Photo: Courtesy of Downtown Roanoke, Inc.
Two cities flank the parkway – Roanoke, Virginia, the largest, and Asheville, where more parkway visitors enter the parkway than at any other place. The parkway slides through each in a green corridor, but plan to pause. Both are vibrant small urban areas.
Downtown Roanoke has the state's oldest continuous farmer's market. The historic downtown district and City Market Building international food court are so close to the parkway's Roanoke Mountain campground that you can be eating dinner 10 minutes from your tent! (Before you visit the City Market Building, check that renovations have been completed.) Great museums include the O. Winston Link Museum's stunning collection of Link's classic photos of the last days of railroad steam engines.
Asheville's national reputation as a hip, artsy, outdoor destination was solidified last spring when President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dropped in for a long weekend (which included a hike on the parkway). There are galleries and great folk and fine art galore in Asheville, home to one of the South's greatest collections of art deco architecture (second only to Miami's South Beach). As you enter the city, stop at the parkway's Folk Art Center (MP 382) to see astounding creations. Strolling the city's 1.7-mile, art-accentuated Urban Trail is a fine way to spend a city day sampling great food and galleries after a long drive through parkway forests. The massive Biltmore® House & Gardens, the country's largest home, may be the parkway's most worthwhile tourist attraction.
Between Blue Ridge Parkway MP 1 and MP 469, you experience how this long and winding road – the "first rural national parkway" – is more than a vacation venue. It's a fitting symbol for why America fell in love with the open road.
Randy Johnson is an editor, author, and authority on the parkway. He has helped design parkway paths and has written, among other books, the two best-selling trail guides to the parkway: Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway and Best Easy Day Hikes Blue Ridge Parkway. Visit his Web site www.randyjohnsonbooks.com for more information.