Some say baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but we think that title belongs to the road trip, and there are few road trips in North America that compare to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 469-mile (755-kilometer) route through Virginia and North Carolina follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, connecting Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and traversing rolling hills, cities and the highest peaks east of the Rocky Mountains along the way.
This scenic route is 469 miles (755 kilometers) from one end to the other, and nearly every mile offers some vista, hike, attraction or distraction. The Blue Ridge Parkway invites us to slow down, savor the scenery, and shake off the busywork of day-to-day life, and simply enjoy the moments you find on the Parkway. We want you to make the most of your road trip along this stunning route, so read on for your tips on planning a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
How to Get Here
Where to Stay
When to Visit
How Much Time Do You Need
How to Avoid the Crowds
Things to See and Do
Family Fun Adventures
Arts and Cultural Experiences
Best Sunrise and Sunset Spots
Food You Have To Try
Top Travel Tips
How to Get Here
Where to Stay
When to Visit
How Much Time Do You Need
How to Avoid the Crowds
Things to See and Do
Family Fun Adventures
Arts and Cultural Experiences
Best Sunrise and Sunset Spots
Food You Have To Try
Top Travel Tips
The Blue Ridge Parkway sits within a day’s drive of more than half of the United States’ population and getting here is a breeze. You can drive the Parkway in either direction – north to south or south to north – but we’re handling all the directions from north to south, following the ascending mile markers to Milepost 469.
The northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway sits in Waynesboro, Virginia. Here, Shenandoah National Park and its noted Skyline Drive meet the Blue Ridge Parkway, and many visitors coming from the north (and cities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) will extend the road trip with a drive through Shenandoah National Park.
Interstate 64 runs east-to-west, connecting cities like Charlottesville (30 minutes east), Richmond (90 minutes east) and the Norfolk-Hampton Roads metro (three hours east) to the Parkway; west on I-64, Staunton and Lexington, Virginia, sit astride Interstates 64 and 81 (81 moves northeast through Virginia, paralleling the Parkway) only 30 and 50 minutes away, respectively. Further west you reach West Virginia with the famed Greenbrier Resort and nearby town of Lewisburg (one hour and 45 minutes west), New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in Fayetteville (just under three hours west), the city of Beckley (two and a half hours) where you can connect with Interstate 77, and the city of Charleston (three hours and 20 minutes), where you can connect to Interstate 79 or continue east into Kentucky and beyond.
Blue Ridge Parkway Access Points in Virginia
As you travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway you’ll see several access points in Virginia. A few are major interstates – like I-64, I-77 and I-40 – but many are state and county roads. Many of these access points are the same routes you’d use to find a place to fuel up and are referenced in the Fueling Up section, but major crossings and access points in Virginia include:
The southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway resides in Cherokee, North Carolina, and abuts Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The easiest place to access North Carolina’s stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is in Virginia. There the Parkway crosses over Interstate 77, a major north-south route, at the town of Fancy Gap. Once you pull off Exit 8 you’re just a few minutes from the Parkway and after a short drive you’ll see that Welcome to North Carolina sign.
Interstate 77 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fancy Gap, Virginia, eight miles from the Virginia-North Carolina Border. Interstate 77 leads south to Charlotte, North Carolina (90 minutes), but in Winston-Salem (50 minutes south), I-77 crosses Interstate 40, a major east-west route crossing North Carolina. Near Fancy Gap is the town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, which is famous for its most famous resident – Andy Griffith – and for serving as the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry; it’s a charming spot only 23 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Interstate 77 connects several major cities to the Blue Ridge Parkway. To the north Charleston, West Virginia, sits two and a half hours away and meets up with Interstate 79. The city of Beckley, West Virginia, where Interstate 64 meets I-77, sits one hour and 45 minutes away away.
Just north of Fancy Gap, the town of Fort Chiswell, Virginia, sits astride I-77 and Interstate 81, only 30 minutes away. I-81 leads northeast to Roanoke (one hour and 25 minutes) and southwest to Bristol (one hour and 30 minutes), a city spanning the Virginia-Tennessee state line.
South on I-77 you’ll reach Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in an hour and the major city of Charlotte in one hour and 40 minutes. Columbia, South Carolina, sits three hours south of Fancy Gap on I-77. In Winston-Salem, I-77 crosses Interstate 40, one of the major east-west routes in the US. From Winston-Salem, travel east on I-40 and you’ll reach Greensboro in 30 minutes, the tri-cities of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill in 90 minutes, and the coastal city of Wilmington (the eastern terminus of I-40) in three and a half hours. Follow I-40 west from Winston-Salem and you’ll reach Hickory (where Highway 321 will take you to northwest to the Parkway and the town of Boone) in one hour, Morganton (where NC Highway 181 will take you directly to the Parkway) in 90 minutes, and Asheville in two hours and 15 minutes.
In Asheville, Interstate 26 connects Asheville with the Greenville-Spartanburg area of South Carolina in an hour and 15 minutes. Atlanta, Georgia, sits three and a half hours southwest of Asheville using a combination of Highway 441, Highway 23, and Georgia Route 365.
The city of Knoxville, Tennessee, sits two hours to the west of Cherokee, North Carolina, and the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. To reach the Parkway from Knoxville, follow I-40 to Route 441, pass through the towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, cross Great Smoky Mountains National Park (we also have a handy-dandy guide to Great Smoky Mountains), and join the Parkway just a mile south of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in Cherokee.
Blue Ridge Parkway Access Points in North Carolina
As you travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina you’ll find several access points, though there are fewer major junctions in North Carolina than there are in Virginia. Several of the access points are places where an interstate crosses the Parkway including US 74, but more often you’ll find state routes and county roads meeting the Parkway along the way. Access points in North Carolina include:
Of course you may fly in to some point along the route, rent a car, and hit the road.
Washington D.C. offers several airports (including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport -DCA and Washington Dulles International Airport – IAD) and daily flights, an abundance of car rental agencies, and relative ease of travel. The Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO) is smaller but offers a number of flight and carrier options, and it’s only 30 minutes to the Parkway. Richmond is a little further east, but the Richmond International Airport (RIC) has a busy schedule of flights from several carriers. Finally, Roanoke Virginia’s Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport/Woodrum Field (ROA) offers nearly two-dozen daily flights from major carriers and is a very short drive from the Parkway.
There are several major airports and a few small airports near the route. The largest are Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU; three hours from Parkway access in Fancy Gap), Charlotte International Airport (CLT; three hours from Parkway access in Fancy Gap), Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina (GSP; one hour and 15 minutes from Parkway access in Asheville). Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) is three and a half hours from Asheville and the city’s Parkway access points. Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) is two hours west of Cherokee and the Parkway’s southern terminus.
Smaller airports include the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) 15 minutes south of the city center, Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) is two hours from Parkway access in Fancy Gap.
Take the train to a road trip? Yes indeed. Amtrak delivers passengers to Washington D.C. from the northeast, and from there you can rent a car and head out. Or, you can take the train on to Roanoke where you can rent a car and get going.
When you’re on the Blue Ridge Parkway the route is simple: north or south along the Parkway until you feel like making a detour. There are a few rules of the road you should know about visiting this element of the US National Parks system.
First, the speed limit is typically 45 mph, but it does vary, so you’ll be taking it easy on this drive, which means plenty of time to soak up the scenery. Also, mileposts line the route and they’re numbered from north to south, starting with Milepost 0 in Waynesboro, Virginia, and ending with Milepost 469 in Cherokee, North Carolina.
