Road Trip No. 9

Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Galax, VA to Blowing Rock, NC

Visit a few rustic, historic cabins, enjoy some breathtaking overlooks, and do a little bit of hiking on this Blue Ridge Parkway road trip.

Written by

Jason Barnette

on

April 19, 2019

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Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trips

This blog post is Part 4 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.

Did you know there are dozens of historic, rustic cabins along the Blue Ridge Parkway? The 77-mile section of the Parkway between Galax, Virginia and Blowing Rock, North Carolina includes a few of those cabins. Along this road trip you’ll also discover the hidden destination of West Jefferson, hike to some waterfall, go fly a kite, and enjoy some stunning scenic beauty.

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

Galax, VA

Galax is a small town that bills itself as the “Gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway.” It’s a beautiful town with baskets full of flowers hanging from the lampposts along the clean sidewalks.

The small town is host to the annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention. Hundreds of festival attendees and performers descend on the small town each spring for the convention packed with live music literally on every corner in town.

What to Do in Galax

The Galax Visitor’s Center is right in the middle of town and makes a great first stop to learn about the town. Barr’s Fiddle Shop has been around since forever and still sells fiddles along with other musical instruments. Chapters Bookshop is one of the small locally owned bookstores that makes you want to find a comfy chair and read a good book for awhile, though I recommend buying the book first.

The Rex Theatre opened its doors as a movie theater are 1939. In the 90s the theater was purchased by the Galax Downtown Merchants Association, completely renovated and revitalized, and in 1999 began broadcasting the annual Blue Ridge Backroads Live. The live musical show featuring bluegrass music begins every Saturday night at 7pm.

Where to Eat in Galax

If you’re just a tad bit hungry you can find some great food at the Twisted Fork Bistro or Galax Smokehouse. Both offer full menus with lots of options like sandwiches, pasta, and BBQ. My favorite place to eat in Galax is the recently-opened Creek Bottom Brewing Company. This local restaurant and brewery always has some good craft beer on tap and a brick oven for some fantastic wood fired

Where to Stay in Galax

There are only two hotels in Galax I would recommend, but there are three more at Exit 14 off Interstate 77 about fifteen minutes from town (and thirty minutes from the Parkway).

My top recommendation in Galax is the Hampton Inn on Cranberry Road. The hotel is just around the corner from the local restaurants and shopping, it has a small but nice indoor swimming pool, and they have a King Room with sleeper sofa for families.

The Doctor’s Inn Bed and Breakfast is a charming place to stay. The B&B is located in an historic home built by the town’s founders. It’s walking distance to the restaurants and shops and the rooms are the very definition of homey.

At the interstate the Holiday Inn Express is definitely a comfortable hotel. The small but nice indoor swimming pool features handicap access. The hotel features King and Queen Suites with a sleeper sofa for families.

The Hampton Inn beside the interstate has the largest indoor swimming pool of any hotel in the area. The hotel also features suites with sleeper sofas for families and a fantastic free breakfast.

The top budget hotel in the area is the Super 8. I don’t normally recommend these, but this particular hotel is rather fantastic. Interior access to the rooms, completely remodeled rooms with new furnishings, and gorgeous black and white photos of the Parkway hanging over the beds.

1. Highway 89 at Milepost 215

From this interchange it is a 7-mile drive along a two-lane road into Galax, VA.

2. Cumberland Knob at Milepost 217.5

This is the first (or last depending on which way you travel this road trip) stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The small recreation area has picnic table scattered around a short loop road and restrooms.

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

There is a large open field to let children and pets play for awhile. A short loop hiking trail crosses the field and into the forest to a hidden covered shelter. It was a wonderful surprise after an early morning hike when I visit in the fall one year.

3. Fox Hunter’s Paradise Overlook at Milepost 218.6

Remember when I told you about those hidden scenic overlooks, like the one back at Thunder Ridge? When you pull off the Parkway at the Fox Hunter’s Paradise Overlook you’ll see a pretty nice view from the parking area.

But the real treat is further ahead on a spur road at the end of the parking lot. The short drive takes less than a minute to an additional park area beneath the trees. Take the trail out to another scenic overlook with a stunning view of the nearby mountains in one direction and valley in the other.

Click to enlarge.

4. Brinegar Cabin at Milepost 239

In 1876 Martin and Caroline Brinegar purchased this land, built the cabin and several other buildings, and began clearing the mountain side for farming. Today the cabin and a few other remaining buildings are some of the coolest historic structures on the Parkway, and certainly the oldest.

