Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Pkwy patch croppedOne of the best places in North America to ride a motorcycle is the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Technically, the Blue Ridge begins at US64 near Waynesboro, Virginia. However, Skyline Drive, which begins 106 miles north/northeast at Front Royal, Virginia, runs through the Shenandoah National Park and connects with the Blue Ridge at Waynesboro (Rockfish Gap).  Thus, for practical purposes, one can think of the Blue Ridge Parkway-Skyline Drive combination as a single, magnificent motorcycle route, running all the way from Front Royal to Cherokee, North Carolina. I've ridden the entire length, most sections more than once. I'd like to share some highlights with you. (The photo of the BRP patch, to the right, is sewn on the right sleeve of my denim jacket, a reward to myself for having completed the entire length.)

According to the National Park Service, Skyline Drive is 105.5 miles long and the Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles. Most of the times I've been on Skyline Drive, it's been foggy, raining, or both, and visibility was fair to poor. On both Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge, wildlife is plentiful, including bears. You need to be vigilant at all times when you ride on these roads. The speed limit never exceeds 45 mph on either road and many blind hills and curves should keep your  average speed close to that. Thus, if you're riding the entire length of these roads, you will need at least two days to make it enjoyable. I recommend three days, so you have time to stop at the many beautiful vistas to take photos and appreciate the magnificence of the ancient Appalachian Mountains.

Keep in mind that these roads are typically at an elevation of 3-5 thousand feet but in some places exceed 6,000 feet.  It is thus significantly cooler up on the Parkway than it is in the surrounding valleys. Consequently, you should bring sufficiently warm clothing. Other weather factors are also important to consider: not only is it generally cooler, it can be windier and precipitation can appear quite suddenly. Be sure to check the weather report before your ride and be prepared to get an overnight hotel room if conditions deteriorate to the point of unsafe riding conditions.

Blue ridge at 6053ft 01

Okay, those are the caveats. I'm not trying to scare you off; I just want you to be prepared so you can enjoy the ride. Let me describe some highlights on a north-to-south ride, from Front Royal all the way to Cherokee. I'll confess that as a 20+ year resident of NC, most of my riding has been done in North Carolina. This is the section I know best. However, given that Skyline Drive is so beautiful, it's worth the effort to include it. By the way, riding on Skyline Drive will cost you $10. (The BRP is free.)  The key features, I have found, on the Skyline Drive, are the abundance of wildlife and the view to the west. The last time I was on Skyline Drive, we had to stop in the road to avoid tourists who were watching a bear in the woods.

From Waynesboro, you pass by Roanoke, VA as you head south toward the North Carolina border. Once into North Carolina, I recommend a stop at Boone, a nice little college town and a great place for lunch, dinner, or an overnight stay. After getting back on the Parkway, the potential for stops and exploration are many as you head south. My recommended next stop is Little Switzerland and the Little Switzerland Inn.  Not quite as famous as the Tail of the Dragon, the Diamondback route is worth a try. (I've ridden both a couple of times. The hairpin turns compare well.)

From Little Switzerland, head south with a stop at Mount Mitchell. Technically, you have to get of the Parkway to get to Mount Mitchell, but it's hard to tell that, it's so close.  It will most likely be chilly and windy at the top, so be prepared. Further south, you will pass by Asheville. If you can afford an extra half day, spending some time in Asheville is worth the time. It's the largest city in western NC and a place I wouldn't mind living in someday. :-)

A half-day past Asheville is Cherokee, NC, where the Parkway ends. There is a casino and plenty of hotels at Cherokee. It's a popular tourist destination so the accommodations are good. If you want something a little less commercial and more rustic, ride along the beautiful US19 south/west to Bryson City in Swain County.

The beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway is so awesome and the number of interesting places to stop so great, people have written entire books about the matter. As this supposed to be a brief, blog, I will leave you this: as many times as I have ridden through other parts of our great country, the Blue Ridge Parkway retains its appeal and I never tire of riding on it--except perhaps when it begins to snow. :o)

Keep the shiny side up! Peace. -Mike


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