And lastly there are 26 tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway – one in Virginia (at Milepost 51) and 25 in North Carolina, so RV drivers take note and double check your clearances. The tunnels along the Blue Ridge Parkway are fun to encounter, unless you’re driving or hauling an RV or you have a roof-mounted kayak or bike system, then you’ve got to take note of the clearance and length of the tunnels.
The Blue Ridge Parkway passes through or near the following cities and towns:
Your time driving the Blue Ridge Parkway will vary with the seasons and how often you stop. But to give you an idea, to travel from Waynesboro to Fancy Gap you’re looking at a drive time of around six hours – three and a half hours from Waynesboro to Roanoke, and two and a half hours from Roanoke to Fancy Gap and the state line. North Carolina’s portion of the Parkway is higher, curvier, and longer, so to drive straight through from Fancy Gap to Cherokee you’re looking at just over nine hours of driving when you count at least one comfort stop. This includes a three-hour drive from from Fancy Gap to Blowing Rock, then three hours from Blowing Rock to Asheville, and a final three-hour drive from Asheville to Cherokee.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a seasonal road and large portions are often closed for the winter (early November through early to mid March). Ice, snow and strong winds along the highest, most exposed portion of the Parkway creates dangerous driving conditions, so these sections will close to automobile traffic (though many hearty visitors will snowshoe or even Nordic ski along closed sections if conditions are right, otherwise they hike the empty road). That said, throughout Virginia much of the Parkway remains open throughout the year.
In North Carolina, the Parkway is at its highest, passing several peaks that stand more than 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), and as such is more prone to winter closures than the Virginia stretch of the Parkway, much of which remains open for all or some of winter. Check for any seasonal closures or delays, or any construction closures, detours or delays at https://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm.
Before you set out on your road trip keep this in mind: there are no gas stations or EV charging stations on the Blue Ridge Parkway proper. If you need to fuel up or get a charge, you’re going to have to make a slight detour off the route. Fortunately it’s easy to find a gas station or a charging station. For EV charging stations, you can use a site like Plug Share or check out the interactive map on the Blue Ridge Parkway website (select ‘EV Charging Stations’ and zoom in on your area).
Gas stations are readily available at several points just off the Parkway. You’ll find places to fuel up at the following Mileposts:
You’ll often find some fast food near the gas stations, and at many of these spots you’ll find access to highways and interstates connecting the Parkway to the rest of the state.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is FREE. Amazing for such a heavily-used part of the National Parks System. Every year the Blue Ridge Parkway is among the top three most-visited elements of the National Parks System, drawing some 15 million visitors annually. It shares the top rankings with San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Because the Parkway is free and charges no entrance fees, we ask that visitors help support the park by dropping a few bucks (or a lot of bucks, up to you) into the donation boxes you’ll find at the visitors centers along the route. Plus, the visitor centers along the Blue Ridge Parkway provide a great place to get some information about the region, pick up a map, take in the view, enjoy a picnic or stretch your legs.
From north to south you’ll find visitors centers at Humpback Rocks (Milepost 5.8), James River (Milepost 63.6), Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86), Virginia’s Explore Park (Milepost 115), Rocky Knob (Milepost 169), Blue Ridge Music Center (Milepost 213), Doughton Park (Milepost 241.1), Moses H Cone (Milepost 294.1), Linn Cove Viaduct (Milepost 304.4), Linville Falls (Milepost 216.4), Museum of North Carolina Minerals (Milepost 330.9), Craggy Gardens (Milepost 364.5), Folk Art Center (open all year at Milepost 382.2), the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville (open all year at Milepost 384.5) and Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2).
As you cruise along the Blue Ridge Parkway you’ll enjoy a rare sight: nothing but nature. This long, linear park roams through rural Virginia and North Carolina, following the crest of the mountains, so towns and cities – and their amenities – are spread out. But there’s no need to worry when it comes to the “where will we stay?” question. Major chain hotels, boutique inns and hotels, and a range of B&Bs and rental cabins can be found at major cities and junctions along the route. You’ll also find private campgrounds and RV parks at these same junctions. Smaller towns adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway will have fewer options, but you’ll be surprised at what you find.
Tent camping and RV stays are popular along the Parkway. The National Parks Service operates eight campgrounds on the Parkway proper, they are:
Other tent and RV campsites are available in national forests and state parks that abut or sit adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of our favorites in Virginia is Sherando Lake Recreation Area, at Milepost 13, this sizable campground and pair of lakes is a photogenic, affordable place to make your base camp for a few days. Some of our favorites in North Carolina include Carolina Hemlocks Campground, Pisgah National Forest at Milepost 317.5, 330.9 or 344.1, Campfire Lodgings (10 minutes from Asheville) at Milepost 382.5, 384.7, and the Davidson River Campground, Shining Rock Wilderness Area at Milepost 412.
Only two motels stand on the Blue Ridge Parkway, one in Virginia, one in North Carolina. At Milepost 86, the Peaks of Otter Lodge offers accessible and pet-friendly accommodations, an on-site restaurant and gorgeous views. Near the town of Bedford – where you’ll find the National D-Day Memorial and a collection of shops and restaurants – and adjacent to a pair of excellent hiking trails, it’s a convenient stopover for a night or two. If you’d like to stay here, we recommend making reservations well in advance.
In North Carolina, the Pisgah Inn sits on a 5,000-foot (1,524-meter) ridge at Milepost 408.6 and offers accessible rooms, a restaurant (for hotel guests) and grab-and-go food options as well as a small country store (one of the few places to get a snack along the way) and restroom facilities. If you’d like to stay here, we recommend making reservations well in advance.
The northern terminus of the Parkway is in Waynesboro, and this small town has a handful of chain hotels as well as two lovely B&Bs: the Iris Inn and Heritage Hill Bed and Breakfast. Charlottesville, 30 minutes east, is home to the University of Virginia and as a college town has more options when it comes to accommodations. In addition to chain hotels you’ll find several excellent boutique hotel stays; among the best are Graduate Charlottesville, The Jeff Hotel, The Draftsman and The Forum Hotel by Kimpton.
Bedford’s a small town full of charm and personality. State Route 43 connects Bedford with the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it’s here, at Milepost 86, where you’ll find the Peaks of Otter Lodge and the Peaks of Otter Campground, but more importantly you’ll find an easy drive to Bedford. In Bedford you’ll find a few small chain hotels and a handful of Inns. Take a look at Vanquility Acres Inn, a 10-acre farm with both B&B-style rooms and cabins.
Roanoke, the largest city on the Blue Ridge Parkway here in Virginia, has no shortage of hotels, motels and places to stay. There are dozens of chain hotels available in and near downtown, the airport, and adjacent towns like Salem. Stay at the iconic Hotel Roanoke, just across from downtown; it was built in 1882 as an upscale accommodation for visiting railroad executives and guests. Over the years, tasteful and thoughtful updates have retained its yesteryear charm while keeping it in line with current travel trends. From here it’s an easy walk to the restaurants, boutiques and museums in downtown Roanoke.
Another great spot to say is The Stone House at Black Dog Salvage. You make know Black Dog Salvage from their show on DIY Network, but if you don’t, they’re an architectural salvage and resale business, with crews carefully demolishing structures and saving elements of each demo. These recycled and upcycled pieces are available in their store, next door to The Stone House – The Stone House itself is an architectural beauty. Built by Italian stonemasons in 1911 and decorated with elements built by the Black Dog crew next door, it’s a great mix of historic home and modern style.