READ MORE: 35 Favorite Travel Photos From the Blue Ridge Parkway

A short, paved path leads from the parking lot down to the original cabin. During peak seasons on the weekends there will be an interpreter at the cabin and it will be open for visitors to explore.

5. Doughton Park Campground at Milepost 240.5

The Dougton Park Campground is one of the largest on the Parkway with 110 tent sites and 25 RV sites. Each loop in the campground includes restrooms and potable water supply. None of the sites have any hookups, and there are no showers.

6. Doughton Park at Milepost 241.1

Dougton Park is a large recreation area along the Parkway that includes Brinegar Cabin, a picnic area, one of the best scenic overlooks, and a couple of hiking trails.

Wildcat Rock Overlook completely took me by surprise. It’s located at the end of a parking lot on the left after entering Doughton Park. There are a set of steps to climb to the overlook where I found one of the most breathtaking views on the Parkway. When I returned the next summer I strung up a hammock and spent a couple of hours there.

READ MORE: Where to Find the Visitor Centers on the Blue Ridge Parkway

After entering Doughton Park turn right to follow a long road through the picnic area. There are dozens of picnic tables and covered shelters along the road with plenty of parking spaces. There are also restrooms located along the road.

At the end of the road is a loop with parking spaces and access to the Bluff Ridge Primitive Trail. A short 0.4-mile hike leads to a covered shelter. From there the 2.8-mile trail to the left leads to the bottom of the mountain at an old forestry service fire road. To the right of the shelter the trail continues 3.5 miles paralleling the Parkway past a couple of scenic overlooks.

7. Northwest Trading Post at Milepost 258.6

This is one of those places along the Parkway I never pass and one of my favorite places to visit. They have restrooms so at the very least it might be a good pit stop.

Inside the large building they have a deli where the friendly ladies will make a sandwich exactly as you like it, and those sandwiches have always been good. While you’re waiting for the food take a walk through the large gift shop. They have a few items made from local artisans and a bevy of souvenir items.

8. Highway 16 at Milepost 261

From this interchange it is an easy 11-mile drive along Highway 16 to the cute town of West Jefferson, NC.

West Jefferson, NC

The small town of West Jefferson is one of those hidden gems you’ll be glad you visited. The town is a great place to do some local shopping, find someplace to eat, or maybe even spend a night or two.

I love used bookstores so I was thrilled to find the Browse About Book Exchange on Main Street. They had an interesting way of pricing their used books, but I won’t spoil it. Across the street at the Candy Shack Café I enjoyed a nice lunch and two scoops of ice cream.

If you want to sit down for a full meal try Black Jack’s Pub & Grill or Boondocks Brewing Tap Room & Restaurant.

Visit West Jefferson 1 South Jefferson Avenue, West Jefferson, NC | 336-246-3560 | https://visitwestjefferson.org/

Where to Stay in West Jefferson

The Holiday Inn Express is the only hotel I would recommend in West Jefferson and it’s a good one! Indoor swimming pool, fantastic free breakfast, and comfortable rooms would make this a great sleepover.

9. The Lump Overlook at Milepost 264.4

The Lump is an interesting overlook because it’s exactly that: a massive lump on the ground. A very easy 0.2-mile trail leads through the wafting grasses to the top of the lump for a pretty nice view. It’s a popular place for people to go fly a kite. I wonder if someone told them to do that?

10. Mt. Jefferson Overlook at Milepost 266.8

From this overlook you can see Mount Jefferson rising abruptly in the distance. It stands nearly 1,600 feet above the local landscape so it’s hard to miss.

The Mount Jefferson State Natural Area covers the mountain with hiking trails and scenic overlooks. The road leads almost the top at a parking area with a few picnic tables. Hike the strenuous 0.3-mile Summit Trail to reach the Mount Jefferson Summit and then continue another 1.1-miles along the Rhododendron Trail to Luther Rock.

11. E.B. Jeffress Park at Milepost 271.9

I don’t know how many times I passed this small park before discovering the secret waterfall. It’s not exactly a well-kept secret because I think the sign in the parking lot points toward the waterfall, but I never paid attention to it.

From the parking lot a moderate 0.8-mile trail starts out across a ridge before descending to a couple of scenic overlooks beside Cascade Falls. The first scenic overlook is directly beside the top of the falls, and the second is further down but doesn’t have as good a view of the waterfall.

