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25 In Guides + How-Tos/ Hiking + The Outdoors/ North Carolina/ Travel/ Virginia

For the Love of Wanderlust’s Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a NPS-run road that connects Smoky Mountains National Park in NC to Shenandoah National Park in VA traveling 469 miles along some of the most stunning sites in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Unlike some of the other National Parks and Monuments, there is no fee to drive on this road and explore the sites around it, but be sure to check for road closures as many parts of the Parkway are closed from November – April.

General Parkway Tips:

Start In Virginia – This is probably my number 1 tip. I think there’s a reason that mile one is in Virginia because, in my opinion, I think the views from the Parkway in VA are much less impressive than North Carolina. The Parkway through Virginia is more driving on top of the mountains looking down on towns. However, in NC you’re among the mountains and have striking views of mountains, and definitely of nature, through the vast majority of the state’s portion.

Don’t Miss Towns Off the Parkway – There are so many cozy mountain towns just off the parkway in both North Carolina and Virginia that will surprise you with tasty restaurants, unexpected sites and amazing people. Along with these cute towns are some absolutely amazing cities. Asheville, NC is my favorite (although I’m a bit biased there having lived there on and off for the past couple of years) and Roanoke, VA. Be sure to give yourself time to explore the culture in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

BlueRidgeParkway

Plan Fuel-Ups & Accommodation – While The Parkway isn’t insanely remote, there are portions that stretch on pretty far without places to get gas. Just be smart about getting it while available. Fuel-ups means human fuel too. Plan to pack some food to make sandwiches, snacks and other things because it might be a couple of hours before you can get a meal. Accommodation was something that we didn’t really plan ahead and our trip would’ve been much easier if we had. We stayed in a super-crappy hotel in Marion, NC & an insanely awesome Biker Resort in Laurel Springs, NC.  We maybe would’ve mapped this out better had we taken the time to route & plan our nights in town as well as we planned the hikes we wanted to do.

If Possible, Avoid Weekends – This isn’t always possible. In fact, we went on a weekend, but the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited site in the National Park Services, so it can get crowded. Summer is striking and popular as most families vacation in the summer, but “leaf season” or fall is also incredibly popular in these mountains.

IMG_0144

Be Aware That Cell Service is Scarce – This isn’t a massive deal, but just be aware that this is part of the crucial point of looking up accommodation beforehand (including reserving campsites which can fill up quickly).

North Carolina Hikes:

the mile marker listed is closest mile marker to each trailhead

Waterrock Knob – Mile Marker 451 

This 1.2 mile roundtrip hike is a partly paved/partly rustic trail that offers views into not only North Carolina, but also Tennessee, South Carolina & Georgia. My favorite parts of this hike is the beautiful views of The Parkway itself from the top of the more than 6000ft mountain and the fields of wildflowers near the top.

WaterrockKnobHike

WaterrockKnob

Devil’s Courthouse – Mile Marker 422

This 1 mile round trip hike is a For the Love of Wanderlust Favorite! I’ve done this hike over half a dozen times and I love it just as much every time. This spot is perfect for a sunset and the stone wall around the summit is a perfect place to sit for a picnic. Although it’s a super short hike, it is all uphill & quite steep so don’t be shy about using the benches along the way, they’re there for a reason. This is one of my personal Must-Sees for the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.

Devils Courthouse Devil's Courthouse View

Graveyard Fields Trail – Mile Marker 419

There are multiple hikes to do in this area totaling around 4 miles total. The path down is steep & covered in rhododendron (I’ve even seen an owl in this area) and when you get to a fork you find yourself at a waterfall whether you turn left or right. I think the Lower Falls (the falls to the right) are more impressive and much easier to get to. One of the massive benefits of turning left is that you can pick loads of wild blueberries during blueberry season!

