Road Trip No. 11

Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Asheville to Cherokee, NC

The last section road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway has a few hidden waterfalls, the highest point on the Parkway, and lots of hiking.

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Jason Barnette

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April 19, 2019

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Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trips

This blog post is Part 6 of 6 in my Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip series. Over the years I have divided the 469-mile Parkway into six sections that are easy to drive and explore in a single day.

The final southern section of an epic road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway features the highest point on the entire Parkway, a few hidden waterfalls, the historic Pisgah Inn, and so many breathtaking scenic overlooks. It also includes my favorite detour of the Parkway along Highway 276 into Brevard. Are you ready to go for a drive?

Click to enlarge.

Brief History of the Blue Ridge Parkway

In 1935 construction began on a scenic road to connect the two most popular national parks on the east coast: Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of the Parkway was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps throughout the 30s. When construction was finally finished in 1987, just 52 years after it was started, the Parkway stretched 469 miles between Waynesboro, Virginia and Cherokee, North Carolina.

What is a Milepost?

Overlooks, attractions, and interchanges are all marked by mileposts on the Blue Ridge Parkway. These are literally posts with miles marked on them. Milepost 0 is located in Waynesboro, VA and increases to Milepost 469 in Cherokee, NC.

The mileposts are located on the side of the Parkway every full mile. If you see tenths of a mile for a particular destination this is an estimate.

Parking on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Over the years I’ve chatted with a few park rangers and learned some things about parking on the Blue Ridge Parkway that was both surprising and helpful.

  • Parking is allowed anywhere on the Parkway that is NPS property and does not damage or destroy anything
  • Parking is allowed in the fields, on the shoulders of the Parkway, and on non-paved area just so long as all four tires of the vehicle are off the paved Parkway
  • Overnight parking is allowed if you’re hiking into the backcountry, but it is advised to call the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center and let them know
  • Sleeping overnight in cars or RVs is only allowed in designated campgrounds

Asheville, NC

Surrounded by the mountains, headquarters of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and with a vibrant downtown, Asheville is one of the most popular destinations in the country. It’s a great place to spend a night or two along this road trip to the Southern Sixers.

Go all out and splurge for a stay at the historic Biltmore. At the very least you might want to take a tour. I always stay at the Sweat Peas Hostel because it is conveniently located downtown and within walking distance of everything.

Speaking of walking distance to everything, Asheville has more craft breweries per capita than any other city in the country. They have a booming culinary scene, live music literally on every street corner, and lots of quirky things to do like the Asheville Pinball Museum.

Where to Stay in Asheville

There are a lot of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds around the Asheville area. Where you stay is entirely dependent on what you want to do. I have listed here four areas I think would be best for an overnight stay while road tripping on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Tunnel Road – U.S. Highway 70

GLō Best Western is an interesting and charming new type of hotel. With free on-site parking, an indoor swimming pool, and a very good free breakfast this would be a great overnight stay. The hotel features King Rooms and Queen Rooms with two queen beds.

Fairfield Inn & Suites is another wonderful place to stay on Tunnel Road. The hotel has a small indoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, and free breakfast in the morning. The hotel features King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and a King Suite with a sleeper sofa for traveling families.

Hampton Inn is always a favorite place to stay in Asheville. They have free on-site parking, an indoor swimming pool for enjoyment, and free breakfast. The hotel features King Rooms and Queen Rooms with two queen beds.

Biltmore Village – U.S. Highway 25

The Hampton Inn in the Biltmore Village area is another great place to stay close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This hotel includes free on-site parking, an indoor swimming pool, free breakfast, and an on-site bar. The hotel features King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and a King Room with a sleeper sofa.

The Holiday Inn & Suites is a great alternative int he Biltmore Village area. You’ll find an indoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, and an on-site bar. The hotel features Standard Rooms with a full bed, King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and an Executive Suite with a queen bed and sleeper sofa.

The Grand Bohemian Hotel is the height of luxury during your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip. The hotel features King Rooms and Queen Rooms with two queen beds. You’ll also find free on-site parking, an on-site bar, and a spa.

