Archive for the ‘Parkway’ Category

northern Virginia, southern Maryland and Northwest Washington D.C.
Visited: May 4, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 286 of 353
NPS Website

D.C. from the Parkway


The George Washington MEM PKWY National Park Site consists of three roads:

1) The 25-mile stretch of the George Washington MEM PKWY that travels solely in northern Virginia from D.C. Beltway Exit 14 in the north all the way southward to Mount Vernon, the stately plantation home of George Washington;

2) The 7-mile segment of the Clara Barton Parkway from D.C. Beltway Exit 41 until the Chain Bridge; and

3) The less-than-a-mile-long Spout Run Parkway, a gorgeous spur of the GW Parkway that takes you to U.S. Route 29 and is a great place to turn around on the GW if you’ve missed your exit.

As a road, the George Washington MEM PKWY is both a dream and a nightmare. First, the dreamy bits.


1) The views. From the D.C. Beltway until the Key Bridge, the road follows the Potomac River Gorge’s cliff edge. The Potomac looks beautiful down below. Trees line both sides of the road, grass grows in the median strips, streams and tiny waterfalls appear out of nowhere and northbound pulloffs allow for stunning views of Georgetown. Once you pass the Key Bridge, D.C.’s familiar neo-classical presidential memorials loom majestically while the Pentagon stands strong on the Parkway’s other side. Alexandria and the Mount Vernon Trail offer colonial Virginian architectural and antiqueing charm.

Michael’s dad and countless others swoon at the thought of the Parkway. “It’s so beautiful. It’s so relaxing. It’s so nice.” The views offer ample proof of their road crush.

2) There are no tractor trailers allowed on the Parkway. Enough said.

3) The flow of traffic does not stop until Alexandria despite the low (35-45 mph) speed limit.

4) No road in the United States has so many top flight tourist attractions within less than a 3-mile straight line.

5) For non-locals, the Parkway really is the easiest and fastest way into Georgetown and Washington, D.C.’s tourist areas. Michael has tried them all many times.

After the Key Bridge and Georgetown the Driving Madness Begins


1) From the Key Bridge to Ronald Reagan airport the Parkway weaves in and out of numerous roads like a DNA helix. Michael never knows which lane to be in, cars who do know where they are going whiz past, there is no slow lane or fast lane just the lane you need to be in and if you miss your weaving exit point or take the wrong turn you’ll end up D.C. amidst even more traffic. Even if you have a GPS system, it won’t help; the weaving turns occur too quickly and too often. Super quick eyes are necessity.

Michael has been lost on this road more times than he would like to mention.

2) The scenic vista turnoffs and Park Site parking lot turnoffs are usually accessible only from one side of the road. For example, if you are traveling southward, you are not getting into the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot; it only has a northbound entry point.

3) The Parkway was originally built as a weekend excursion road for D.C. residents. It wasn’t supposed to become a major city artery. The pace, while slow, is usually manic.

4) The Parkway’s sinewy curves and narrow lanes add to the area’s beauty but can make for stressful driving.

Not only is the George Washington MEM PKWY a road, it is also an administrative entity. “What” you say, “that sure was an awkward segue.” We are just getting you used to driving on the GW.

The NPS operates dozens of parks under the umbrella of the GW MEM PKWY. Some are official National Park Sites, some are privately-run parks, some are publicly-run by a non-NPS entity and some have seemingly no connection to the Parkway but appear on its brochure.

Here is a list of the GWMP-related NPS parks and links (where applicable) to our reviews.

Teddy Roosevelt IslandGWMP Sites from north to south:

Clara Barton Parkway (Maryland side)

C&O Canal NHP The NHP is not a part of the GWMP administratively but its lands do border the Clara Barton PKWY
Potomac Heritage NHT
Clara Barton NHS and Glen Echo Park

George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia side)

Great Falls Park. Great Falls Park is an administrative part of the GWMP but its actual borders are north of the Parkway’s source.
Turkey Run Park. This is the Site of GWMP park headquarters and, rumor has it, home to gobs of National Park Passport stamps.
Potomac Heritage NHT
Claude Moore Colonial Farm
Fort Marcy
Mount Vernon Trail
Theodore Roosevelt Island
U.S. Marine Corps Memorial
Netherlands Carillon
Arlington House
Arlington National Cemetery
LBJ Memorial Grove on the Potomac
Fort Hunt Park
Mount Vernon. Not an NPS-site but so famous that we had to mention it. Here is their website.