Graveyard Fields Lower Falls

Graveyard Fields Trail

Skinny Dip Falls – Mile Marker 417

This is a local hangout and my For the Love of Wanderlust favorite swimming hole. Park at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook and cross the Parkway to the trailhead. Only one mile round trip, this the perfect way to cool off after an afternoon of hiking. There’s a swimming hole that is actually pretty deep with a rock that you can jump off (where the girl is crouching in the top photo). The water is ice cold, so it’s better to jump in than inch in. There are multiple cascades that make up this area, and you can climb down the gorge area (seen in the bottom photo) for even more falls and places to sunbathe. Take the hike and swim away.

SkinnyDipFalls

SKinnyDip Falls Gorge

Frying Pan Fire Tower – Mile Marker 410

Frying Pan Fire Tower sits atop the mountain of the same name and on this 1.5 mile roundtrip hike you can climb almost to the top of the tower. It makes a stunning panoramic view when you reach the top and along the way there are views of the mountains through the trees and over amazing wildflowers! This hike is unique because you get to go even taller than the top of the mountain.

FryingPanHike Frying Pan Tower View

Craggy Pinnacle Trail – Mile Marker 364

This 1.4 mile hike brings you up to the top of a mountain that has a 360 degree view and looks down over Craggy Gardens and the beautiful watershed where The Hunger Games was filmed. The trail is under tunnels of rhododendron. It’s stunning and I can only imagine

Craggy Pinnacle Trail CraggyPinnacleView

Mt. Mitchell Summit – Mile Marker 355

Mt. Mitchell State Park isn’t run by the National Park Services, but it is off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This state park has hiking trails, a cafe and the tallest (and second tallest) mountain east of the Mississippi River!

MountMitchellTrail MountMitchell

Deep Gap Trail – Mile Marker 355

This trail is also located in Mt. Mitchell State Park and is a much more strenuous hike! This trail takes you from the Mt. Mitchell Parking lot to Mt. Craig (the second highest peak east of the Mississippi) and several other summits. It’s a beautiful 9 miles round trip – to be honest, I missed out on the actual deep gap only going 7 miles roundtrip to summit 6 peaks – but be sure to dress in layers because up here it’s typically about 15 degrees cooler than towns below. Also, 80% of the time these mountains are fog-covered, so don’t be disappointed because it makes for some incredible trail photos. This long hike is worth the sites and the unique forest that is typically seen in Canada, not Western North Carolina.

DeepGapTrail DeepGap

Crabtree Falls – Mile Marker 340

This 70 foot waterfall is accessed by one of two trail options: 3 mile there & back hike (what we did both times) or the 3.5 mile loop (supposed to be more strenuous). This trail is steep in parts & unpaved, and there are a few steps built into the trail that can be sick if they’re wet. There isn’t a swimming hole here, but it is well worth the hike for the beauty of the waterfalls alone. This is a For the Love of Wanderlust favorite.

CrabtreeFalls

CrabtreeFalls ZenStones

Chestoa View Trail – Mile Marker 321

While researching our parkway trip I saw this overlook and I knew this was a must-see. This quick, half-mile roundtrip stroll is a For the Love of Wanderlust Favorite view on the parkway. I love the look of this charming, stone wall. It’s a perfect place to sit, enjoy and take pleasure in the mountains.

ChestoaOverlook Chestoa

Linville Falls – Mile Marker 316

This stunning 150 foot waterfall falls over 4 levels and can be seen from 5 different viewpoints (Matt and I have only done 2) that can all be seen within a 4 mile hike which is totally on our to-do list. This photo is from the Erwin’s View Trail which is 1.6 miles round trip and includes a closer view of the uppermost section seen in this photo.

LinnvilleFalls 1LinnvilleFallsTrail

Linn Cove Viaduct – Mile Marker 304

The Linn Cove Viaduct is the last piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be completed (52 years after construction began). At the visitor’s center & trailhead there is a lot of information on building this last piece of the parkway puzzle. There’s a 1 mile roundtrip trail that takes you around, below and eventually above to look down on this iconic view of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I love this trail because it truly puts The Parkway into perspective.

LinnCoveViaduct LinnCoveViaduct-

Cascades Trail – Mile Marker 272

The Cascades Trail doesn’t give you an overall view of this long, flowing waterfall, however this is still a very enjoyable and beautiful trail. There are smaller individual sections with various viewpoints. This interactive nature trail is a 1 mile loop and the trail itself is quite beautiful.