Just a few miles south of Roanoke, the town of Floyd is full of artists and musicians. Every Friday night, the Floyd Country Store holds the Friday Night Jamboree, a community concert featuring If you’re here in July Bluegrass and Old Time music and plenty of mountain dancers, flatfooters and cloggers. After you take in the Jamboree, you’ll need a place to stay. There’s a small mom-and-pop motel in town, but also Floyd Yurt Lodging (which offers a camping/glamping stay in permanent yurts) and Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast, an artsy farmhouse not far off the Parkway.
The little community Meadows of Dan (at Milepost 177.7) has one of the most luxurious resorts in Virginia: Primland. Primland encompasses 12,000 acres.
There are only a few motels in Fancy Gap, but around Milepost 193, just before you reach Fancy Gap, you’ll find Volunteer Gap Inn and Cabins, and Lonesome Pine Cabins. These cabin stays offer views of the Blue Ridge Parkway and surrounding country, and they’re only a few hundred yards off your route. In Fancy Gap proper you’ll find a KOA Campground and trio of motels.
Further south, at Milepost 215, you can detour off to the town of Galax, a small town known for its annual Old Time Fiddler’s Convention – a bluegrass and old-time music get together full of jam sessions, concerts and competitions. Here you’ll find a few RV and tent campgrounds, a couple of recognizable chain hotels, and New River Trail Cabins, built beside a rails-to-trails park.
Near Fancy Gap you’ll find a trio of small motels, but in nearby Mount Airy, North Carolina, hometown of Andy Griffith and inspiration for his fictional Mayberry, you’ll find a few more hotels as well as camping at Pilot Mountain State Park. Pilot Knob Bed and Breakfast (where you can stay in the lodge or in a restored tobacco barn) and Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast (a beautiful brick home with an exceptional breakfast) are two favorites.
At Milepost 291.9 you can detour off to Blowing Rock and Boone. Boone’s a college town – home to Appalachian State University, the largest school in the University of North Carolina system – and has an abundance of chain hotels, but The Horton Hotel, a boutique property in the heart of downtown, is a favorite if you want a stylish stay. In Blowing Rock, an artsy town with one of North Carolina’s oldest tourist attraction – the town’s namesake Blowing Rock, an incredible rocky outcrop and vista – you’ll find a few small hotels as well as the Chetola Resort and a number of inns and B&Bs. Among our favorites here are the aforementioned Chetola Resort, Westglow Resort and Spa, Inn at Ragged Gardens and Cliff Dwellers Inn.
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Asheville. This tourist town is overflowing with chain hotels from budget to luxe and there are dozens of B&Bs, inns, glamping experiences, and boutique hotels downtown and in the immediate surrounding area. If you’re looking to use some hotel rewards points, you can definitely cash them in here. Among our favorite places to stay are the luxurious Omni Grove Park Inn (which has an exceptional guests-only spa and several good dining venues), the Inn on Biltmore Estate and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate (these stays can be pricey but the rooms and grounds are stunning), and the high-end Foundry Hotel just a couple of blocks from downtown. Mid-range options include Hotel Indigo, Aloft Asheville, Kimpton Hotel Arras and AC Hotels (all of which are downtown). You can go glamping in a yurt, dome or mirror house with Asheville Glamping. And there are innumerable condo and home rentals available through Airbnb and VRBO.
Hendersonville sits 30 minutes south of Asheville, not far from the Asheville Airport. There are a few chain hotels, several mom-and-pop hotels and a number of short-term rentals available. One of our favorite places to stay is the boutique hotel, The Harvey. The Harvey is in a historic building and serves an exceptional dinner. And it’s walkable to downtown.
This town sits surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest, and as such there’s a load of camping nearby (primitive camping and organized campgrounds), but there are a few inns and hotels here too. One of our favorites is the retro Sunset Motel, a yesteryear motorcourt you’ll fall in love with.
Waynesville has several mid-range chain hotels on offer in addition to some B&Bs and The Swag, a swanky, expensive mountaintop retreat that’s hands down one of the nicest places to stay in the North Carolina mountains. In nearby Maggie Valley you have a number of old-school roadside motels offering a retro stay, several places that rent cabins, and a few vacation home rentals. Among our favorite places to stay here are Misty Mountain Ranch (a lovely B&B) and the creekside Jonathan Creek Inn and Villas.
These two small towns sit about a mile apart, so most visitors look at them as one destination. There are a few chain hotels around (clustered near the interstate), and two of our favorite places to stay are the boutique Outland Chalet & Suites Great Smoky Mountains and the Best Western Plus River Escape Inn & Suites.
Here on the Qualla Boundary – the ancestral home of the Cherokee Indians and the home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – the biggest and most popular place to stay in Cherokee is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. In addition to a casino (with table games and slots) there’s a spa, several good restaurants, and nearly 1,000 rooms. If you don’t want to stay at the casino, give Panther Creek Cabins a try or stop by one of the small hotels or motels nearby.
There’s only one “bad” time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway: winter. Winter weather brings regular road closures to the Parkway, especially along the high-altitude stretch through North Carolina. The mountains here are high (several top 6,000 feet, including Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in North Carolina and along the Parkway), the roads curvy and exposed, and that’s a bad mix for snow, sleet, ice and high winds. Even in Virginia the Parkway experiences winter weather-related road closures. For that reason, don’t plan a trip between November and early to mid-March. You’ll find seasonal road information as well as details on construction-related closures or delays on the National Park Service website.
The rest of the year, the Parkway shines. In spring there are wildflowers (nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosts a Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage every year and it’s full of walks, talks and opportunities to spot rare wildflowers), with different species blooming according to environment, elevation and location. Summer sees cooler temperatures at the Parkway’s high elevation, making it a great time for hikes, waterfall hunts, picnics and exploring by car. Autumn is another story altogether.
In autumn, the color show draws leaf peepers from far and wide to see the hillsides ablaze in yellow, orange and red. Timing the arrival of fall color is tricky, but from mid-September through the end of October you can count on seeing some fall color from the Parkway’s vistas and overlooks. Fall color starts at the highest elevations – Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain to the north of Asheville, Waterrock Knob nearby on the Parkway and in Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap – before descending the slopes to lower elevations. This means you’ll see the brightest and best early color at the highest elevations. It also means you can see the crowns of the mountains ablaze in color while green trees drape the lower slopes, making for an interesting view.
Autumn is high season for sure. Each year fall brings a huge influx of visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway (and to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, many visitors combine the parks on their travels here), and as tens of thousands of folks flock to the Parkway, traffic will grow congested and slow, so be patient and plan accordingly. The flood of visitors also means you’ll need to make hotel and dining reservations well in advance (as much as a year out for your accommodations) and you’d be wise to secure any event or activity tickets as early as possible. We also recommend making reservations for accommodations and dining during summer when schools are not in session and family vacation time is in full swing.
Speaking of reservations, spots like the Pisgah Inn and Peaks of Otter Lodge tend to book up well in advance, so if you have your heart set on staying here or an any other hotel, motel, B&B or campground, we advise making your reservation as soon as possible.
With 469 miles (755 kilometers) of 45mph winding roads through Virginia and North Carolina, you could technically drive nonstop from end to end in 12-13 hours. If you’d like to properly enjoy the parkway, stop at the sights and get in a few hikes, you’ll want to spend at least three days – and ideally a whole week.
You can drive the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in a day. From Waynesboro to the Virginia-North Carolina state line it’s a drive of approximately six hours, plus your fuel and restroom stops. Unless you’re using the Parkway as a detour from traveling the Interstate, we don’t recommend doing it in a day. Why? There’s too much to do or see. To properly visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway, we recommend two days as a minimum – but ideally three or four days. This gives you time for some sightseeing, a short hike or two, a picnic or roadside snack break, and time to appreciate the scenery a bit more. If you’re big into hiking you’ll want to add a day or two, and if you want to spend time tubing, kayaking or fishing on a nearby river – add another day. If you’re a mountain biking or road cycling enthusiast, you’ll need another day or two for exploring on two wheels. Bottom line: you need two days at a minimum to enjoy the Virginia stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but in three days you’ll fall in love, and in four days you’ll be counting the days until you come back.
