“The idea is to fit the Parkway into the mountains as if nature has put it there,” says Stanley Abbott, Chief Landscape Architect for the Blue Ridge Parkway. He couldn’t have said it better. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Scenic Parkway that winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains like they are one and the same. Spanning 469.1 miles, construction began in September of 1935 and lasted for over fifty two years. The Parkway runs from Virginia all the way to Cherokee, North Carolina and is filled with scenic overlooks, numerous trailheads, historic sites and more.
Fun factoid: the Blue Ridge Parkway actually operates under many of the same rules and regulations as National Parks such as Yellowstone, Gettysburg, or Cape Hatteras. At the same time, the Blue Ridge Parkway also runs through several different national parks and forests.
In western North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway travels 252 miles and offers an exceptional glimpse of our regional flora and fauna, long vistas over the Appalachian Mountains, great hikes, waterfalls, swimming holes and, well, we can go on and on. To make your experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway more memorable, we created a guide you can download below with 3 of our favorite things to do off the beaten path. We’re giving away our secrets because we know you’ll treat these gems with the respect that they deserve. Enjoy!
What makes the North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway so unique?
There are many reasons why the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina draws a lot of locals and visitors. It’s a unique area, and Corey White, Park Naturalist for the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship, is happy to explain why.
“We have great diversity of species and plants in this Southern area of the Appalachian Mountains, more than in all of Northern Europe together. A reason for this is the age of our mountains – about 315 million years old – and the fact that there hasn’t been much ecological activity, no big continents clashing and rocks coming down. Another reason for this is all the micro-climates in this part of the mountains, attracting many different animals and plants. You can find a complex mosaic of micro-climates around almost every curve along the Parkway, mainly because of the mixed topography in this area.”
What to look for when you step out of your car along the Parkway?
“If you’re taking a hike or doing any other activity outdoors, it’s fun to look for animal tracks. Observe the soil. Look for shallow depressions and look for tracks of deer or black bear. We have a good population of black bears here. Not something to be afraid of, but just be aware. They usually don’t like to be around people. A great activity for kids is to look for salamanders. There is a huge variety of salamanders living in these mountains, and they like to hide under rocks and logs. Now, there is a safety disclaimer here: if you look under a rock or log, always pull it towards you, so that whatever is under there – it could also be a snake – can escape in the other direction. If you push the object away from you, the animal will escape in your direction.”
How about the mysterious mountain lion?
“The official statement is that there are currently no wild mountain lions in this area. However, there is a small population in west Tennessee, and that’s not a big distance for mountain lions to cover. They’re very shy, so not easy to spot. Some locals swear they’ve seen one around here. Unfortunately, I personally have never seen one.”
Download the guide with 3 of our favorite things to do off the beaten path!
We asked some of our local friends and family to share a few of their favorite things to do on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After some bribing (it involved Appalachia Cookie Company) they were finally willing to share! Download our guide below, and you’ll know just what to explore the next time you hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway!
Author: Sanny Visser