One of America’s greatest national treasures, the ribbon of road known as the Blue Ridge Parkway, meanders through this region. We in the High Country are lucky in that over 60 miles of it runs through this area, from the Northwest Trading Post near Laurel Springs to Linville Falls.
There are several important things to know when getting on the Parkway for any length of a drive. Here are some of the things I have noticed and learned in my experience of enjoying this beautiful park.
- The Parkway is not plowed by the National Park Service during winter weather. If there is snow and/or ice, many portions of the road will be blocked, and open parts may still be covered in snow. Even if the ambient temperature is above freezing, there still may be portions that are shaded or in tunnels that are icy.
- The speed limit is 45mph for most of the road. A few places are at 35mph, and one or two are at 25mph. Don’t speed, no matter how much you may be tempted. This applies to day trippers and those looking for an adrenaline rush. Because the Parkway is a Federal park, speeding here is a Federal offense.
- Often you will see bicyclists enjoying the Parkway as well. Obviously they can’t go as fast as a car can, so proper Parkway etiquette dictates that you stay behind them until you can safely pass on their left, just as you would on a major highway. There’s no need to tailgate them and put them in danger.
- The weather can change quickly on the Parkway. Be sure you are prepared by dressing in layers if you plan to be outside.
- If you want to pull off and have a picnic or enjoy nature, by all means, do so. It’s legal to park on the shoulder unless posted otherwise. Just remember to make sure that your car is entirely off the road, and that you will be able to safely pull back off the shoulder.
- Speaking of a picnic, remember you’re in nature. Don’t leave food outside, and certainly do not leave trash at your picnic or campsite. Not only is it ugly for others to see, it’s harmful to nature.
- If you are planning on a hike, remember to wear appropriate clothing and take proper supplies. My friend over at the Treeline Backpacker blog has a lot of great tips and information for hikers and backpackers.
- If you are driving along and enjoying the scenery, with your cruise control set, you may end up with a line of cars behind you. Just pull off at the next overlook and let them go on their merry way. And if you happen to be one of the ones in line behind the lead dog- do not tailgate them to try to get them to speed up.
- You may see mowers or other maintenance workers along the roadside. Use utmost caution when passing them. A few months ago, there was a fatal accident claiming the life of one of the men employed as a mower.
- The Parkway is not an urban road. You’re driving the Parkway to experience nature, and a part of that may be encountering animals running out onto the road ahead of you. Be extra cautious for this, especially at dusk and after dark.
- Often, the Parkway will attract hundreds more motorists on the weekend rather than the weekdays. Except for a few turning lanes at select locations, the Parkway is a two lane road. Be sure you account for extra driving time because of increased traffic.
- The Parkway is home to more than 50 endangered plant species. When outside, do not pick flowers or plants. Leave them for others to enjoy.
- Driving an RV is permitted, but be aware there are 26 tunnels. (All but one of them are on the southern end of the NC portion.) Check here to see if your RV will fit, and remember that most of these tunnels were built over 60 years ago.
- If you will be camping and building a wood fire, use wood from the same state you are in. The NPS has prohibited wood from many states as an effort to curb the spread of non-native destructive wood insects.
- When taking a full day on the Parkway, be sure to either plan your meal and gas stops in advance, or bring your own provisions. They may not be readily available when you need. It’s a good idea to look for food when you first start to get hungry, and look for gas when you are down to about 1/3 tank left.
- Don’t hesitate to get off at highways and explore the surrounding areas. It’s an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the region and experience things you may not have planned on.
- Most bathrooms on the Parkway don’t have hot water or soap. Hand sanitizer or WetOnes wipes are wonderful in these cases.
- Cell phone signal is something of a joke on most parts of the Parkway. Keep that in mind as you travel and explore.
The main point of any trip on the Parkway is to get out of the rat race, relax, and enjoy nature. Above are just a few of the sights you may experience when you get out. As the Smashmouth song goes, “So much to do, so much to see- so what’s wrong with taking the back streets? You’ll never know if you don’t go!”
All text and photos copyright 2012 Cassandra Hartley, Blue Ridge NC Guide. No portion of this article is to be copied, saved, or otherwise distributed without express written consent. Sharing is encouraged using the designated social media sharing buttons at the bottom of this article. Photos for this post provided by our sister site Photos by Cassandra Lea. Author received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this article.