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Linn Cove Viaduct [MP 304.4]

destination-viaduct1Linn Cove Viaduct is a 1,243-foot (379 m) concrete segmental bridge which snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and it is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel. A viaduct is actually a bridge over land, and they have long been used successfully in the European Alps. Work began on the viaduct in June 1979 and was completed in November 1982 at a final cost of $9.8 million. This last link of the Parkway was opened in September 1987, 52 years after construction first began. The Linn Cove Viaduct remains one of the most elegant solutions to an environmentally formidable problem, yet designed by the hand of man. This section of roadway, which seems suspended in midair as it hugs the southern face of Grandfather Mountain, was the centerpiece of the last 7.5-mile section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be completed… earning it the nickname “the missing link.”

The problem: how to design and build a roadway at an elevation of 4,100 feet without permanently disfiguring one of the best-loved landmarks of the Southern Appalachians. Conservationists were highly concerned that traditional road-building techniques would disturb the delicate balance in the many ecological communities that cling to Grandfather’s slopes.

To address the challenges of protecting the environment while completing the road, the Park Service considered three possible routes to take the road across Grandfather Mountain.

Property for the “low route,” a path that would have closely paralleled US Highway 221, was sold to the state by the Linville Company in the late 1930s. The “high route” and the “middle route” were suggested in the 1950s and 1960s. When the “middle route” was adopted by the Park Service in 1966, Grandfather Mountain donated all of the right-of-way needed to build the road. The “middle route” crossed the environmentally fragile Black Rock area of Grandfather Mountain. The rugged landscape was comprised of cracked, loose boulders — meaning that traditional road-building techniques would be vulnerable to rock slides.


Ultimately, engineers devised a way to build the 1,243-foot long S-curve from the top down, a technique that dealt minimal impact on the fragile mountain environment. The viaduct was designed by Figg and Muller Engineers, Inc. Construction began in 1979. It is 1,243 feet long and consists of 153 segments weighing 50 tons each. The design included almost every kind of alignment geometry ever used in highway construction, and no two of the 153 segments were alike. Only one segment, the southernmost, is straight. Incredibly, the only construction that occurred at ground level involved the seven massive piers that support the structure.

The top down construction approach eliminated the need for a “pioneer road” and heavy equipment on the ground. The bridge’s segments were precast at an indoor facility at the south side of the parkway. After being transported to the bridge site, each section was lowered into place by a custom crane placed on either edge of the existing structure. The only construction that occurred at ground level was the drilling of foundations for the seven permanent piers on which the Viaduct rests. Exposed rock was covered to prevent staining from concrete, epoxy, or grout. The only trees cut were those directly beneath the superstructure. This allowed there to be no access road other than the Blue Ridge Parkway itself. The bridge has received eleven design awards. [1] [2]

The National Park Service maintains a Visitor Center and bridge museum at the south end of the viaduct. You can read about the construction of the Viaduct and get general Parkway information.

destination-viaduct-from-trailTake about a one-mile roundtrip hike for an upclose view of this engineering marvel. An accessible paved trail begins at the visitor center and leads to a beautiful view of the viaduct from underneath, and gives hikers access to the Tanawha Trail. You will see how the viaduct almost floats in the air without disturbing the land below. The Tanawha Trail passes by the Linn Cove Visitor Center, and it travels beside and underneath the viaduct, on its route from Beacon Heights to Julian Price Memorial Park.

The Visitor Center and Museum are open April 22nd – October 31st from 9am – 5pm (closed for lunch from 12pm – 1pm).

Excerpted from TripAdvisor hiker reviews:

Quite a rugged climb, but what a view. – Just stopped off to get a stamp for our National Parks Passport. We decided to take the 860 foot walk to the observation lookout. Slight incline but then rugged root and stone steps up. Beautiful rock formations and very interesting engineering information on the construction. ” — user Judy P Titusville, FL

ice area on the Blue Ridge – We have visited Linn Cove Viaduct four times (twice with our kids). There are several trails, a visitors center and restroom facilities. The trails are very scenic and easy to hike. Most of the areas are shaded and cool. It is quite enjoyable and very relaxing. Not too crowded. ” — user Tracy W Apopka, FL

Stop, get out, take a hike at MP 304! – This engineering marvel is worth the stop. Take the trail back as far as you wish, we did about two miles in, and met wonders at every corner. The viaduct was built in a form to not disrupt the formations of Grandfather mountain and it is worth trying to understand it. We were 2013 leaf peepers and it was a great experience, but Linn Cove is worth the stop. ” — user Drake972 Portland, OR

Points of Interest
  • Linn Cove Visitor and Information Center and Bridge Museum [MP 304] at the south end of the Viaduct near Asheville.
[1] Wikipedia, “Linn Cove Viaduct”
[2] Romantic Asheville, “Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway”
[3] Visit North Carolina, “Linn Cove Viaduct”
[4] Grandfather Mountain, “Blue Ridge Parkway Viaduct”

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