Access Points & Orientation -- Unlike the Skyline Drive, which has only four entry points, you can get on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway at numerous places. The northern entrance is at the southern end of the Skyline Drive, near Waynesboro on U.S. 250 at Exit 99 off I-64. The major access points in Virginia are U.S. 60 east of Buena Vista; U.S. 501 between Buena Vista and Lynchburg (Otter Creek and the James River Gorge); U.S. 460, Va. 24, U.S. 220, and the Mill Mountain Spur near Roanoke; U.S. 58 at Meadows of Dan; and I-77 at Fancy Gap. You can also get up here from Buchanan or Bedford via Va. 43, but note that trucks are not permitted on the very steep portion of Va. 43 between Buchanan and the parkway.
Mile Posts on the west side of the parkway begin with Mile 0 at the northern Rockfish Gap entry and increase as you head south. The North Carolina border is at Mile 218.
Information -- For general information, contact the National Park Service (NPS), 199 Hemphill Knob Rd., Asheville, NC 28801 (tel. 828/298-0398; www.nps.gov/blri). Ask for a copy of the NPS's brochure with an excellent map of the parkway and the Parkway Milepost, a quarterly tabloid newspaper with articles about the parkway and a schedule of events. Both are available at the visitor centers, which also sell books about the parkway.
You can also get an information packet, including a copy of the indispensable Blue Ridge Parkway Directory & Travel Planner, from the Blue Ridge Parkway Association, P.O. Box 2136, Asheville, NC 28802-2136 (tel. 828/298-0398; www.blueridgeparkway.org).
Emergencies -- Call the National Park Service at tel. 800/727-5928 in case of emergencies anywhere along the parkway.
Fees, Regulations & Backcountry Permits -- There is no fee for using the parkway. The maximum speed limit is 45 mph in rural areas, 35 mph in built-up zones. Bicycles are allowed on paved roads and parking areas, not on any trails. Camping is permitted in designated areas. Fires are permitted in campgrounds and picnic areas only. Hunting is prohibited. Pets must be kept on a leash. No swimming is allowed in parkway ponds and lakes.
Visitor Centers -- Several visitor centers along the parkway are the focal points of most visitor activities, including ranger programs. Operated by the town of Waynesboro, the Rockfish Gap Visitor Center (tel. 540/943-5187; www.waynesboro.va.us), at the northern end (Mile 0), is open year-round. Others are closed from November to March. Hours for all are 9am to 5pm daily. Here's a rundown heading south:
- Humpback Rocks Visitor Center (Mile 5.8) has picnic tables, restrooms, and a self-guiding trail to a reconstructed mountain homestead.
- James River Visitor Center (Mile 63.6), near U.S. 501 northwest of Lynchburg, is worth a stop. It has a footbridge that crosses the river to the restored canal locks, exhibits, and a nature trail. The nearby Otter Creek wayside has a daytime restaurant and campground.
- Peaks of Otter (Mile 86), at Va. 43 northwest of Bedford, is the most picturesque visitor center. It has a 2-mile hike to the site of a historic farm, wildlife and Native American exhibits, restrooms, and the Peaks of Otter Lodge, which sits beside a gorgeous lake wedged between two cone-shaped mountains -- the Peaks of Otter. A trail leads to the top of Sharp Top, the taller of the two at 3,875 feet. Weather permitting, Sharp Top Bus runs to within 1,500 feet of the peak. It's a strenuous 1.6-mile hike to the summit, so allow 2 1/2 hours for the total excursion. Needless to say, wear comfortable walking shoes and bring water. The bus runs from May 30 through October daily every hour on the hour from 10am to 4pm. Buy your tickets and water at the camp store (tel. 540/586-1614) beside the visitor center. Round trip fares are $8 for adults, $6 for children younger than 13.
- Virginia's Explore Park (Mile 115) is on the grounds of a former living history museum on the outskirts of Roanoke.
- Rocky Knob (Mile 167), southeast of Va. 8, has some 15 miles of hiking trails (including the Rock Castle Gorge National Recreational Trail), a comfort station, and a picnic area.
- Mabry Mill (Mile 176), between Va. 8 and U.S. 58, has a picturesque gristmill with a giant wheel spanning a little stream. Displays of pioneer life, including crafts demonstrations, are featured and the restored mill still grinds flour. A restaurant, open May through October, adjoins it.
Seasons -- The parkway is at its best during spring, when the wildflowers bloom and leaves are multihued green, and during mid-October, when changing leaves are at their blazing best (and traffic is at its heaviest). Winter is not a good time because most facilities are closed, and snow, ice, and fog can close the road.
On the Wine Trail -- At Mile 171.5, between Va. 8 and U.S. 58 north of Mabry Mill, you can turn off on C.R. 726 and follow the signs to Chateau Morrisette (tel. 540/593-2865; www.chateaumorrisette.com), one of the three largest vineyards in Virginia. It produces Black Dog and Our Dog Blue, two of the state's best-known red wines. It's open for tastings and sales Monday through Thursday 10am to 5pm, Friday and Saturday 10am to 6pm, and Sunday 11am to 5pm. A restaurant is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday from April through December, Friday and Saturday from January through March. It serves dinner on Friday and Saturday all year.
Mountain Music -- At Mile 213, the Blue Ridge Music Center (tel. 276/236-5309; www.blueridgemusiccenter.org) celebrates fiddle and banjo music of the sort you can hear at the annual Old Time Fiddlers Convention in Galax, 6 miles to the north. The center is open daily from 9am to 7pm in summer, Wednesday through Sunday 9am to 5pm in spring and autumn. It's closed from November through April. You can stop here during summer and hear mountain music Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 4pm. The center also hosts nighttime concerts by local musicians in its amphitheater.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.