Photo Credit: Mary Ann Baker

Amble down the Blue Ridge Parkway to experience Appalachia with its rolling hills and stunning array of wildflowers. This 469-mile stretch of road takes you through North Carolina and Virginia, with the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks bookending your trip. If you have the time, drive the entire stretch over the course of a week or just take a two-hour jaunt down parts of it, such as the stretch from Asheville to Boone, North Carolina where you can find an array of picnic areas and hiking trails framed by tulip trees, dogwoods and red maples.

Blue Ridge Parkway Route

Start your journey in Waynesboro, Virginia, the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A stop at Humpback Rock takes you to a self-guided trail through Appalachian farm buildings and to the three-quarter mile hike to The Rocks. Within 10 miles on the drive you encounter Ravens Roost with its views of Torry Mountain and the Shenandoah Valley. At Sherando Lake, you can stop at George Washington National Forest four miles off the parkway.

Follow another self-guided trail at the James River and Kanawha Canal along a bluff to see a footbridge that leads to exhibits and restored canal locks. Onion Mountain features a short loop trail through mountain laurel and rhododendron. Another loop trail takes you through Fallingwater Cascades 83 miles into your trip. Or stop at Peaks of Otter’s for views of the Shenandoah Valley that have been popular since Thomas Jefferson’s era.

An overlook at Roanoke River Gorge unveils the scenery there after a 10-minute walk. A stop at Roanoke Mountain about four miles off the parkway takes you through a one-way loop road over the mountain for a different view of the wild. Next is the Roanoke Valley Overlook for views of the largest town along the parkway.

Stop at "Smart View" in early May for views of dogwoods in bloom and the Trail Cabin, built in the 1890s. At Mabry Mill, a gristmill operated by E.B. Mabry from 1910 to 1935 is on display along with a sawmill, blacksmith shop and other exhibits. Groundhog Mountain gives you views of rural fences. Your next checkpoint is mile marker 189.1 for views of Pilot Mountain in North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax features a 17,000-square-foot museum dedicated to old-time music.

Your next stop takes you into North Carolina. Cumberland Knob at 2,885 feet offers a walk through fields and woodlands. See deer at Doughton Park, named for Congressman Robert L. Doughton, a supporter of the parkway. Daniel Bonoe’s Trace crosses at mile marker 285.1. Visit the former retreat of Julian Price, an insurance executive, at a park with his name filled with short trails and a 46-acre lake.

At Linn Cove Viaduct, see a design and engineering marvel on the side of Grandfather Mountain. Or take a walk at Flat Rock for views of Grandfather Mountain and the Linville Valley. Nearby Linville Falls plunge through Linville Gorge, where a trail leads to overlooks. Stop by Mount Mitchell State Park for a lookout tower and the highest point east of the Mississippi River. A Glassmine Falls, a 800-foot waterfall can be seen from an overlook at the side of the parkway.

Craggy Pinnacle Trail leads to Craggy Gardens, which cover the Great Craggy Mountains in purple rhododendron in mid- to late-June. Find exhibits of traditional and contemporary crafts from the Appalachian region at the Folk Center, the flagship facility of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.

At mile marker 384, discover the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, the newest attraction on the parkway. Here you can find a 70-seat theater with a 24-minute film about the region along with information about the area, exhibits, a retail shop and more housed within a LEED-certified building. Next see Mount Pisgah, part of the Biltmore Estate and home to the first forestry school in the United States.

Get a view of Yellowstone Falls at the headwaters of the Pigeon River at East Fork Overlook. The Shining Rock Wilderness is the largest in North Carolina at 18,483 acres. Here you can walk 25 miles of trails and see peaks topping 6,000 feet. Just outside Shining Rock Wilderness in Pisgah National Forest is Black Balsam Knob, a grassy bald with views of the wilderness area and Cold Mountain. You can get another view of Pisgah National Forest at Devil’s Courthouse, an exposed mountaintop with Cherokee traditions. Herrin Knob Overlook with its hiking trails around Tanasee Bald and Herrin Knob is said to be the home of the mythical Tsul ‘Kala, a Cherokee giant. At Waterrock Knob, get your first view of the Great Smoky Mountains. The parkway ends at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Reservation.