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stretches from Shenandoah NP, Va. to Great Smoky Mountains NP, Tenn.
Visited: October 30, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 276 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

469 miles of two-lane road that follows the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline, each mile more breathtaking than the last.

Shining PathBEAUTY (10/10)
The Parkway rides the long, bumpy spine of the Appalachians, roller-coastering its way above the fray and the madness below. Its humble two-lane, 45-mph speed limited road is free from billboards, litter, cross traffic and tractor-trailers. The Parkway is almost 500 miles of panoramas, sweeping vistas and majestic overlooks.

The Blue Ridge Parkway bisects the mountainous areas of Virginia and North Carolina known as southern Appalachia, where coal and logging industries introduced a diverse group of workers to the region previously inhabited (and probably named) by Native Americans.

Appalachian history is highlighted in many of the Parkway’s roadside stops, exhibits and remnants of farms and mills. Appalachian culture is alive in the folk art centers and music center that lie within NPS boundaries.

CROWDS (8/10)
Every Visitor Center was full. Pullouts were packed. An unseasonably warm day brought sunbathers from (we are assuming) Appalachian State University to the lawns around Moses Cone Manor. We were part of a sea of people moving along the previously inaccessible Blue Ridge in either direction.

The accessibility of the Parkway guarantees at least 20 million visitors a year. 20 million people driving just to drive, drawn by the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We felt a connection with our fellow travelers. The Blue Ridge Parkway is an essential American experience.

Nine out of twelve months this rating would be a five, but icy conditions intensify at the higher altitude passes in the winter and late fall. Plan on a few road closures and detours if you visit the Parkway between the end of October and spring thaw. We encountered two.

The rest of the year, the Parkway is the easiest way to explore the Appalachian hills and ridges. The Parkway stretches from Rockfish Gap, Va. to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. Mile markers increase in number from North to South. Should you find yourself missing life in the fast lane, Interstate 81 parallels the east side of the Blue Ridge and the Parkway.

Road BlockThe Parkway did not connect from end to end until less than 20 years ago. 461.5 of its miles were ready by 1967, but a 7.5-mile boulder-filled course over Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina was impassable until the construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct in September of 1987. Site literature calls the Viaduct, “the most complicated concrete bridge ever built.”

Asheville, N.C. and Roanoke, Va. are the largest cities close to the Parkway; the smaller towns of Lexington and Lynchburg are also easily reached. We know because we spent nights in each of them.

There are not one but two opportunities to lose yourself among the rich crafts of the Southern Highland Craft Guild along the Parkway. The Parkway Craft Center is housed inside the stately Moses Cone Manor at milepost 294. The Allanstand Craft Shop, the Guild’s flagship and oldest continuously operating craft shop in the nation, occupies the first floor of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Folk Art Center at milepost 382, east of Asheville, NC.

Craft HeavenSo if you are kicking yourself for not picking up that piece of glassware, patchwork quilt or hand-carved puzzle box when you first saw it, odds are you can find something similar further along in your journey. The Moses Cone Manor should be awakening any day now from its winter dormancy. The Allanstand is open and active with events and demonstrations year round.

COSTS (4/5)
There is no toll for the East’s most famous drive but we dare you not to buy souvenirs at the Park’s extraordinary folk art centers.

Rangers were on hand at every Visitor Center, but most were occupied with rerouting visitors around the two road closures on the Parkway. As we lined up to let the Ranger highlight our map and tell us how to get back on course, we wondered how many times she had gone through this routine already today and if perhaps there were a better way to disseminate this information.

The works of the Southern Highland Craft Guild rival any museum of American folk art that we have seen. The Folk Art Center at milepost 382 gives credence to our statement with its second floor gallery, showcasing both current artisans and works from the past while it explains the raw materials and process by which each object was made.

The brand new Blue Ridge Music Center at milepost 213 is filled with sunshine, smells of freshly hammered timber and gold records acquired by some of the forefathers (and mothers) of bluegrass and the blues. The bright and spacious main building tells of Appalachia’s contributions to American music and hosts concerts and open jam sessions in spring, summer and fall.

Mount Mitchell State Park, just off the Parkway’s milepost 355 offers more educational opportunities and exhibits, but its concrete observation deck with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains is why we strayed from the Parkway. Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.

Lovely MillFUN (10/10)
One would think that after being in the car together for almost two years, we would not seek out roads that necessitate low speeds and prolong our drive time. We enjoyed every minute of our time on and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every time Gab started to fidget, a sign for the next Visitor Center appeared or a stunning overlook emerged from around a bend. Perfect timing.