12. Cool Springs Baptist Church & Jesse Brown Cabin at Milepost 272.4

Driving south on the Parkway you’ll see the Jesse Brown Cabin on the left side of the road without any parking. Continue just ahead to find a long parking lot. A short trail leads through the forest back to the large field where you’ll find the two log structures.

A large sign gives some information about traveling preachers in the 1800s. The two log homes located in this field are original structures, but not originally at this location.

13. Raven Rocks Overlook at Milepost 289.5

Raven Rocks is one of the prettiest overlooks because of the exposed rocks at the edge of the Parkway. A rustic wooden fence is in place, but people always seem to jump over and walk out on the rocks. The view looks westward across nearby Highway 321 and is a great place to watch sunset almost year-round.

14. Thunder Hill Overlook at Milepost 290.5

The first time I ever stopped at this scenic overlook was about thirty minutes before sunrise. I was hoping to capture a beautiful photo from one of the best scenic overlooks around the Boone area. But as time ticked on that morning I began to realize I wouldn’t be seeing a sunrise because of a fog so thick I couldn’t see the other side of the small parking lot.

I have returned on a clear day and the view from this overlook is stunning. It provides a nearly 180-degree uninterrupted panorama view of the local landscape. Walk across the Parkway to see a pretty nice view in the other direction as well.

15. Highway 321/221 at Milepost 292.1

From this interchange onto Highway 321/221 it is 7 miles to Boone and 4 miles into Blowing Rock.

Boone, NC

Home of Appalachian State University, Boone is a town that has grown into a small city over the years. It’s also one of the most popular destinations in Western North Carolina.

Just off the Parkway is Tweetsie Railroad, a nice place to go especially if you have kids. High Gravity Adventures, Horn in the West, and Mystery Hill will give you a few other things to do while you’re in town.

Head downtown along King Street to find lots of shops with local arts and crafts or pop inside the Mast General Store.

There is always one truth about college towns: they have great local food. The downtown area has everything from country cooking to BBQ, bagel shops and coffee shops for breakfast, and everything else in between.

Where to Stay in Boone

I’m always a fan of Hampton Inn. This location in Boone has an indoor swimming pool and rather nice free breakfast each day. The hotel includes King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and a King Room with a sleeper sofa perfect for families.

Sleep Inn is an excellent budget-friendly option in Boone. The hotel has a rather nice outdoor swimming pool and free breakfast each day. You’ll find King Rooms and Double Rooms with two double beds here.

The Holiday Inn Express in Boone is always a good place to stay. You’ll find an outdoor swimming pool and free breakfast each day. The hotel includes King Rooms and Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and some of the rooms have private balconies.

Blowing Rock, NC

Boone is fantastic, but I have found it getting crowded the last few times I have visited. That is why I prefer staying in Blowing Rock during my road trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This charming small mountain town has a packed downtown with lots to see and do.

Start with the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum that also serves as the visitor center for the town. Walk the four or five blocks of Main Street to the other end at Camp Coffee Roasters for a great place to relax with a hot coffee or tea.

When you get a little hungry I have always found the food at Six Pence Pub and Storie Street Grille delicious and amazing. A place I haven’t been yet is Blowing Rock Brewing but I’ve heard nothing but great things about this craft brewery with a pretty awesome burger menu.

Before leaving be sure to visit The Blowing Rock attraction. Located just outside of town on Highway 321, this mountain top attraction has a gift shop and easy hiking trail to a couple of stunning scenic overlooks. You can learn about the legend behind the name of the town and see Grandfather Mountain in the distance.

Where to Stay in Blowing Rock

Cliff Dwellers Inn is an amazing place to stay with a family while road tripping the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s located on Valley Road just outside downtown Blowing Rock. The hotel includes King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and the Family Suite with two queen beds and a twin bed, perfect for families.

The Bob Timberlake Inn, located at the Chetola Resort, would be a luxurious place to stay in Blowing Rock. The inn features an indoor swimming pool and on-site bar. The King Rooms and Queen Rooms, each with just one bed, includes a spa bath.

Meadowbrook Inn is the best place to stay in Blowing Rock for walking to all the shops and restaurants on Main Street. The hotel has an awesome indoor swimming pool and free breakfast is included for each room. The hotel includes King Rooms, Standard Rooms with two double beds, and several suites with a king bed and sleeper sofa.

Just in case you’re familiar with the brand, the Holiday inn Express is a great place to stay. Rooms on the backside of the hotel have gorgeous views across Blowing Rock and toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. The hotel includes King Rooms, Queen Rooms with two queen beds, and a King Room with a sleeper sofa and spa bath.

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