One of the added bonuses on our trip to Asheville, North Carolina was an enjoyable drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, just a few miles from Asheville. Our friends, Pat and Lori Joyce and Dennis and Belen Hutson joined us on the trip, and we headed to Mount Mitchell State Park to see the highest point east of the Mississippi River and it did not disappoint. While West Virginia highways are unique, the views of the Appalachian Mountains are stunning and go on for as far as the eye can see. There are also numerous pull offs along the parkway to see the views. At every one, there were several cars and multiple motorcycles taking a break to enjoy the overlooks. We met several people from as far away as New Hampshire and everyone was marveling at the beautiful views.
The history of the Blue Ridge Parkway makes for an interesting story. The idea for the project was born during the Great Depression in the early 1930s when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the newly constructed Skyline Drive in Virginia. Virginia Senator Harry Byrd suggested the road could be extended to connect with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and in 1933, the Interior Secretary approved the project with a budget of $16 million.
Construction began on September 11, 1935, and the architects put a major emphasis on preserving nature and Appalachian culture and history. When World War II began, about 170 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway had been completed and were open to the public. A 10-year development plan in the 1950s helped spur the remaining construction. And by 1966, all but 7.7 miles of the Parkway had been finished.
To finish the project, the Linn Cove Viaduct was constructed. This engineering feat, a 1,243-foot concrete bridge, was constructed from the top down to limit effects on the natural environment. With the Viaduct in place, the Blue Ridge Parkway was finally complete. The Parkway officially opened on September 11, 1987—exactly 52 after construction began. In the years since, the Blue Ridge Parkway has become the most visited National Park Service site.
There are no gas stations on the parkway and only non-commercial vehicles are permitted. The speed limit is a leisurely 45 MPH, and you never get behind a tractor trailer since commercial vehicles are banned from the parkway.
When we reached Mount Mitchell State Park, we spent some time in the exhibit and learned a little of the history of this part of North Carolina. We then headed up the last few hundred feet to reach the top of the mountain and it seemed like it was straight up. We huffed and puffed and finally made it to a 360-degree observation deck where there were about two dozen visitors looking out over the mountains and taking pictures. The elevation was 6,684 feet and the view was spectacular. The trip back down was easy, and we grabbed some bottles of water and a few souvenirs, before heading back to Asheville.
I would highly recommend checking out the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mount Mitchell State Park, if you want a relaxing weekend with friends or family.