Road Trip No. 6

Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Everything you need to know to road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway across North Carolina and Virginia.

Written by

Jason Barnette

on

April 18, 2019

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The Blue Ridge Parkway is my favorite drive in the country. Of course, a lot of writers and photographers say that. But I have the means to back up my opinion because when I sat down to craft a road trip itinerary for the Parkway I couldn’t stop writing.

I wanted to include almost every scenic overlook, hiking trail, and point of interest along the 469-mile Parkway. About 5,000 words into writing that itinerary, I realized I was writing a travel guide to the entire Parkway that had already been done.

So instead, I whittled down the list of stops to include only the best views from scenic overlooks, most exciting trails to hike, and most intriguing points of interest to visit. This road trip itinerary is the culmination of years and approximately 3,000 miles I have driven on the Parkway. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do every time I drive it.

Road Trip Details

Distance: 469 miles

Time: 3-6 days

Itinerary: 50 stops

Brief History

During construction of Shenandoah National Park, U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd from Virginia pitched an idea to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. What if they built a national scenic highway connecting Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Initially called the Appalachian Scenic Highway, construction began in 1935 under the supervision of the Works Progress Administration. In 1936 Congress formally authorized the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway and placed it under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

Progress was made through the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and private contractors for the next thirty years. In 1966 the Parkway was complete except for a 7.7-mile section around Grandfather Mountain that would become known as “The Missing Link.” When the Linn Cove Viaduct was completed in 1987, the entire Parkway was finally finished, 52 years after construction began.

What is a Milepost?

Mileposts on the Blue Ridge Parkway mark overlooks, visitor centers, and intersections. These are literally posts, made of concrete, with a number etched on the surface to indicate how many miles from Waynesboro, Virginia. The mileposts mark every full mile from Waynesboro to Cherokee, North Carolina.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains

From Milepost 0 in Waynesboro to Milepost 217 in Galax, this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the relatively low-lying ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains across Southwest Virginia.

Click to enlarge.

Destination

Waynesboro, VA

Located between Shenandoah National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, the small town of Waynesboro is what you call being in the right place at the right time. Learn about the history of the Shenandoah Valley at the Waynesboro Heritage Museum or take a walk through the three historic districts.

Like a lot of other towns all across America, there is a bustling craft brewery scene. Stable Craft Brewery started in 2016 with a large tasting room inside an old converted barn, and Basic City Beer Company is located inside a renovated iron foundry.

Any day started at Farmhaus Coffee Company will be a good day in Waynesboro. They have a great selection of coffee, along with scones, muffins, and croissants. The Fishin’ Pig is the best place in town to find savory barbecue and seafood with a ginormous menu with plenty of great options. Seven Arrows Brewing Company is one of my favorite places in town because you can enjoy their craft beer while also chowing down on wings, wraps, and sandwiches from Nobos Kitchen.

Visit Waynesboro 301 West Main Street, Waynesboro, VA | 540-942-6512 | www.visitwaynesboro.net/

Visit Waynesboro
301 West Main Street, Waynesboro, VA
540-942-6512
www.visitwaynesboro.net/

Where to Stay in Waynesboro

Exit 94 off Interstate 64 is a great place to spend a night while traveling through Waynesboro. There are a few good hotels here and it’s just ten minutes from downtown in one direction and the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway in another.

Residence Inn is my top recommendation for families in town. The hotel has a King Studio room with a king bed and sleeper sofa, and a 2 Room Suite with a king bed and sleeper sofa. Each room includes a kitchenette and everything you would need to prepares some meals.

Holiday Inn Express is always a sure bet. This hotel has quite a few rooms to choose from and includes a rather nice breakfast in the morning.

Best Western Plus is my top recommendation for general travelers. The hotel includes a really nice indoor swimming pool, rooms with king and queen beds, and a free breakfast.

Intersection

North Entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Getting to the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Waynesboro is simple. Take Exit 99 from Interstate 64, turn right onto Rockfish Gap Parkway, and then another right onto the Parkway access road.

Stop No. 1

Humpback Rocks Visitor Center at Milepost 5.8

The Humpback Rocks Visitor Center is the first place you’ll find information about the Blue Ridge Parkway on this road trip. Even if you already have everything you need, it’s a great first stop. The visitor center includes a small information desk, gift shop, and a place to collect your National Park Passport stamp.

The Outdoor Farm Museum is a short walk from the visitor center parking lot. The outdoor exhibit includes a frontier house that was ordered from a mail-order catalog.

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

Stop No. 2

Humpback Rocks Trail at Milepost 6

The Humpback Rocks Trail begins at the Humpback Gap Parking Area. The 1.6-mile out and back hike on the trail is pretty strenuous with a nearly 800’ ascent to Humpback Rocks. The exposed rocky outcropping offers a gorgeous vista and plenty of places to sit back and enjoy the view.

Insider Tip

Whenever I want to go for a hike the planning begins with AllTrails. Their website and app are my favorite tools for discovering hiking trails, getting information on length and elevation changes, and creating lists to remember my favorites. Visit my AllTrails profile to see browse through my Blue Ridge Parkway List of favorite hiking trails.

Download the app on iOS or Android.

Stop No. 3

Ravens Roost Overlook at Milepost 10.7

The first time I visited this scenic overlook, it took my breath away. Ravens Roost Overlook is one of my favorite scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

A stone wall at the edge of the overlook invites you to sit awhile and enjoy the panorama view of the mountains and Shenandoah Valley beyond. But that’s not all the wonder to enjoy here. Tucked away on a ledge nearby is a lone tree that is a frequent photographic subject because of the view. It’s the perfect place to string up a hammock and take a nap for an hour or two.

READ MORE: The Complete List of National Park Service Sites in the U.S.

Stop No. 4

Twenty Minute Cliff at Milepost 19

The Twenty Minute Cliff Overlook stands on a rocky outcropping overlooking the landscape to the south of the Parkway. The name comes from a local story that the residents of White Rock can measure time using the cliffs above. During the summer months, when sunlight hits the exposed cliffs, the residents know the sun will set in twenty minutes.

Stop No. 5

Yankee Horse Ridge at Milepost 34.4

I almost missed one of the most intriguing and peaceful stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway. When you pull up to Yankee Horse Ridge, there is no sweeping vista of the mountains or historic buildings to explore. But there is a set of stairs.

Walk up those stairs to see a reconstructed section of the Irish Creek Railway. The narrow-gauge railroad was used during the logging days in the mountains. The 200’ long section crosses a short bridge over Wigwam Creek and trails off into the woods for a relaxing walk to stretch your legs.

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

Intersection

Highway 60 at Milepost 45.6

This is the end of the road for the day if you stick to traveling just this section. From here, it is a windy 5 miles into Buena Vista, a small town to visit and home to Southern Virginia University. From there, it’s another five miles to Lexington on Interstate 81 and a great place to spend the night.

Destination

Lexington, VA

The bustling country city of Lexington has been around since the 1700s when Main Street was part of the Great Wagon Road. Today the historic town is home to Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute and a core downtown that almost appear to have not changed since the beginning.

The best way to spend an evening getting to know Lexington is with a horse-drawn carriage tour with Lexington Carriage Company. They’ll tell you all about the history of this town and point out some great places to visit like the Stonewall Jackson House. Stop by the visitor center and pick a map to enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the historic area.

Talk a stroll through downtown Lexington to browse locally made arts and crafts in various galleries and shops. Grab a table at The Red Hen, a “farm to table” restaurant, or Bistro on Main for some fantastic food in comfortable atmospheres.

