The Blue Ridge Parkway is known as “America’s favorite drive.” It’s 469 miles in total, starting with the stunning Shenandoah National Park and ending with the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains.
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through 29 counties in both Virginia and North Carolina. Amidst them, there are countless breathtaking and thrilling stops to make to appreciate the charm of small-town life and its surrounding scenery.
Regulations like a speed limit of 45 miles per hour, two lanes, and the ban of any large trucking vehicles help to make this drive an even more delightful and relaxing experience. It provides access to hundreds of hiking trails, vistas, and natural wonders and is undoubtedly one of the best road trips in the USA.
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is easily one of the best things to do in North Carolina. Depending on your time frame and how many of these charming pauses you want to make along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we recommend planning for a three-to-seven-day drive. It’s one of the most picturesque journeys you can make in the entire country! Let’s dig into the best stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
What is the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of pure beauty connecting Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway starts in Rockfish Gap, VA and runs until Cherokee, NC, or vice versa. It’s the longest linear park in America and is named after the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountain Range.
Visitors flock from all over the country to drive this route, especially in the fall when the colors are out of this world.
Best Stops to Make on the Blue Ridge Parkway Drive
Shenandoah National Park (milepost 0)
This national wonderland is the start of the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway drive. It’s home to plenty of wild wonders such as waterfalls, wetlands, rocky peaks, and wildlife. Almost 200,000 acres, there is plenty to explore here if this is where you wish to start your journey.
It’s a tranquil landscape of wooded hollows to wander. More than 500 miles of trails lead to breezy summits and cascading waterfalls. Big Meadows is ideal for spotting local wildlife, including the elusive black bears. Overrun Falls is the tallest waterfall in the park, and the highest peak is Hawksbill Summit.
Natural Bridge (milepost 61.6)
Natural Bridge is a unique stop and a great first hop-off destination on the drive. This impressive geological formation spans 90 feet wide and over 200 feet high – it’s an iconic limestone landmark.
It serves as an archway to the Cedar Creek Trail, which hosts a variety of outdoor recreational activities and leads to Monacan Indian Village and Lace Falls. It resides in a limestone gorge carved out by the creek over hundreds of years. Overall, it’s a spectacular display of nature’s splendor with mountain views, rolling meadows, and lush forests.
Apple Orchard Mountain (Milepost 76.5)
Apple Orchard Mountain is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Here you can go on a beautiful hike to Apple Orchard Falls. It’s a beautiful mountain in Jefferson National Forest. Don’t be fooled thinking there are tons of apple trees here, instead, the park is named after trees that just look like apple trees.
When you reach the peak of Apple Orchard Mountain you’ll see the FAA radar dome, a remnant from the Cold War early warning system.
Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86)
The Peaks of Otter are three peaks, these peaks are Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill with the highest being Flat Top Mountain at almost 4000 feet. You can hike to the peak of all them! There is a lodge to enjoy a beautiful stay providing views of tranquil Abbott Lake.
Sharp Top is the most famous hike with its spectacular 360° view at the top
Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1)
Mabry Mill is the most photographed site along the Parkway. It boasts gorgeous natural surroundings in every season for the perfect snap. It is an easy walk around the mill to explore the local history of Appalachian culture. The mill is home to a blacksmith shop and sawmill, open to visitors.
Mabry Mill Restaurant cooks up some mean country fare if you need a roadside refreshment. Rocky Knob is nearby for camping, hiking, and beautiful vistas. Local gatherings of folk music on Sundays always promise fun festivities for all.
Fancy Gap (milepost 199.5)
The most incredible little community along the Blue Ridge Parkway Drive, Fancy Gap, is worth a quick visit. It has plenty of boutiques, garden stores, antique shops, delicious dining destinations, and quaint abodes to rest for the night, not to mention plenty of charm to spare.
It also happens to be home to Devil’s Den, a mountainous nature preserve with an old cave famous for its daring drop inside. We recommend Peaceful Heart Alpacas Farm Store for a sweet and soft addition to your experience.
Blue Ridge Music Center (milepost 213)
The Blue Ridge Music Center is a renowned venue and museum that promises a rollicking good time. The spacious outdoor amphitheater hosts a steady stream of bluegrass, old-time, Americana, and blues performances. They are known for their midday mountain music sessions.
The Roots of American Music Museum takes you on a historical journey through the musical and cultural heritage of the region. It preserves and promotes the heart of traditional American music roots for anyone who yearns to hear the sweet sounds of a fiddle or banjo.
