This 94.5-mile road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway rides along some of the lower elevations, but still offers a few exciting things to see and do. Visit a couple of local wineries, take a tour into a music known for local music, and take a walk around the iconic Mabry Mill.
- Brief History of the Blue Ridge Parkway
- What is a Milepost?
- Parking on the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Roanoke, VA
- 1. Highway 220 at Milepost 120.5
- 2. Smart View Recreation Area at Milepost 154.5
- 3. Rakes Mill Pond at Milepost 162.4
- 4. Highway 8 at Milepost 165.2
- Floyd, VA
- 5. Rocky Knob Campground at Milepost 167.5
- 6. Rocky Knob Visitor Center at Milepost 169
- Villa Appalaccia Winery
- Chateau Morrisette
- 7. Mabry Mill at Milepost 176.2
- 8. Groundhog Mountain Overlook at Milepost 189
- 9. Puckett Cabin at Milepost 190
- 10. Highway 52 at Milepost 199.5
- Hillsville, VA
- 11. The Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213
- 12. Highway 89 at Milepost 215
- Galax, VA
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
Roanoke tourism bills itself as “Virginia’s Blue Ridge” and that’s a pretty good description. The city is located in a beautiful region of Southwest Virginia and is a hub for all kinds of opportunities.
One of the most best museums to visit in Roanoke is located at the visitor center: the O. Winston Link Museum. This museum offers a fascinating exploration through the lens of photographer Link who spent a career photographing anything to do with railroads. The Market Street Walkway takes visitors across the railroad tracks into the heart of downtown. A few blocks down is the Virginia Museum of Transportation with a vast collection of cars and trains associated with Virginia history.
Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge 101 Shenandoah Avenue NE, Roanoke, VA | 540-342-6025 | https://www.visitroanokeva.com/
Where to Stay in Roanoke
The premiere hotel in this mountain city is the historic Hotel Roanoke. The Tudor style architecture makes it rather iconic, built in 1882 when the city was developing as a rail road hub. The hotel features a day spa, on-site restaurant, free on-site parking, and over three rooms.
The Hampton Inn & Suites is another fantastic downtown hotel within walking distance of many restaurants, shops, and museums. The hotel features a fantastic free breakfast, and I would recommend getting the King Suite with a sleeper sofa and private balcony overlooking the city.
The Hilton Garden Inn is located about ten minutes from downtown and closer to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The hotel features an awesome indoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, rooms with king and queen beds, and King Meeting Suite with sleeper sofa.
1. Highway 220 at Milepost 120.5
This interchange is the easiest for accessing food, gas, and lodging off the Parkway. It’s an indirect route that will lead into downtown Roanoke.
2. Smart View Recreation Area at Milepost 154.5
This small recreation area is a great place to stretch the legs after the first long drive on the Parkway. The road loops around several picnic tables and a couple of shelters. There are two restroom facilities at the recreation area.
Be sure to stop and admire the stunning view from the Trail Family Cabin. It must’ve been pretty nice to have a cabin here long ago. Imagine the night sky for a moment.
3. Rakes Mill Pond at Milepost 162.4
As far as simple pull-offs go, Rakes Mill Pond is one of the prettiest on the Parkway. All that remains of the old mill today is the dam backing up a small creek. After heavy rains the wall will spill over the top in a nice funnel of water.
4. Highway 8 at Milepost 165.2
Exit here and drive about 6 miles into the small town of Floyd, VA.
Floyd is one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of town, but I know you won’t blink because you’ll want to see this. The Floyd Country Store has become a popular destination over the years with the rise in popularity of local bluegrass music. The only time I have visited this store I found a group of maybe thirty people inside sitting in a circle playing music for hours.
There are a couple of shops with local arts and crafts for sale along Locust Street. Walk around the corner and grab something to eat at the Blue Ridge Café. After that, head back to the Parkway because you’ve seen all there is to see in Floyd.
5. Rocky Knob Campground at Milepost 167.5
The Rocky Knob Campground is one of my favorites to visit because it’s kinda in the middle of nowhere on the Parkway. Located about halfway between Roanoke and Galax, it’s in a less-frequently traveled route on the Parkway so that means less average visitors.
The campground features 81 tent sites and 28 RV sites around four loops. Each loop has a restroom facility and potable water access, however there are no showers or hookups. Loop T has pull-through sites for large RVs and travel trailers. Loop C is a “generator free” loop.
