The newest of a series of visitor centers scattered along the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at milepost 384 a stone’s throw from Asheville provides a great introduction to this world-famous scenic drive—the most-visited unit of the National Park Service—all year-round.
Well, to be exact, all year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. But otherwise you’ll have this fine interpretive facility at your disposal whenever you find yourself soaking up the Appalachian splendor of the Parkway. Especially if you’re exploring the route with a base camp in Asheville, the visitor center—a mere eight miles or so east of downtown—makes a great first stop for orienting yourself to the Parkway’s layout and planning your sightseeing along it.
Opened in 2008, the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center is a LEEDS-certified building boasting such environmentally friendly design features as radiant floor heating, a green roof, and active/passive heating and cooling.
Its attractions include a 22-foot-long digital map of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the “I-Wall,” offering interactive virtual touring of the drive’s full extent.
Another highlight is the award-winning 24-minute-long film The Blue Ridge Parkway – America’s Favorite Journey, presented in high-definition surround sound glory in the 70-seat theater. The film provides an overview of the Parkway’s landscapes, ecology, human history, and cultural heritage via the story of a father-and-daughter motorcycle ride along its mountain-hugging route.
Besides the various exhibits and the film, the visitor center includes information desks where you can chat with rangers and stock up on “insider” tips for your Parkway explorations. There’s also a gift shop on hand with books, maps, and other items for sale.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center also maintains a 1.4-mile-long loop trail on its grounds that links into the great long-distance footpath known as the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, which runs the width of North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Atlantic shores of the Outer Banks over 1,175 gorgeous miles.
Thoughtfully and attractively designed, offering the chance to ask questions directly to rangers and iron down your Parkway game plan, the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center is most definitely worth a visit, whether you’re planning a trip along the drive’s full length or just exploring bits and pieces on an Asheville-area getaway.
– If you’re stopping at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, you might consider making it a twofer with the Folk Art Center, a mere 2.5 miles or so north along the Parkway.
– Here you can marvel at arts-and-crafts created by the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild (which helps run the place along with the National Park Service and the Appalachian Regional Commission) as well as historical regional pieces.