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Photo courtesy of @MaryAnnBaker

Running 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear park in the country. It’s a picturesque road trip through mountains and dense forest that can magically transform any backseat “are we there yet” chorus into a set of very happy campers.

RELATED: 100 National Parks experiences you must try in this lifetime


When to go
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic road trip year-round, but spring is one of the best times to visit. Not only will you see the first mountain laurel blooms of the season, but you may also spot bear cubs venturing out of the woodwork. Fall is a wonderful time as well, due to the changing foliage throughout the drive; however, it can get chilly at night if you plan to camp. Summer can be hot and humid, but the greenery will be out in full force. Caution is especially advised during the winter, when sections of the parkway in higher altitudes may be closed due to snow or ice, and even freezing fog.

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Where to stay
In the heart of Shenandoah National Park, stay at a bucolic wood cabin at Big Meadows Lodge (Mile 51.2 Skyline Drive, Luray VA). It’s only a two-mile hike to Rose River Falls, and is very rustic indeed—complete with stone fireplaces in each room and an intentional lack of television.

When you hit North Carolina, stay at The Inn on the Biltmore Estate in Ashville before continuing onto the next leg of the trip. Nestled on the expansive private Vanderbilt estate, Biltmore is a well-maintained relic of the 1880s Gilded Age. The Inn features an outdoor pool, six restaurants and even a historic winery.

At the end of the route, check out The Inn on the River in Pigeon Forge, TN. For some fresh air, ask for a room with a private balcony overlooking the river or enjoy the outdoor fire pit on the patio. The perfect launching point for the Great Smoky Mountains, the inn’s great location makes for an ideal jump off point for golfing, whitewater rafting, hiking or mountain biking and visiting Dollywood.


What to eat and drink
Start off your road trip with a solid home cooked breakfast at Blue Ridge Restaurant in Floyd, VA (113 E Main St), founded in the late 1920s. And if all that driving has you working up an appetite when you reach North Carolina, stop for a bite to eat at the Pedalin’ Pig in Banner Elk, NC (4235 NC Hwy 105), known for the best hickory-smoked BBQ around. The adults in your party should check out microbrews in Asheville—including the iconic Green Man, newcomer Burial or upscale Wicked Weed—for a well-deserved break from driving.


What to bring
Gas stations and restaurants are few and far between (plus you’ll probably lose service along the way if you use your phone for GPS), so pack plenty of snacks and fill up around a 1/3 of a tank. You may want a GPS device that doesn’t depend on cell service, or go old school with foldout maps from any Blue Ridge Parkway visitors center along the route.

For most of the drive, you’ll be in the mountains where it gets cold, so if you hop out to take in the view, remember to bring a jacket. You’re allowed to pull over onto the shoulder even if there isn’t a designated scenic overlook point, so don’t be afraid to do so if you want to snap some quick photos.

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Where to stop
Part of the fun of the parkway is exploring each milepost, but here are a few highlights for road trippers of all ages. Take in panoramic views on the 228-foot Mile High Swinging Bridge, the country’s highest suspension footbridge overlooking Grandfather Mountain. Then go hiking along Humpback Rocks at Milepost 5.8, which served as a trail marker for wagons in the 1840s making their way through the turnpike. And to cool off after a long day, go for a wild ride down Sliding Rock, a natural water slide at Milepost 413.

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Watch out for Mama Bear
Spring is a great time to see black bears and their cubs out actively foraging after waking up from the winter. Keep an eye out for them, especially when you drive through Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountain National Park. If you stay the night, however, be sure to properly seal all food or scented toiletries. Don’t forget to check the car—even if you’re just stopping for a moment, bears can smell food inside your vehicle from up to 20 miles away!

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best road trips in the country, and whether you prefer actively enjoying the wilderness or sitting back and relaxing in the comfort of your cushioned seat, this historic multi-state route is one for the record books.

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Tagged: National Parks, Virginia

Hope Nardini
Hope is a freelance travel writer, salsa dancer, and shameless chocoholic. Although she's lived all over the U.S. and South America, she now calls the wonderful city of Chicago home. Find her on Twitter: @HKNARDINI

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