Lexington & Rockbridge Area Tourism 106 E. Washington Street, Lexington, VA | 540-463-3777 | https://lexingtonvirginia.com/

Lexington & Rockbridge Area Tourism
106 E. Washington Street, Lexington, VA
540-463-3777
https://lexingtonvirginia.com/

Where to Stay in Lexington

Located on Main Street and walking distance to everything, The Robert E. Lee Hotel is my top recommendation for place to stay in Lexington. The hotel features free on-site parking, breakfast included with the room, and rooms with king and queen beds and a King Suite with sleeper sofa.

Hampton Inn is also located in the downtown historic district. The cozy hotel features a nice outdoor swimming pool with hot tub, free on site parking, and and rooms including one or two king or queen beds.

Country Inn & Suites is located at Exit 55 off Interstate 64. It’s a fantastic place to stay with an indoor swimming pool, good breakfast included with the room, and king and queen bedrooms.

Best Western Plus is located at the same interstate exit about ten minutes from downtown Lexington. The hotel features an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, breakfast included with the room, and a Queen Room with two queen beds and sleeper sofa, making this perfect for families.

Intersection

Highway 60 at Milepost 45.6

From this intersection it is just 5 miles along a curvy road into the town of Buena Vista, VA and then an additional five miles into Lexington. You can also access I-81 just before reaching Lexington.

Tunnel

Bluff Mountain Tunnel at Milepost 52.5

There are twenty-five tunnels along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the Bluff Mountain Tunnel is the only one located in Virginia. At just 630’ long, you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel before entering the other end. The tunnel has a clearance of 13’7”.

Did You Know?

Stanley Abbott, the manager in charge of designing and building the Blue Ridge Parkway, was adamant the road leave as little scar on the landscape as possible. Whenever possible, instead of cutting through a ridge he opted to bore a tunnel. 36% of all the tunnels in the National Park Service are located on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Stay

Otter Creek Campground at Milepost 60.8

The Otter Creek Campground is one of the smaller campgrounds along the Parkway with only 42 tent sites and 26 RV sites. The wooded campground is built around two loops, each with a restroom facility and access to drinking water. However, true to most of the campgrounds on the Parkway, there are no showers or hookups.

Stay

Lynchburg/Blue Ridge Parkway KOA

The Lynchburg/Blue Ridge Parkway KOA is just minutes from the Parkway. The mostly wooded campsites are perfect for tents or RVs with full hook-ups available. Along with a swimming pool, catch and release fishing pond, laundry, and showers, this would be a great place to spend a night.

Stop No. 6

Otter Lake Overlook at Milepost 63.1

The man-made Otter Lake is fed by water from the top of a nearby mountain. A short hiking trail leads to the gorgeous stone dam where water frequently spills over the top. Head further downstream to find a set of stone steps across the creek; this is the 3.5-mile Otter Creek Trail that leads one direction to the campground and the other direction to the James River Visitor Center.

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

Stop No. 7

James River Visitor Center at Milepost 63.7

At just 650’ above sea level, the bridge crossing the James River is the lowest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just before the bridge, the James River Visitor Center has restrooms, brochures, and a park ranger on duty during regular business hours.

Three trails at the visitor center give you a chance to stretch your legs. My favorite of the three was the 0.4-mile Canal Lock Trail that follows a pedestrian path beneath the vehicular bridge across the James River to the remnants of an old lock. The 0.4-mile The Trail of Trees Trail loops around the forest not far from the visitor center. The 3.5-mile Otter Creek Trail leads back to Otter Lake and eventually the campground.

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

Stop No. 8

Thunder Ridge Overlook at Milepost 74.7

The Thunder Ridge Overlook is deceptive, and I almost didn’t get out of the car. But if you walk a short path through the woods, less than five minutes, you’ll arrive at one of the most breathtaking scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A semi-circular stone wall gives way to an endless view of the valleys and mountains to the west of the Parkway. It’s just as peaceful as it is beautiful, but if you happen to hear murmurs in the forest it’s probably only hikers on the Appalachian Trail just below the overlook.

Stop No. 9

6. Apple Orchard Mountain Overlook at Milepost 76.5

Ironically the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is just 13 miles from the lowest point in the state. At 3,950’ the Apple Orchard Mountain Overlook is as high as you’ll get on the Parkway in the state.

Stop No. 10

Peaks of Otter at Milepost 86

With the peak of Sharp Top jutting into the air high above Abbott Lake, it’s easy to see why the Peaks of Otter is one of the most picturesque places on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Peaks of Otter Lodge is one of just two lodges located on the Parkway and the only lodge on the Parkway in Virginia. All 63 rooms feature a view of Abbott Lake along with full hotel amenities. The Lake View Restaurant is open to the public for dinner with a fantastic view.

Just on the other side of the lake, the Peaks of Otter Campground offers 144 sites with 58 designated for RVs. Restrooms and drinking water are located near the middle of each loop; however, there are no showers or hookups.

A quarter-mile down the Parkway is the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center. Hop inside to find restrooms, drinking water, and a nice gift shop.

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

Did You Know?

The Peaks of Otter is a valley surrounded by three peaks: 4,001’ Flat Top, 3,875’ Sharp Top, and 3,372’ Harkening Hill. The valley was settled by immigrants from Scotland in 1766 and remained a small but populated area until the Blue Ridge Parkway was built in 1935.

Hiking

My favorite place to go for a hike at Peaks of Otter is the 1-mile Abbott Lake Loop Trail along a paved path. The 1.8-mile Johnson Farm Loop Trail leads to a historic farm settled in the 1800s by the last family to live at Peaks of Otter before the Parkway was built. The 3.3-mile Harkening Hill Trail is a moderately strenuous hike to a gorgeous scenic overlook at Balance Rock.

The most popular and challenging hike at the Peaks of Otter is the 1.5-mile Sharp Top Trail to the summit of the mountain high above. A shuttle from the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center will drive hikers to a drop off a quarter-mile from the summit, but the final 1,000’ ascent is achieved through foot power.

Destination

Bedford, VA

Take VA Highway 43 at Milepost 86 off the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit Bedford, Virginia. The 11-mile drive will bring you into the town Thomas Jefferson frequently visited after leaving office. In 1773 Jefferson’s wife, Martha inherited the Poplar Forest plantation, and in 1806 the couple built the octagonal house visitors can tour today.

One of Bedford’s greatest hidden gems is The National D-Day Memorial. With the Blue Ridge Mountains looming in the distance, a short trek on Overlord Drive brings you to the only memorial in the country dedicated to those who lost their lives during D-Day in World War II.

Head downtown to do a little meandering along Main Street and shopping in the local stores. For food, you’ll find everything from steak to seafood and dessert to coffee. I recommend Town Kitchen and Provisions for one of their gourmet deli sandwiches or the varied menu at Olde Liberty Station, located inside the historic railroad station.

Destination Bedford, Virginia 816 Burks Hill Road, Bedford, VA | 877-447-3257 | https://destinationbedfordva.com/

Destination Bedford, Virginia
816 Burks Hill Road, Bedford, VA
877-447-3257
https://destinationbedfordva.com/

Stop No. 11

Virginia’s Explore Park at Milepost 115

Although not owned by the National Park Service, I always stop at Virginia’s Explore Park. The official Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center has information on the Parkway as well as the greater Roanoke region.

The visitor center features a nifty 3D map showing the route of the Parkway along the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Virginia. The large gift shop next door is one of the best on the Parkway and a place I always seem to find something I want.

Explore Park, operated by Roanoke County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism continues to grow a little bit every year. Some of the latest additions to the park are pod cabins, yurts, and glamping tents. Along with tent sites and RV sites in the campground, there are plenty of ways to spend a night.

The 0.17-mile Journeys End Trail leads to a hidden frontier settlement preserved at Explore Park. The easy hiking trail winds through the forest, across open fields around several historic structures, and takes about half an hour to finish.

