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Blue Ridge Parkway: Planning your ride

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The Blue Ridge Parkway is considered one of the most iconic motorcycle roads in America. It’s a two-lane ribbon of asphalt winding uninterrupted for 469 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering a scenic blend of tranquil farmlands in mountain valleys and soaring ridgeline views.

With more than 200 places to stop along the way to enjoy the views, hike, picnic, and learn about the history of the Blue Ridge Mountains region, the parkway can connect a motorcycle rider like you to epic adventures.

Let’s take a closer look at the Blue Ridge Parkway to help you decide what you’d like to do and see, and how you can best prepare for your ride.

Northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway

The northern terminus conveniently connects with the southern end of Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic drive through Shenandoah National Park. The combination of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway is a motorcycle ride through the best of the Virginia and North Carolina mountains.

Southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway

The southern terminus brings you to the eastern entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There, you can take U.S. Route 441 west into the park and on to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Or head east toward Cherokee, North Carolina. From there you can navigate to the Tail of the Dragon or the Cherohala Skyway. Any way you go, you’ll find excellent motorcycling roads and scenery.

Top things to see and do on the Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s something to see along virtually every mile of the Blue Ridge Parkway. From hand-crafted bridges to tunnels through mountainsides, the road and its structures are beautiful.

Every motorcycle rider finds their own special spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway each time they ride it. Maybe some of these spots will speak to you on your own Blue Ridge Parkway adventure.

Marvel at the Linn Cove Viaduct

If you love roads and infrastructure, the Linn Cove Viaduct is an engineering marvel that’s worth stopping to explore. The visitor center has great displays about the construction and history of the viaduct.

You can hike the trail that takes you under the roadway and into the cool natural beauty of Grandfather Mountain, or even just ride back and forth on the viaduct after studying it.

Visit the summit at Mount Mitchell State Park

At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell’s summit is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. There’s a museum, restaurant, and gift shop, as well as some hiking trails you can check out. The views are incredible, and it’s fun to see how much colder it is at the top due to the altitude. The road to the top is narrow and twisty, so be sure to focus on that instead of the views because it can be a bit of a challenge.

Stay at the Pisgah Inn

The Pisgah Inn on Mount Pisgah is a mountaintop oasis and a favorite place for local motorcycle riders to stop. There’s a lodge, campground, restaurant, and gift shop—and restrooms are available. Reservations are highly recommended if you want to stay the night because it’s a popular place to vacation on the parkway.

Even if you’re just riding through, visit the little convenience store for a snack or relax on chairs outside and take in the views. You’ll see some interesting motorcycles and have a chance to meet other travelers and local riders.

Meander in nature

The Blue Ridge Parkway was constructed in an era when life seemed to move at a slower pace. It was built for peaceful motoring and exploring nature. If you take the time to slow down and look, you’ll find history and natural beauty everywhere.

Ride the access roads

Some of the best motorcycle riding roads in the eastern half of the U.S. are the ones leading to and from the Blue Ridge Parkway. The most exciting of these are in the higher elevations of the North Carolina mountains.

Many Blue Ridge Parkway access roads are just as thrilling as more famous roads like the Tail of the Dragon but are typically far less crowded. These access roads also let you experience the ruggedness and scale of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

See fall foliage

The fall foliage season is among the most popular times for visitors to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the parkway is often crowded on the weekends. If you can, visit during the week when there’s less traffic for a more relaxed ride.

It’s also important to plan ahead for accommodations during this busy season. If you research the towns and communities along the east and west access roads, you’ll find a lot to see and do, and places to stay. Starting your day with the valley view of the mountains is a great setup for a Blue Ridge Parkway foliage motorcycle ride.

Prepare for your Blue Ridge Parkway ride

Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway is a true rite of passage for motorcycle riders. For many, it’s a dream destination. Whether you’re riding the whole length or adding a segment to a tour you’re planning, there are a few things you should consider when making your plans.

Potential alerts and closures

Much of the Blue Ridge Parkway is at higher elevations and is thus exposed to the effects of extreme weather. While closures of sections during winter months are normal, storms during the rest of the year can cause localized closures. Be aware that things like fallen rocks, downed trees, and bank erosion can block the road suddenly at any time. It’s a good idea to check current road closures before you start your day’s parkway adventure.

Motorcycle repairs

Good trip planning includes making sure your motorcycle is in excellent running order, but mechanical issues can still happen when you’re on the road. Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway may feel like you’ve left the modern world behind, but rest assured that a few miles east or west of the parkway, civilization awaits. The larger cities of Roanoke, Virginia, and Asheville, North Carolina, have multiple dealerships and local aftermarket shops to handle your motorcycle repairs.

Gasoline

There are no gas stations on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which helps protect the environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Know your motorcycle’s gas mileage range and subtract 25 miles. That way, you should have no problem finding fuel. If you start to run low, the National Park Service makes it easy to find a place to get gas near the parkway.

Dress for the weather

There’s an old saying in the mountains: “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes.” Or in this case, ride 15 minutes. The Blue Ridge Parkway passes through a series of microclimates, meaning it can be warm and sunny in the valley and cold and raining at the top of the next ridge. Make sure to pack multiple layers so you can adjust accordingly, and always carry rain gear.

