Virginia-North Carolina: Tangled Up in Blue
Spanning two states and 469 miles without a single stop sign or traffic light, the winding Blue Ridge Parkway unspools along ridgetops, into fertile valleys, and past the highest peak east of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell) as it links Waynesboro, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Mountains to Cherokee, North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains. "If your bladder could hold out and you have enough gas, you could drive the entire length of it without ever stopping," says Dan Brown, a retired superintendent of the popular parkway.
Of course, farms, fields, and small towns offer plenty of diversions worth braking for, and most people linger longer than one day. They climb Sharp Top Mountain in Virginia, as Thomas Jefferson once did, eat cornmeal cakes at the historic Mabry Mill, or wander beneath the white oaks, red maples, mountain magnolias, black cherries, and tulip poplars at Flat Top Manor, gorging themselves on bluegrass music and Americana.
Backstory: The ridge's name comes from the soft blue haze that seems to wrap the mountains from a distance.
Inside track: Famous for the high drama of its fall foliage, the route inspires no less awe the rest of the year, insists Brown—from spring's blooming blankets of wild ginger, trout lily, and jack-in-the-pulpit wildflowers and budding trees to the summer's "plush southern Appalachian landscape" of verdant green, as well as the "bleak," beautiful winter.
Read more in "License to Thrill" in the August/September 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler (subscribe here).