Stop No. 12

Roanoke Mountain Road at Milepost 120.3

The 3.7-mile Roanoke Mountain Road leads to one of my favorite hidden scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The one-lane, one-way road is easy to miss, so keep a keen eye out for the sign pointing in the right direction.

As the road steadily climbs the mountain, you’ll come to the Mill Mountain Overlook. Walk down a couple of stone steps to a scenic overlook straddled by trees and covered in their shade. The overlook offers a view of nearby Mill Mountain in silence and serenity and instantly became one of my favorite views on the Parkway.

Continue the drive to a loop around the top to find the Roanoke Mountain Overlook. It’s a beautiful view away from the city lights and a great place to spend quiet summer evenings. A short 15-minute hike from the parking lot leads to the summit of the mountain, but there is no observation deck or view to be seen.

Intersection

Mill Mountain Parkway at Milepost 120.4

The 2.4-mile Mill Mountain Parkway is a spur road off the Blue Ridge Parkway leading into downtown Roanoke. It’s the preferred route off the Parkway into the city because of Mill Mountain.

I’ll never forget the first time I drove to the end of the Mill Mountain Spur Road, walked around the hilltop to an observation deck, and found myself standing with downtown Roanoke spread out in front of me and the Mill Mountain Star looming large behind. The enormous star was built in 1949 by downtown merchants as a Christmas decoration and marketing ploy. Still, it became so popular the city decided to make it a permanent addition to the mountain top.

The Mill Mountain Zoo is one of the smallest zoos I’ve ever visited, but definitely worth the time and investment. Habitats shaded by massive trees are home to wildlife that was once native to the region such as bobcats.

Did You Know?

Knoxville, Tennessee is considered the “Red Panda Capital of the World”. Zoo Knoxville is the location of the most extensive red panda breeding program that provides most of the red pandas to zoos around the world, including the ones at the Mill Mountain Zoo.

Destination

Roanoke, VA

Located in the Roanoke River Valley at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke is the largest city in Southwest Virginia and a booming hub for outdoor recreation. Roanoke has become known as “America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital” because of various biking trails.

The best place to stay in Roanoke is the historic Hotel Roanoke. The Tudor-style hotel was built in 1882 when the N&W Railroad first came to the city. Today the top-rated hotel has over three hundred rooms, on-site restaurant, day-spa, and its located on the edge of downtown puts everything within walking distance.

Across the street, the O. Winston Link Museum offers a fascinating look through the lens of the photographer who spent most of his career capturing photos of life on the railroads. It’s one of my favorite museums in the country, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a photographer, too!

The Market Street Walkway is a pedestrian path crossing the active railroad into downtown. A few blocks down the street, the Virginia Museum of Transportation has a vast collection of cars and trains associated with Virginia’s history, including a few railroad cars to explore behind the museum. If you want the best burger in town, maybe the state, head over to Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint on Market Street.

Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge 101 Shenandoah Avenue NE, Roanoke, VA | 540-342-6025 | https://www.visitroanokeva.com/

Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge
101 Shenandoah Avenue NE, Roanoke, VA
540-342-6025
https://www.visitroanokeva.com/

Where to Stay in Roanoke

The premier hotel in this mountain city is the historic Hotel Roanoke. The Tudor style architecture makes it somewhat iconic, built in 1882, when the city was developing as a railroad hub. The hotel features a day spa, on-site restaurant, free on-site parking, and over three rooms.

Hampton Inn & Suites is another fantastic downtown hotel within walking distance of many restaurants, shops, and museums. The hotel features an excellent free breakfast, and I would recommend getting the King Suite with a sleeper sofa and a private balcony overlooking the city.

Hilton Garden Inn is located about ten minutes from downtown and closer to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The hotel features an excellent indoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, rooms with king and queen beds, and King Meeting Suite with sleeper sofa.

Stop No. 13

Smart View Recreation Area at Milepost 154.5

The 500-acre Smart View Recreation Area, about 30 miles south of Roanoke, is the first scenic stop after leaving the Star City behind. With over 40 picnic tables, drinking water, and a couple covered shelters, and it’s a great place to stop for a while and maybe enjoy a picnic. Be sure to admire the “smart view” from the Trail Family Cabin on the way to the picnic area.

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

Destination

Floyd, VA

At Milepost 165.2 exit onto VA Highway 8 and drive a few miles north to visit the beautiful small town of Floyd. It takes less than five minutes to drive through the entire town and not much longer to casually walk it, but during that walk you’ll find some great local stores.

The Floyd Country Store has become infamous over the years as host of the Friday Night Jamboree. The weekly event brings local musicians to the small country store with a large dance floor in between the aisles of groceries. Some people call the type of music they play Bluegrass, but around there they just call it Appalachian Music.

Stay

Rocky Knob Campground at Milepost 167.5

Rocky Knob Campground is located about halfway between Roanoke and Galax, making it the best choice for spending the night if you’ve been driving since Waynesboro. The campground has 81 campsites for tents and RVs. Restrooms facilities and drinking water are located throughout the campground.

Stop No. 14

Rocky Knob Recreation Area at Milepost 169

Stretching from Milepost 166 – 173, the Rocky Knob Recreation Area is one of the most geologically diverse areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway. High elevation meadows and craggy pinnacles give way to the 1,800’ deep Rock Castle Gorge. The 10.4-mile roundtrip Rock Castle Gorge Trail begins at the campground, descends over a thousand feet to the bottom of the gorge, then slowly ascends nearly 1,800’ to the summit Rocky Knob.

The Rocky Knob Visitor Center is a reminder of something that used to exist on the Parkway: gas stations. There are no current service stations on the Parkway, but this visitor center is located inside what used to be one a long time ago. The Rocky Knob Picnic Area is walking distance away with dozens of picnic tables and an easy loop trail to enjoy.

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

Point of Interest

Chateau Morrisette

David and Melissa Morrisette are the third generation of the family to operate Chateau Morrisette Winery. The gorgeous tasting room, built with reclaimed materials from various barns throughout the area, is inviting with stone walls and exposed wooden rafters. The owners’ love of their dogs is apparent with a picture of one of their furry companions on every bottle of wine.

Chateau Morrisette Restaurant offers a full menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. You can order their wines by the glass or bottle at the restaurant.

Stop No. 15

Mabry Mill at Milepost 176.2

Despite all the panoramas of mountains across the horizon, if the Blue Ridge Parkway were to have a single image everyone would recognize it would probably be Mabry Mill. Built in 1905 by Ed and Lizzie Mabry, the grist mill with a giant waterwheel on the side and a small pond in front, is iconic and beautiful. A short, paved path crosses the recently reconstructed aqueduct and around several historic buildings beside the mill.

Mabry Mill Restaurant is open seasonally and offers the best breakfast you’ll find anywhere on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The popular restaurant can have a bit of a wait for a table, but that just gives you time to peruse the gift shop before sitting down for your meal.

Stop No. 16

Groundhog Mountain Overlook at Milepost 189

The tall observation tower resembling a tobacco barn at the Groundhog Mountain Overlook offers one of the most gorgeous views on the Parkway. Surrounded by a grassy field and an old-fashioned handcrafted fence, with Groundhog Mountain off in the distance, it’s hard to know if the observation tower is meant for viewing or photographing; I suggest both.

Stop No. 17

Puckett Cabin at Milepost 190

The small Puckett Cabin on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the hundreds of historic buildings preserved along the road, but this one has an intriguing story behind it. Orelena Puckett lived in this cabin while working as a midwife throughout the area. During her lifetime she delivered over 1,000 babies, but sadly lost all of her children during infancy.

