Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive, Virginia
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited unit in the U.S. national park system.
- When first contemplated, Skyline Drive was to be a dead-end road.
- Thomas Jefferson bought the Natural Bridge (15 miles from the parkway) from King George III (1774).
- The Roanoke Farmers Market is Virginia’s oldest continuously operating outdoor market (1880s).
- The last 7.7 miles held up completion of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway by 21 years.
Touring at a leisurely pace
The Blue Ridge Parkway (completed, 1987) is an American Scenic Byway that extends from southwest to northeast for 469 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina and Virginia, 217 of those miles in Virginia. The highway connects with Virginia’s Skyline Drive to continue farther northeast on another 105 miles in the same mountain range.
Skyline Drive, also an American Scenic Byway, is the only public road through Shenandoah National Park. Drivers see the Shenandoah River Valley on one side and the Virginia piedmont, meaning foothills, on the other.
The byways offer days and days of opportunities for leisurely travel in a beautiful setting, with hundreds of designated lookout points. The stopping points also access numerous trails for wildlife viewing and short, or long, leg-stretching walks.
Tourists pull off to visit towns along the way — Roanoke is the largest — to shop the markets, see local theater, visit a winery or pursue an interest in Appalachian culture. Apropos of that, Galax is home to the Blue Ridge Music Center, which celebrates traditional regional music. Also, the byways give access to living-history sites that recall lives of early settlers and to Civil War battle sites and associated museums.
Travel literature sometimes refers to these mountains as the Appalachians, and indeed they are. The Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the larger Appalachian system that extends from Alabama to Canada. A hiker’s favorite, the Appalachian Trail, which stretches to more than 2,000 miles, meanders across this part of Virginia, often roughly parallel to both scenic byways. Walking the trail is another way to get acquainted with the area although most visitors drive.
But they drive slowly, in part because they have no choice. The speed limits are 45 miles per hour on the parkway and only 35 miles per hour on the Skyline Drive.
The two scenic journeys have broad appeal but are most popular with those in the middle of the personality scale. Admittedly, there is not much about the byways to test the limits of one’s adventuresome side, but they offer a good environment for anyone to kick back and relax.
Things to do for Venturers
- Cycle the two scenic byways. Cyclists have to observe the speed limits, the same as cars, a more important consideration when on the Skyline Drive with its 35mph limit.
- Have your wedding on parkway grounds. To do so, it is necessary to obtain a special-event permit from the National Park Service.
- Hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. It is accessible from both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive.
- If your fiddling is good enough, enter one of the competitions at the five-day Old Fiddler’s Convention, which is held in August in Galax and focuses on country and mountain music. Prepare to camp out in order to attend this event.
- At Buchanan, on the parkway, kayak or canoe on the James River.
- Fish in one of the lakes or rivers accessible from the parkway. A fishing license is required.
Things to do for Centrics
- From Big Meadows amphitheater near milepost 52 on Skyline Drive, hike to the 81-foot Lewis Falls. Or make another waterfall your hiking goal.
- Spend some time walking the streets of Waynesboro accessible on the parkway. Visit the Waynesboro Heritage Museum and the Plumb House Museum for the historical details, but be aware the town’s streets crisscross the scene of the Civil War’s Battle of Waynesboro.
- If the timing is right, stop by Roanoke for a festival. Choices include the Strawberry Festival (early May) and Dickens of a Christmas (in December and involving a fair amount of theater).
- Bring your binoculars for bird-watching on the parkway. Stop for a picnic, too.
- Plan to do some wine tasting. Several wineries are accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Skyline Drive. Alternatively, schedule your trip for a wine festival.
- Photograph the white-tailed deer that you are likely to spot alongside the Skyline Drive. Other animals and roadside flowers offer photo ops, too.
Things to do for Authentics
- In summer, look for living history demonstrations at Mountain Farm Exhibit, found at Humpback Rocks (milepost 5 on the parkway).
- In Waynesboro, shop at the Artisans Center of Virginia, a craft center dedicated to the work of Virginia artisans.
- Hear live music in various public places along either driving route. One example is the live bluegrass music at the Orchard Gap Pickin’ Porch in a town called, of all things, Fancy Gap.
- Drive one or both of these scenic byways in autumn for the seasonal colors.
- Stop and get out of the car at a few or many scenic overlooks. The parkway has 382 overlooks or parking places, and the Skyline Drive counts 75 such stopping points.
- Take a look at Mabry Mill (at milepost 176.2 on the parkway), the most-photographed structure on the drive. The Mabry Mill Trail takes you to a blacksmith shop, wheelwright’s shop and whiskey still, as well as the mill itself.
For more information, consult the Virginia Tourism Corporation at www.virginia.org