Cell phone reception

Cell phone reception can be spotty in places depending on your carrier, so stopping to make calls, monitoring weather conditions, or checking for road closures is best done during fuel stops.

Mile markers

There are no billboards or blue “services ahead” signs on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The only signs you’ll see show the distances to upcoming major parkway features and points of interest. However, there are mile markers in the form of small stone obelisks. These are located only on the southbound side of the parkway and count miles starting from the northern terminus.

Access points are clearly marked, and you can review your trip plans using a parkway map to track your progress. Printed Blue Ridge Parkway maps are available at visitor centers, or you can download a copy.

Speed limit

The maximum speed limit on the Blue Ridge Parkway is 45 mph, and some areas have reduced speed limits. Keep in mind that speeding tickets can be very expensive on the parkway.

 Wildlife

The Blue Ridge Parkway is well known for both the beautiful views and the flora and fauna that call the area home. Stay alert and you can see many animals that are native to the region. Bears, for example, often cause traffic jams as drivers try to take photos.

You’re now armed with the knowledge you need to plan a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can decide when you want to go, what you want to see, and where you want to stop. But some people like to know even more about where they’re going to travel. Knowing about the history of each section as you’re seeing it can make the ride even more interesting.

Blue Ridge Parkway history

The Blue Ridge Parkway didn’t begin with the name it has today; it was called the Appalachian Scenic Highway during much of the early planning phases. As with any large-scale federal project intended to bring development dollars to states, there was some consideration before it received final approval from Congress.

For a time, there were two routes being considered. One route would have turned west at Linville, North Carolina, and continued into Tennessee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ultimately, the chosen route continued through North Carolina, resulting in the Blue Ridge Parkway as it is today.

On June 30, 1936, the route, project, and name were formally adopted by Congress, and responsibility for the project was assigned to the National Park Service. But work had begun before the final approval under contracts authorized by then-Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes, in his role as federal public works administrator.

Private contractors performed most of the construction, which spanned several decades. Since the Blue Ridge Parkway was also a major public works project, it involved the efforts of several New Deal job creation programs:

  • Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
  • Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA)
  • Works Progress Administration (WPA)
  • Civilian Public Service (CPS)

Building the Blue Ridge Parkway

Constructing the Blue Ridge Parkway proved to be an enormous task. The terrain, much of which was rocky, needed to be transformed into a beautiful new road without scarring the land. The road needed to look like it had always been there, providing views of pristine, undisturbed nature.

This was a particular challenge because many of the existing roads leading to the work zones weren’t suitable for carrying the necessary heavy equipment. Plus, some of the landowners where the road was to be constructed were reluctant to sell, so work was completed as land was purchased and rights of way were secured by the two states.

When you ride the various sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway on your upcoming trip, notice how it flows along like a smooth, uninterrupted ribbon. Then consider that many of these sections were built nonconsecutively as the government was able to obtain the land.

Groundbreaking

The first construction in North Carolina began on September 11, 1935, at Pack Murphy’s farm working north toward Cumberland Knob and the Virginia state line. This created the parkway’s first stretch, 12.5 miles long. It was the first of 45 sections to be constructed.

The first construction in Virginia began on February 28, 1936, at Adney Gap, south of Roanoke. This 8-mile section was built southward to Pine Spur Gap.

Skyline Drive to Humpback Gap

Work on the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway began on July 8, 1939. This is where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets Skyline Drive near Rockfish Gap. The work progressed southward towards Humpback Gap.

Oconaluftee visitor center to Big Witch Gap

The southernmost section of the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the Qualla Boundary, which is the reservation of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. Part of the agreement allowing the parkway construction was the development of U.S. Route 19 connecting Cherokee to Maggie Valley, North Carolina.

Construction of the southern terminus at Great Smoky Mountains National Park began on September 6, 1941. This section starts at U.S. Route 441near the Oconaluftee visitor center and runs northward to Big Witch Gap.

Grandfather Mountain

The last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be built was a 7.7-mile stretch around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. The mountain was privately owned at the time, so determining the route for the parkway caused a years-long debate between the government and the landowner.

Finally, an agreement was reached allowing completion of the parkway. The section of road would be built as a viaduct that wraps around the mountain, thereby preserving the terrain. The only changes to the mountain itself would be to drill the footings for the piers—the supports that hold up the roadway—and to remove the trees beneath the viaduct.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct began in 1979 at the southern end. Each of the 153 sections was cast on-site, placed by a crane, and attached together with steel cables and epoxy. The viaduct was assembled using its own completed sections as the only access road to the construction site. Even the crane used to place each section sat on the viaduct itself.

The seven piers that support the viaduct were also built with precast segments using the same technique. The viaduct was finished in 1983.

Blue Ridge Parkway dedication

After the last scenic lookout spots, approach roads, and bridges were completed, it was time to open the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway. On September 11, 1987 the Blue Ridge Parkway was officially dedicated, 52 years after the groundbreaking.

The history of the Blue Ridge Parkway adds to the excitement for some riders, while others are mostly in it for the ride and the views. Whatever category you fall into, now you have the information you need to plan the ultimate motorcycle road trip.

Related links

As you plan your Blue Ridge Parkway trip, it’s a good idea to review your motorcycle insurance to make sure you have the coverage you need.

When it’s time to head out on the road, there are steps you can take to help keep your motorcycle safe from theft.

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