You can drive the North Carolina section of the Parkway in one long day – nine hours of driving plus a restroom and, likely, a fuel stop – but we don’t recommend racing through this incredible landscape. Instead, we ask that you slow down, take your time, and savor the experience and views the Parkway offers. To properly visit North Carolina’s section of the Blue Ridge Parkway you need at least three days, but that’s only going to give you a taste of what the route and region have to offer In those three days, divide the trip into sections: Fancy Gap to Blowing Rock, Blowing Rock to Asheville, Asheville to Cherokee. Each day you’ll be able to enjoy a short hike or two (or a longer, more strenuous outing), visit the highlights (The Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens, Asheville’s culture and food, waterfalls near Brevard, and Cherokee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park), and get a better idea on what you want to do on your next trip.
Four or five days is even better. On a four or five day trip, stay in Boone or Blowing Rock for a night and explore the area, then do two nights in Asheville to experience the city and surrounding towns, then end with a night or two in Cherokee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hardcore hikers, campers, mountain bikers and road cyclists will want to add additional days. There are hundreds of miles of trails to hike and bike and road cyclists love the challenge of the big ascents and descents the Blue Ridge Parkway offers.
As one of the most visited National Park Service sites in the country, avoiding the crowds is no mean feat. However, there are a few tried and true tactics that might help you on your road trip.
First, summer (and October for the fall colors) sees the most visitors to the Parkway. By visiting in the shoulder seasons in April, May or September the weather is usually still pleasant and you’ll miss the main summer crowds and leaf peepers.
If you are visiting during a busy period, try to avoid traveling on the weekends during fall and summer, and aim to get to the popular stops and trailheads early in the day to lessen the crowds both on the roads and along the trails. If you’re not an early riser, you can also explore later in the evening when its less busy.
And no matter where you choose to stop, often taking a short walk will leave most of the crowds behind.
The major attraction on the Blue Ridge Parkway is the scenery, and it seems that there’s a scenic overlook at every turn. Feel free to stop at any of these and spend a few minutes admiring the view.
Along the Parkway you’ll find collections of historic cabins and structures that help give modern visitors an idea of life here from the turn of the 20th century (when the Parkway was under construction) back to the first European settlers to push this far west. Interpretive signage tells these stories in many places, but in others, Park Rangers or volunteers do the storytelling.
There are hundreds of hiking trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some lead to waterfalls, others to vistas or mountain summits. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Parkway here in Virginia and many hikers will stop and put in a few miles to say they’ve been on this storied trail.
Road cyclists come to bike the Parkway for the challenges of huge uphill climbs (Apple Orchard Mountain is a notoriously difficult and long climb) and the sweet relief of coasting downhill. Mountain bikers come too, but they tend to ride on roads off in the National Forests or in designated mountain biking parks near Roanoke.
Fall color draws tens of thousands of visitors every season, and wildflower seekers come looking for rare (or rare-to-them) blooms.
So where do you go? What do you do? We’ve got you covered. Read on.
Perhaps it’s a surprise to find a Music Center along our National Park drive. This part of the drive is the birthplace of country and bluegrass music, and as a stop on Virginia’s Crooked Road Music Trail, the Blue Ridge Music Center is keeping the memory and spirit of these genres alive. Displays celebrate famous musicians, familiar songs, and other influences from the region. Daily jam sessions – called Midday Mountain Music – take place from noon to 4pm and are free to enjoy. The Summer Concert Series brings in established and up-and-coming bluegrass acts weekly from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Just a few miles from the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway you’ll find one of our favorite hikes: Humpback Rocks. This 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) loop trail leads you to the a craggy summit where the views are outstanding. The landscapes reveals the hills and wide valleys of Virginia, which look great in any season, but in fall the view is magnificent. Expect two hours to complete this moderately difficult trail.
The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the James River at the lowest point along the Parkway’s route. Here there’s a huge picnic area, a footbridge crossing the river, and the chance to look at the hand-operated locks that once allowed trade to flow on the James. Nearby trails ring a one-time millpond, but you can reach it by taking the connector trail at the north end of the parking lot. Local outfitters can get you paddling or floating on the river.
This historic grist mill and pond are the most-photographed things on the Blue Ridge Parkway and when you stop here you’ll see why. When the mill is open, volunteers operate it as intended: milling corn and bagging it for sale. But even when it’s not, the short walk around the mill will show you pieces of the area’s history from the moonshine still to the original flumes and troughs channeling water to the mill to photos and stories about the mill itself. The Mabry Mill Restaurant – at the south end of the parking area – serves tasty country cooking, but they’re best known for their buckwheat pancakes.
Just a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of Virginia’s natural wonders. Natural Bridge State Park’s central feature is the 215-foot (66-meter) tall natural arch spanning a narrow canyon. Trails wind through the park, providing views of the Natural Bridge from several angles. Also check out Cedar Creek Trail as it winds through a lush forest. Thomas Jefferson at one time owned Natural Bridge and the land around, but thankfully it’s preserved for all of us to enjoy as a state park.
Twin mountains – Flat Top and Sharp Top – stand as the Peaks of Otter and provide the signature view here. The location is an excellent base if you want to hike to either, or both, of these peaks. There’s camping, a lodge, visitor center, day use area and a charming small lake – really everything you need!
It is absolutely a great idea to dedicate some time to take a short side trip from the Parkway to visit this vibrant mountain city that’s big on the outdoors and arts. Museums, folk art and even a Pinball museum, there’s no shortage of places to visit and entertain you. The dining scene is excellent and bother the budget and fine cuisine. The Mill Mountain Star location provides superb elevated view over Roanoke.
Turn off the Parkway to visit this 1,100 acre park that sits beside the Roanoke River, complete with an on-site museum and a visitor center celebrating the region with a giant 3D relief map of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A pair of galleries tell the story of the Parkway and the settling of Roanoke and the surrounding Roanoke River Valley. There’s a substantial network of trails for hikers and mountain bikers.
A lively and sometimes alternative-feeling small city, Asheville boasts an impressive collection of breweries, more great restaurants than you could eat at in a year, and too many art galleries to count – Asheville is a must-stop if you’re going to make your Blue Ridge Parkway trip a multi-day affair. It’s also home to the French Chateau-styled Biltmore Estate, one of America’s most prestigious and historically significant properties. You’ll want to make time to explore Asheville – and we recommend making it at least one full day if you want to combine with a visit to Biltmore Estate.
Though it’s located at the very end, or the very start, of the Blue Ridge Parkway – Cherokee certainly deserves a special mention and some of your touring time. In Cherokee, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Oconaluftee Arts and Crafts Mutual tell the history of the Cherokee and display their traditional crafts and artworks. If you’re visiting in summer, take in the outdoor drama Unto These Hills, telling the story of the Trail of Tears, the splitting of the Cherokee Tribe, and the brave, resilient Cherokee who fought for their freedom and the right to their ancestral land here in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. On the Great Smoky Mountains National Park side of the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance, is the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, where you have an excellent chance of seeing an elk herd – especially in morning and evenings.
