In 1912, North Carolina geologist Joseph Hyde Pratt was the first person to propose building a road along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But it wasn’t until 1933 that the crippling economics of the Great Depression prompted President Roosevelt to approve construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic highway that connects two national parks: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and Great Smoky National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Decades of construction followed, with the final span of the parkway completed in 1987.
The winding 469-mile (755-kilometer) highway is often the most visited site managed by the National Park Service. In 2022, the parkway recorded 15,711,004 visitors, more than any other park service site. Second on the list was Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with 15,638,911 visits. Great Smoky National Park was third. The Blue Ridge Parkway’s popularity isn’t a new phenomenon. It has ranked high on the park service’s most visited lists for decades.
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of the Blue Ridge Mountains on April 11, 2023. Spring greening had come to the farmland in the Shenandoah and Roanoke valleys west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and to the Piedmont region east of the mountains. Higher-elevation areas of the Blue Ridge were still brown due to cooler temperatures. The smoke visible in North Carolina was due to a prescribed fire near Singecat Ridge.
Among the geologic, historical, and scenic highlights along the Blue Ridge Parkway are Mount Mitchell (mile 355), the Linn Cove Viaduct (mile 304), and the New River (mile 199). Mount Mitchell, with an elevation of 6,684 feet, is the highest peak in the eastern United States. The Linn Cove Viaduct, completed in 1987, is an elevated road built to minimize damage to the ecologically sensitive slopes of Grandfather Mountain. The New River, despite the name, is one of the oldest rivers in North America.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Adam Voiland.