Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is like a dream come true. Before we embarked on our road trip through the USA north to south, I hadn’t heard of it before, but I’m so glad I did my research and we drove this National Scenic Byway. The views on the Blue Ridge Mountains are to dream of. Next to the endless views there’s so much to do on and off the parkway, you could spend weeks here.
Where is the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Blue Ridge Parkway starts at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south all the way to Shenandoah National Park in the North. This way the parkway runs through 2 states: North Carolina and Virginia. The road goes all the way through the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is part of the larger Appalachian Mountains.
Some facts about the Blue Ridge Parkway
They started constructing the parkway on June 30th of 1936 and finished in 1987. It was built so that Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be connected with each other. The road is 755 kilometers (469 miles) long. The National Parkway is managed by the NPS, and receives over 14 million visitors a year, making it one of the most popular attractions of the NPS. The route is known as one of the most picturesque roads of the USA, making it perfect for a Blue Ridge Road trip.
The most visitors come during the fall to see the spectacular fall foliage. However the fall foliage is not all that there is to see. The oldest river of North America is here: New River. Further more there’s the highest mountain peak east of the Mississippi: Mount Mitchell.
Blue Ridge Parkway Top 10
There are numerous things to do on and close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here’s our top 10 of things to visit while driving the parkway. The top 10 is also perfect to do with kids.
1. Natural Bridge
Just off the parkway is Natural Bridge State Park, a fun detour for about 3 hours. Admire the natural bridge that’s high and learn about the indigenous people to the area. We loved it here, saw lots of butterflies and admired the beautiful views on the Blue Ridge Mountains.
2. Grandfather Mountain
Another highlight just off the parkway. Grandfather Mountain has so much to offer. We stayed 2 hours, but you can be here all day if you want. There’s plenty of hiking opportunities, rocks to climb on and let’s not forget the Mile High Swinging Bridge. A bridge spanning a gorge, on which you have gorgeous 360 degree views.
3. The Blowing Rock
A rock only 3 miles of the parkway in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The rock is surrounded by a myth, a love story. Of a Chickasaw girl and a Cherokee boy. The boy had to leave, but one day he was blown back onto the rock. And from that day on the wind has blown from the valley below onto the rock. The cliff has strong wind gusts and beautiful views.
4. Mount Mitchell State Park
An International Biosphere Reserve with lots of hiking opportunities. The state park is right on the Blue Ridge Parkway. On top is a restaurant with grand views on the mountains. The elevation of Mount Mitchell is 6.648 ft, so good for perfect views.
Don’t miss watching a sunset on the parkway. It’s worth staying up for and driving in the dark afterwards. We did it one day, stopped at an overlook and watched with other people.
6. Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center
The visitor center is worth a stop, they provide information on the origins, the nature and what there is to see. Take 20 to 30 minutes for the center. Stopping here provides background to the road you’re driving.
7. Roanoke River Trail + Thunder Ridge
One of the many trails on the parkway. This is a short hike through nature from about 20 minutes. It first leads to a pedestrian overlook, the Thunder Ridge. After this you can take the loop trail and be back in 10 minutes or follow the path further along the rocky cliffs. This takes 20 minutes and follows the river gorge, with a view on a dam and waterfall.
Almost every overlook is worth a stop, but one has more beautiful views then the other. We can recommend stopping at Cumberland Knob, Piney Spur Overlook and Grandview Overlook. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in itself is worth it’s time, for the endless views on the mountains.
9. Northwest Trading Post
This trading post is a fun, short stop. It sells nice souvenirs and delicious goodies. We loved stopping here in Glendale Springs. It’s directly on the road.
10. Rail Fences
At Groundhog Hill Picnic Area we stopped for about 10 minutes here on the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can see all the different rail fences that there are on the parkway and some information on each of them. Next to that there’s a tower with a 360 degree view.
What else is there?
The Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia part has more attractions to offer like Virginia’s Explore Park and Mabry Mill. The North Carolina part has even more to offer: Linville Falls Trail; Moses H. Cone Memorial Park; Southern Highland Craft Guild; Dutch Creek Trails; Craggy Pinnacle Hike at Craggy Gardens; The Biltmore; The North Carolina Arboretum; Rainbow Falls at Gorges State Park; Looking Glass Rock; Julian Price Memorial Park; Linn Cove Viaduct; The Orchard at Altapass; Folk Art Center; Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park and Sliding Rock. And last but not least Dill Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the US. Gatlinburg, one of the best cities to visit in the USA isn’t that far away from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is open 24 hours, it doesn’t have an entrance fee. Anyone can drive on the road.
Where to stay
We drove the parkway in 4 days, which meant a lot of driving each day. We stayed at 3 hotels along the way. All 3 were relatively cheap. For a retro motel experience there’s the Buena Vista Motel in the town of Buena Vista in Virginia. The motel is a little of the parkway, but not super far.
Our number one place to stay was Fancy Gap Cabins and Campground in Fancy Gap in Virginia. We stayed at a cabin, but this place is also perfect for camping on Blue Ridge Parkway. From here you have a perfect view on the Blue Ridge Mountains and can enjoy watching fireflies, rabbits and deer.
We wanted to stay at Pisgah Inn in Canton, directly on the parkway. Sadly it was full. You have to book the Pisgah Inn in advance.
In North Carolina we stayed at Best Western Asheville. Somewhat off the parkway, in the town of Asheville, with great views surrounding the hotel.
As you can see there’s plenty to do for a long road trip or for several weekend getaways. Drive the parkway at once or in parts, it’s all possible. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of 101 Scenic Drives of National Geographic, one of the must-read books on our road trip books list.
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