This beautiful hike has a scary name, but don’t worry, no devils have been seen here in ages. Take this short, strenuous hike to a rocky promontory and be prepared to be wowed. From your perch at 5,270 feet (1,606 meters) you’ll be able to take in much of the Pisgah National Forest and see where the Blue Ridge Mountains give way to the Carolina Piedmont. The rather ominous name harks from legends from the local Cherokee and from later settlers.
The Folk Art Center sits just a few miles from downtown Asheville, but it’s far from the urban bustle of city streets. Here an impressive gallery – curated by the Southern Highland Crafts Guild – displays traditional Appalachian arts and crafts from wood carvings to handmade brooms to baskets, fiber art, and more. On most days from Memorial Day to Labor Day you’ll find craftsmen and artisans demonstrating – and talking about – their work.
Grandfather Mountain sits just a few minute off the Parkway but is well worth turning off to explore. This location has an entrance fee, and the main attraction is billed as Mile High Swinging Bridge. It’s true, its a mile up in the sky and is just the right amount of thrill and steadiness for everyone to enjoy. The chasm between the two peaks is not a mile deep – so pretty much all will enjoy it. And as you can imagine – the views are epic. This location also conducts a Stewardship Foundation, which preserves this land and also some wildlife. And another claim to fame was its appearance in one of the all-time great movies – you’ll find out which one.
You’ve got to stop at Linville Falls, one of the most popular waterfall hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This triple fall plunges, plunges, and plunges again in a deep gorge, in what’s been called The Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians. As you follow the main trail to the overlook revealing all of Linville Falls, you’ll pass side trails that take you to the first and second falls before reaching the picture-postcard-perfect view from the final stop and turnaround point on the trail.
Located on the former estate of the same-named textile entrepreneur, you can explore the grounds on old carriage roads or visit the Southern Highlands Crafts Guild, featuring traditional Southern Appalachian artisans. Also found nearby is Julian Price Park with a scenic lake.
If you like the idea of bagging mountain peaks without requiring a huge effort, Mount Mitchell will give you that satisfaction. This the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi and from the parking lot, it’s only a paved 0.5-mile (800-meter) walk to the viewing platform at the summit, but it is steep. If the timing is right – stick around for sunset.
This spot marks the highest elevation on the Blue Ridge Parkway – 6,053 feet (1,845 meters). This is a highly significant point along an epic drive, where we can step up to the edge of the overlook and gaze out over the landscape.
The visitor center here is the highest elevation on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway – and while that might not sound especially remarkable, what attracts visitors and locals here is the outstanding views. And it would have to be just about the best sunset location on the entire drive. Adventurers are also drawn by the hike to an old plane wreckage located below the summit of nearby Browning Knob, and the trail leads from this location.
From leg-stretching strolls to intense, multi-day hikes, you’ll find a trail that suits you along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Several of the waterfalls we mention later require a hike in, so lace up your boots for that, but from north to south some of our other favorite hikes are:
This easy trail runs 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) round-trip from the parking area and trailhead to an exposed rocky peak where you’ll have incredible views of the southern part of Shenandoah National Park, the George Washington National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a recreation area and flood control measure, this spot is picturesque and, for many, Edenic. The Blue Loop Trail will give you a feel for the topography and the views. This moderate 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) loop has a few strenuous sections, but the effort is worth it.
This easy 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) loop is great for kids and folks who want a little leg stretch. You’ll get several views of Otter Lake (and, if you’re lucky, an otter) as well as the ruins of an old cabin on this trail.
This 9-mile (14.5-kilometer) round-trip hike takes you to the summit of one of the two Peaks of Otter. It’s a moderate to strenuous hike with more than 1,400 feet (427 meters) of elevation gain/loss so bring plenty of water (and a snack). Near the 4,100-foot (1,250-meter) summit you’ll encounter an impressive boulder field before you get to a view you’ve gotta see to believe.
Climb to the summit of the second of the Peaks of Otter on this strenuous 3 mile round trip hike. It’s steep and you’ll gain 1,500 feet (457 meters) from the trailhead to the summit. From this rocky summit (made up of house-sized boulders) you’ll have a wow-worthy view, especially if you make the hike in time for sunrise or sunset. If you do that, be sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight.
This 7-mile (11.3-kilometer) round-trip hike along the Appalachian Trail is a few miles away from Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it can be tricky to find, but it pays off with some jaw dropping photos. To get here, head west out of Roanoke to I-81 South to Exit 141 (Salem); turn left on VA 419/Electric Road and turn right at the next traffic light onto VA 311. Follow this road for 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) to the top of the mountain. The trailhead is in the parking area to the left.
Now that you’re here you’re in for a great hike for novices or to test out your new boots. Follow the Appalachian Trail north, passing a shelter, a few springs (the drinking water is good, but bring a purifier just in case), and several great views. You’ll reach a spur trail to McAfee Knob – a tongue of rock hanging out over the valley – at the 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) mark. Be careful but enjoy the view, and snap a few pics to show your friends.
This half-mile (800-meter) loop carries you past a mountain stream and through stands of hardwood trees, evergreens, and flowering rhododendron and mountain laurel. It’s short, easy, and peaceful, so take your time on this trail and do more than just stretch your legs, get quiet and observant and make a connection to the forest here.
This huge park is home to 30 miles of trails from long treks to short, scenic walks. The one-mile Fodder Stack Trail leads along an easy-to-moderate trail to a rocky outcrop and impressive view. Basin Creek Trail is a strenuous 5.6-mile (9-kilometer) out-and-back trail that takes you past the remains of old homesites, along and over Basin Creek and to a few deep pools and waterfalls. And the Bluff Mountain Trail is a long hike along a moderate trail to the top of Bluff Mountain and a wow-worthy view; this trail is 15 miles (24 kilometers) out-and-back, so be prepared for a long day.
This flat, easy, 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trail loops around Price Lake. You’ll find great views and photo opportunities of the lake throughout the hike. It’s especially impressive when fall colors are blazing.
At a minimum, pay the entrance fee and drive to the parking area near the summit trailhead and walk across the Mile-High Swinging Bridge for a “can you believe this” birds eye view of the countryside. Otherwise go for the summit on an extremely difficult 4.8-mile (7.7-kilometer) round-trip hike that includes ladders to climb and many exposed sections along the way. Or keep it simple and go for the 2-mile (3.2-kilometer), easy Black Rock Nature Trail through woods laced with interpretive signage to a short loop with views of the Parkway, Beacon Heights and Grandmother Mountain. While you’re here, check out the education center and small wildlife sanctuary featuring creatures native to these parts.
Drive into Mount Mitchell State Park to the parking area near the summit, then follow the steep, paved half-mile trail to the top of this 6,684-foot (2,037-meter) peak, the highest in North Carolina and on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can detour off the paved path and follow a slightly longer trail through the woods to the summit. We recommend going up the paved path and coming back through the woods. The view from the top is exceptional in at hour, but it’s extra special at sunset.
There’s a very small parking area at Milepost 409 where you can follow a graveled road to a onetime fire watchtower. This easy hike is 1.5-miles (2.4-kilometers) round-trip and pays off with staggering 360-degree views from the tower itself. You can climb up a few flights (the observation room at the top is closed) for an even better view.
A steep, short trail leads to the rocky point known at Devil’s Courthouse, where you’ll enjoy the sight of the Pisgah National Forest stretching far to the south and some excellent sunrise or sunset views. The hike is just under a mile (1.6 kilometers) round-trip, and though you don’t need hiking boots, good footwear will make the steep trek easier.