The Blowing Rock (milepost 291)
The Blowing Rock is the oldest attraction in North Carolina, and one many visitors are still flocking to see with their own eyes along the Blue Ridge Parkway drive. It’s a 4,000-foot cliff over a gorge. The rock channels create an upward flume of wind that sends objects cast over the rocky abyss. In winter, snow will blow up rather than down!
The town itself is a lovely destination and the perfect stop to shop, eat or hike. Blowing Rock also has popular attractions such as the Art and History Museum and Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, which features a preserved country estate and mansion. Blowing Rock is an idyllic mountain town and is widely known as the “Crown of the Blue Ridge.”
Rough Ridge (milepost 302.8)
Rough Ridge is a scenic lookout point at Grandfather Mountain popular with photographers and iconic vista along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a short but steep uphill trail to the photo spot at Lion King Rock.
The trek on the wooden paths opens up into a sweeping panorama of Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove. The total elevation is 480 feet. The trail lies within Pisgah National Forest and is part of the famous Mountain-to-Sea Trail.
It is one of the best easy hikes you can find in the state and has the most payoff with its dramatic viewpoints. It’s a great place to stretch your legs and even enjoy a picnic with a scenic backdrop.
Linville Falls (milepost 316.4)
Linville Falls is the most popular and spectacular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is easily accessible off of the Parkway. Three cascading waterfall tiers plunge 90 feet into the equally stunning 12-mile-long Linville Gorge. It’s an excellent choice for a nature-filled pitstop.
There are five viewpoints to explore via two different trails. Both under two miles, one is moderate and the other quite strenuous. They meander through hemlock groves and fields of wildflowers. The falls themselves are a breathtaking wonder to experience, and the gorge is known as the Grand Canyon of the Appalachians.
The Orchard at Altapass (milepost 328.3)
This stop feels like a step back in time. The orchard works to preserve tradition, land, and culture. You can tour the forest of apples, the self-proclaimed home of the best heirloom apples with the least chemicals. There are plenty of goods to purchase at the general store and educational, entertaining activities for all ages.
You can enjoy walking trails full of native birds and butterflies, music and dancing at the pavilion, and hayrides. The restaurant makes fare from fresh and local farm produce. It’s over 100 years old and celebrates the people and heritage of the mountain area.
Little Switzerland (milepost 334)
Aptly named the jewel of the Blue Ridge Parkway, this charming town has a population of just 46. It started as a mountain resort inspired by the style of the Swiss Alps. Emerald Village is a cluster of real historic mines that you can explore. Switzerland Cafe and General Store offer exceptional local fare.
Several trails offer gorgeous views and impressive waterfalls, such as Wiseman’s View, Crabtree Falls, and Grassy Creek Waterfall Trail. There are also several quaint Inns to stay in for the night. Little Switzerland Books and Beans is an adorable bookstore and gallery featuring work by local artists. If you’re up for it, you can even drive the Diamondback, a winding road notorious for motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts.
Mount Mitchell (milepost 355.4)
At 6,684 feet, this is the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains and the country east of the Mississippi. To explore this natural wonder, you can drive almost to the summit or make the steep six-mile trek to the top. The observation deck offers some of the most incredible 360-degree views in the area, where you can see as far as 85 miles out.
As you make your way through the fresh balsam forest, there’s plenty of wildlife to spot. A small museum explores the cultural and natural history of the mountain. The views here are unmatched.
Craggy Gardens (milepost 364.1)
Craggy Gardens is a twisted and jagged subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a special stop along the Parkway. There’s the Craggy Garden Trail to the Craggy Flats for colorful, abundant displays of rhododendrons. You can also hike to Craggy Pinnacle for sweeping views. The Garden Trail is full of native wildflowers covering the ground and wind through the rocky formations that earn the region’s name “Craggy.”
The Pinnacle trail is less than two miles and leads you through a veritable fairy wonderland to a breathtaking 360-degree view. These vistas from the summit offer forested rolling peaks as far as the eye can see.
Folk Art Center (milepost 382)
The Folk Art Center is an ideal stop for all art lovers. Folk Art Center exhibits, sells, and celebrates traditional and modern crafts of the Appalachians. The gallery spaces feature over 250 works from the last century. They hold many events and craft demonstrations and maintain an extensive free library for exploration and education.
They have a hiking trail on the property and access to the Mountain-to-Sea Trail from the center. There are a variety of creations from hundreds of local artists to browse and buy, everything from accessories to home furnishings. It is the oldest craft shop in America.
Chimney Rock State Park (Exit at milepost 384.7)
Chimney Rock State Park is an all-around ideal nature-lover experience. Chimney Rock Park is located 25 miles southeast of Asheville on US 64/74-A so it may not be directly on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s a short detour well worth the trip. Just 45 minutes away from Asheville and off the Parkway, you can visit one of the best parks in North Carolina.