Destination

Hillsville, VA

At Milepost 199.5, take US Highway 52 north eight miles to the small town of Hillsville. The “downtown” area is a block long at best, but on that short block you’ll find fantastic food at The Hillsville Diner and Pizza Perfect. If you decide to take US Highway 58 toward the interstate highway or Galax, you’ll pass The Mason Jar, a quaint country restaurant and home of the Texmex Burger.

The Courthouse Tragedy

On March 14, 1912, locals packed into the small Carroll County Courthouse to watch the trial and sentencing of Floyd Allen. A week earlier, Allen had been arrested for assaulting the sheriff’s deputies when they arrested two of Allen’s nephews.

On that fateful day, the judge found Allen guilty of assault and sentenced him to a year in prison. Allen stood and very calmly stated, “Gentlemen, I just ain’t a-goin’.” To this day, nobody knows who fired the first shot, but five minutes later 57 bullets had flown through the courtroom, killing the judge, prosecutor, sheriff, and two others.

If you visit the historic courthouse today, you can still see two bullet holes in the wooden staircase, the last two bullets Floyd Allen ever fired.

Stop No. 18

The Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213

The Blue Ridge Music Center was established to preserve and display the musical heritage of the region. Banjos, guitars, and fiddles displayed inside glass cases are accented with videos of Bluegrass music. Visit on a Friday or Saturday night and you might be able to hear some live Bluegrass with an outdoor concert.

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

Destination

Galax, VA

The “Gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway,” Galax is also known as the host of the Old Fiddler’s Convention. The annual event brings hundreds of performers and thousands of visitors to the small country town for live music and jam sessions around every corner.

Barr’s Fiddle Shop has been serving musicians in the area for decades with their fine collection of guitars, fiddles, and other musical equipment and accessories. Just around the corner, Chapters Bookshop is a rare locally owned bookstore with an excellent selection of books on local history and travel. If you spend a night in town, check out what’s playing at The Rex Theatre, a historic movie theater built in 1939, revitalized in 1999, and today host of the musical show Blue Ridge Backroads Live.

If you’re looking for some great food, I recommend Creek Bottom Brewing Company with a full-service restaurant featuring wood-fired pizza and craft beer. You might also want to try Twisted Fork Bistro or Galax Smokehouse.

Visit Galax 110 East Grayson Street, Galax, VA | 276-238-8130 | www.visitgalax.com/

Visit Galax
110 East Grayson Street, Galax, VA
276-238-8130
www.visitgalax.com/

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 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, 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.

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 usually 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.

North Carolina High Country

Stretching 170 miles from Milepost 217.5 at the North Carolina border to Milepost 388.8 in Asheville, the elevation of the Blue Ridge Parkway increases along with the opportunity for outdoor recreation. There are more stunning scenic overlooks, hiking trails, and attractions on this section of the Parkway than any other.

Click to enlarge.

Stop No. 19

Fox Hunter’s Paradise Overlook at Milepost 218.6

In the category of “Hidden Scenic Overlooks” on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Fox Hunter’s Paradise Overlook takes the crown. Pull off the Parkway into the large parking lot, and you’ll see a beautiful view like many others.

But that’s not the best view at this overlook. Look for a drive at the end of the parking lot leading up a hill to a few extra parking spaces. A trail leads through the woods, takes less than five minutes to walk, and ends at an overlook on a rocky outcropping. Far enough from the Parkway not to hear traffic you’ll feel extra close to the mountains.

Destination

Sparta, NC

At Milepost 229, exit the Parkway onto US Highway 21 and drive about 7 miles into Sparta. My first stop in the small town was Becca’s Backwoods Bean Coffee Shop, a beautiful place to get a fresh coffee with comfortable seating. Just down the street at Books N Friends Bookstore I found a used copy of The Most Scenic Drives in America by Reader’s Digest, for a whopping $5, and that book has been inspiring road trips ever since.

Muddy Creek Café & Music Hall is the best place, actually it’s the only place, in town to enjoy great food and drinks while listening to live music. If you want a bit more quiet, try Main Street Pizzeria & Taphouse where you can create your very own woodfired pizza. One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had on the road came from Charlie’s Country Store, a convenience store where the owner comes in at 6 a.m. every day to cook breakfast for the locals.

Stop No. 20

Brinegar Cabin at Milepost 239

In 1876 Martin and Carolina Brinegar purchased some land in the Western North Carolina mountains, began clearing the land for farming, and built themselves a cabin and several other structures. Today the Brinegar Cabin is one of the oldest remaining structures on the Blue Ridge Parkway and often open for the public to explore.

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

Stay

Doughton Park Campground at Milepost 240.5

With 135 campsites, Doughton Park Campground is one of the largest on the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, only 25 of those sites are designated for RVs, located in Loop A on the opposite side of the Parkway from the rest of the campground. Each loop in the campground has a restroom facility and drinking water access; however, there are no showers or hookups.

Stop No. 21

Doughton Park at Milepost 241.1

Stretching along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 238-245, everything at the 7,000-acre Doughton Park is big. Begin the adventure at the Doughton Park Visitor Center, where you’ll find restrooms, a small gift shop, and a park volunteer to answer questions.

Head across the Parkway and stay left at the fork in the road to the parking lot at the very end. Climb the concrete stairs to the top and be prepared to have your breath taken away. The view from Wildcat Rocks is one of the most impressive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Be sure to pack a folding chair because you’ll want to enjoy the view of this hollow for a while.

Go back to the fork in the road and head left through the Doughton Park Picnic Area. Tables are strewn throughout the shaded area just below the parking lots with a restroom facility near the middle. Behind the restrooms, an open meadow stretches across the hilltop.

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

Hiking

At the end of the drive past the picnic area is an opportunity to enjoy some hiking at Doughton Park. Head out on the 2.8-mile Bluff Ridge Primitive Trail to descend the Parkway to a primitive campsite at the bottom of the hollow. A little less than a half-mile along that trail leads to a shelter.

The 3.5-mile Bluff Mountain Trail parallels the Parkway, but about a hundred feet lower, past the Bluff Mountain Overlook and ending at the Basin Cove Overlook at Milepost 244.7.

Stop No. 22

Northwest Trading Post at Milepost 258.6

The Northwest Trading Post is one place I always visit during a trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Operated by a third-party concessionaire, the wayside offers a deli, gift shop, and restrooms. I always begin with a made-to-order sandwich and browse through the arts and crafts while waiting for the sandwich.

Destination

West Jefferson, NC

At Milepost 261, exit off the Blue Ridge Parkway onto NC Highway 16, then take the first left onto NC Highway 163 and continue 10 miles to the charming town of West Jefferson. Take a walk along Jefferson Avenue to discover local retail shops for arts and crafts and outdoor gear and clothing.

Browse About Book Exchange was a used bookstore with stacks of books in the corner to complement their full shelves just waiting for a new home. Candy Shack Café was an excellent place for a quick meal and dessert before returning to the Parkway. If you want to take your time, I recommend Black Jack’s Pub & Grill or Boondocks Brewing Taproom & Restaurant.

If you spend the night in West Jefferson, you must head over to the Parkway Theater for a chance to see a current feature film in an old school movie theater. Admission is just $6 and a massive tub of popcorn only a few dollars more!

On your way out of town, you might want to visit Mount Jefferson State Natural Area. The mountain rises sharply 1,600’ above the local landscape just outside of West Jefferson. The state park offers five hiking trails, including the 0.3-mile Summit Trail and 1.1-miles Rhododendron Trail.

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

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

Where to Stay in West Jefferson

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.

Stop No. 23

E.B. Jeffress Park at Milepost 271.9

Pull of the Blue Ridge Parkway at E.B. Jeffress Park, and you’ll find restrooms and picnic tables, but that’s not all this park has to offer. Hike the 1-mile loop Cascade Falls Trail to see a hidden cascading waterfall. The overlook brings you to within reaching distance of the waterfall where you can cool off in the mist on hot summer days.

