Written By Jack Igelman
Photographs By Kelly VanDellen; courtesy of Black Bear Adventures
(Left) The Parkway offers more than 45,000 feet of climbing, though there are some flat stretches. (Right) Cycling the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway offers both challenge and great reward in both the scenery and the achievement.
When it comes to epic rides on two wheels—think rolling stretches of roadway that undulate through mesmerizing scenery—the United States has quite a few to its credit. But arguably, one of the nation’s most iconic and beautiful stretches of asphalt is right here in Western North Carolina: the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Exploring the Parkway with the wind in your face rewards with a perfect mix of challenge, fun, and adventure. The 469-mile route—of which 252 miles are in WNC—stretches from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and to tackle it in its entirety (which typically takes about 10 days on a bicycle) is certainly a bucket list-worthy pursuit.
While a bicycle tour involving multiple days can require lots of pricey gear, if you have a road-worthy cycle, you’re nearly there. A sensible warm-up is a day trip on one of the road’s many lovely sections. For starters, the 42-mile stretch from the Pisgah Inn to Waterrock Knob includes mind-blowing views of the area’s distinctive granite domes and panoramas of the Great Smoky Mountains. In the High Country, a five-star, 25-mile route begins at the Linville Falls Recreation Area, travels the Linn Cove Viaduct on the flanks of Grandfather Mountain, and ends in Blowing Rock.
Yet take heed, the Parkway is not known for its lengthy sections of flatness. Indeed, you may be surprised to discover that most of your time is spent fighting gravity, since descents are fast and climbs reptilian. So if you’re keen on a multi-day route, choose wisely and conservatively.
As for staying on route, the byway is as simple as it gets and there is a network of campgrounds to stay at along the way. However, water and food resupply en route are tricky, so savvy planning is a must. And while summer temperatures are mild at relatively higher altitudes, you’re more exposed to the elements, such as wind, fog, and lightning. So check the forecast, and your brakes, before you leave
THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY-Stretching 469 miles
Hit the Road
You don’t have to be a super-athlete to appreciate touring by bicycle. Still, make sure you get plenty of miles and climbing under your belt before you leave. The ideal length for a day on the Parkway depends on your goals, the amount of elevation gain, and your personal fitness level.
For thru-cyclers, a 10-day trip from start to finish requires nearly 50 miles per day. And don’t forget, the longer you go, the heavier your load. Note too that camping is only allowed in designated areas and some accommodations are seasonal.
Vehicle traffic on the Parkway—it is a motorway after all—adds to the adventure. This National Park unit lacks designated bike lanes, so ensure that you and your cycle are visible to traffic using lights and reflective gear, especially on foggy stretches and when cycling through any of the Parkway’s 26 tunnels. Beware: North Carolina negligence law, known by some as the one-percent rule, pins the majority of bike-car collisions on cyclists.
There’s plenty of information online about the Parkway, so crowdsourcing a DIY expedition and making a plan is within reach. Before you leave, double check an elevation map, what to carry, and a list of accommodations. Or, consider hiring a tour company that can relieve the logistical burden. Here are two firms that can help you design a custom trip:
Timberline Bike & Hike Adventures
Black Bear Adventures