Dabbling in Jet Lag
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most gorgeous drives in the United States. It spans from the Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains, totaling 755 km (469 miles). So, if you’re looking for a road trip that has everything then you’ve come to the right place. It’s jam-packed with hiking trails, scenic overlooks, cultural exhibits, and more. Best of all, it’s completely free!
I spent five weeks exploring the Parkway and it was one of my most memorable road trips. So, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite things to see and do to help you get inspired and plan your next trip.
18 Awesome Places to Visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway
1. Staunton, Virginia
Staunton, Virginia is your entrance to the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its charming downtown is home to an array of independent shops and delicious local dining.
And if you are a history buff, Staunton won’t disappoint! From beautifully kept historic buildings to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, a walk down Main Street is like taking a step back in time. For a complete list of things to see and do, stop by the Staunton Visitor Center. They have lots of cool tips and free maps!
Useful Tip: If you love fresh homemade pie head over to Firkin Pie Company. They sell out quickly, so be sure to get there early.
Address of Firkin Pie Company: 310 Kalorama St, Staunton, VA
Location: 26.5 km (16.5 miles) from the northern entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
2. Humpback Rocks
This is the first (or last) stop on Virginia’s section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. And it’s not a bad way to start (or end) your road trip. The highlight of this stop is a popular 3.2-km (2-mile) round trip hike to Humpback Rocks. And while it’s a steep strenuous slug to the top, you will be rewarded with stunning panoramic views over the Shenandoah Valley.
If you’re not up for the hike, visit the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center. It’s a great place to learn about the Parkway, visit an outdoor farm museum, and listen to some old-time mountain music!
Location: Milepost 5.8
3. Natural Bridge
Take a brief detour from the Blue Ridge Parkway and head over to the Natural Bridge. This 66-meter high, 27-meter wide (215 ft. by 90 ft.) limestone gorge is the remnants of an underground river tunnel that was used to divert water to the south. And, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, it’s “the most sublime of nature’s works.”
The Natural Bridge State Park is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission is $9 for 13 years and older. For more information and driving directions, visit the Natural Bridge State Park website.
Location: Milepost 63 (+15 minutes). Follow the signs for Natural Bridge State Park/Natural Bridge.
4. Peaks of Otter
Peaks of Otter is one of the most popular destinations along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Here you will find three peaks (Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill) surrounding the beautiful Abbott Lake. Hiking trails diverge in every direction with varying degrees of difficulty.
I would recommend packing a lunch and picnicking at the lake, then tackling one of the trails. Or you can just hang out on one of the lawn chairs and relax!
Location: Milepost 86
5. Roanoke, Virginia
Roanoke is often referred to as the “Capital of the Blue Ridge,” and rightly so. Not only is it one of the largest cities along the Parkway but it was also the headquarters for its development. And, while Roanoke has the size of a big city, it maintains a small-town charm.
So, whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or prefer visiting local shops, Roanoke has something for everyone. And it’s the perfect place to spend a few days.
My favorite activities were, hiking to McAfee Knob, relaxing at Smith Mountain Lake, touring the Historic Famer’s Market, and taking in the view from the Roanoke Star.
There are four mileposts that connect to Roanoke.
- Milepost 106 – Northernmost entry point to Roanoke. Near: U.S. Route 460.
- Milepost 112 – Access to Smith Mountain Lake. Near: Virginia Route 24.
- Milepost 120 – Access to downtown Roanoke and the Roanoke Star. Near: Mill Mountain Parkway Road.
- Milepost 121 – Access to South Roanoke. Near: U.S. Route 220.
6. Mabry Mill
The Mabry Mill is one of the most recognizable structures on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was built in the early 1900s by Ed Mabry and used as a gristmill and sawmill for 30 years.
Today, the Mabry Mill allows visitors to experience what life was like in rural Appalachia during the 1900s. From cultural demonstrations to performances by local musicians, there’s no shortage of things to do here. So, if you love learning about traditions of the past, Mabry Mill should be on your list!