Did You Know?

When the Blue Ridge Parkway was first conceived in 1935 the idea was floated by Congress to make it a toll road. Edwin Bedford Jeffress was chairman of the North Carolina State Highway and Public Works Commission, one of many state agencies working with the National Park Service to build the Parkway. Jeffress was adamant the Parkway remain toll-free, and to this day no one has ever been charged a fee to drive a single mile of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway.

Stop No. 24

Raven Rocks Overlook at Milepost 289.5

A rustic wooden fence lines the edge of the Raven Rocks Overlook. Just beyond the fence exposed rocks give way to a view across the mountain landscape just north of Boone. It has become a popular place for people to hop the fence and plop down on the rocky outcroppings, especially while watching a gorgeous sunset across the horizon.

Stop No. 25

Thunder Hill Overlook at Milepost 290.5

The first time I visited the Thunder Hill Overlook the fog was so thick I could not see the Parkway just twenty feet away from where I parked. You can imagine my glee the next time I visited to discover a sweeping panorama view of mountains trailing off into the distance. If you do sunrise, this is the place to watch it.

Intersection

Highway 321/221 at Milepost 292.1

This intersection on the Blue Ridge Parkway leads to two of the best off-Parkway destinations: Boone and Blowing Rock. Either way is about a ten-minute drive into town where you’ll find shopping, food, gas, and lodging.

Along the highway into Boone, you’ll find Tweetsie Railroad where you’ll find the most fun you’ll have while sitting. The train ride adventure follows a three-mile loop during which riders will encounter all sorts of Wild West-themed fun. Mystery Hill is another popular family attraction where kids and adults alike can discover gravitational anomalies like water flowing upward and distorted perceptions.

Destination

Boone, NC

At Milepost 292.1, you can exit the Blue Ridge Parkway onto US Highway 321/221. Turn to the north, and you’ll reach Boone, the home of Appalachian State University. What started as a small college town has exploded in recent years to become a center of outdoor recreation and adventure in the North Carolina High Country.

One thing that’s always true about college towns is they tend to have great food. In Boone, that food as a southern cooking style to it. The Daniel Boone Inn has been serving homecooked southern-style food for nearly fifty years. Proper is one of those southern style restaurants that serves sweet tea in Mason jars, and Melanie’s Food Fantasy will seat you outside to enjoy the fresh mountain air with your meal.

Explore Boone 331 Queen Street, Suite 104, Boone, NC | 800-852-9506 | www.exploreboone.com/

Explore Boone
331 Queen Street, Suite 104, Boone, NC
800-852-9506
www.exploreboone.com/

Where to Stay in Boone

Hampton Inn is the perfect place to spend a few nights in Boone. With an indoor swimming pool and a fantastic free breakfast, you’ll feel rejuvenated each day. Rooms include a single king bed or queen bed, or you can get a suite with king bed and sleeper sofa for traveling families.

Sleep Inn is an excellent budget-friendly option in Boone. The hotel has an outdoor swimming pool, and rooms come with either a single king bed or two double beds.

Holiday Inn Express is always a good choice. Like most hotels in the area, this one features an outdoor swimming pool. The difference here is some of the rooms have a private balcony to enjoy the mountain views.

Destination

Blowing Rock, NC

The small town of Blowing Rock is my favorite destination to visit off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It only takes five minutes to drive through downtown, but it will take you much longer to walk through with all the local shops, restaurants, and breweries to visit.

Blowing Rock Art & History Museum anchors one end of downtown, and with a small parking garage it makes an excellent place to begin the adventure. Main Street is lined with quaint 1-2 story buildings occupied by local art galleries, arts and crafts stores, and retail shops.

When hunger strikes, you won’t have to go far to find great food in Blowing Rock. Six Pence Pub and Storie Street Grille are great places for a quiet bite to eat. The Town Tavern is my favorite place with their sports bar atmosphere and fantastic burgers, but The Speckled Trout is a great alternative with their menu of fresh catch mountain trout.

Blowing Rock Tourism Development 828-295-4636 | https://blowingrock.com

Blowing Rock Tourism Development
828-295-4636
https://blowingrock.com

Where to Stay in Blowing Rock

One of the neatest places to stay in Blowing Rock is the historic Green Park Inn. Built in 1882, early visitors from across the South would arrive via stagecoach to escape the heat of lower elevations. Today the charming hotel offers rooms with one or two beds located on US Highway 321.

Bob Timberlake Inn, located at the Chetola Resort, would be a luxurious place to stay in Blowing Rock. The hotel has an indoor swimming pool and an on-site bar. Rooms include one or two beds, and select rooms feature 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 indoor swimming pool and free breakfast. Rooms include one or two beds, and they have several suites with a king bed and a sleeper sofa perfect for traveling families.

The Legend of The Blowing Rock

I had always been curious about the name of this small mountain town. It wasn’t until I visited The Blowing Rock, a locally owned attraction, that I learned the name of the town comes from a local legend.

As the story goes, a Chickasaw chief moved to this area with his only daughter to keep her away from the lustful eyes of frontier settlers. Bored in her isolation, the daughter would frequently hike to the top of a rocky cliff high above. One day she saw a Cherokee man hunting in the valley below.

She playfully fired an arrow in his general direction to get his attention. It worked, and soon enough he arrived at her home to begin courting her. The lovers spent a great deal of time together, frequently returning to the top of the cliff where she first spotted him.

One day the Cherokee received an omen he believed meant he needed to return to his homeland. Torn between the love of his life and duty to his people, the Cherokee jumped from the top of the cliff. Distraught, the Chickasaw woman began praying for the Great Spirit to return him to her arms.

One day as she stood on the cliff praying again a strong wind from the valley below blew the Cherokee back to the top and into her arms.

While the legend of Chickasaw woman and her Cherokee lover is entertaining, the fact is the wind does blow up from the bottom of the Johns River Gorge. When Ripley’s Believe It or Not heard of the phenomenon, they described The Blowing Rock as “the only place in the world where snow falls upside down.”

Today visitors to The Blowing Rock can pay a small admission fee to walk around The Blowing Rock. An observation deck offers a breathtaking view of the gorge 3,000’ below the cliffs with Grandfather Mountain dominating the horizon nearby.

Stop No. 26

Moses H. Cone Memorial Park at Milepost 294

The centerpiece of Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is the gorgeous, brilliantly white Moses Cone Manor. Built in 1901 by North Carolina textiles tycoon Moses Cone, the mansion was donated to the National Park Service and today serves as the Parkway Craft Center, a place to find locally made arts and crafts.

Standing on the covered front porch, it’s easy to see why Cone chose that location to build his mansion. At the bottom of the gently sloping hillside below the house, Bass Lake is a serene, natural water feature surrounded by a lush forest. Trails lead from Cone Manor to the lake, but the easiest way is to take the exit on the Parkway at Milepost 294.4 onto US Highway 221 and drive to a parking area at the lake.

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

Hiking

The 0.8-mile Bass Lake Loop Trail is an easy and peaceful trail to hike around the lake. The 5.2-mile Rich Mountain Trail is a bit more strenuous with a steady climb to the top of the mountain. The 4.8-mile Flat Top Mountain Trail is about the same level of difficulty, but at the end of the trail, you can climb the 4-story lookout tower for a fantastic panorama view.

Stop No. 27

Julian Price Lake Overlook at Milepost 296.7

Standing at the end of Julian Price Lake with the peaks of Grandfather Mountain in the distance, it’s easy to see why this is one of my favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a short walk from the parking area at the Julian Price Lake Overlook, or you can just enjoy the lakeshore from right where you park.

