Jeffrey H. Ryan Hiker Author Photographer Speaker Podcaster Director

The Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive are special to me. I walked the length of Shenandoah National Park in 1991, a hundred mile stretch that is largely in the shadow of Skyline Drive (the Appalachian Trail crosses the road over 20 times).

The AT continues south along the Blue Ridge (also in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Parkway for a time, until it meanders west and away from the road for good).

I spent the last five days driving the length of both famous roadways from the Smoky Mountains to Front Royal Virginia. That drive only increased my awe.

Driving the 574 total miles that encompasses the two linear parks is meant to be savored. For one thing, the speed limit doesn’t exceed 45 mph and often slows to 30 or less on the frequent curves. And that’s just fine by me, and not just because I am driving a 1985 Volkswagen camper! You want to slow down for the vistas, picnic areas, historical places and everything else the drive has to offer.

One surprise the drive held for me was the 60 miles between the Doughton Campground in northernmost part of North Carolina and Mabry’s Mill in Virginia. This  area of rolling hills is filled with beautiful farms that almost make you wish you could retire on the spot. (The “almost” being the realization of how much work it takes to keep the cows and horses healthy.)

Of course, the campgrounds and turnouts often double as trailheads for some gorgeous hikes including the area around Mount Mitchell in North Carolina and Hawksbill Mountain, the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. Not surprisingly, the campgrounds were full on the weekend (the last opportunity to get the kids into the mountains before school starts up again), but in mid-week, I practically had them to myself.

My verdict: Even if you can’t take the time to drive the length of these magnificent byways, I would go out of my way to include them in a road trip.

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