Location: Milepost 176
7. Blue Ridge Music Center
The Blue Ridge Music Center is a venue dedicated to supporting the musicians of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
From May to October, you can enjoy traditional music in its outdoor amphitheater. There’s also a visitor center and a museum, where you can learn about the music. And, best of all, it’s completely free.
For a complete list of concerts and events, check out Blue Ridge Music Center’s Event Calendar.
Location: Milepost 213
8. Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Dubbed the “Crown of the Blue Ridge,” Blowing Rock is a small, charming mountain village with a lot to offer. Here you’ll find artisanal shops, appetizing restaurants, and perfectly manicured parks set against a mountainous backdrop.
Interestingly, the town gets its name from the unusual rock formation that hangs over the Johns River Gorge. The juxtaposition of the rock and gorge causes the wind to blow upwards, hence the name Blowing Rock.
You can visit this unique rock formation at The Blowing Rock Visitor Center. There are several overlooks connected by a series of hiking trails and a small museum about the town. The entrance fee is $9, and the visit takes about 1-2 hours.
Location: Milepost 290.4
9. Moses H. Cone Memorial Park
At first glance, you might think this is just another massive property. But there are tons of things to see and do here.
Of course, Flat Top Manor, the home of North Carolina’s most prosperous textile entrepreneur, Moses Cone, is unmissable. But there’s also the Parkway Craft Center, hiking trails, apple orchards, and 2 man-made lakes.
After you tour the mansion head down to Bass Lake. It’s 4 km (2.5 miles) from Flat Top Manor or you can drive down to the parking area. The leisurely 1.2-km (0.8-mile) hike around the lake offers views of the mansion from afar, showcasing the sheer size of the property.
Location: Milepost 294.6
11. Linn Cove Viaduct
The Linn Cove Viaduct is the most iconic view of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This engineering marvel was the last piece of the puzzle and took almost 20 years to conceive.
And, while its zig-zag appearance is picturesque, it has a purpose. In fact, this was the only design that preserved the fragile habitat around Grandfather Mountain. For a complete history and other cool facts, stop by the museum at the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center!
Below are the best spots for cool pictures:
- The Most Famous Spot: Start at the visitor center and take the Tanawha Trail. Follow the trail underneath the viaduct until you come to a wooden bridge (about 15-20 minutes). After you cross the bridge walk for about 5-10 minutes until you see a wooden sign on your left. It points to the Tanawha Trail and the Linn Cove Parking Area. On your right, a small trail leads to a series of boulders. If you want ‘that’ picture you will have to climb to the top. It’s not dangerous, but not entirely safe either, so proceed with caution.
- Yohahlossee Overlook: Milepost 303.9.
- Under the Viaduct: At the visitor center follow the Tanawha Trail for about 5 minutes.
Location: Milepost 304
12. Grandfather State Park
Grandfather State Park is home to one of the tallest mountains (1812 meters (5946 ft.)) along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain. And, while it’s undoubtedly impressive, the biggest attraction here is the Mile High Swinging Bridge. A walk across its see-through planks will test the limits of your vertigo.
The entrance costs $22 per person and includes all the attractions in the park. Tickets can be bought online at the Grandfather Mountain website or at the entrance.
Location: Milepost 305
13. Linville Falls
Linville Falls are the most popular waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This series of three gushing waterfalls merge into one powerhouse that then empties into the Linville Gorge.
There are four main overlooks: Upper Falls, Gorge View, Chimney View, and Erwin’s Outlook. Of these four, Chimney View offers the most spectacular view of the Linville Falls and the Linville Gorge. It’s a steep 20-minute climb over slippery rocks, but you won’t regret it!
Location: Milepost 316.4
14. Craggy Gardens
The Craggy Gardens are most known for their colorful display of Catawba rhododendrons. If you happen to be here in June, you should check it out! But don’t worry if you miss it, there are still plenty of things to do at this milepost.
This area is full of twisted, jagged hiking paths that lead to beautiful vantage points. The best views are from the Craggy Pinnacle and Craggy Knob, the end of the Craggy Gardens trail.
Useful Tip: This area of the Blue Ridge Parkway tends to be very foggy, even if it’s sunny everywhere else. Drive carefully and pull over if there’s poor visibility.