The 2.7-mile Price Lake Loop Trail takes about two hours to enjoy with obstructed views of the lake here and there while hiking through a dense rhododendron forest.

Stay

Julian Price Campground at Milepost 296.9

With 119 tent sites and 78 RV sites, the Julian Price Campground is the largest on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and with recently built showers it’s also the best campground on the Parkway. The six shower stalls are the real treat; the only other campground on the Parkway with showers is at Mount Pisgah.

The campground is divided into six loops. Loop A is the only loop that offers waterfront campsites along Julian Price Lake while the other loops are across the road. Loops E and F are exclusive to RVs. All the loops have restrooms facilities and drinking water; however, none of the campsites offer hookups.

Stop No. 28

Julian Price Memorial Park at Milepost 297

Julian Price Memorial Park offers the only opportunity to get onto the water on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Visitors can bring their kayaks and canoes, but no motorized boats, to spend a day paddling the small lake, or you can rent them for $10-$15/hour at the park.

The 11.8-mile Tanawha Trail is a strenuous trail with gorgeous views between Julian Price Lake and Beacon Heights. Along the way, the trail crosses the picturesque footbridge over the Boone Fork Creek, ascends Rough Ridge, and crosses beneath the Linn Cove Viaduct.

Stop No. 29

Rough Ridge Parking Area at Milepost 302.8

The 1.2-mile Rough Ridge Trail is a rough climb, but the reward is worth the effort. The first half-mile of the trail ascends nearly 400’, but at the top of the ridge the trail becomes a wooden boardwalk and stretches out across a rocky outcropping. The view from the Rough Ridge Overlook is sure to take your breath away if you haven’t already lost it from the hike.

Stop No. 30

Yonahlossee Overlook at Milepost 303.9

When you come to the Yonahlossee Overlook and find a dozen cars crammed into a small parking area without any view you might scratch your head. That’s because the view is actually around the next bend in the Parkway at the beginning of the Linn Cove Viaduct.

On the other side of the thick wooden guardrail, a primitive path has developed after years of foot traffic heading back to the famous s-curved bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge, but you can still get a pretty good view from a rocky outcropping just below the end.

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

Point of Interest

Linn Cove Viaduct at Milepost 304

In 1952 Hugh Morton inherited 4,000 acres on Grandfather Mountain from his father, Hugh MacRae. A fan of the great outdoors, Morton extended an old dirt road to one of the peaks of the mountain and built the infamous Mile High Swinging Bridge.

At the same time, the National Park Service had just completed a survey through the area for the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The initial plan was to have the route of the Parkway cross over Grandfather Mountain with a tunnel bored beneath the tallest peaks. Hugh Morton wouldn’t allow it. For 12 years, he fought against the proposed route of the Parkway, insisting the NPS go around the base of the mountain instead.

By 1966 the rest of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway had been completed except for the 7.7-mile section at Grandfather Mountain. It became known as “The Missing Link.” Finally, in the early 1980s, Morton won the dispute, and the National Park Service agreed to a new route for the Parkway.

Adhering to Stanley Abbott’s vision of building a minimally invasive Parkway that left very little scar on the landscape, the NPS hired Figg and Muller Engineers, Inc. to design a bridge and construction method.

The Linn Cove Viaduct is a modern marvel of engineering. The bridge had to leave as little impact on the landscape as possible as it curved in an S-shape around the base of Grandfather Mountain. Making the job even more difficult was the fact the bridge needed to be built from the bridge itself because construction equipment was not allowed on the ground beneath.

The 1,243’ long bridge was built in sections with construction equipment perched on the previous section. When the bridge was completed in 1987, the Blue Ridge Parkway was finally complete end-to-end.

Stop No. 31

Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center at Milepost 304.4

The Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center is located at the south end of the bridge. You’ll find restrooms, drinking water, and a small gift shop inside. A scale model depicts the construction of the Linn Cove Viaduct, displaying the unique construction method used at the time.

The 11.8-mile Tanawha Trail passes by the visitor center. Head out on the trail northbound, and soon you’ll find yourself directly beneath the Linn Cove Viaduct! The trail then climbs to an elevation about 50’ above the bridge where you can watch the traffic. At the far end of the bridge, a boulder on the side of the trail offers “that view” of the Linn Cove Viaduct you have probably seen in many photos.

Point of Interest

Grandfather Mountain

There was only a little bounce to the Mile High Swinging Bridge as I crossed between two peaks on Grandfather Mountain. I stopped in the middle, only about 100’ above the ground, and couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculously gorgeous view in all directions. But when Hugh Morton built the original swinging bridge here in the 1950s, he didn’t stop with just a bridge.

The Grandfather Mountain attraction is operated by a non-profit with a goal of conservation, education, and recreation. That is evident at The Nature Museum with dozens of displays explaining local geology and wildlife.

The Wildlife Habitat is a type of zoo where wildlife is rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Otters, whitetail deer, bald eagles, and of course, black bears on display. The shaded area is a bit steep to walk along paved paths, but it’s a short distance to walk.

The Mile High Swinging Bridge is the highest point at Grandfather Mountain that doesn’t require strenuous hiking. At the very top, you’ll find a wonderful gift shop on the first floor, exhibit display of Hugh Morton’s photography on the second floor, and access to the bridge on the third floor. At the very least, cross the bridge to the other side where you’ll find a place to sit and watch other people braving the bridge.

READ MORE: A Day at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina

Did You Know?

In 2007 Suttles Survey was hired to verify the height of the Mile High Swinging Bridge and the three peaks of Grandfather Mountain. Using laser and satellite technology, the survey company determined the peaks of the mountain were shorter than previously recorded. However, they verified the very center of the swinging bridge to be precisely 5,280’ above sea level.

Hiking

There are 11 hiking trails at Grandfather Mountain. The most interesting is the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail that leads to the summit of MacRae Peak and Calloway Peak, the highest point on Grandfather Mountain. An easier trail perfect for a quick visit is the 1-mile Black Rock Trail that leads to a scenic overlook where you can see Grandmother Mountain.

Stop No. 32

Beacon Heights Parking Area at Milepost 305.2

One of the most popular day hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway begins at the Beacon Heights Parking Area. The 0.6-mile Beacon Heights Trail ascends about 150’ to the exposed top of a knob with uninterrupted 360-degree views. It’s an easy hike and perfect if you’re looking for a hiking adventure while road tripping the Parkway.

Stay

Linville Falls Campground at Milepost 316

With just 50 tent sites and 20 RV sites, the Linville Falls Campground is the smallest on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Located on a spur road leading toward Linville Falls, the campground is right beside the river feeding the waterfall and features a few waterfront sites.

Stop No. 33

Linville Falls Visitor Center at Milepost 316

Linville Falls is the most waterfall and one of the most popular destinations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The adventure begins at the small visitor center with an equally small gift shop and restrooms.

Cross the footbridge over the river to begin the hike on the 4-mile out and back Linville Falls Trail. The trail leads to three different overlooks, one above the waterfall and two below, where you can enjoy the view. If you’re really up for an adventure, try the 2.4-mile Plunge Basin Trail that descends about 600’ to the bottom of the gorge where you can see the waterfall from the bottom.

At the edge of the parking lot, look for a trail leading into the woods toward another, much smaller waterfall. The 0.2-mile trail leads to Dugger’s Creek Falls, a waterfall wedged in a narrow crevasse with a wooden footbridge crossing in front.

READ MORE: 5 Ways to View Linville Falls (and Dugger’s Creek Falls) on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Stop No. 34

Chestoa View Overlook at Milepost 320.7

The Chestoa View Overlook is my favorite hidden overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. From the parking lot, walk down the short trail to a series of steps. At the bottom of the steps, a scenic overlook on a rocky outcropping presents a stunning view of a gorge where US Highway 221 passes.

