New trail encourages visitors to explore the Blue Ridge Mountains

A new trail through one of North America’s most spectacular yet less well known internationally national parks is hoping to attract thousands of new visitors this year.

The Blueridge mountains
The Blueridge mountains Image by Shutterstock

The Blue Ridge Heritage Trail will help guide tourists through the Great Smoky Mountains and the major sights of North Carolina. The region was designated a national heritage area in 2003 by Congress and President George W Bush. The trail features a brand new website, interactive maps, as well as 69 interpretative signs and five interactive kiosks at tourist centres for exploring the region.

A sign for the Cradle of Forestry, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 411.
A sign for the Cradle of Forestry, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Image by Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

The creators of the trail told Lonely Planet: “The trail is not a ‘Point A to Point B’ trail, but rather many stops throughout the region. People can enjoy a single stop or piece together several sites by theme or region. “QR codes on each sign will enable people with smart phones to locate other nearby sites. The goal is to encourage people, both visitors and residents, to discover places they may not know about.”

Biltmore Estate, North Carolina.
Biltmore Estate, North Carolina. Image by Blake Lewis / CC BY-SA 2.0

Probably the best known of the attractions on the route is the Biltmore Estate, which is home to the largest privately owned house in the United States and one of the great monuments of the Gilded Age. It already attracts almost one million visitors each year but with the launch of the trail, local tourism bodies are hoping to get visitors to venture a little further afield.

Among the best natural locations are the Linville Caverns, the giant Looking Glass Rock so named because when frozen it reflects the sun like a mirror, and Chimney Rock, which offers views of up to 75 miles across gorges and lakes. The area is steeped in Native American history as well with a large museum dedicated to the story of the Cherokee Indian and a well-preserved 16th century Native American village. One last sight on the Blue Ridge Heritage Trail is the Bostic Lincoln Centre. Conventional history says that President Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky but many from North Carolina believe he was actually born in the town of Bostic.