The 1987 dedication of the "Missing Link" in "America's Most Scenic Road" added another landmark to the Parkway, then and now, the most visited unit of the National Park Service.The groundbreaking, mountainside-defying, cantilevered span on Grandfather Mountain has become the quintessential image of the Blue Ridge Parkway, seen on everything from television car commercials to postcards.
The 1987 opening of this controversial, long-awaited, 10.5-mile portion of the Parkway was an instant favorite of many because of the viaduct. The first public motorists were startled by the way the viaduct leaps away from the mountain and soars within feet of rocks and trees offering unobstructed views to the Carolina Piedmont.
"Our goal for this bridge," says Gary Johnson, a now-retired Parkway landscape architect who worked on the Grandfather Mountain section, "was to have it look like it had been there for a century-to look like it had almost grown out of the mountain."
The complex, S-shaped, undulating balcony across the side of Grandfather Mountain cost $8,000 a foot for its 1,243 feet. Each of the viaduct's 153, 50-ton segments was cast to exactly abut the next segment. Each was lowered out over the elongating end of the viaduct, then epoxied into place and torsioned with internal cables. The American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the viaduct the "Civil Engineering Achievement of Merit."
The bridge is located in the Boone Area heart of the North Carolina High Country at Milepost 304 on the 469-mile route between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.
The Grandfather Mountain part of the Parkway took decades to finish because choosing the route involved a stand-off between the National Park Service and Grandfather Mountain owner Hugh Morton. The disagreement ended amicably, and the viaduct was the result.
"Looking back," Gary Johnson says, "we never realized how iconic this part of the Parkway would become. Sometimes things just happen when they're ready. This part of the Parkway almost seems predestined to have turned out for the best."
The bridge may be at its best in autumn when frost can coat evergreens on the summits of Grandfather Mountain far above and glowing fall color carpets foothills thousands of feet below.
By parking at the Linn Cove Visitor Center, at Milepost 304.4, walkers can take a paved wheelchair-accessible path a hundred yards to look up beneath the high-tech bridge. Take the Tanawha Trail farther over more rugged terrain and it is one-half mile to the postcard view of the viaduct, reached by a short side trail to a rocky perch. The round-trip is one mile.
Another great viewpoint on the Tanawha Trail that flanks the Parkway is available at Rough Ridge, Milepost 302. 8. The trail's boardwalk vantage point is not far from the Parkway and provides spectacular views that include the viaduct clinging to the mountainside. For more on Parkway hiking, see our Parkway hiking page and dive into our trail guide to the area.
The Blue Ridge Parkway celebrated it's 75th anniversary in 2010. The Grandfather Mountain portion of the Parkway opened 52 years after the 1935 start of construction which also occurred in North Carolina, north of the viaduct, near Cumberland Knob, at Milepost 217.5.
For more information, two books by local author Randy Johnson fully explore the Grandfather Mountain area and the viaduct trails on the Parkway, Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Best Easy Day Hikes Blue Ridge Parkway.
Zoom in close on the map below (use the plus sign and directional arrows at upper left, or repeatedly double click near, but not on, the map symbols). You can literally see the parking lots for Parkway destinations in this guide. Click any map symbol and information-packed balloons pop up to describe locations all along the route. In the map balloons, click "Directions" to add your address and get step-by-step directions to Parkway locations from wherever you are. Start in the north, follow the road south, for a local's introduction to your own Boone-area Parkway adventure.