu (http://www.mabrymillrestaurant.com/menu/) with breakfast available all day long. There’s an amazing array of pancakes offered (blueberry, buckwheat, apple or sweet potato to name a few).
milepost where you’ll likely want to stop is near Milepost 115 to take in the
stunning view of the Roanoke River. You can take the time to hike down to the
river or simply take in the view, grab some photos and continue onward.
Mill and the Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant are the only two places
directly on the parkway to dine. The lodge, located near Milepost 86, is the
only lodging located on the parkway. Situated beside a lake at the foot of two
of the peaks that make up the Peaks of Otter, the lodge is in an ideal location.
Collectively known as the Peaks of Otter, the three peaks are: Harkening Hill,
Flat Top and Sharp Top. While staying at the lodge, a trip to Sharp Top is a
must. If you’re the type that enjoys a strenuous hike, climbing up Sharp Top
meets that description and then some. If that’s not you, you can always pay to
take the shuttle bus up the steep grade with hairpin turns (if you think the ride
up is exhilarating, wait for the ride back down). The shuttle can’t get all the
way to the top and the remaining hike is plenty strenuous for most people.
Top was once thought to be Virginia’s highest point (later found to actually
be Mount Rogers). The Virginia stone in the Washington Monument was taken from
the granite atop Sharp Top. The stone is engraved: “From Otter’s Summit,
Virginia’s loftiest peak, to crown a monument to Virginia’s noblest son.”
The Peaks of Otter are maintained by the National Park Service as part of the
Blue Ridge Parkway.
much to see and do on the parkway, but undoubtedly you’ll want to visit the
towns and villages located near the All-American Roadway. Located near Milepost
120, Roanoke is one of those places. The city of Roanoke is located at what once
was a fork in the Great Wagon Road, which by 1775 stretched some 700 miles from
Pennsylvania to South Carolina. From
the fork, the options were the Wilderness Road leading west into Tennessee or
the Carolina Road leading south into the Carolinas and Georgia. Visit the
Roanoke Star, said to be the largest man-made star in the world, to get a
bird’s-eye view of the city and surrounding area.
you like history, a stop by the History Museum of Western Virginia is a must.
The museum tells the story of Roanoke and the state of Virginia.
If you like trains, history
and photography, you’ll want to stop by the O. Winston Link Museum (separate
museum but same location).
Link was a master photographer who documented the last steam engines of the
Norfolk and Western Railroad in the 1950s. He accomplished what many thought
impossible. Using elaborate lighting set-ups, he photographed moving steam
engines at night. No Photoshop for Mr. Link.
sinuous two-lane highway offers one stunning view after another as it meanders
along the ridges of the Blue Ridge. This is definitely a road trip you’ll want
to take. Why not take it in the most beautiful season.
If You Go:
101 Shenandoah Avenue, NE
Roanoke, VA 24016
Blue Ridge Parkway
Download your National Park
Owner’s Manual at this link: http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/travel-ideas
The Blue Ridge Parkway: http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/