Located in the western portion of the state, this beautiful 470-mi/750-km drive begins in Virginia, at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park (the scenic road through the park is called Skyline Drive), and ends at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. It touches several mountain ranges (from the Smokies to the Shenandoahs) but basically stays in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the eastern side of the Appalachians. It has been called America's Most Scenic Highway, and you won't get any argument from us.
Along the way, visitors will find historic sites, spectacular scenery, displays of mountain culture and museums on regional subjects. There are 350 hiking trails, nine campgrounds, and lodges and restaurants. One of the parkway's themes is "ride awhile, stop awhile." At Milepost 411, 20 mi/32 km southwest of Asheville, is Cold Mountain, the mountain on which the Civil War novel and film Cold Mountain were based.
Although we prefer it in the fall (for the foliage) and spring (wildflowers in April), any time between May and October is good, when most of the visitor facilities are open. We urge you to see the whole route, if possible, but be aware that the parkway doesn't make for particularly fast traveling. The speed limit is below that of the interstates, and the road tends to wind up and down mountains rather than skirting them, as most highways do. The biggest causes of delay, however, are the hundreds of scenic turnoffs and other sights that you simply won't be able to resist. It will take at least three days to complete the full route, but it's time well-invested—the drive is truly gorgeous.
Note: Do be aware that unattended cars in parking areas along the route can be targets for thieves, as they are in many scenic areas. Simply exercise common sense and you should be able to avoid trouble: Don't leave valuable items in view, and be sure to lock your vehicle. Also, be aware that the parkway may be closed at times (especially in winter) because of weather conditions.
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