Cascades CascadesTrail

Virginia Hikes:

Mountain Industry Trail – Mile Marker 176

Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed places on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This mill was originally constructed in the very early 1900’s. Along with the mill, which still turns, there is a collection of pieces from life in rural Virginia. Be sure to stop here, and you can even grab a bite to eat in their cafe!

IndustrialTrail MabryMill

Roanoke Mountain Summit – Mile Marker 120

This isn’t even really a hike, you just drive to the top of Roanoke Mountain on a 4 mile loop road. From the top, you can walk around and get some nice views of the Roanoke countryside.

Roanoke Roanoke

Falling Water Cascades – Mile Marker 83

Falling Water Cascades is a 1.4 mile loop trail just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a decently steep hike down, and we actually didn’t do the loop, we just went down and back instead. It wasn’t the most impressive waterfall of the ones we visited, but I love waterfalls and because of that it was worth it to me.

FallingWaterCascades 1FallingWaterCascades

My Top 10 Favorite Overlooks:

Farmland in North Carolina South of Laurel Springs on the Parkway

NCFarm

 Looking Glass Rock Overlook – Mile Post 417

LookingGlassRock

Raven’s Roost – Mile Marker 11

RavensRoost

20 Minute Cliff – Mile Marker 19

20minuteCliff

Yonahlossee Overlook – Mile Marker 304

Yonahlossee

Caney Fork Overlook – Mile Marker 428

CaaneyFork

Woolyback Overlook – Mile Marker 452

Woolyback1

Price Lake – Mile Marker 297

PriceLake

Big Witch Overlook – Mile Marker 462

BigWitch

Browning Knob – Mile Marker 451

Browning Knob

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a really magical spot for anything from a day trip to a weekend trip to a multi-week trip! There is so much to see, there are museums to visit, unbelievable views, wildlife, swimming holes to dip your toes in and so much more. Take a page from John Muir’s book and listen because the mountains are calling. 

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service - For the Love of Wanderlust
    April 18, 2016 at 8:01 am

    […] The Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s Favorite Drive for a reason. There are tons and tons of hikes along the Virginia to North Carolina route along with stunning overlooks. The Parkway holds a special place in my heart because it cuts right through my other home, Asheville. My beloved Blue Ridge Mountains are one of the most spiritual-feeling places I’ve ever been. I think it’s because they’re some of the oldest mountains on earth! Along the parkway you can hike to see gorgeous views, waterfalls, lakes and so much more. Don’t miss out on this wonder of a road. […]

  • Reply
    Sarah from Tales From a Fork
    April 25, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    I like how you wrote general parkway tips beforehand. I’ve been to Asheville and love it. Wish I had more time there. Love all the photos, especially of the overlooks.

  • Reply
    Vyjay Rao
    April 25, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    What a lovely place with such beautiful terrain and stunning views. It must have been an amazing ride, would love to do this, especially for the beautiful terrain and the opportunity to commune with nature in an environment that seems so unspoilt.

  • Reply
    Live Learn Venture (@LiveLearnVentur)
    April 26, 2016 at 7:20 am

    Wow great photos — especially the waterfall ones. I really need to explore National parks more! I’m currently on my 2nd year living in Korea, but have a lot of exploring to do once I’m back in the states 🙂 Thanks for this post!

  • Reply
    abcdeghizzy
    April 26, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Paige… after all your posts about Asheville, I’m seriously looking into visiting this place immediately once I return to the USA! Did you take all these pictures yourself? Its really rare to see bloggers use 100% of their own photography so incredible, incredible job for documenting this site as meticulously as you did! This really is a legitimate guide! I will bookmark for this for the trip! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    April 26, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Wow, I live in the US and never knew these things existed!! This would be a great vacation idea for traveling with my family. Thanks for sharing this in depth guide!! I’ll be passing it along!

  • Reply
    Dawn ONeill
    June 12, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    I wanted to take a minute and share with you how popular this information is. Back in February I pinned this article so I would have it later when traveling near Asheville. Since then at leat one person repins it every week. At least twice as often as someone repins my pins on any other topic!

    • Reply
      WordPress.com Support
      June 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm

      Wow! Thank you so much, Dawn! I really appreciate that you pinned it and that you took the time to let me know that it has been so popular! Have you been to Asheville yet?

      • Reply
        Dawn ONeill
        June 13, 2016 at 6:01 am

        Yes, we were there in May. Love the city and the Parkway!

        • Reply
          Paige Wunder
          July 20, 2016 at 7:41 pm

          I’m glad you had a great time and I hope my guide helped! Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Dawn ONeill
    July 17, 2016 at 11:31 am

    I noticed that lately people were pinning this post even more frequently than before, so I went back to see how often. In the past 2 weeks it’s been pinned 14 times!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      July 20, 2016 at 7:41 pm

      That’s so awesome! Thank you so much for your support – I really appreciate it!

  • Reply
    nycgingeronthego
    March 7, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    Those waterfalls are awesome. Sometimes I forget what beautiful sites we have here in America. I am always chasing waterfalls abroad. Definitely feeling inspired to check out Blue Ridge Park. And so dreamy in the fall too. If only I lived closer to make it a weekend trip!

  • Reply
    Sally
    March 8, 2017 at 2:46 am

    What a beautiful drive that would be through the trees. I always think the Smoky Mountains National Park sounds so mystical and it looks a bit that way too I guess. I’d love to spend some time hiking around that area like you did 🙂

  • Reply
    AuthenticTravels
    March 8, 2017 at 3:24 am

    I love others’ comments too, planning to visit the place. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to fly over the ocean and travel there, but the Craggy Pinnacle Trail inspired me. I like how the trees create like a corridor and you have to pass through it. Very good research and documentation, I would love to visit the Blue Ridge Park someday.

  • Reply
    eatlivetraveldrink
    March 8, 2017 at 10:28 am

    I am a big fan of the Blue Ridge Parkway! We have a house at Wintergreen that sits right next to it. In the fall the colors are so magical <3 One of the best drives in America!

  • Reply
    Aparna
    March 8, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    I live in DC so go out to the Shenandoah part of the park quite a bit, and agree that I have not been very impressed with the limited exploration I’ve done there. I would LOVE to go to Asheville sometime, and check out some of the hikes around there!

  • Reply
    thetravelpockets
    March 8, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I have never been here and it sounds amazing. I would love to go to Skinny Dip Falls. It sounds like so much fun to just play around in the water surrounded by beautiful nature 🙂

  • Reply
    abcdefghizzy
    March 8, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Hahah who took that picture of you as a tiny speck? So adorable! I want to get into hiking more one day but until then, I’m just gonna live through you! If I were to visit, I would definitely be at Waterrock Knob to catch a view of four different states from one vantage point! That’s such a cool fact!

  • Reply
    Tara
    March 8, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    I haven’t explored the Blue Ridge Parkway since I was a kid, and most of my memories are of sitting in the car for way too long with my brother. I can’t wait to plan a road trip, maybe even this fall! I pinned your post just in case. And I love your profile pic!

  • Reply
    Travel tips
    March 8, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    Reading and looking at your photos i have started to really miss home…I love road trips, hiking, and everything that has forest and green in it. I have never been here to Blue Ridge Parkway but i’m dreaming to reach it one day !!

  • Reply
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    […] taking in the view at the Grove Park Inn) I think the best way to explore them is by getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you drive an hour in either direction from Asheville you’ll get to catch some of the most […]

  • Reply
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    July 3, 2017 at 8:15 am

    […] 3. Asheville, North Carolina / Blue Ridge Mountains […]

  • Reply
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    July 10, 2017 at 10:37 am

    […] Blue Ridge Parkway is made for road trips. This gorgeous 469 mile road connects Shenandoah National Park to Smoky […]

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    October 14, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    […] to Paige Wunder from For The Love Of Wanderlust for sharing a breathtaking account of the experience you can enjoy should you venture along the […]

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