Hundreds of miles of natural beauty
If ever you've needed motivation to go see something for yourself, consider America's most popular national park attraction, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stretching 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains, there is no shortage of breathtaking views. Whether you're looking for a relaxing drive or a place to hike, this winding road has much to offer. Take a visual tour and learn about "America's Favorite Drive."
The road meanders through miles of forest, mountains, streams and even ravines. To deal with the challenging terrain, the parkway is fortified with viaducts — a total of six throughout the route. One of the most scenic by far is the Linn Cove Viaduct, shown in the above photos. A total of 176 bridges have also been built along the drive.
Created as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the parkway begins in North Carolina, connecting Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Vistas like the one above, which shows acres upon acres of protected forest and farmland in North Carolina, are common — each one unique in its striking hues. The protection granted to Blue Ridge Parkway encompasses an astounding total of about 88,000 acres.
The drive brings visitors through history, with stone bridges harkening back to the industrial era, old and isolated cabins long forgotten, and even traces of pre-historic human settlement. Indeed, the U.S. National Park Service went through several years of negotiations with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to build the road through the tribe's land in North Carolina.
The parkway's route through Grandfather Mountain has an interesting tale behind it. In the 1950s and 1960s, as the park service was completing the route, landowner Hugh Morton attempted to prevent the development on his previously untouched mountain. The park service and Morton reached a compromise and the road was routed through lower stretches of the mountain instead of touching its peak. After more than 30 years of conflict, the parkway was completed in 1987. For maps, newspaper articles and even more detail about the fiasco, check out "Driving through Time," a website dedicated to the culture and historical events surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Appalachian Mountains play host to a rich diversity of wildlife, from more than 200 bird species in the trees to the rapidly shrinking salamanders in the forest floor. As land continues to be developed around the parkway, animals can still find refuge within the wide-ranging habitats that remain protected.
Just as diverse as the wildlife, more than 100 species of trees each add their own splash of color to the canvas.
The millions of annual visitors can attest to one thing: it's not just a road; it's a pathway of tranquility, protecting the invaluable wilderness surrounding it.