Biltmore Estate

My top recommendation for lodging in Asheville during this road trip is the Village Hotel at Biltmore Estate. With free on-site parking, an outdoor swimming pool, an on-site bar serving local wines and spirits, and a spa this would be the perfect place to take a day off from driving to enjoy some pampering.

A more secluded alternative would be The Inn at Biltmore Estate. The hotel has an outdoor swimming pool and free on-site parking, but the biggest draw is the Dining Room with regional cuisine for guests only and the Library Lounge with casual fine dining. The hotel features King Rooms with a mountain view and Double Rooms with two double beds.

Downtown Asheville

My top recommendation for lodging in downtown Asheville is the Cambria Hotel. Located across the street from the Grove Arcade it’s within walking distance of just about everything downtown. The hotel features King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and a luxurious Corner King Suite with sleeper sofa and private deck.

1. Highway 25 at Milepost 388.8

From this interchange you can access Highway 25. Turn north on Highway 25 to reach the Biltmore and Biltmore Village. Downtown Asheville is about 6 miles from this interchange.

2. Highway 191 at Milepost 393.6

Use this interchange to reach the North Carolina Arboretum. In fact you won’t even need to exit onto Highway 191 because the entrance to the arboretum is in the spur road exit of the Parkway.

North Carolina Arboretum

There are two places I visit every time I’m in Asheville: the Western North Carolina Farmers’ Market and The North Carolina Arboretum. Located just off the Parkway it’s an easy place to visit.

Begin with a tour through the Baker Exhibit Center where you can pick up a map to the hiking trails. Meander through a few gardens around the arboretum along the Grand Garden Promenade, including the Bonsai Garden Exhibition. There are several trails ranging from less than half a mile to a few miles around the arboretum.

Click to enlarge.

3. Buck Spring Gap Overlook at Milepost 407.6

After passing through the Buck Spring Tunnel you will arrive in the Mount Pisgah area of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a lot to see and do here, but my first adventure was at the Buck Spring Gap Overlook.

The spur road leading to Buck Spring Gap will continue on to the next overlook but stop here first. The view from the parking lot on either side of the spur road is pretty amazing. The view looking westerly from the large side of the parking lot is a fantastic place to watch the sunset.

READ MORE: 15 Places You Must Visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway

There is a primitive trail leading into the woods beside the small side of the parking lot; this is the Mountains to Sea Trail. Walk along the trail for just a few minutes to find the remains of Buck Spring Lodge. You can read about the history and the lodge’s connection to Biltmore when you get there.

4. Mount Pisgah Overlook at Milepost 407.6

A little further down the spur road from the Buck Spring Gap Overlook is a small parking area with a trail leading to the summit of Mount Pisgah. The 3.2-mile Mount Pisgah Trail is a strenuous hike with a total 700’ elevation change along the way. At the summit is a simple wooden observation deck with some pretty stunning views in all directions.

5. Pisgah Inn at Milepost 408.6

The Pisgah Inn was built in 1964 and has beautifully withstood the test of time and the elements. Each of the rooms of the two-story building has a commanding view of the landscape below, but if you stay here I recommend getting a room on the second floor for the best view.

The inn includes a dining room that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week during the open season. Open to guests and visitors alike the dining room offers a stunning view to go along with a great meal.

At the end of the parking lot from the inn is a small gift shop and camp store with souvenirs, clothing, and some staple food items. There are restrooms located on the outside of the building.

6. Mount Pisgah Campground at Milepost 408.8

The Mount Pisgah Campground includes 64 tent sites and 62 RV sites, making it one of the largest campground on the Parkway. The campground is nicely secluded with most campsites screened from each other with shrubbery. The campground is built around four loops. There are restrooms and potable water access in each loop. It’s also the only other campground on the Parkway with showers after Julian Price Campground.

7. Highway 276 at Milepost 412.2

The 20-mile drive along Highway 276 into Brevard is probably my favorite off-Parkway detour because there is so much to see and do in a short span. It starts with a twisty, curvy, switchbacky steep descent down from the Parkway into a shrouded tunnel in the forest.

