Frequently Asked Questions
We spend lots of time with visitors, either face-to-face, at campground programs, on the telephone, or by email. Call the park information line at (828) 298 0398 for much of the basic information about the Parkway. Sometimes we already know what you want to ask and here are answers to some of those questions...
When can I see rhododendron, mountain laurel, and azalea? Catawba rhododendron (R. Catawbiense) is the purple variety that blooms from early June around the Peaks of Otter in Virginia to the third week of June at Craggy Gardens in North Carolina. Any time between those dates, there are spots of this variety blooming. Rosebay rhododendron (R. Maximum) is the larger white or pink variety that begins in mid to late June and blooms into July, primarily through Rocky Knob, VA. Flame azalea (calendulaceum), pink azalea or pinxter flower (nudiflorum), bloom early to late May in many Parkway areas. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooms mid to late May and into June in higher elevations.
When do facilities open and close for the season? The Folk Art Center in Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center adjacent to park headquarters, and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Spruce Pine are open year round. Most facilities, including visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas will open by May 9th and stay open through the fall leaf color. Check out the complete schedule.
Can I reserve campsites on the Parkway? At our most popular campgrounds, Peaks of Otter, Rocky Knob, Mount Pisgah, Price Park, Doughton Park, and Linville Falls, reservations can be made on-line at recreation.gov or by calling 1 877 444 6777.
Where can I get gas while traveling on the Parkway? Gasoline tanker trucks delivering gas to underground storage tanks at the top of many community watersheds creates a potential hazardous situation. That's why there is no gas on the Parkway. A little bit of planning, however, will allow you to stop at two or three places to fill up and, in addition, to experience Blue Ridge life at its best in the local communities in the region.
Why aren't there any more signs showing what is available off of the Parkway? Part of the beauty and enjoyment of the Parkway is limited access and no commercial signs or vehicles. Short drives off of the Parkway into any nearby community will allow you to experience the charm and delight of the region.
Can I picnic along the roadside? Overlooks and established picnic areas are the best places, but picnicking is allowed on the roadside. This is a long-standing Parkway tradition, but you must be pulled completely off the road and please avoid soggy areas or ditches if we've had an abundance of rain. North of Asheville, NC, the Parkway goes through the city watershed and off-road parking is not permitted where indicated by signs.
I'm not accustomed to driving in the mountains... how can I be safe? Our greatest concern is your safety, so here are some things about driving the Parkway that will help ensure a safe visit. First of all, obey the speed limit and make use of the overlooks to enjoy the scenery and let other drivers get by. The Parkway is a bit steeper than most roads and the curves can sometimes "tighten" as you get into them. There are built-in distractions such as beautiful vistas, interesting cabins, bicyclists, and wildlife... watch out for them all! A good rule to keep in mind is "enjoy the view, but watch the road!"
What is a "descending radius curve" that visitors are cautioned about some places along the drive? Most highways have curves with a standard radius that never changes. In other words, you do not have to adjust your steering through the curve. A descending radius curve may "tighten" as you go through it. This is a design feature of the Parkway, but requires some extra care.
What can I do to help protect the Parkway? Most of all, obey rules and regulations, and make your visit as "low impact" and responsible as possible. You may want to touch base with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, or the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, organizations that work full time helping the Parkway stay the way it is. They would love to hear from you!
Will I have any problem getting my recreational vehicle through the Parkway tunnels? There are twenty six tunnels along the Parkway, one in Virginia and the others in North Carolina, mostly south of Asheville. Check tunnel heights and lengths here.
Is there a fee for traveling the Parkway and can I use my National Park Pass while here? There is no entrance fee for traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway, but camping fees are reduced for those with the Interagency Senior Pass (formerly known as Golden Age or Golden Access pass). A new pass for all federal recreation areas is available in 2007. Information on the America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass- Access Pass can be found at www.recreation.gov.
What is the difference between the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway? The Skyline Drive is the 105 mile scenic road through Shenandoah National Park. At Afton Mountain, Virginia, the Skyline Drive heads north and the Blue Ridge Parkway heads south. Look for Milepost 0 on the bridge over U.S. 250.
Why can't we pick flowers or gather wood along the Parkway? National park areas are set aside to preserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects for the enjoyment of all visitors. From the smallest flower to the trees that fall in the forest are part of the ecosystem of the region that we are charged with protecting. Thanks for doing your part!
When and where can I see the best fall leaf color? Typically, the Blue Ridge Parkway experiences the much anticipated change in fall foliage around the middle of October. Many factors, however, contribute to variations in when and where colors will peak. The Parkway stretches almost five hundred miles north to south, meanders from the east to west facing slopes, and, most importantly, varies in elevation from just under 650 feet at James River in Virginia, to over 6,000 feet south of Mt. Pisgah in North Carolina. Many visitors have been frustrated trying to go to one spot on one day in October, hoping to find the leaves in full color. A far better plan is to drive some distance on the Parkway, changing elevations and north-south orientation. Any one who does this around mid to late October will catch at least some of the pretty color that we're famous for. The Parkway information line at (828) 298 0398 (press option 3) will give you the latest reports.
