Mabry Mill in autumn. Blue Ridge Parkway, Va. — Photo Researchers/Getty Images
Winding 469 miles from Virginia into North Carolina and between Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America's can't-miss scenic routes. But it's not just a pretty drive: The Blue Ridge Parkway is a terrific destination unto itself, with dozens of overlooks, trails and historic sites that are perfect for breaking up your time behind the wheel.
Stop #1: Mabry Mill, Meadows of Dan, Va. — Milepost 176One of the most popular snapshot subjects on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mabry Mill dates from 1910, when E.B. Mabry completed the sawmill and blacksmith and wheelwright shops that serve as a community hub to this day. Near Rocky Knob (site of the parkway's only rental cabins), the mill offers living-history exhibits on rural Virginian life as well as live music and dancing on Sunday afternoon.
Stop #2: Blue Ridge Music Center, Galax, Va. — Milepost 213Established in 1985, the Blue Ridge Music Center highlights local banjo and fiddle music through live performances at an on-site amphitheater. An interactive exhibit, "The Roots of American Music," traces the origins of the Southern Appalachian sound to African and European traditions.
Stop #3: Craggy Gardens, Ivy, N.C. — Milepost 364North of Asheville, this especially scenic stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway earned the moniker Craggy Gardens for the vast swaths of rhododendrons and other native wildflowers crowning its peaks. Several trails delve into the flora, including some gentle routes to stunning overlooks. Nearby, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River (6,684 feet) and home to a state park and more trails.
Stop #4: Folk Art Center, Asheville, N.C. — Milepost 382The Folk Art Center is home to a three-gallery museum with the Southern Highland Craft Guild's permanent collection. At the historic Allanstand Craft Shop, you can see artisans at work, demonstrating everything from quilting to woodcarving.
Stop #5: Mount Pisgah, Waynesville, N.C. — Milepost 408One of the taller peaks on the Blue Ridge Parkway (5,721 feet), Mount Pisgah is worth a stop for the view from its overlook, if not the strenuous hike to its summit. Nearby, the Pisgah Inn (open March 20-October 29) is the only lodging and restaurant in the vicinity, with a terrific panorama from just about every window.