Point of Interest

The Orchard at Altapass at Milepost 328.5

When you travel around a gentle curve on the Blue Ridge Parkway and see a forest of apple trees on the left, you’ll know you’ve come to The Orchard at Altapass. This locally owned apple orchard has been tending to the trees and harvesting apples for almost thirty years.

At the General Store just off the Parkway, you can buy fresh apples, when they’re in season, or grab a delicious apple pie. Visitors are welcome to walk through the apple forest, and when apples are in season, you can pick your own to take with you on the road trip!

Stop No. 35

Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Milepost 331

The Museum of North Carolina Minerals is small but exciting. In the span of the thirty minutes it takes to walk through the museum, you’ll learn the entire geological history of Western North Carolina from the last billion years or so.

The museum is also an official Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center, has information about Spruce Pine and the local region and has nice restrooms.

Tunnel

Little Switzerland Tunnel at Milepost 333.4

Heading southbound on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Little Switzerland Tunnel is the first tunnel in North Carolina. It’s not very long and has a clearance of 13’7”.

Did You Know?

The decorative stone facades of the tunnels were not added when originally bored through the ridges. The facades were added during the 1950s and 1960s when the tunnels were lined with concrete to help reduce icing.

Destination

Little Switzerland, NC

In 1910 Judge Heriot Clarkson from Charlotte founded a resort community he named Little Switzerland because the view of mountains and valleys is similar to the foothills of the Swiss Alps. When the route of the Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina was finalized, Clarkson filed a series of lawsuits demanding almost 10x more money per acre for his property than anywhere else along the Parkway.

Switzerland Café and General Store is one of the best restaurants on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Their menu of soups, sandwiches, and entrees are perfect during a road trip through the mountains. Little Switzerland Books & Beans is one of the most charming bookstores I have ever visited. Grab a coffee as you enter the store, pick out a book you might want to buy, then take a seat on the comfortable couch in front of the fireplace.  

Switzerland Inn is one of the best places to stay during a road trip on the Parkway. Pick a room in the Main Lodge or one of the rustic cabins, but either way, you’re guaranteed an amazing view from your room. With a fine dining restaurant and day spa on-site, you just might not leave the property for a day or two.

Stop No. 36

Crabtree Falls at Milepost 339.5

Crabtree Falls is second only to Linville Falls for the most popular waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway. But unlike the relatively easy hike to view Linville Falls, this waterfall will make you work for every step.

The Crabtree Falls Trail begins at the Crabtree Falls Campground and descends nearly 600’ in less than a mile to the waterfall. From there, you can choose a return trip via the same route or continue along the loop trail. An out and back hike is 1.7 miles while the entire loop is 2.5 miles, but either way just keep in mind the Rule of Hiking: what goes down must eventually go back up again.

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

Stay

Crabtree Falls Campground at Milepost 339.5

The Crabtree Falls Campground is one of the smallest on the Blue Ridge Parkway with only 70 tent sites and 22 RV sites. None of the sites are reservable, making them all first-come, first-served. The campground has restroom facilities, drinking water, and a dump station, but no showers or hookups.

Stop No. 37

Mt. Mitchell State Park at Milepost 355.4

At 6,684’ above sea level, Mount Mitchell is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. Elisha Mitchell, a geologist who taught at the University of North Carolina, was the first to measure the height of the mountain. Using the technology of the 1830s, Mitchell calculated the height of the mountain just 12’ shorter than the official height today.

Mount Mitchell State Park is spread across the mountain and feels like a world away. Even the view from the parking area at the top at just 6,578’ is stunning. That last 100’ climb to the top is relatively easy along a short, paved path to an observation deck on the summit. Bring a jacket and a sandwich cause it’s probably ten degrees cooler up there, and you’re gonna want to sit awhile.

In the parking area, you’ll find a gift shop, concession stand, restrooms, and a rather nice museum to explore. About halfway down from the top is the park’s full-service restaurant. Enjoy a nice meal along with views of the mountain top through the glass walls of the seating area.

READ MORE: Road Trip to the Southern Sixers

Hiking

The Black Mountain Crest Trail begins just below the top of Mount Mitchell and follows the ridge to nearby Mount Craig. The trail continues 11.3 miles across a few more summits of Southern Sixers, peaks in the Southern Appalachian Mountains above 6,000’.

Mitchell vs. Clingman

In 1835 Elisha Mitchell, a geologist and professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, measured the height of a mountain called Black Dome. He determined it was the highest point east of the Mississippi River, estimating it to within 12’ of the official height determined years later by the U.S. Geological Survey.

However, that claim was disputed by a former student, Thomas Clingman. The former United States senator had made a career of measuring mountain peaks and believed the highest point in the east was actually a mountain called Smoky Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains.

In 1857 Mitchell returned to Black Dome to verify his measurements after the challenge made by Clingman. But during that journey, Mitchell fell off a waterfall and drowned in the water at the bottom.

In 1859 Smoky Dome was renamed Clingman’s Dome by Arnold Guyot, a good friend of Thomas Clingman, still claiming it was the tallest peak in the east. But in 1882, the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed Black Dome was the highest peak east of the Mississippi and renamed it Mount Mitchell.

Mount Mitchell is 41’ taller than Clingman’s Dome. Today Elisha Mitchell is buried on the summit of the mountain bearing his name.

Stop No. 38

Craggy Gardens at Milepost 364.5

Craggy Gardens has one of the best views on the Blue Ridge Parkway from the comfort of your car. The Craggy Gardens Visitor Center and adjacent parking area are located on a ridge between Craggy Pinnacle and Craggy Knob. From that ridge, the world opens like a book with rugged mountains stretching to the horizon.

Just an hour from Asheville, the two hiking trails at Craggy Gardens are popular, to say the least. The most popular is the 1.4-mile out and back Craggy Pinnacle Trail. The scenic overlook on the rocky outcropping at the very top is just 5,892’ high, nearly 800’ shorter than Mount Mitchell, but with the sudden drop off from the overlook you’ll feel higher. The 0.6-mile out and back Craggy Knob Trail is an easier alternative. The trail begins near the visitor center, passing through a rhododendron forest to a covered shelter, and ending on a small meadow with uninterrupted views in all directions.

READ MORE: 3 Ways to Explore Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Stop No. 39

Folk Art Center at Milepost 382

The Southern Highland Craft Guild is the second oldest craft organization in the country after the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts. The guild operates the Parkway Craft Center at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and the Folk Art Center.

At the Folk Art Center, visitors can tour exhibitions of arts and crafts mostly made by local guild members. A small gift shop and information center on the first floor of the two-story building will also help you find information about the Parkway.

Southern Blue Ridge Parkway

The final 80 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Cherokee crosses the highest point on the Parkway, passes several waterfalls, and leads to many exciting off-Parkway destinations.

Click to enlarge.

Asheville Intersections

Four intersections on the Blue Ridge Parkway lead into Asheville, but which you take entirely depends on where you’re going.

  • Highway 70 at Milepost 382.6 – This intersection leads to Tunnel Road. Heading one direction leads to Interstate 40, while the other direction is the most direct route into downtown Asheville.
  • Highway 74 at Milepost 384.7 – This intersection is the shortest route to getting on Interstate 40 and leads directly into Interstate 240 into downtown Asheville.
  • Highway 25 at Milepost 388.8 – Exiting onto US Highway 25, locally Hendersonville Road, leads to the Biltmore area of the city. Biltmore Park, with a shopping center and restaurants, is to the south, while the Biltmore entrance is to the north.
  • Highway 191 at Milepost 393.6 – Exiting onto Brevard Road leads to The North Carolina Arboretum, but also food and gas near the I-26 interchange.

