The Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is not just the most-visited unit of the whole national park system. It’s a pathway to virtually every type of experience the Shenandoah Valley (and western North Carolina) has to offer. From this one, marvelously scenic road, you can access historic sites, vineyards and craft breweries, outdoor pleasures galore, arts and entertainment, shopping, big city excitement and small town charm.
The BRP begins near Waynesboro and links the southern end of Skyline Drive
in Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park 469 miles later. In 2017, more than 16 million people visited some part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. (That’s more than the Grand Canyon and Yosemite national parks combined).
Of course one of the most compelling reasons so many people visit the BRP is the intense fall color displays. When to go? Brooke Losey, Communications Coordinator of the Blue Ridge Parkway Association* said, “Along this designated scenic byway, elevations range from 600 to 6000 feet. You will experience these changes, with views of mountains above and below you and unbroken scenery for miles in all directions. Because of this unique landscape, if you travel any distance along the BRP, you are very likely to see beautiful color in the fall. No one can predict exactly how long it will last or when it will be at its most vibrant, but a fall spent here is unforgettable.”
She added, “An important tip for experiencing the Blue Ridge Parkway in the autumn is to reserve lodging as soon as possible. Hotels, resorts and bed & breakfasts on or anywhere in the vicinity of the Parkway book up as early as the preceding spring. For more info on fall color, as well as attractions, lodging, visitor centers and maps, visit our website.”
Whatever draws you to this extraordinary roadway, getting the most out of it takes some planning. The Blue Ridge Parkway Association has produced the information-packed Blue Ridge Parkway Directory & Travel Planner in partnership with NPS – Blue Ridge Parkway since 1949. Or you can download the Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner app for Android and iPhone.
The section of the Parkway within the Shenandoah Valley provides access to some of the most popular tourist discoveries in Virginia. A few highlights include:
Barren Ridge Vineyards
In nearby Fishersville, Barren Ridge is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, and will host a Harvest Festival party September 30th.
The Frontier Culture Museum
A living history of pre-immigration Europe and pre-Civil War Shenandoah Valley. See 17th, 18th, & 19th century farms from Europe, West Africa and America, and a working 18th century blacksmith forge.
Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center
124 rooms, indoor heated pool, fitness center and a business center; 8,500 square feet of meeting space with accommodations for up to 400.
Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum
Explore Wilson’s early years, his eventual presidency, suffrage, prohibition and World War I. The President’s restored 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine is a highlight of the museum.
The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse
The world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre is open year-round for productions of classic plays.
The Buckhorn Inn
A Shenandoah Valley landmark in operation for nearly 200 years.
Fordor’s Travel recently listed Staunton among its “25 Cutest Main Streets in Small (er) Towns.”
In the Lexington/Buena Vista area:
Natural Bridge State Park
Once revered by the Monacan Indians, surveyed by George Washington, and owned by Thomas Jefferson the awe-inspiring Natural Bridge has been an important Virginia tourist attraction since the 18th Century.
Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center
118 rooms, spectacular views, nextdoor to Natural Bridge State Park, central to many outdoor opportunities, and offering several dining options. Meeting and reception facilities for up to 400.
Virginia Safari Park
Open seven days a week from mid-March to late November. Probably the most popular aspect of the park is the slow three-mile drive where more than 1,000 free- roaming animals of almost any sort will poke their nose through your window in search of a snack.
Natural Bridge Zoo
One of the few zoological parks in the country where you can actually ride an elephant.
Collects, preserves, interprets and exhibits the heritage of VMI as recorded in the 15,000- artifact collection. VMI civilian and military alumni include Nobel Prize recipients, Pulitzer Prize winners, explorers, film stars, national, state and local political and civic leaders.
George C. Marshall Museum and Library
General George C. Marshall’s remarkable story is told through various interpretations in the Marshall Museum. An active speaker’s program adds to the value of this singular museum.
Applewood Inn and Llama Trekking
Perched on 37 acres, high above the creek in a very private and beautiful setting. Yes, you can take a guided llama trip.
Fox Hill Bed & Breakfast Suites
Wander lovely streams and gardens; rest in comfortable elegance on a 38-acre country retreat. Pet friendly!
Peaks of Otter Lodge
Situated between two of the three peaks that give the area its name, and overlooking the pristine Abbott Lake. Hiking trails are nearby and local history has a strong presence.
Peaks of Otter Winery
Boasting 30 varieties of wine made primarily from the fruits grown on the family’s farm.
The Bower Center for the Arts
A cutting edge, multi-faceted resource that conducts programs, performances, exhibits, classes, events, etc. that bring together artists, schools and the community.
One of only two homes Thomas Jefferson designed for his personal use. Preservation/restoration efforts led by local citizens continue to reveal Jefferson’s vision for his personal retreat. A panel of USA Today travel writers and readers voted Poplar Forest the 3rd best tourist attraction in Virginia for 2018.
Gas cannot be purchased on the Parkway but nearby stations are listed here.
The speed limit is generally 45 mph, but don’t be lulled into thinking it never changes, especially in developed areas.
Most tunnels have plenty of clearance but some have a minimum height of less than 12 feet.
Spectacular views abound along the Parkway. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your eyes on the road!
*The Blue Ridge Parkway Association (BRPA), founded in 1949, is the officially designated marketing partner of the Blue Ridge Parkway. BRPA is a nonprofit organization comprised of businesses and organizations that serve visitors along the scenic corridor of the Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. BRPA members span communities in the tri-state region of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and beyond.
BRPA members work together to offer more than 16 million annual visitors to the Parkway a broad range of family entertainment, recreation, shopping, lodging, dining and support services in communities along the scenic corridor’s 469-mile length. Click here for information on becoming a member.
Banner photo by Sarah Hauser/Virginia Tourism Corporation