It offers the best outdoor adventure with plenty of North Carolina hiking trails and climbing opportunities. The 500-million-year-old monolith is quite the draw, along with dramatic scenery, native wildlife, and one of North Carolina’s highest waterfalls.
To reach the summit, it’s a windy drive and a short climb ending in an open, breathtaking stretch of space that includes views of Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge. Different trails offer varied terrain and difficulty levels for every skill set and interest.
If you’re interested in birdwatching, this is just the place, so be sure to bring your binoculars. At the park’s base is the village of Chimney Rock, which has many cute shops and local restaurants to wander and enjoy. We would say you should plan to spend at least half a day here.
Biltmore Estate (milepost 388.8)
The Biltmore is America’s largest home as well as a museum and estate worth exploring for a day or more. It’s an ornate chateau with 250 rooms that sits on 8,000-acres and is a landmark in American architecture.
The Biltmore is not far off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the gardens are elaborate and include an astounding collection of azaleas and a gorgeous network of forested trails. It’s also home to one of the most visited wineries.
You can take a self-guided or guided tour of the grand home with all the original preserved architecture and furnishings. The library is imposing. There are six restaurants and a working farm open for visitors. You can truly tailor this experience to whatever you wish it to be.
Sliding Rock (milepost 411.8)
Located on Looking Glass Creek within Pisgah National Forest, Sliding Rock is the perfect waterfall near Asheville for adventure lovers. It’s a natural 60-foot rock water slide with an eight-foot-deep pool at the end. Sliding along with the rushing 11,000 gallons of water each minute is the best way to beat the heat.
At about 50 degrees, this is always a refreshing experience. If you’re not feeling like such a daredevil, there are plenty of observation decks to view the waterfall from and cheer on other plungers. If you want to explore more in this area, there are various hiking trails and falls to enjoy, such as Looking Glass Falls and Moore Cove Falls. It is a one-of-a-kind stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway drive.
Looking Glass Rock Overlook & Skinny Dip Falls (Milepost 417)
At Milepost 417 you can stop at a beautiful overlook of Looking Glass Rock. The massive and stunning exposed face of Looking Glass Rock rises straight out of the forest and looks almost too beautiful to be real.
The rock you’ll see here is volcanic rock that shimmers like icing on a cake when rain or ice is on the surface. Looking Glass Rock is a popular hike in North Carolina that is moderately difficult but provides breathtaking views. You can find the Looking Glass Rock trailhead here, which is just under 30 minutes drive from the overlook.
This is also the trailhead for Skinny Dip Falls which is an easy hike through a tranquil forest that ends at a cascading waterfall and swimming hole.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (milepost 469)
The Blue Ridge Parkway officially ends at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mounains National Park, just near the town of Cherokee.
The Great Smokys are a destination that is a utopia of nature known for its rich diversity of life, thanks to its endless forested ridges. It’s the country’s most visited national park, straddling North Carolina and Tennessee. There are hiking trails of lush greenery, colorful, rare flora, streams and waterfalls, and summit peaks with landscapes stretching out across a majestic mountainous skyline.
It’s known for its blue mist that rolls in and hangs around the rocky scenery creating a dreamy landscape. Deep Creek is best for waterfalls, Cataloochee Valley has a bustling population of Elk you can observe and learn about, and Clingman’s Dome is the highest point in the Smokies for incredible views.
The Blue Ridge Parkway ends at US 441, which is milepost 469.
There are many more overlooks and stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway, these are just some of the highlights. Keep your eyes peeled, and we recommend picking up a map before driving to make the most out of your Blue Ridge Parkway drive!
Tips For Driving The Blue Ridge Parkway
History of The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway got its start as part of the New Deal signed into law by FDR and Congress. Its implementation was to bring employment and the country to rise out of The Great Depression.
On September 11, 1935, construction broke ground near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina. It took nearly 52 years to finish near the Linn Cove Viaduct finally. The Parkway is an engineering marvel as it spans a range of mountains and valleys with bridges and tunnels.
Best Time to Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is most spectacular in the fall when all the leaves start to turn shades of amber, red, orange, and yellow. However, this is the busiest time to drive the Parkway when all the “leaders” head this way. Come mid to late September and October and certainly won’t be the only one on the road, but the scenery is mesmerizing enough that you won’t care.
Parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway are closed during the winter months. So if you plan to drive the route in its entirety, you’ll need to plan accordingly. The National Park Service provides road updates here. Summer and spring are great times to visit, with spring being one of the quietest times to enjoy the drive.