6. Rocky Knob Visitor Center at Milepost 169
The Rocky Knob Visitor Center is a reminder of something that used to be on the Blue Ridge Parkway long ago: gas stations. When the Parkway was first built in the 50s and 60s vehicles needed gasoline more frequently than now. Still, there were only a few gas stations on the Parkway even in the beginning.
Today there are no gas stations on the Parkway. This one was eventually converted into a visitor center. Inside the small one-room visitor center is a nice gift shop. There are restrooms attached to the side of the building.
Villa Appalaccia Winery
One of the newest additions to Virginia Farm Winery is Villa Appalaccia. Located just off the Parkway it’s a great place to stop for awhile, enjoy some wine in their tasting room, and admire the beautiful Italian décor.
One of the most popular wineries in Virginia, Chateau Morrisette is now run by the third generation of the same family to own the property. The magnificent tasting room is a great place to enjoy sampling their wines, take a guided tour through their production facility, and admire the architecture in the building made from reclaimed materials.
The Chateau Morrisette Restaurant next door has a full menu offering appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. They also offer their own wines by the glass or bottle. I’ve always been partial to the Red Mountain Laurel, but one of the owner’s favorites is The Black Dog.
7. Mabry Mill at Milepost 176.2
You might recognize the iconic Mabry Mill as soon as you pass it. The large grist mill with the spinning wheel beside a large pond is probably the most-photographed destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Use the large parking lot if possible, but these spots tend to disappear during warm days, holidays, and weekends. There is ample overflow parking behind the mill. Just passed the parking lot on the left (if you’re traveling south) is a turn off on the Parkway; turn left onto that road and you’ll see a large field on the right with parking.
There is a short, flat trail to walk through and around Mabry Mill. The trail begins at the end of the parking lot with a view looking straight at Mabry Mill where the traditional photos are captured (including mine). The trail crosses over the aqueduct, winds around the blacksmith shop and a few other buildings, and brings you to Mabry’s Mill. Often times during the peak season and on weekends the mill is open so you can walk inside.
The Mabry Mill Restaurant is open Monday-Thursday 7:30a.m.-5p.m. and Friday-Sunday 7:30a.m.-6p.m. Stop in for some wonderful country cooking in a comfortable atmosphere. The wait can get a little long during the peak foliage but it’s worth the wait. While you’re waiting you might want to browse the small gift shop.
8. Groundhog Mountain Overlook at Milepost 189
The Groundhog Mountain Overlook is a great place to stretch your legs and admire a beautiful view. There are picnic tables and nice restrooms located here as well.
Walk up the short trail to the two-story observation tower. The view at the top of the tower is pretty awesome over the landscape.
9. Puckett Cabin at Milepost 190
Located on the right side (heading south) of the Parkway is the small Puckett Cabin. Orelena Puckett was a midwife who delivered more than 1,000 babies during her career. Ironically, she lost all 24 of her own children during infancy. There is a short trail to walk around the property where she spent the latter half of her life.
10. Highway 52 at Milepost 199.5
This interchange will get you to Interstate 77 in 2 miles and Hillsville, VA in 8 miles.
The “downtown” of Hillsville is maybe a block long at best, but it’s still a neat town to visit if only briefly. The Hillsville Diner and Pizza Perfect on Main are a couple of good places to grab food on Main Street. Heading out of town toward Galax is The Mason Jar, a quaint country restaurant with a long bar, comfortable seating, and pretty good food (I can still taste the spiciness of the Texmex Burger).
The Southwest Virginia Farmers’ Market is located about halfway between Hillsville and Galax beside I-77. The market is open year-round with fruits, vegetables, and baked goods from locals. It’s a great place to visit for a pint of strawberries or a dozen apples.
11. The Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213
The Blue Ridge Music Center was established to preserve and display the heritage with a nice gift shop, information, and live performances throughout the year. A small museum displays all kinds of musical instruments along with the history of folk and bluegrass music.
The music center also has some restrooms and information if all you need is a quick pit stop. But as soon as you hear the iconic sound of a banjo or fiddle you’ll want to stay awhile.
12. Highway 89 at Milepost 215
From this interchange it is a 7-mile drive along a two-lane road into 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.
Visit Galax 110 East Grayson Street, Galax, VA | 276-238-8130 | https://www.visitgalax.com/
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 pizza.
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.