The first stop to make along this road is at the Cradle of Forestry in America. This heritage area includes a very nice museum to explore, a large giftshop, and three trails to hike. The 1.3-mile Forest Festival Trail includes a walk through the woods to a 1914 Climax locomotive where you can climb on board and ring a bell! The 1.3-mile Forest Discovery Trail begins and ends on the Forest Festival Trail, looping around a deeper section of the forest. My favorite trail, though, was the 1-mile Biltmore Campus Trail. This trail loops beneath the highway and through the former Biltmore Forest School’s campus where you can explore several rustic buildings.

A few miles down the road on the right is the popular Sliding Rock. This natural attraction has been used as a summer escape for decades. Bring your swimming shorts and water shoes and slide down the smooth rocks in a torrent of water from the river to a shallow pool at the bottom. Use the embedded handrail to return to the top and do it all over again!

READ MORE: Road Trip on the Scenic North Carolina Waterfall Byway

Around a bend in the road is Looking Glass Falls, one of the most stunning and easily accessible waterfalls in the state. If you’re heading toward the Parkway from Brevard you can see the waterfall from the road. Coming the other way you’ll need to find a place to park along the road and walk back.

You can see the entire waterfall from the side of the road. A staircase leads to the bottom where you can get a better view, set up a chair or blanket, or splash around in the shallow water at the base.    

Brevard, NC

When visiting Brevard the one thing you should be on the lookout for is a white squirrel. They are common in this bustling mountain town and the locals love them.

Brevard calls itself the “Land of Waterfalls” and they absolutely deserve the title. There are hundreds of waterfalls to view throughout the county. The best place to see several is Dupont State Forest just outside Brevard. The 13-foot Hooker Falls is the easiest to view, and High Falls the most impressive.

Downtown Brevard is a wonderful and exciting place to explore. The beautiful streets lead to all kinds of local boutique shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Start at the corner of Main and Broad Street at O.P. Taylor’s, a local business that has been selling toys to children for a very long time. Walk down Broad Street to Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop for a burger and delicious milkshake in an old-school diner atmosphere.

READ MORE: Two Places to Find Outstanding Coffee in Brevard, North Carolina

If you want a different kind of atmosphere with your food try The Kitchn on Main Street for some fantastic food and good drink menu. Walk next door to DD Bullwinkle’s for outdoor clothing and gear, and then head across the street to visit the Brevard Brewing Company to finish off your night. More Information

Where to Stay in Brevard

Just ten minutes outside of downtown, at an area locally called The Hub, are two great hotels for spending a night or two in Brevard.

Hampton Inn is located back from the road and surrounded by woods with a peaceful outdoor swimming pool.

The Holiday Inn Express also has an outdoor swimming pool on the property wedged between US Highway 64 and Ecusta Road.

Do you enjoy camping? The Davidson River Campground has 144 campsites ranging from $22-$56/night. It’s located along the river inside Pisgah National Forest fifteen minutes from downtown Brevard.

8. Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Milepost 417

From this scenic overlook you can see the exposed rock face of Looking Glass Rock. At 3,970 feet elevation it’s a rather impressive looking rock jutting above the landscape. Just in case you were wondering: yes, it is possible to hike to the summit of that rock.

Take Highway 276 toward Brevard. Drive about 10 miles down the highway to a national forest road on the right. Turn up that road less than half a mile to a small parking area and access to the Looking Glass Rock Trail.

The 5.3-mile roundtrip hike is about as strenuous as it gets with a total 1,700’ ascent. If you’re up for the challenge the views from the top are worth it. There is a large exposed area to explore at the top. You might also meet some rock climbers while you’re up there.

Click to enlarge.

9. Graveyard Fields at Milepost 418.8

Graveyard Fields is a fascinating place to explore and also a very popular destination. There is a large parking area but those spaces are frequently taken on warm days. Although parking is usually allowed off the edge of the Parkway there are signs prohibiting that here. I have had to go as far as the John Rock Overlook about a half mile away and walk back.

The 3-mile roundtrip hike on the Graveyard Field Trail leads to two waterfalls: Second Falls and Upper Falls. Second Falls is the easiest to reach with about a 15 minute hike from the parking lot. This 55’ cascading waterfall has a lot of room around the base to sit back and enjoy an afternoon.

READ MORE: The Complete List of all National Park Service Sites (and the Ones I’ve Visited) in the U.S.

