SPECTACULAR VIEWS ON THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
This past spring I tried traveling in a recreational vehicle, or RV, for the first time. The trip was so enjoyable that my tent will be neglected during future forays into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
As a long-time tent camper and fan of Blue Ridge Parkway road trips, the idea of trying an RV for the first time on one of Americas prettiest roads had some definite appeals. The ease of driving the Parkway made maneuvering a big rig less daunting. The convenience of camping with a mobile bedroom, kitchen, and other modern amenities seemed like an ideal way to enjoy all the Parkway has to offer.
Since its inception, the Blue Ridge Parkway has been called America's favorite drive. It was authorized in the 1930s as a Depression-era public works project, but was a half-century in the making. It was the nation's first (and ultimately the longest) rural parkway. It connects the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia (the Skyline Drive) with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. The total distance is 469 miles, making it an ideal three- or four-day trip in an RV (though campgrounds make it easy to take longer).
The Blue Ridge Parkway drive officially starts at Rockfish Gap, where you find the 0 Milepost marker. These markers become the welcome signs of your location on the drive and run progressively each mile southward along the Parkway.
The first major stop is indicative of what the drive has to offer. The Humpback Rocks Visitor Center is often the first taste of the Blue Ridge Parkway for southbound drivers and it's a great place for an RVer to stop. It features an interesting self-guided tour through a reconstructed mountain farmstead. The short, but steep, hike up to Humpback Rocks (at Milepost 6.1) is well worth the heavy breathing for a breath-taking view of the area.
If travelers stopped at every awe-inspiring view, they'd never make it to the end. There are pull-offs at most of the overlooks, but vehicles are also allowed to just pull over on the shoulder as long as your vehicle is completely off the road. The speed limit is 45 miles-per-hour or less and most visitors tend to go slowly.
Some possible stops along this stretch include: Ravens Roost, which features vistas of the Shenandoah River and Torry Mountain; Sherando Lake, a recreational lake in the George Washington National Forest; Whetstone Ridge; and Yankee Horse Parking Area.
Between Mileposts 58 and 64, Otter Creek runs down the Blue Ridge, following the road to the James River. Otters don't play along the creek anymore, but lots of people do. This section of the drive features a year-round campground, visitor center, self-guided nature trail, restored lock and canal system and restaurant.
Our next stop along the Parkway was popular Peaks of Otter. Along with great camping, the Peaks of Otter area accommodates some serious hiking. Some good hiking trails are Sharp Top Trail, Elk Run Loop Trail, Harkening Hill Loop Trail, Johnson Farm Trail, and Flat Top Trail.
As the Parkway continues south and the spectacular views roll by. Look for the Appalachian Trail Overlook around Milepost 100. The famed Appalachian Trail is a 2,100-mile hiking "path" along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from Maine to Georgia. It runs through 14 states and the Virginia section (534 miles) is the longest stretch.
At Mabry Mill, E.B. Mabry operated a water-powered mill from 1910 to 1935. A self-guided walking tour includes a gristmill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, and other outdoor exhibits. In the summer and fall, visitors will often find old-time skills being demonstrated.
Nearby, the Mabry Mill Coffee & Craft Shop offers refreshments and stoneground cornmeal. Just down the Parkway, Meadows of Dan offers gas, food, lodging, and shopping, country-style.
North Carolina features some spectacular scenery and sightseeing of its own. Some of the best views include Fox Hunters Paradise, Doughton Park, The Lump, Linn Cove Viaduct, Linville Falls, the Mt. Pisgah area, and Richland Balsam Overlook. Along with these pulloffs, North Carolina hiking options include the Tanawha Trail, Craggy Gardens, Graveyard Fields, Devils Courthouse, and Waterrock Knob.
History abounds in this rugged area. The Cone Manor House and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park provide one of the most interesting stops on the Parkway. This huge and historic estate features old carriage trails that are now ideal for hiking