Will I see bears along the Parkway or around my camp site? The Blue Ridge is "bear country" and seeing one of these magnificent creatures may be a highlight of your visit. It is unwise and illegal to feed any wildlife. Around your campsite or picnic area, all food, food containers, and stoves should be stored or concealed in vehicles or campers anytime that your campsite is left unattended. This will help prevent unwelcomed encounters with wildlife.
How do I become a Junior Ranger? We're glad you asked! Click here to see the Junior Ranger folder and begin working your way to becoming a Blue Ridge Parkway Junior Ranger. As you drive the Parkway, you can get up to ten activity sheets that relate to the area of the Parkway where you are traveling and learning!
Is the Blue Ridge Parkway a national park? The National Park Service administers a variety of kinds of areas. Some of these are "parks", some are called "seashores", some are called "monuments" or "historic sites", and some are called "parkways." We wear the same uniform and operate under basically the same rules as Yellowstone, Gettysburg, or Cape Hatteras. Our agency web site at http://www.nps.gov will give you the entire list!
Who built the Parkway? The Parkway was an idea born out of the Great Depression and part of its purpose was to put as many people as possible to work. Private contractors, the state and federal highway departments, Italian and Spanish immigrant stonemasons, and thousands of Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees did the work.
Are dogs and other pets allowed on the Parkway? Dogs and other pets are allowed on the Parkway but must be on a leash (not to exceed six feet) or otherwise under your physical control.
Where can I get my National Park Passport stamped? All opened visitor centers have site-specific passport stamps.
Is there a place I can canoe on the Parkway? At Julian Price Lake (Milepost 297), you may rent canoes or bring your own. Boating is not allowed at any other Parkway lakes.
How do I get the best photographs along the Parkway? No photographs adequately capture what you see with your eye from the Parkway's many overlooks, but here are a few tips that may help you out. Early morning or late afternoon sun is much better than mid-day when colors appear to be "washed out." Keep the sun at your back and have someone in your family or group in the picture as a way to personalize your visit.
Where, exactly, is the Blue Ridge? The Blue Ridge is part of the entire eastern Appalachian Mountains and is generally described as stretching from north Georgia into Pennsylvania. From Milepost 0 at Rockfish Gap, VA to Milepost 355 near Mount Mitchell State Park, NC, the Parkway lives up to its name by following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, averaging about 3,000 feet in elevation, and occasionally dipping down into the coves and hollows or crossing low-elevation water gaps. At Mount Mitchell, the Parkway veers westward through the Black Mountains, then into the Craggies before descending toward Asheville. From there, the road climbs to elevations over 6,000 feet in the Balsam Mountains before entering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee.
When was the Parkway built and how long did it take to get the job done? Groundbreaking took place in September 1935 and the work was contracted and completed in "sections." By World War II, about one-half of the road was completed and by the 1960s, all but one section was opened to the public. In 1987, the last section was completed around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, including the Linn Cove Viaduct at Milepost 304, an environmentally sensitive, award winning bridge.
Why is the Blue Ridge "blue"? According to "A Naturalist's Blue Ridge Parkway" by David Catlin, "it can be legitimately claimed that trees put the "blue" in Blue Ridge, for hydrocarbons released into the atmosphere by the forest contribute to the characteristic haze on these mountains and to their distinctive color." The entire Appalachian Chain is extraordinarily diverse and rich in its vegetation, so there is perhaps more "blue" to the Blue Ridge and more "smoky" to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Why can't I see long distances off of the Parkway like I used to years ago? From the earliest descriptions of the Appalachian Mountains, observers have noted the blue color and haze that radiates off of these mountains because of the rich vegetation. Much of the haze we see today is also associated with pollution from a variety of sources in the eastern United States. Over three quarters of the pollutants come from coal-fired power sources. Air pollution does not respect the boundaries of national forests and national parks.
What is the difference between National Forests and National Parks? The Parkway travels through four U.S. National Forests, the Jefferson and George Washington in Virginia, and the Pisgah and Nantahala in North Carolina. National Park areas under the Department of the Interior, have a primary responsibility to conserve all of the park resources for the enjoyment of visitors. National Forest areas under the Department of Agriculture, are multiple use areas where trees are planted and harvested and lots of recreational opportunities, including hunting, are allowed.
Why aren't Beavers and their dams removed? When European explorers first traveled through the Southern Appalachians, beavers inhabited virtually every stream and river. Their engineering efforts provided food, shelter and safe habitat for other species. When fur traders trapped the last beaver in the late nineteenth century, a vital component of the natural ecosystem of these mountains was eliminated. Beavers were re-introduced in the 1930s - 1950s and have increased the biological diversity in many Parkway areas. Management efforts by park staff are aimed at protecting the role of the beaver and maintaining the recreational opportunities for the visiting public.
Can we visit in the winter? Most Parkway facilities are closed in the winter, although the road itself is open as long as snow or ice do not create dangerous driving conditions. Check the Road Closures Map for road closures by section and access to Parkway weather reports. Year round facilities include the North Carolina Minerals Museum near Spruce Pine, and in Asheville, NC the Folk Art Center and the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. The Peaks of Otter Lodge & Restaurant is open daily until early December and then weekends-only until spring.
Did You Know?
There are twenty six tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but only one in Virginia. This is primarily because the North Carolina mountains are more rugged than those in Virginia.