This is a great area for the whole family, with both historical and natural beauty. Start at the visitor center and stroll the farm grounds, complete with 1890s farm buildings that were relocated here during construction of the Parkway. The farm has several buildings that are open in summer including the cabin, chicken coup, root cellar, barn, “bear proof” pigpen, and spring house.As well as hiking trails and a large picnic area, there’s also a mountain music series on select dates so be sure to check with the visitor center or National Park Service events calendar.
One of the most picturesque places along the Parkway, there’s also lots here for everyone to explore. Aside from Mabry Mill and its popular restaurant, you’ll also find another historic building, Matthew’s Cabin. While not one of the original Mabry buildings, the cabin was relocated here from nearby and you can enjoy cultural demonstrations here on select days in summer and fall. The easy 0.5-mile (800-meter) Mabry Mill Trail gives excellent views of the historic buildings, and if you’re here on the right day you’ll enjoy the sounds of a mountain music concert.
Located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Bedford is a great town for lunch, shopping or to just fuel up. It’s also home to the National D-Day Memorial, which is the national memorial for American D-Day veterans. In late summer and early fall we’ll find several apple orchards open here with you-pick and ready-to-go apples, craft and produce stands, and games and whatnot for kids.
Located between Boone and Blowing Rock, Tweetsie Railroad is a great little theme park with a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) long steam locomotive ride, some Wild West characters getting into a bit of action now and again, and a bunch of activities for kids. They have a Ghost Train on weekends throughout late September and October, you know, some little scares and Halloween characters to get everyone in the fall spirit. And from mid-November through the end of the year – after the Parkway has closed for the season, unfortunately – they do Tweetsie Christmas with lights and decorations and, usually some snow. So lot’s of good hearted entertainment.
Standing Rock Overlook is a nice spot for that family photo or group shot on the Parkway. This overlook isn’t perfectly manicured and cleared for that wide view we all love but it’s a worthwhile stop. At the north end of the overlook we’ll find a couple of angles with mountains off in the distance and at the south end of the overlook we’ll see the standing rock which gives this place its name. Many folks climb the rock and posing on top, scrambling up for an “everybody on the rock” shot, or just using it as a backdrop.
There are numerous waterfalls to see along the Blue Ridge Parkway, here’s our list from north to south.
A moderate 1.8-mile (2.9-kilometer) round-trip hike leads to this small waterfall that tumbles over a rock face laced with quartz. You can also access this waterfall at the White Rock Gap Trail parking area for a hike of 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) round-trip.
This fall sits a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but considering its five major cascades (and several minor cascades) give it a total drop of 1,200 feet (366 meters), making it one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River) and making it worth the extra effort. Turn onto VA 56 East at Milepost 27.2 and follow this road for 6.3 miles (10.1 kilometers). The first overlook is an accessible overlook, but if you want to hike to the falls it’s a moderate 3.4-mile (5.5-kilometer) round trip-hike that stops at four additional overlooks.
A 0.2-mile (322-meter) loop takes you along the remains of a narrow-gauge railroad (used for logging a century ago) to a short spur trail leading to this 30-foot (9.1-meter) waterfall. This is the easiest waterfall to reach along any stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
From the Sunset Fields Overlook, take this strenuous 2.4-mile (3.9-kilometer) round-trip hike to this impressive waterfall. On the way to the fall you’ll be working on a 1,000-foot (305-meter) descent, meaning you’re in for a long climb on the way back.
From the Fallingwater Cascades Overlook, a moderate 1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer) loop trail lead you to these falls, the last along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway.
After an easy half-mile (800-meter) walk you’ll reach the first of a pair of viewing platforms offering different looks at this long cascade spilling over a fern-lined rock face. This hike is a great one for kids and novice hikers.
Park in downtown Blowing Rock and take this 3.1-mile (5-kilometer) hike down into the gorge to see a trio of waterfalls: The Cascades, Glen Burney Falls and Glen Marie Falls. Along the way you’ll pass the ruins of a turn-of-the-century water treatment plant on the steep bank of New Years Creek. Cascades is the smallest of the trio of falls (and views are best from the bottom of Cascades), but Glen Burney has a respectable 50-foot (15-meter) drop and Glen Marie has an impressive, three-tiered 75-foot (23-meter) drop. Be careful on the trail, it’s steep and can be slippery.
A moderate hike will lead you to a trio of viewing platforms where you can see the various drops Linville Falls makes as it continues to cut a gorge into the mountains. The falls are huge, the gorge is even bigger, and the view is something special. In fall this view is downright unbelievable.
Transylvania County is known as The Land of Waterfalls, and with more than 250 waterfalls open to the public, it’s for good reason. First you’ll encounter Sliding Rock, a 60-foot (18-meter) cascade fall that flows gently over a smooth rock face, making a natural waterslide (bring your bathing suit and a couple of bucks for parking). Next you’ll find a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) round-trip hike to Moore Cove Falls where a picturesque 50-foot (15-meter) drop and deep rocky alcove impress visitors at the end of this easy trail. Just down the road is Looking Glass Falls, a roadside waterfall that’s one of the most-photographed in the area.
When you detour off into The Land of Waterfalls, make your way to Brevard for lunch and to fuel up, then head to the DuPont State Recreation Forest. Several waterfalls await here, and to reach them you can take anything from a short, easy walk to a day-long hike. Hooker Falls is less than a half-mile (800-meter) easy walk from the Hooker Falls Access parking area. Here you can get on the Triple Falls Trail to see a truly impressive waterfall. This trail connects to the High Falls Loop, carrying you to High Falls. And from there you can connect to a longer trail that will take you to Bridal Veil Falls or to Grassy Creek Falls or to both (depending on how much trail time you want). Trails here are maintained but used by hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers, so be alert when you’re on the trail.
This twin waterfall sits on the Qualla Boundary – the ancestral land of the Cherokee Indians and home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – just off the Parkway. Watch for the blue “Soco Falls ½ Mile Ahead” sign and be prepared to turn into the parking area on the left. The falls are visible from the viewing platform, but you can get a better view by the creek below.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are an inspiring place and you’ll find galleries, art studios, and creative folks from visual artists to musicians around every corner.
In Charlottesville you’ll find Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia acting as cultural hubs, but the town’s arts scene is vibrant even without the Jefferson influence. Boutiques and galleries, art and history museums, plenty of college culture (by that we mean the town has a vibrant nightlife) and a lot of hometown pride fill this place. Add in the dozens of wineries and breweries within a short drive of downtown and you’ve got plenty to keep you busy.
Roanoke’s a town wild about the outdoors, and between triathlons, outdoor recreation-focused festivals, and all the trails and greenways in and near town, you’ll find a focus on being active while you’re here. But you’ll also find the Mill Mountain Star, an 88-foot (27-meter) tall illuminated star perched on a mountain overlooking town. It’s visible for 60 miles (96 kilometers) and makes quite the sight, but a viewing platform at the foot of the star offers visitors a view of downtown and the Roanoke River Valley. Downtown, the Taubman Museum of Art exhibits contemporary Southern art, including a number of notable folk art pieces; the O. Winston Link Museum shows off photos from this famous steam train enthusiast; and a number of galleries and boutiques feature works for sale from local and regional artists and artisans.
In Floyd you’ll find the Floyd Country Store and its world-famous Friday Night Jamboree. On Friday nights they shut down the store early, clear out a dancefloor and set up for an evening of music and dancing. Admission is cheap (around $5), the music is exclusively bluegrass and old time, there’s a legion of mountain dancers (clogging, flat footing and resurrected forgotten folk dances) and it’s a great, wholesome time whether you’re a bluegrass buff or not. If you don’t want to pony up for admission, hang out on the street where roving musicians carry their instruments from jam session to jam session. This town’s artistic flair doesn’t stop with music, so drop in at one of the galleries in town to see what local artists are getting up to.
Floyd and the town of Galax and the Blue Ridge Music Center are all stops on Virginia’s Crooked Road Music Trail. The trail is a celebration of the roots of bluegrass and country music (country music was born down the road a piece at Bristol, a town spanning the Virginia-Tennessee state line), famous singing families like the Carters (June Carter – later the wife of Johnny Cash – and her family were renowned singers), and music venues like the Floyd Country Store.
In Galax there’s the annual Old Time Fiddler’s Convention. This multi-day affair consists of music, music, and more music, all in the bluegrass and old time vein. You’ll hear concerts and jams, singing and instrumentals, and you’ll see competitions – banjo, fiddle, flat picking, singing, group performances, dancing, and more. The youth categories are always impressive.
Finally, at the state line there’s the Bluegrass Music Center, a museum to the origins of bluegrass (and country) music. During summer months there are free daily concerts and jam sessions as well as ticketed concerts featuring big-name bluegrass, old time and Americana acts.
In Asheville, the Biltmore Estate cuts an impressive figure. This French chateau-style home and it’s impressive, 8,000-acre grounds dazzle visitors year-round. Immaculate gardens and landscaping – originally designed by Frederick Law Olmstead – shine in spring for Biltmore Blooms, but remain gorgeous throughout the year. The estate’s winery and tasting room – and its bistro – is a gastronomic delight. And the house itself – whether you take a self-guided tour or opt for a guided, behind-the-scenes look – is staggering in its size, architecture, art collection and décor. It’s a must-see, especially when it’s decorated for the winter holidays.
In Asheville and at Moses Cone Park, near Boone and Blowing Rock, the Southern Highlands Craft Guild has two impressive galleries and shops. Showing off the very best of traditional Southern Appalachian crafts and folk art, you’ll find everything from quilts to handmade brooms to woodcarvings and more both practical and ornamental. Often, members of the Craft Guild are on hand to demonstrate traditional techniques and talk to curious art lovers.
Asheville is a hotbed for live music. Buskers seem to pop up on every corner, a community drum circle takes over a downtown park on Friday nights, and countless music venues like The Orange Peel, Rabbit Rabbit, and the Civic Auditorium play host to regional, national and international musical acts. Check the live music schedule while you’re planning your trip, and enjoy an evening of tunes while you’re on your adventure.
This outdoor drama at the Daniel Boone Amphitheater tells the story of Boone and its namesake: Daniel Boone. As Daniel Boone explored the western frontier, his family did too, and this play tells part of this little-known slice of American history. The show runs from late June through mid-August.
Another outstanding outdoor drama, this time at the Mountainside Theater, telling the story of the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears. You’ll see the broken treaties and promises that led to the tribe’s removal from their ancestral lands at gunpoint and learn how a brave few refused to leave, hid in caves high in the Smoky Mountains, and fought for their rights to freedom, self-governance and autonomy. It’s a great show that runs from late May through late August.
Visit a recreated Cherokee village and watch as tribal artisans demonstrate traditional arts and crafts from cooking to beadwork to pottery and important tribal dances.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian tells some of the tribe’s incredible 30,000-year history in these mountains, drawing on oral tradition, religious mythologies and historical documents to enlighten us as to their history and culture. Across the street, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual is a shop filled with traditional artworks created by artists and craftspeople within the tribe. You’ll find hand-carved masks representing the tribe’s seven clans, weavings and beadwork, pottery and more here.
Charlottesville sits 30 minutes east of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but this is one history-packed town. Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, is open for tours and here you can learn about Jefferson’s incredible mind, his contributions to the formation of the U.S. government and Virginia’s wine industry, and also learn the important stories of the enslaved people who resided on Monticello. In downtown Charlottesville, the Jefferson-designed campus of University of Virginia is a historic focal point, but contemporary offerings – from their college sports programs to their art museum – draw visitors as well.
In Bedford, the National D-Day Memorial tells the story of Operation Overlord (that’s D-Day’s real name) and efforts by Allied forces to defeat the Nazi threat in Europe during World War II. Bedford was chosen for the site of this moving memorial because of the town’s sacrifice on D-Day: proportionally, Bedford suffered the greatest loss of any American town during the invasion, losing 19 of 34 soldiers sent to the war on the first day of the Normandy invasion. This memorial honors their sacrifice and the sacrifice and efforts put forth by thousands of others during World War II.
Numerous stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway tell of the arrival of European settlers, wars with Native Tribes, and Revolutionary and Civil War history. Some stories are simple recitation of facts – this fort was built in this year and stood for this long – but others, like the tale of Mary Draper Ingles who was attacked, kidnapped and escaped from the Shawnee after the Draper Meadow Massacre, spur the imagination.
Seriously, take a drive during autumn and just pick a place to stop. You’ll be wowed by the fall color stretching away to the horizon and filling the mountainsides. We do have some favorite spots to catch a peek, so, in addition to the waterfalls and hikes we’ve mentioned before (all are great spots to see the colors on display), here are a few more places where the fall color show is primo.
The view here is bucolic and beautiful, showing off the mountains and surrounding agricultural lands.
This stop along the raptor migration route offers big views that dazzle when the color is popping.
The mix of mountain and rolling hills creates a beautiful mix for fall color.
The reflections of Sharp Top or Flat Top Mountains (depending on your angle) are exceptional, especially when the colors are in full blaze.
The Norfolk and Western Railroad was instrumental to the development of this part of Virginia, and here you’ll see the color-loaded terrain and railroad tracks that disappear into the landscape.
This 1903 water-powered grist mill is the most photographed sight on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Framed by the millpond and a bouquet of fall color, it’s picture postcard perfect.
From the top of Groundhog Mountain you can climb a viewing tower for huge views of the countryside.
This mountain on the North Carolina border offers views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the foothills and the Piedmont stretching off into the distance. Under perfect conditions it’s fall color from horizon to horizon.
This 7,000 acre recreation area has countless places to catch a glimpse of fall color, and at autumn’s peak it’s a kaleidoscope of colors. Our favorite spot is near Brinegar Cabin, giving you a look at an historic structure while you take in the color show.
Near Blowing Rock, Price Lake sits surrounded by trees, giving you double the fall color when the trees are their showiest.
Several overlooks and pulloffs offer views of Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct as well as views of the foothills and Piedmont. Any direction you look, you’ll find fall color. Be sure to stop at the Beacon Heights Overlook (Milepost 305.2) for a great view of Grandfather Mountain.
At Milepost 305, head to the viewing area near the summit and prepare to be amazed. From here you’ll have a mile-high view of the surrounding mountains, so you can see color in every fold and hollow on their slopes.
From the Pisgah Inn (and the adjacent National Parks Service campground) you’ll have unparalleled views for fall color. Book a room – well in advance – during fall and you’ll have that view from your room.
From here you’ll have views of the Pisgah National Forest toward Brevard, but Looking Glass Rock – a huge upthrust of granite – steals the show, especially when it’s surrounded by vibrant colors.
Often one of the first places to blaze with fall color, Graveyard Fields (so named for the headstone-like tree trunks thrusting up from the earth) lights up with reds and oranges. As a bonus, there’s a hike to Lower Falls, which is impressive in any season, but stunning in autumn.
The mountains seem to march on forever from this viewpoint, and in fall, when the trees are showing off their end-of-year color, it’s astounding.
This could be an exhaustive list of every overlook and summit on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but instead we’ll refer you to the fantastic fall foliage viewpoints as they double for the best places to take in the sunrise or sunset, depending on what you hope to see – the blaze of dawn or sunset, or the landscape under the shifting light. Here are a few of our favorite spots from north to south.
