A Road Trip Along Blue Ridge Parkway

While I am in the alps skiing life away, Barbara Meyer was kind enough to share her trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway (USA). Barb is my partner in crime on most road trips and you can find her on Instagram.


Today we like to recommend a more unusual travel destination in the USA if you are from abroad and belong to those for “who the way is the goal” and love road trips just as much as we do.

We would like to offer some remarks about the  Blue Ridge Parkway and by extension the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with it's Newfound Gap Road in the South and Shenandoah National Park and it's famous Skyline Drive to the North.

If you need to buy a plane ticket from Europe just to get to those places, you should rather visit your grandma. But if for some reason you are here and close by, it is well worth taking a look.

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through North Carolina and Virginia, linking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to Shenandoah National Park. It runs mostly along the spine of the Blue Ridge, a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains.

If you are here for the road trip experience, you will find roads close or on top of the mountains with great views in all directions. On some of the highest mountains, for example Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest mountain in Tennessee, you can literally almost drive to the top of the mountain.

Especially at the Southern end of that region you will see unending forests and endless mountain ranges in all shades of green and  grey and it seems – at least from that vantage- almost no traces of human habitation. Think about the countryside as the Black Forest or other European (non-alpine) mountains on steroids.

Towards the North, the spine of the mountains is more narrow and the road allows for views down steep slopes into the valleys to the left and to the right in the next moment and often enough to both sides at once. Along the road you will find nature, wild animals, plenty of waterfalls, traces of early settlers and memories of radical deforestation at the beginning of the 20th century. There is plenty to see and do but do not expect to see plenty of signposting, especially not along the Blue Ridge Parkway; you will nee to do your  homework.

In case this has not become clear: your playground will be narrow but very long (and will have a comfortable speed limit of 45mph...or less.... ). The Blue Ridge Parkway alone runs for 469 miles, but there are plenty of opportunities for getting off to either side and find as much civilization (read: food and coffee) as you desire.

That takes us to the people. You will be in the South, not the “real deep” South, but going by the politeness of people and peculiar additions to the menu, you are in the South. Your homework should include some reading about these people, the Cherokee and others and their fate. How and when these mountains were settled by immigrants, who in turn were not treated very nicely when the National Parks were created. Just read enough for not traveling completely oblivious; we do not expect you to hitting the road as a social justice warrior. Or maybe you want to stop by the one of the visitor centers in the National Parks that are usually very worth visiting. You will get a chance to find out more about the people and nature and the current ecological problems.

You may have heard stories about Appalachia and hillbillies and about vendettas like that of Hatfield and McCoy. Little graveyards in the forests with the names of three families and graves of 16 year old mothers and their babies may seem to fit what you have heard, but assume that these people have not lived much different from your great-grandmother and would have preferred being left alone. Much of what you have heard is propaganda about the need of bringing the blessing of civilization as a pretense of taking the land from the people and going after coal and lumber.

If you can choose fall at peak leaf color will be the best time to travel. Other people will know that too and will already be there before you, but in the early mornings you will have it all to yourself.

Of course in this part of the world, there is no warranty for good weather and peak fall color is not exactly predictable. Ideally, you would be in the position of shifting your trip a few days.
Again, this road trip is not about a single destination. It is about driving and looking and driving some more and looking some more. You need to really like that style and need to have the stamina for nomadic life if you want to enjoy that. In case we have not said it often enough: It is about driving and looking, more than about getting out of the car. But should you have the luxury of time, there is plenty of opportunity for outdoor activities and nature too.

If you are worried about your carbon foot print though, you will have every reason to.

1 comment :

  1. I've never been to this part of the US, and my grandma lives in a very boring place, so I'd definitely ignore your advice and buy a ticket just to see this place. Not sure if I'm allowed to rent a car yet though... Age restrictions are so weird in the US.

    x Envy
    Lost in Translation


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