What To Expect Along the Drive
The Blue Ridge Parkway is not like a typical highway. It is a scenic drive with a healthy amount of pull-offs, campsites, picnic areas, and parking lots. The goal here is to treasure America’s natural beauty with a leisurely drive.
The Parkway is a two-lane road with twists and curves every few hundred feet. The speed limit is slow, so drivers can enjoy the views and stop frequently. Have an idea of your plans for each day as areas of the Parkway do not have cell service.
Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway
Cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway is a bucket list trip for any avid cyclist. However, it’s best left for experienced cyclists as it’s not your average road, and there is no bike lane. It presents the physical challenge of a massive ride in the mountains, and bikers must also contend with changing weather and road traffic.
It’s best to only cycle during good visibility and reliable weather periods. Vehicles should watch out for cyclists, especially at blind spots.
Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway in both North Carolina and Virgina. It’s recommended to stop in a visitor center to see which ones sound best for you. Some of the most popular trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway are:
- Roanoke Valley
- Rocky Knob
- Music Center
- Doughton Park
- Cumberland Knob
- Julian Price Park
- Linville Falls
- Mount Pisgah
- Crabtree Falls
- Craggy Gardens
Camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are plenty of camping options on the Blue Ridge Parkway. With eight main campgrounds open from May through late October, you will surely find something to suit your needs. Campsites are closed in winter. The front country campsites are as follows:
- Otter Creek (MP 60.8)
- Peaks of Otter Campground (MP 85.9)
- Rocky Knob Campground (MP 167.1)
- Doughten Peak Campground (MP 239.2)
- Julian Price Campground (MP 297)
- Linville Falls Campground (MP 316.4)
- Crabtree Falls Campground (MP 339.5)
- Mt Pisgah (MP 208.8)
Front country campgrounds have potable water, flush toilets and sinks, and dump station. Showers are available at Julian Price and Mount Pisgah and each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. These campsites are available on a first come, first serve basis for a $20 a night fee, though you can make advance reservations up to six months in advance by visiting www.recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777.
Backcountry camping is permitted at the following with a permit:
- Rock Castle Gorge near Rocky Knob (MP 167.1)
- Basin Cove near Doughton Park (MP 239.2)
- Johns River Road near Julian Price Park (MP 296.9)
How to Access the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are many opportunities to hop on the Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia. Many visitors come from Asheville. Five entrances onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Asheville area, making a great day trip adventure. If you drive the Parkway in one day, consider taking the scenic drive and returning to the highway for a fast Asheville return.
When is the Blue Ridge Parkway open?
The Blue Ridge Parkway is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Weather permitting. Driving the parkway is free.
What is the Weather Like Along the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The weather on the parkway varies across the huge mileage. At higher elevations, you can expect cooler temps in the summer and winter (this is when snow is possible). Spring and fall weather is unpredictable and can change from thunderstorms to beautiful blue sky in a matter of minutes.
It’s best to check the weather forecast before heading out on the Blue Ridge Parkway drive.
Tips for driving the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Take care when driving the parkway, it is not a highway. Roads are narrow, winding, and speed limits are slower.
- Keep up with road conditions here before heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Especially if traveling in the winter.
- Drive speed limits. These are limits, not targets.
- There are bears along the parkway. It’s best to carry bear spray while hiking. If you see one in your car while driving, give the bear space.
- Pets must be kept on a leash of no more than 6 ft.
- Remember to practice Leave No Trace Principles.
Waterfalls Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Most of these waterfalls are on the Parkway, or just a short detour!
- Linville Falls
- Crabtree Falls
- Glassmine Falls
- Skinny Dip Falls
- Soco Falls
Best Picnic Sites Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are plenty of picnic sites along the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy. Bring a picnic basket and some lemonade with you so you can enjoy a meal in pristine nature. Always remember to pack in what you pack out. Leaving food is harmful and dangerous to wildlife. Some notable picnic sites are:
- MP 8.5 Humpback Rocks
- MP 63.6 James River
- MP 86.0 Peaks of Otter
- MP 154.5 Smart View
- MP 169 Rocky Knob
- MP 188 Groundhog Mountain
- MP 217.5 Cumberland Knob
- MP 241.1 Doughton Park
- MP 271.9 Jeffress Park
- MP 296.4 Julian Price Park
- MP 316.5 Linville River
- MP 339.5 Crabtree Meadows
- MP 367.6 Craggy Gardens
- MP 407.8 Mount Pisgah
How Long Does it Take to Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?
If you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway straight, without stopping, without traffic, and of course following the speed limits, the drive will take between 10-12 hours. However, there is no point in doing that! We recommend taking at least three days to drive the Parkway and enjoy all the wonderful stops and hikes.