A drive along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is literally a trip through time. Construction on the Parkway began near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina in September 1935. Works Project Administration crews completed some of the early road construction, landscaping and recreation area development. As you travel the Parkway today, you can see stonework laid by original stonemasons. Vertical rockfaces bordering the route still show where explosives were used to make way for the roadway. Twenty-six original tunnels allow travel through the mountainous terrain, many of them in the southernmost section between Asheville and Cherokee, NC. And perhaps the most spectacular marvel, the final piece constructed, is the Linn Cove Viaduct which seems to float above the land bordering Grandfather Mountain just south of Blowing Rock, NC. The full 469.1-mile route was finally open for through travel in 1987.
But there’s lots more history and heritage to experience along the Parkway beside the route itself. Historic towns dot the landscape along the Parkway. Lynchburg, VA is just a few minutes east of the Parkway at James River. There, you’ll find an architectural treasure trove containing such historical structures as a converted shoe factory, colonial residences, a retired railroad station and the home and garden of Anne Spencer, a famous African American poet and civil rights activist. Stop in the Visitor’s Center, a converted 1940’s era gas station, to pick up Architectural Walking Tour and Historic District Walking Tour brochures (digital versions available on Lynchburg’s website, search for each by name). Throughout the region, you’ll find historic homes, courthouses, monuments, military memorials and parks, heritage music and festivals, and delightful downtowns. Discover these towns and counties along the Parkway with historical significance here.
Attractions along the Parkway regions have been celebrating local heritage for decades. The Cradle of Forestry Historic Site near Brevard showcases the very first school of forestry in North America. Here, you can experience a firefighting helicopter flight simulator and see a historic 1914 Climax locomotive. The Oconaluftee Indian Village and Unto These Hills drama share Cherokee history, perspective, and heritage crafts. Prehistoric dinosaurs greet visitors at Dinosaur Land in White Post, VA. Christ Museum & Gardens in Gatlinburg, TN offers life-sized scenes from the life of Christ. In Bedford, VA the National D-Day Memorial depicts military history and honors the brave soldiers who died while serving our country in World War II. Nearby, Monticello and Poplar Forest illustrate the life and architectural prowess of Thomas Jefferson, his family, guests, and the enslaved persons who made these estates possible. Check out all the attractions honoring history and heritage along the Parkway here.
Many attractions throughout the Blue Ridge region, like Biltmore Estate and Grovewood Village in Asheville, NC, offer tours and special events that provide a more in-depth look at the life and struggles that our predecessors encountered. For an outdoor self-guided tour, the Appalachian Mural Trail website provides information for visitors to craft their own tour of murals that celebrate Appalachian heritage. Find more heritage tour opportunities here. Special events like Poplar Forest’s 1776, The Concert Musical production offer an even more memorable (and sometimes tasty!) experience. Heritage crafts are available at Blowing Rock’s Art in the Park monthly festival. Also in Blowing Rock, NC, traditional Appalachian Jack Tales are offered monthly at Mystery Hill’s Storytelling Saturday. Check out the full slate of Parkway events here.
Speaking of tradition, there are more museums along the Parkway than you can shake a stick at. The Blowing Rock Art & History Museum offers thought-provoking exhibits like TRANSFORMATION, a collection of powerful and intriguing images revealing stories of our time that portray a world undergoing transformation. You can view historic structures (plus lots of exhibits) at the Blue Ridge Farm Museum (Ferrum, VA) and Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (Winchester, VA). The Birthplace of Country Music Museum (Bristol, VA) and the Blue Ridge Music Center (Milepost 213) showcase the intersection and interaction of music and culture and the Virginia Museum of the Civil War (New Market, VA) explores the impact of the war on past and future generations of Virginia inhabitants. Visitors can explore the evolution of trains, automobiles and other methods of transportation at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, VA. And remember that historic structures like Brinegar Cabin, Puckett Cabin, Johnson Farm at Peaks of Otter and the farm museum at Humpback Rocks exist along the Parkway road, as well. Find more information about the variety of museums along the Parkway here.
Heritage crafts like brooms, baskets, pottery, artwork, quilts and even glass items are handcrafted by makers throughout the Appalachian region. A wide range of handcrafted Cherokee items, including musical instruments and jewelry, are available for purchase at Qualla Arts & Crafts Mutual, Inc. in Cherokee, NC. Nearby Dogwood Crafters in Dillsboro, NC offers a collection of handcrafted Appalachian items, some still made with techniques handed down from prior generations. Crossnore Weavers & Gallery (Crossnore, NC), Penland Gallery (Penland, NC), the One of a Kind Art Gallery (Burnsville, NC) the Southern Highland Craft Gallery in Asheville, the SHCG at Moses Cone Manor (Blowing Rock, NC) and the Folk Art Center (Asheville, NC) showcase an amazing collection of traditional crafts (some even provide artist demonstrations) and are worth a look. More details on the heritage arts & crafts locations along the Parkway can be found here.
General stores along the Parkway are often housed in historic buildings and have been operated by the same family for generations. Town Hardware & General Store in Black Mountain, NC offers an eclectic mix of hardware and heritage items from pool toys to paint to unique cookie cutters. There truly is something for everyone here! Old Hampton Store in Linville, NC offers not only goods but food, drinks and live music. Floyd Country Store in Floyd, VA similarly provides a unique collection of merchandise (and ice cream!) but is renowned as a place to experience authentic Appalachian music performed by musicians, flatfoot dancers, and cloggers who are carrying on the tradition of their families. These are not only stores, but community gathering places. The heritage sites that offer shopping, including historic general stores, can be found here.
Food & lodging establishments provide a more intimate setting in which to experience historic buildings. Olde Liberty Station Restaurant is set in a lovingly restored train station and offers a casual menu and amazing cheesecakes. The cheesecake alone is worth a trip to Bedford, VA! The painstakingly restored Bluffs Restaurant at Doughton Park, a Parkway destination for decades, is also worth the trip for both the food and to see the restoration spearheaded by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. More historic restaurants in the Parkway and surrounding regions can be found here.
A range of historic lodging options are available along the Parkway as well. Several restored historic homes now operate as B&Bs where you can revel in comfort, hospitality, delectable breakfasts, hundred-plus-year-old charm, and maybe even hear a ghost story or two! Find historic B&Bs along the Parkway here. Restored cabins are also a comfortable, cozy way to stay in the Blue Ridge. Find amenities like fireplaces, hot tubs, porches with rockers and great views, and space to explore or an outdoor firepit in a variety of cabin styles from restored cabooses to old-style motor courts here. Charming restored hotels offer design elements telling the story of a First Lady, a rooftop bar, complimentary wine and appetizers, retro styling, or amazing views. Check out the historic hotels along the Parkway regions here.
From monuments to museums and restaurants to hotels, and from Shenandoah to the Great Smoky Mountains, a plethora of historical sites are just waiting for your visit. We hope you enjoy exploring!