The 40’ tall Upper Falls is located at the end of an out-and-back section of the Graveyard Fields Trail. It’s an easy walk although you’re almost completely exposed; the day I took this hike I got a bit cooked from the sun and ran out of water as a result.

Yellowstone Falls is not accessible. The closet you can is the top of the falls along a section of the Mountains to Sea Trail, but it’s about a four-mile roundtrip hike from Second Falls.

10. Art Loeb Trail Parking at Milepost 421.2

This small parking area is located just above Upper Falls and offers access to the Art Loeb Trail. The 1.5-mile roundtrip hike leads to the summit of Black Balsam Knob. At 6,214’ Black Balsam Knob is a part of the Southern Sixers.

11. Black Balsam Overlook at Milepost 421.2

At the end of the spur road off the Parkway is a large parking area with a view of Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob. The 2.5-mile roundtrip hike on the Sam Knob Trail leads to the summit at 6,050’. It’s a pleasant hike with very little climbing involved along an open ridge.

The view standing atop the Devil’s Courthouse Overlook.

12. Devil’s Courthouse Overlook at Milepost 422.4

I had pulled off into the parking lot at Devil’s Courthouse Overlook for years before I finally took the hike to the top; I am so very glad I finally did.

From the parking lot you can see the rocky exposed summit of Devil’s Courthouse. The short 1-mile roundtrip hike to the summit begins along the side of the Parkway before veering off into the woods. It’s a 300’ climb to the top and can be pretty strenuous, especially the last portion across broken rocks and boulders.

READ MORE: Road Trip to the Southern Sixers

But the view from the top is just so absolutely gorgeous. The exposed top has been penned in with a stone wall. It is absolutely critical you do not climb over the wall; that area is used for nesting birds and human presence is destructive to that habitat. Just sit back and enjoy the gorgeous view from a perch on a large boulder overlooking the landscape below.

The sunset view from the Cowee Mountain Overlook is my favorite on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.

13. Cowee Mountain Overlook at Milepost 430.7

This is my favorite overlook on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The Cowee Mountain Overlook has a long, wide parking area with a beautiful uninterrupted panorama view. It’s a rather unique overlook with no trees or obstacles blocking the view that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your car.

It’s also one of my favorite places on the Parkway to watch the sunset. You can get a good sunset view here year-round.

Perfect selfie opportunity at the highest point on the Parkway, but I don’t take selfies.

14. Richland Balsam Overlook at Milepost 431.4

At 6,053′ above sea level the Richland Balsam Overlook is the highest point on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. A lone sign in a large parking area marks the significance and offers a chance for a selfie. The overlook doesn’t offer much of a view because of trees that have grown up around the edge, but it’s still a nice place to visit.

Adventurous travelers can also hike to the summit. The trailhead is located at the Haywood-Jackson Overlook at Milepost 431. The 1.5-mile loop trail is a moderate hike with a 385’ ascent to the top of Richland Balsam.

15. Highway 74/23 at Milepost 443.1

This interchange leads down to the four-lane divided Great Smoky Mountains Expressway. Heading north (turning left) leads into Waynesville in about eight miles and I-40 in fourteen miles.

Heading the other directions will lead into the small town of Sylva in about 12 miles.      

Sylva, NC

I had just finished climbing what felt like a million stairs to the top of a hill at the Jackson County Public Library and turned around to view the town. With the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background and the quaint Main Street in front of me Sylva was quite a beautiful town.

The visitor center was located at the bottom of the hill at the end of Main Street so I started there. I walked down the wide sidewalks past Mad Batter Food & Film, but unfortunately they didn’t have a movie while I was in town. At the other end of Main Street I hopped inside Balsam Falls Brewery; I think they were brand new cause everything was shiny. After sipping a few craft beers I stopped at the White Moon Coffee Shop for the anti-beer. The Friends of the Library Used Book Store was a pleasant surprise. I love exploring used book stores but I had never come across one whose collection consisted of old books from the local library.

Lulu’s on Main was a great place to get something to eat although the locals recommended I head into nearby Dillsboro for the Haywood Smokehouse. The only reason I didn’t was because the parking lot, and then one next to it, and the street parking were full. If the locals love it, you know it has to be good.

