Blue Ridge ParkwayIf you like road trips and have a “bucket list,” make sure the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway is high on that list. This spring I drove the parkway from beginning to end along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.

It’s the longest linear national park in the nation, stretching 469 miles from the Shenandoah Valley in central Virginia to Cherokee and Smokey Mountain National Park in the southwestern corner of North Carolina.  Along the way it passes Roanoke and Ashville and countless small mountain villages, which are just off the parkway.

It harkens back to older days when you traveled scenic byways to enjoy the views. Top speed limit is 45 mph on the two-lane road.  It’s a national park.  Every bend seems to offer an enticing vista; a hawk’s-eye view of a river valley, peaceful pastures with grazing cows, and a tree covered summit, or a rocky peak.  What you won’t find are billboards, stop signs or a traffic light, just jaw-dropping views.

It crosses four major rivers, 100 gaps and six mountain ranges.  It climbs to a little over 6,000 feet near Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, and dips to 650 feet above sea level crossing the James River in southwest Virginia.  There are numerous side trips that you can take off the parkway, and plenty of places to pull over for the plethora of pictures you’ll want to take.  If hiking is your thing there are easy to difficult hikes all along the parkway.  With the use of the milepost system – numbers increase as you drive south – it’s easy to find points of interest along the way. 

The National Park Service has added or restored cultural attractions like the Blue Ridge Music Center at the parkway’s midpoint; Mabry Mill, a century-old gristmill near Roanoke; and Johnson Farm, a restored 1930s living history attraction.

There are three places that you can stay along the Blue Ridge Parkway. At milepost 85 isPeaks of Otter Lodge overlooking the peak and a beautiful lake with a mile hiking trail around. At milepost 333 is Little Switzerland offering incredible valley view’s for the top of Grassy Mountain. At milepost is Mount Pisgah Inn with panoramic views of the Pisgah National Forest from all rooms. All three are dog friendly. Tank, my chocolate lab made the trip with me and loved it. The parkway was an easy two-day drive from the upper Midwest, and I spent three days touring down the park.  

Photos: Top -- Put the Blue Ridge Parkway on your Bucket List, says Mike; Bottom -- Here's a view from an overlook on the highway (Facebook)

Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway