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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
My Top 10 Favorite Overlooks:
Farmland in North Carolina – South of Laurel Springs on the Parkway
Looking Glass Rock Overlook – Mile Post 417
Raven’s Roost – Mile Marker 11
20 Minute Cliff – Mile Marker 19
Yonahlossee Overlook – Mile Marker 304
Caney Fork Overlook – Mile Marker 428
Woolyback Overlook – Mile Marker 452
Price Lake – Mile Marker 297
Big Witch Overlook – Mile Marker 462
Browning Knob – Mile Marker 451
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.