The Blue Ridge Parkway has been nicknamed America's Favorite Drive, and 20 million annual visitors make it the most visited attraction within the U.S. National Park System.
The 469-mile byway that connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia provides an economic impact of $2.3 billion each year to the communities through which it passes.
One of those communities is Asheville, which is near milepost 377.
“The Blue Ridge Parkway's welcome center is near Asheville and offers visitors an interactive map and beautiful orientation film, exhibits and displays,” says Elizabeth Sims, spokesperson for the Blue Ridge Parkway Association. “Because access to the parkway is so easy from several points in Asheville, it's a terrific way for visitors to the area to easily seek out hikes, picnic spots, cycling routes and scenic beauty.”
That scenic beauty includes the most diverse range of flora and fauna in the entire National Park Service system. There are also high mountain passes, waterfalls and water gaps, deep forests and upland meadows, and the park has 264 spectacular scenic overlooks along the way.
The speed limit along the parkway maxes out at 45 mph, and no billboards or commercial signs are allowed. Commercial vehicles are also prohibited except for tour buses.
“Within minutes, area residents and visitors are in a pristine natural setting with panoramic views – and you can be back to Asheville in time for dinner,” Sims says.
Nowadays, park officials and conservationists point out that the parkway is filled with biodiversity and also plays a big part in helping to preserve mountain culture and history. But its recreation spots and scenic assets are the main reasons why those 20 million visitors travel the thoroughfare every year.
So, what are the best times of the year for scenery-seekers to travel the parkway through Asheville?
“From April and May through November are truly quality,” Sims says. “Spring and summer wildflowers are fantastic, and fall foliage is some of the best in the country. Fall also offers a spectacular monarch butterfly migration.”
“Driving the parkway is a very nostalgic experience, and that's a large part of its appeal,” Sims said. “It's kind of removing you from the modern world. It's not a road to get from point A to point B. The drive itself is what you experience.”