I just returned from a ten-day road trip. This is the first time in a long time that I have driven almost entirely for pleasure. I spent time visiting a couple of my daughters, but I also explored areas where I had not been before.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was driving through mountains. The roads were winding and hilly, so the pace was slow, but it also meant that I had more time to appreciate the beauty around me.
I drove through several parts of the Appalachian Mountains – the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Allegheny Mountains.
Great Smoky Mountains
I left my daughter’s house in Tennessee and drove east, heading to Asheville, North Carolina. As I checked the map, I realized that I could take a small detour and drive through part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I drove through the very touristy towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, before entering the park. Pigeon Forge is unbelievable, with one touristy location after another – think tourist trap. Gatlinburg was also touristy, but had a little more vintage charm and felt less like a trap to me.
At the edge of Gatlinburg, I suddenly entered the park. There is an abrupt end to the stores, restaurants, and hotels. The park was a refreshing site – green as far as I could see.
It took about an hour and a half to get from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, North Carolina, a distance of just under 35 miles. I enjoyed the trip and can’t wait for an opportunity to visit the park for a more extended time.
Blue Ridge Mountains
After a day in Asheville, I started the drive northeast to visit my daughter that lives in the Washington, DC, area. I allotted two days for this part of the trip, because I planned to drive on part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a well-maintained two lane road that follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This mountain range is considered part of the Appalachians, although it is actually separated from the main range by the Appalachian Valley. The Great Smoky Mountains are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway began 83 years ago today (September 11, 1935). Work was carried out by The Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, conscientious objectors in World War II, and various other groups. The construction took several years with the majority of it finished by 1966. The over 7 1/2 mile section that includes the impressive Linn Cove Viaduct did not open until 1987.
Driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway
I drove about 60 miles on the Parkway each of the two days. It was so beautiful and interesting, that I had a hard time leaving it. I’m determined to go back someday to drive the entire 469 miles. I was told the Parkway is busiest in the fall when the trees are changing color, so maybe next fall…
Along the Parkway, there was one overlook after another where I would stop the car to take pictures. Often, the overlooks included informational signs about the view – mountains, trails, or wildlife. With a 45 mph maximum speed limit and frequent stops, it took several hours to drive the 60 miles.
Highlights along the Parkway
Table Rock Mountain, in North Carolina, has a unique shape – it looks like a large table was placed on top of the mountain. It is a popular place for rock climbing.
The top of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina resembles the face of a reclining man – therefore its name. It is home to more rare plants and animals than any other mountain in the eastern United States.
Linn Cove Viaduct is a stunning man-made addition to the Parkway. There are no pull-offs near the viaduct, so I was not able to get a good photo. The seven mile viaduct curves around Grandfather Mountain in a way that it won’t damage the mountain’s habitat. This engineering wonder was the last section to be finished – over twenty years after the rest of the Parkway.
The Peaks of Otter is a group of three mountains in Virginia – Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill. There is a lodge and a man-made lake – Abbott Lake – in the valley where the three mountains meet. The mountains are popular for hiking, especially Sharp Top which offers a 360° view. For non-hikers, there is a shuttle bus that brings people to within 15 minutes of the top.
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a 2200 mile hiking trail that goes between Georgia and Maine. It winds through parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, at times crossing the Parkway. I saw several signs where the trails crossed. If I were a serious hiker, I would want to hike the AT. Even as an occasional casual hiker, I am interested in trying some day hikes.
As I drove toward home through Pennsylvania after visiting my daughter, I continued to be surrounded by mountains. The Allegheny Mountains, like the others I saw, are part of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Although it rained during my entire drive through the area, I could still see the beauty in the scenery around me.
I drove through the same area about twelve years ago. I remember being struck by the thought that these were the type of mountains where many young men fought in the Civil War. The mountainous area separated the lines of Confederate and Union armies.
Driving through the Mountains
The drive though the mountains is something I will never forget. It’s hard to describe it without repeating the word beautiful a hundred times. Even though I took lots of pictures and shared some here, the pictures don’t compare to seeing the area in real life.
If you ever get a chance to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or hike on the Appalachian Trail, take the opportunity. It will be a trip you’ll never forget.