Sure, mention of the Smokey Mountains or the southern Appalachian Trail may bring to mind images like the dueling banjos from Deliverance, some sorrowful southern yodeling or even the Blair Witch Project. But what many people seem to forget is the fact that the southern Appalachians, the Great Smokey Mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway, connecting all of the surrounding area, is actually a wilderness gem and an important piece of Americana.
A historical unit unto itself (like the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore), the more-than-80-year-old parkway isn't just a road. The asphalt spans 469 miles from the Great Smokey Mountains National Park to the Shenandoah National Park. But the road's embrace, stretching for miles outward from both shoulders of the road, protects so much flora and fauna, countless, rustic southern Appalachian communities, farmland, beds and breakfasts and pristine expanses of nature. So whether you're looking to hike, camp, kayak or just "drive a while, stop a while" (as the Blue Ridge Parkway catch phrase goes), here are seven of the many reasons you should pay this southern jewel a visit ASAP.
Drop into those bucolic little towns that haven't seemed to change much in the past 100 years or so, right down to the wooden water mill, old fashioned ice cream parlor, antique shops, farm stands, beautiful old barns and good ol' slow-paced Southern Hospitality.
"We always encourage visitors to get off and visit the local communities," says BRP Interpretive Specialist, Peter Givens. "The Parkway truly reveals the cultural and historical life of the area. It's so unlike any other experience people in the world have now on a day-to-day basis." He suggests throwing your itinerary out the window and just following your curiosity.
"It's not fancy," Givens says of the nine different campgrounds scattered throughout both national parks. Without electrical hookups and other modern amenities (the campgrounds were originally meant for travelers of the '30s and '40s), simple camping comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most of the campgrounds are at elevations of more than 2,500 feet but some are at sea level or along creeks and rivers, densely or sparsely wooded ... so take your pick.
Conquering Your Fear of Heights
The Mile-High Swinging Bridge, built over Grandfather Mountain's Linville Peak spans an 80-foot chasm. It's the highest in America and, if heights set your adrenalin pumping, try crossing this baby while she's swaying in a little bit of wind.