You’ll catch a good view of the sunset from the parking area, but bring a flashlight or headlamp and make the short hike to Humpback Rocks themselves for the best view.
Several overlooks here offer exceptional dawn views of the Tye River Valley, including an overlook at the top of Crabtree Falls.
Sitting at 3,145 feet (959 meters), this overlook provides views southeast over Suck Mountain and the piedmont 2,000 feet (610 meters) below. Sunsets really shine here as the light softens and shadows grow in the valley below.
Facing northwest from an elevation of 2,720 feet (829 meters), this viewpoint looks out over Turk Mountain as well as Shenandoah Valley to the right and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the left. Great westward views and an undulating landscape make sunsets spectacular.
Sunrise views here are awe inspiring as the long view across the foothills and piedmont offers plenty of texture and terrain accentuates the morning light.
One of the original recreation areas developed for the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a day use picnic area with a nearby trail and a historic home. And with nearly 360-degree views from many vantage points, you’ll find great spots for the sunrise and the sunset here.
Watching this deep gorge come to life in the morning sun inspires quiet and stillness as you’re awed by the sight. If you’re lucky, some morning clouds will give the sky additional texture and color.
This is a great spot for the sunrise with the perfect view and perfect angle. All you need is a sky striated with clouds for a truly jaw-dropping view.
From the overlook you’ll be perched on a huge rocky outcropping facing east, making it ideal for sunrise. Another rock face points west for great sunset views.
From the summit of the highest mountain in North Carolina and along the Blue Ridge Parkway you’ll get exceptional sunrise and sunset views. From the parking area it’s a short, paved walk to the summit.
Again, sunrise and sunset from this vista do not disappoint. You can watch from the comfort (and climate control) of your car in the parking area or take a short hike to Craggy Pinnacle for a different view.
Don’t be afraid of the name, it’s a tame place with a wild rock outcropping that overlooks the Pisgah National Forest. Sunrise and sunset are both great here, and you can take them in from the parking area or go for the short, steep, strenuous hike to the Courthouse itself for an even better view.
Our favorite sunset spot on this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll enjoy views of Cherokee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park glowing under the sunset. If you want to come here for sunrise, go for it. The views from the parking area are absolutely exceptional.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are apple country, and around Bedford, Virginia, a number of apple orchards offer you-pick experiences from midsummer through September. Stop by and pick a bushel, or at least sample some cider, apple cider donuts, pies and more. In North Carolina, The Orchard at Altapass is a great late-summer stop at Milepost 327.5, and near Hendersonville you’ll find more than a dozen orchards, including Granddad’s Apples N’ Such and Sky Top Orchard. Most orchards add a little something extra for the kids – corn mazes, pumpkin patches, games, playgrounds – and keep a few tasty treats on hand, so try some pie, an apple stack cake, cider or cider donuts while you’re here.
In Charlottesville, a visit to Wayside Ole’ Virginia Fried Chicken is a must. Simply and perfectly done, it’s fried chicken at its best.
Southern Cuisine can be surprisingly upscale, southern food gets an elevated treatment at many spots along the Parkway. In Charlottesville, Virginia, Alley Light and C&O Restaurant offer new takes on familiar southern dishes, elevating them to truly delectable levels. In Roanoke, Virginia, The River and Rail, Bloom Restaurant and Lucky serve absolutely exceptional dishes that bring Southern cuisine into contemporary greatness. Our favorites in North Carolina include Twigs and The Speckled Trout in Blowing Rock, Proper in Boone, The Square Root in Brevard and in Asheville there’s Leo’s House of Thirst, Rhubard and The Admiral.
Roanoke’s Scratch Biscuit Company in Virginia makes the best biscuits for 100 miles. Or at least we think so. In North Carolina, Asheville’s Biscuit Head has become a legendary stop for biscuits. They’re huge and their toppings, fillings and spreads are outstanding. For a different style of biscuit, check out Sunny Point Café in West Asheville.
Grab breakfast from the Mabry Mill Restaurant in Virginia where you can dine on their famous buckwheat pancakes, or better yet, go for a big breakfast complete with a slab of country ham.
At the Meadows of Dan in Virginia, stop by the Poor Farmers Market, an old-fashioned country store where you can pick up a barbecue sandwich that’ll have you studying every bite trying to figure out the recipe. North Carolina has some exceptional barbecue and you’ll find the best on the Blue Ridge Parkway around Asheville. Buxton Hall Barbecue, Luella’s BBQ and 12 Bones are can’t miss barbecue joints. Near Brevard, 12 Bones has a smokehouse and brewery, perfect after a day on the trail.
Moonshiners had many an illegal ‘still in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but a number of former outlaws have turned legit and they and their families operate legal moonshine distilleries. Twin Creeks Distilling, in Rocky Mount, just south of Roanoke in Virginia is a prime example of White Lightnin’ at its best.
From Boone, to Asheville, to Brevard, to Cherokee, you’ll find North Carolina has a top-notch craft beer scene. You can join a beer tour or pub crawl in Asheville or put your own together. Appalachian Mountain Brewery and Lost Province deliver great pints in Boone, as does Blowing Rock Ale House. In Asheville try DSSOLVR, Burial Beer, New Belgium Brewing, and Asheville’s first craft brewery: Highlands Brewing. Between Asheville and Hendersonville, stop by Sierra Nevada’s huge brewery for a tour and lunch, then grab another pint at nearby Burning Blush Brewing. In Brevard try Ecusta Brewing and Oskar Blues. Native Brews Tap and Grill pours pints in Cherokee, and at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewpub serves dinner and an array of their beers.
Asheville is home to an astounding number of award winning, award nominated and notable chefs and restaurants. These spots pan the culinary spectrum and introduce new techniques, flavors and dishes to the dining scene, exciting diners and chefs alike. Some of the best are:
Packing for a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway is pretty simple. First, you’ll need whatever car snacks and road trip tunes that deliver delight to you and your companions. Outside of that, it’s a good idea to bring:
Seasonal Clothing in Layers: Even in summer’s heat it can get cool at Blue Ridge Parkway elevations, so it’s a good idea to have layers that allow you to regulate your temperature easily. A light jacket is perfect for evenings and cool mornings.
Footwear: Comfortable, sturdy shoes like hiking boots or trail shoes are ideal for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Daypack: You’ll want a comfortable daypack or small backpack for day hikes.
Sun Protection: Make sure to bring sunglasses (a road trip essential), a wide-brimmed sun hat and sunscreen.
Water Bottles: Always bring water – refillable water bottles are recommended. And make sure you drink it!
Hiking Poles: Light-weight hiking poles are like having a third leg. They help maintain balance and can get you into a rhythm while walking.
A Picnic Kit: Be picnic-ready with a cooler, blanket or tablecloth, utensils and the like. And don’t forget bug spray!
Sports Gear: Bring any sport-specific gear like spare bike tubes, fishing tackle, or your kayak.
Maps: You’ll want a road map or, better yet, Gazetteer to Virginia or North Carolina Plus, make sure to grab a Blue Ridge Parkway Map and information pamphlets (available at the visitors centers).
Portable Phone Charger and Cable: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.
Plastic Bag: We always carry a plastic bag when we hike, so we can do our part and help keep the trails, beaches and waterways clean. If you see some trash along the way – especially that dang plastic, pick it up, drop it in the bag. When you get back to the trailhead, simply drop your bag in the recycling or trash bin and voila! You’ve helped keep the area beautiful for everyone who visits.