Location: Milepost 364
15. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is becoming one of the most popular cities on the East Coast. From award-winning restaurants to adventure-filled outdoor activities, Asheville has something for every traveler.
It’s also home to the largest estate (8,000 acres) in the United States, The Biltmore Mansion. This magnificent estate once housed America’s richest family, the Vanderbilts. Today, you can tour the grounds and the Biltmore house.
Tickets start at a whopping $76, but it’s worth it! The gardens radiate with every color imaginable, and the 250-room mansion is an architectural masterpiece. If you only have time to do one thing in Asheville, visit The Biltmore Mansion.
There are four mileposts that connect to Asheville.
- Milepost 382.6 Near: Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center
- Milepost 384.7 Near: Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center
- Milepost 388.8 Near: The Biltmore Mansion
- Milepost 393.6 Near: The North Carolina Arboretum
16. Mount Pisgah
Standing at 1743 meters (5721 ft.), Mount Pisgah towers over the Pisgah National Forest. It can even be seen from downtown Asheville on a clear day. The hike to the summit is about 1.7 km (1.1 miles) over rocky terrain. But the effort is more than worth it for the beautiful panoramic views.
And, if you’re not up for the strenuous hike, enjoy a packed lunch amid the lush green forest at one of the many picnic tables.
Useful Tip: Check the weather before attempting to hike Mount Pisgah. A drizzle can turn into a torrential downpour without warning.
Location: Milepost 408.6
17. Richland Balsam Overlook
The Richland Balsam is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, sitting at 1844 meters (6053ft.). While the landscape is, no doubt, beautiful, the views from here at not as good as some nearby overlooks. After you take a warranted selfie, head over to Cowee Mountain Overlook (Milepost 430.7). The unobstructed views from here reveal the immensity of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The same goes for the views from the summit of Richland Balsam Mountain. It’s a steep climb that leads to a sign surrounded by trees. If you want bragging rights, then it’s worth it, otherwise, there are plenty of hiking paths along the Parkway.
Location: Milepost 431.4
18. Waterrock Knob
The final (or first) stop along the North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the visitor center hike up to Waterrock Knob for 360-degree panoramic views.
On a clear day, you can see all the major southern mountain ranges, including the Great Smoky Mountains. You can also see the Parkway from a dizzying height. It gives you a glimpse of what’s to come (or a reminder of what you drove) and is a perfect stop for any road trip.
Useful Tip: The trail is rocky and slippery when wet, so be sure to have a good pair of shoes.
Location: Milepost 451.2
Tips for Planning Your Visit
- Price: It’s completely free to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Length: The Blue Ridge Parkway extends 755 km (469 miles) from Cherokee, North Carolina to Waynesboro, Virginia. On average, it takes 5-7 days to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Operating Hours and Seasons: In general, Blue Ridge Parkway is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week year-round. But visitor centers and other areas of interest have specified opening hours. The Parkway may also close due to weather, as is often the case in winter. So, the best time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway is May through October. These months have the best weather, and all major attractions are open.
- Navigation: There are stone markers called mileposts at every mile. These mileposts are used for locating overlooks and attractions. Cell service is also limited along the entirety of the drive, so be sure to have offline maps.
- Speed Limit: The speed limit on the Blue Ridge Parkway is 45 mph (72 km/h).
- Parking: Overlooks and other attractions have paved parking areas where you can pull over for pictures. Do not pull over in an undesignated area.
- Gas Stations: There are no gas stations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You will have to exit the Parkway to refuel. I would recommend having a full tank before heading out.
- Weather: The weather on the Blue Ridge Parkway can vary from foggy and rainy to blistering hot. When it’s foggy visibility can be very poor. Make sure to take the necessary precautions.
- Accommodation: There are several options along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but these can be expensive. It’s more cost-effective to stay in the towns next to the Parkway, like Asheville, Roanoke, etc.
If you’re looking for an epic road trip with beautiful scenery, outdoor adventures, and cultural attractions, then the Blue Ridge Parkway is for you! Use this guide to organize your next trip and take advantage of all this drive has to offer.
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