This is part two of a four part series, click below to read parts 1, 3 and 4!
In our previous installment, we explored the amazing history of the Blue Ridge Mountains that has shaped the area into what it is today. Now let’s explore some of the top must-see’s and must-do’s in this region of unmatched American awesomeness!
One of the best ways to see this part of the country is by driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. Now this isn’t just a local or county road, no, this is a 469 mile long highway chock-full of some of the most breathtaking vistas the area has to offer. Originally intended as a project to create jobs for those during the Great Depression, The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the largest National Parkways in the entire United States. What is a National Parkway you ask? Well, to be honest, I had to look it up also. A National Parkway is essentially a road version of a National Park. It is maintained and staffed by the Nationals Parks service, Thankfully though, there is no fee to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s 100% free!
Photo credit: Nathan Anderson
Along the drive all of our tree enthusiasts out there will be able to keep an eye out for the staggering 130 species of trees that cover the hillside along the drive. Believe it or not, there are more species of trees along this drive than in all of Europe! Now that’s a ton of trees. With a speed limit that never exceeds 45mph though, there is plenty of opportunity to take in the grandeur, not to mention the staggering number pullouts for stopping to take in the majesty of the area.
These pullouts can cause issues for those traveling in an RV or pulling a trailer, so be sure to use caution and plan accordingly. There’s also an issue of hairpin turns in certain parts of the drive, so be sure to grab a map and explore your route before hitting the Parkway.
This parkway will be your main travel artery during your time in the Blue Ridge region, but there’s plenty more to see and do in this area than just drive.
What is a trip through the Blue Ridge Region without taking some time to explore some of the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains? I could write about 1,000 posts about everything to see and do in the Smokies, but I’ll just give some of the highlights
Photo credit: Adam Bouse
If you’re into hitting a great trail, look no further than Spruce Flat Falls. This trail provides some great hiking, but isn’t so strenuous that you’ll need to pack the bandaids for blisters. The quiet serenity of the hike is sure to cure what ails you and the falls themselves are truly breathtaking.
Photo credit: Matt Palmer
If you’re into history, The Elkmont Ghost Town is the spot for you! Founded as a humble logging community, Elkmont quietly blossomed into a thriving resort area. It was home to the high-class hotels The Wonderland and the Appalachian Club Resort, where neighboring Knoxville’s elite would come for a great summer getaway. Here they would dance the night away, lay by the dammed up swimming hole, or just stroll through the majestic mountain landscape. But, as logging began to wane in the area, Elkmont’s population and tourism trade began to dwindle, eventually resulting in the entire area being abandoned.
But now you can reap the benefits by exploring this amazing little rundown time capsule that will transport you back to days of yore, all tucked away amongst the canopy of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Photo credit: Simon Moore
If tasting the local libations is more your thing, then take a trip over to the Tennessee Shine Company in Pigeon Forge. Here you’ll be able to sip and savor some of that famous White Lightning that made this area famous in the first place. The Shine Company offers more traditional fare in regard to their moonshine, but if the mood strikes you, they also offer some far-out flavors like cotton candy! But no need to go under cloak of night, this establishment only sells moonshine by name, not by legal status. Everything is above board, but you’ll still get vibes reminiscent of the early days of bootlegging.
Photo credit: Megan Coughlin
Fewer places shine in the Smoky Mountain Region than the park named after one of America’s larger than life icons, Dollywood. This astounding park was purchased by the one and only Dolly Parton back in the mid 1980’s and converted into the world of Ms. Parton’s songs and stories. Part historical park, part theme park, and all glitter and sparkle, this theme park is an absolute must-see for Parton fans and fans of phenomenal theme parks.
Photo credit: Stephanie Klepacki
If you find yourself on the Ashville side of the Smokies, then you need to make absolutely sure you take the time to visit The Biltmore estate. To say the Biltmore is enormous would be doing it a disservice. This SPRAWLING estate houses a paltry 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and over 60 fireplaces to keep all of railroad and steamboat tycoon George Biltmore’s guests comfortable when visiting this country estate. The history of the Biltmore is as ornate and storied as the hallways of the hulking country home. The estate was made public during the Great Depression and has since grown to include two hotels, and an equally sprawling shopping/entertainment district.
We’ve now explored the rich history and a few of the sights around the Blue Ridge Mountain region, but there’s still so much to taste and so many amazing places to stay! In our next posts, we’ll explore the local cuisine in the area that is sure to leave you begging for more as well as exploring some of the greatest places to rest your wheels when exploring this beautiful piece of living Americana.