Iconic Roads: Blue Ridge Parkway

Text: RoadRUNNER Staff • Photography: RoadRUNNER Staff

Shenandoah to the Great Smoky Mountains

The great American road trip is an enduring mental image that has launched many two-wheeled adventures to parts known and unknown. But everyday responsibilities and family commitments often mean that motorcycle outings don’t venture far from your own backyard. A multi-day motorcycle excursion can be just the thing to rejuvenate a rider both physically and mentally. And, of course, long distance motorcycle touring on an iconic American road can’t get any better than on the made-for-touring Honda Gold Wing. Equally matched in comfort and reliability, one will enjoy the riding experience just as much as the wonderful people and places encountered along the way.

The East Coast’s favorite scenic byway was born out of the very depths of America’s Great Depression. In the 1930s people needed work and the country needed a spectacular roadway to connect two of its most popular national parks: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. This New Deal project’s aesthetic goal was to build a limited access parkway, which blended harmoniously with the Blue Ridge Mountain topography. And, at the same time it was to provide travelers with a full menu of recreational pursuits. The result was a 469-mile-long national treasure with 12 visitor centers, 12 developed picnic areas, 275 parking turnouts with stunning scenic overlooks, 26 tunnels, a peak elevation of 6,053 feet, parks, hiking trails, museums, and sought after vacation-destinations such as Asheville, NC.

In warmer months, the Blue Ridge Parkway flows with a steady stream of motorcyclists enjoying its many recreational and aesthetic pleasures. There seem to be no strangers among the multitude of riders on this “almost Heaven” byway. Spirited conversations naturally spring forth at turnouts, service stops, and restaurants. From beginning to end, the riding affair is simply one big journey with like-minded folks.

Points of Interest

  1. Humpback Rocks (MP 5.8)
    Visitors can learn firsthand about early mountain pioneers as they visit the museum and log cabin, and take a walk through a traditional mountain farmstead. In the summer, park rangers demonstrate local crafts on-site. There are numerous hiking trails and overnight camping at nearby Sherando Lake.
  2. Mountain Industry Trail and Mabry Mill (MP 176.1)
    Mabry Mill is one of the most frequented and photographed spots on the BRP. The half-mile Mountain Industry Trail showcases buildings, farm implements, a whiskey still, crafts, and other artifacts typical of early 20th century Appalachian life. And, of course, there is the restored water wheel-driven gristmill and sawmill.
  3. Blowing Rock, NC (MP 291.9)
    At 4,000 feet above sea level, Blowing Rock sits atop the Eastern Continental Divide. This charming Appalachian village is chock-full of shopping and dining options, educational exhibits, and impressive vistas including Grandfather Mountain. Nearby activities include rock climbing, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, and seasonal festivals.
  4. Mount Mitchell State Park (MP 355.4)
    Mount Mitchell State Park includes its namesake 6,684-foot peak, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Visitor amenities include campgrounds, a museum, a hiking trail to the observation platform at the summit, and a restaurant for human fuel and steaming hot drinks to ward off the mountain chill.
  5. Wheels Through Time Museum (Exit BRP at MP 455.7)
    Several miles north of the BRP on Route U.S. 19 in Maggie Valley, NC, resides a unique assembly of several hundred historic American motorcycles. What’s in the Barn TV personality, Dale Walksler, presides over the museum’s exclusive collection and often can be spotted inside recounting the fascinating history of specific bikes to spellbound visitors.
  6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    (Exit BRP at Southern Terminus) After exiting the BRP, follow U.S. 441 through the panoramic splendor of America’s most visited national park. This route also allows riders to encounter a rare 360 degree curve. And, Clingmans Dome Road whisks them up a sinuous path to the summit—a fun ride on the Gold Wing! A short hike leads to the observation deck with expansive vistas. More adventurous hikers can test themselves on a particularly rocky and remote section of the Appalachian Trail within the park.