We chose the trails around Linville Falls (milepost 316) as one of the sites to stretch our legs, as did everyone else it seemed. Trails were crowded but well kept. The 45-mph Parkway speed limit must have rubbed off on us. We were so relaxed and unhurried that we didn’t really mind waiting as a family scooted their throng of little ones up steps and closer to the falls. Driving the Parkway is all about going with the flow.

We were nervous about hitting the Parkway at such a peak time of year, but we can’t say our visit was affected by people. The biggest challenge was finding a high perch for sunset but still making off the Parkway and down the ridge before dark. The only disappointment was the early winter closing of some of the smaller Visitor Centers.

We kept reminding ourselves as we cruised along that these mountaintops were once totally out of reach to most of the American public. The Parkway serves as a memorial to the vision of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the ingenuity of the American people to make it real.

Although it took over 52 years to complete the Parkway, today’s visitors need only get in the car and go. This unforgettable drive requires low effort and yields high rewards. Since it is closed to commercial vehicles, one can take those curves as slowly as one would like, allowing for plenty of time to take in the mountain air and enjoy the peacefulness of the drive.

The only way one could not fully enjoy a trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway is to see it as a route between two National Parks and not a destination in its own right.

TOTAL 67/80

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northwest Wyoming
Visited: September 17, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 95 of 353
NPS Website

John D. Rockefeller Memorial ParkwayWHAT IS IT?
An 82-mile section of road that travels from West Thumb Geyser Basin in the southern portion of Yellowstone NP and follows through Grand Teton NP all the way to its southern entrance and Jackson Hole, Wyo. The Parkway also encompasses the land between the two parks, some of which John D. Rockefeller, Jr. bought in the 30’s and donated to the National Park Service in order to preserve it for public use.

BEAUTY (10/10)
The portions of the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway within Grand Teton NP are breathtaking. The jagged peaks just stand there, majestic, without obstruction. The Parkway offers countless pullouts, picnic areas and snapshot chances.

The Parkway remembers Rockefeller’s philanthropic commitment to our nation’s public lands. His land purchases ensured what he hoped to be the everlasting protection of the Great Smoky Mountains NP, Acadia NP, Grand Teton NP, the Virgin Islands NP and more. We are thankful to foresight of Mr. Rockefeller and other like-minded industrialists who treasure the public’s enjoyment of our beautiful country.

CROWDS (2/10)
Despite the beautiful surroundings rife with wildlife, most of the Parkway’s visitors still drive well over the posted 45 mile and hour speed limit. It is hard to enjoy nature when gargantuan pick up trucks and/or RV’s are aggressively tailgating your humble Nissan Altima. Even though there a pull offs for cars going the speed limit, the stress level of driving the Parkway, especially the sections in Yellowstone NP can be particularly high.

Large portions of the Parkway’s northern section are under construction and amount to one-way unpaved gravel conduits. Waits of up to a half an hour are more than likely. The Parkway cannot be accessed without entry into either Yellowstone or Grand Teton NP’s.

The Parkway’s bookstore, located at the Flagg Ranch, closed for the season in early September, leaving us one National Parks Passport stamp short. We could see it through the door’s window and left distraught.

Welcome SignCOSTS (2/5)
A $20 vehicle entrance fee is good for a week’s stay at both Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP, an incredible bargain given the sheer amount of things to in the Parks’ combined 2.5 million acres. Entry is free with the National Parks Pass.

There is an outsourced campground available near the Flagg Ranch Lodge in the Parkway portion in between the two National Parks. Reservations can be made for the $25 a night sites. Pretty steep by our book.

Lodging is available at the newly built Flagg Ranch Resort for $145-$155 per night.

The Ranger Station, along with the bookstore, closed for the season in early September. If you sincerely have John D. Rockefeller, Jr. related questions we are sure the Ranger at Grand Teton NP will be able to help.

Only a roadside exhibit conveniently positioned right before the flagman stops traffic. From the view Michael had, face pressed up against the glass, it did not look like there was a museum at the closed Ranger Station.

FUN (6/10)
How much fun can driving through a 30 miles of construction and unpaved roads really be? Pretty fun indeed, when the Grand Tetons are your destination. Once the traffic holdup ends, the Tetons stand to your right. For over 50 miles!

View From the RoadWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Location. Location. Location. The Parkway receives a mandatory perfect score here since it is your only paved route through the stunning Grand Teton NP and part of Yellowstone.

TOTAL 38/80

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