Where to Stay in Sylva

Sylva is a wonderful budget-friendly place to stay for a night or two while road tripping on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But don’t for an instant assume budget-friendly means cheap because these hotels can challenge the best of Asheville for 1/3 the price.

The Comfort Inn has a stunning view of the mountains from its perch on a hill above town. With an outdoor swimming pool and free breakfast it’s a great place to spend the night. The hotel includes King Rooms and Queen Rooms with two queen beds.

There’s nothing fancy about the Microtel Inn, but it’s also comfortable and clean. The hotel includes Queen Rooms with a single bed and Queen Rooms with two beds.

You’ll find the height of ridiculously awesome lodging at the Best Western Plus. The hotel includes King Rooms and Queen Rooms with two queen beds. But the biggest draw here are the rooms with private balconies overlooking the river and the charming riverside fire pit for guests.

See that picnic table? That’s my picnic table. Every time I visit Waterrock Knob I sit there for awhile and enjoy that gorgeous view.

16. Waterrock Knob at Milepost 451.2

Waterrock Knob has beautiful views in all directions along with a short hiking trail and a visitor center. It’s definitely a great place to visit while the fall colors are peaking and works any time of day. Come early for a stunning sunrise or stay late for a sunset, either way you’ll be amazed.

The visitor center will have someone to answer questions and a small gift shop with souvenirs and clothing. The restroom facilities are pretty nice considering how remote this overlook is on the Parkway.

The parking area has great views in all directions. It’s a wide parking area with a grassy area in the middle and picnic tables around the edge. During the peak of fall colors the parking area will fill up early with locals who come up just to see the stunning colors fade across the sky.

The Waterrock Knob Trail is a 1.2-mile roundtrip hike to the summit of the mountain. It’s a steep climb of just over 400′ in elevation but the views are worth the effort. The first 1/4-mile of the trail is paved leading to a small overlook just above the parking area. The very top has a stunning view of the local landscape, but it’s not an uninterrupted view.

South Entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway

The South Entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway is connected to Highway 441 and is actually inside the bounds of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Turn right to head into the national park and stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for park information. Turn left to head into Cherokee.

One of my favorite things to do in Cherokee is hike to Mingo Falls.

Cherokee, NC

This small town on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is overlooked too often for nearby Gatlinburg, TN or Bryson City, TN. It’s one of my favorite towns in Western North Carolina to spend a few nights.

Explore local history and culture at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and then do some shopping across the street at Qualla Arts and Crafts. Catch a performance at the outdoor drama Unto These Hills. Granny’s Kitchen serves buffet meals throughout the day and when you need a jolt of caffeine pay a visit to Qualla Java.

Where to Stay in Cherokee

The biggest draw to Cherokee is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, and that’s just a shame. The casino resort has a very nice hotel, on-site restaurants, and even a little bit of shopping. But I actually recommend a few others place to stay while visiting Cherokee.

The Cherokee/Great Smokies KOA is a fantastic riverfront campground just ten minutes from town. The campground includes several variations of cabins, RV sites with full hookups, and tent sites.

The Smokemont Campground is located just inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about five minutes from the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The campground features 142 sites for RVs and tents, but includes no hookups of any kind. There are plenty of bathroom facilities but no showers.

Baymont Inn in Cherokee is a great budget-friendly hotel. The hotel includes King Rooms and Queen Rooms with either one or two queen beds. You’ll also find an outdoor swimming pool and free breakfast.

The Super 8 in Cherokee doesn’t resemble any other Super 8 I’ve ever seen. It looks more like a condo rental, and the rooms feel like it, too. The budget-friendly hotel includes King Rooms and Queen Rooms with two queen beds. Although the free breakfast leaves a lot to be desired, the seating area in a giant sun room is just awesome.

The Cherokee Chestnut Inn is an old building but it features brand new furnishings and bedding. The big draw here is the surprisingly amazing complimentary buffet breakfast each morning. The hotel includes King Rooms and Double Rooms with two full beds.

The Holiday Inn Express is located across the street from the casino and is a guarantee for a good night. The hotel includes King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and an Executive King Suite with a sleeper sofa. You’re also treated to a free breakfast each morning.

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One Response

  1. Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Thanks

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