Destination

Asheville, NC

Asheville is the largest city in the western part of the state, and while it has a certain big city flair, make no mistake about it: Asheville is a friendly southern city in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Over the last decade, Asheville has grown a reputation as a craft beer city, touting the fact there are more craft breweries per capita than any other city in the country. That is still true today, but that’s not the only thing the city is known for. In recent years Asheville has grown in leaps and bounds as a food destination with world-class restaurants and mom and pop joints opening throughout the city, all serving some of the best food in the southeast.

Start a day exploring Asheville at the Grove Arcade, an enclosed shopping destination built in 1929 and featuring some of the most gorgeous architecture in the city. At Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, you can order a glass of wine, grab a used book off a shelf, and sit in a comfortable leather armchair while savoring both. Located behind the Grove Arcade, Asheville Pinball Museum is a quirky place where a single admission price gets you in the door to play antique pinball machines for as long as you like!

Take a walk along Biltmore Avenue, the main street through downtown Asheville, for all the museums, shopping, and dining you could enjoy. Mast General Store is an excellent place for outdoor gear and clothing, and right next door Cúrate is one of the top-rated restaurants in the city.

Located just outside of downtown Asheville the Biltmore is the largest mansion and one of the most popular attractions in the country. The 250-room French Renaissance mansion was built from 1889-1895 for George Vanderbilt. For the admission price, visitors get access to the grounds to explore the formal gardens and a guided tour of the mansion. Additional tours such as the Rooftop Tour can be purchased on arrival.

Explore Asheville 36 Montford Avenue, Asheville, NC | 828-258-6129 | www.exploreasheville.com

Explore Asheville
36 Montford Avenue, Asheville, NC
828-258-6129
www.exploreasheville.com

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 delicious complimentary 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

Hampton Inn in the Biltmore Village area is another excellent 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.

Stop No. 40

Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at Milepost 384

Located just outside Asheville, this is the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. The Parkway headquarters is located next door.

The visitor center has a 50’ long map of the Parkway displayed on a wall and a staff of volunteers and rangers to help you plan your adventure. The gift shop is pretty good, and there are restrooms inside.

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Point of Interest

North Carolina Arboretum

There is always something beautiful to see The North Carolina Arboretum. Technically admission is free, but you’ll have to pay for parking as you enter the main gate just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Begin the adventure at the Education Center, where you’ll find restrooms, a small gift shop, ana rotating exhibit space. Head outside to the Bonzai Exhibition Garden, then start the long walk on the Grand Garden Promenade past several formal gardens to the Baker Exhibit Center. Eleven hiking trails wind across the 65-acre property, with about half of them open to foot traffic and mountain biking.

Tunnel

Pine Mountain Tunnel at Milepost 399.1

At 1,434’ long, the Pine Mountain Tunnel is the longest tunnel on the Blue Ridge Parkway. With a clearance of 14’2,” most RV traffic can fit through the exciting tunnel.

Stop No. 41

Buck Spring Gap Overlook at Milepost 407.6

After passing through the Buck Spring Tunnel, a spur road leads to two of the best scenic overlooks on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The first is the Buck Spring Gap Overlook.

Park on either side of the road at this overlook for a stunning view through your windshield. For an even better view, climb the stairs beside the overlook onto the Mountains to Sea Trail and hike it for about five minutes to reach a clearing with the foundation of an old building. This was the site of a hunting lodge used by George Vanderbilt and his visitors when they came to his estate in Asheville.

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

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Stop No. 42

Mount Pisgah Overlook at Milepost 407.6

Further down the spur road is the Mount Pisgah Overlook. The broad view of the landscape features Cold Mountain prominently in the distance and is one of my favorite spots for watching the sunset.

The 3.2-mile Mount Pisgah Trail is a moderately strenuous hike with a 700’ ascent to the summit of the mountain. At the top, a wooden observation deck offers beautiful views of the surrounding area and long stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Stay

Pisgah Inn at Milepost 408.6

The Pisgah Inn offers the best view from any lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Built in 1964, the two-story building has a commanding view from the very edge of a ridgeline. Overnight guests are fond of the wooden rocking chairs behind the lodge where they enjoy that view for hours.

The restaurant at the Pisgah Inn is open to the general public and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A lovely gift shop offers the standard items you’d find at other gift shops on the Parkway, but there is also a general store with a limited selection of groceries.

Stay

Mount Pisgah Campground at Milepost 408.8

The Mount Pisgah Campground is one of the largest and best campgrounds on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s also the southern-most campground. The sites are evenly distributed with 64 tent sites and 62 RV sites.

The campground is built around four loops with restrooms and drinking water available near the middle of each loop. But the most significant feature is this campground is one of only two campgrounds on the Parkway with showers!

Stop No. 43

Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower Trail at Milepost 409.1

The 1.5-mile Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower Trail is straight uphill with a 350’ ascent to the top of the mountain at 5,340’. It’s only moderately strenuous as the trail follows the route of an old forest service road covered in gravels.

The reward at the top is the 70’ tall Fryingpan Mountain Fire Lookout Tower. It’s the tallest fire lookout tower in the state and surprisingly still open to the public. Climb to the top for breathtaking views in all directions and stay as long as you are brave.

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Detour

Highway 276 at Milepost 412.2

The 16-mile drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway into Brevard along U.S. Highway 276 is one of my favorite short drives in the country. It’s a detour I highly recommend while road tripping the Parkway.

As Highway 276 descends from the ridge, the road switches back and forth along a curvy path. The curviest part of the route ends after the first three miles, just before arriving at the Pink Beds Picnic Area.

Cradle of Forestry in America Heritage Site is a fascinating place to explore. The heritage site preserves the first forestry school in the country founded by George Vanderbilt shortly after the Biltmore was finished. The visitor center features a wonderful film on the history of the forestry school, an excellent museum, and a rather lovely gift shop.

Head out on the 1.3-mile Forest Festival Trail to find a 1914 Climax locomotive hidden along the trail in the woods, and yes, you can ring the bell on the train! The 1.3-mile Forest Discovery Trail loops further into the woods from the Forest Festival Trail to extend your hike. My favorite is the 1-mile Biltmore Campus Trail that winds around several historic buildings from the forestry school.

Sliding Rock is not exactly a waterfall, but it is one of the coolest places you’ll visit. The creek flows over a smooth granite rock face at the perfect angle to create a natural slide. During warm summer days, people will line up by the dozens for a chance to slide down the rock into a pool of frigid mountain water.

Moore Cove Falls is a waterfall. The 1.2-mile Moore Cove Falls Trail has an easy 150’ ascent to a wooden observation deck at the base of the waterfall. Looking Glass Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the area, and also one of the most easily accessible. Located within view of Highway 276, visitors can see the tumbling waterfall from an overlook on the side of the road, or descend a long series of steps to the bottom.

Near the end of the road before reaching civilization in Brevard, you’ll find the Pisgah National Forest Ranger Station and Visitor Center. The 500,000-acre Pisgah National Forest was the first established national forest in the country thanks to the contribution of George Vanderbilt. The visitor center has a nice museum, gift shop, and information on outdoor recreation in the area.

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

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Destination

Brevard, NC

Just 45 minutes from Asheville, Brevard is a bustling mountain town and fantastic weekend getaway. As the seat of Transylvania County, the tourism folks call themselves the “Land of Waterfalls” and for a good reason. There are more waterfalls in this county than any other county in the United States.

Park anywhere on Broad and Main Streets for an easy walk to anything in town. Start at Highland Books for their excellent selection of local books on history, tourism, and outdoor recreation. Across the street peak inside O.P. Taylor’s toy store. If you need any outdoor gear or clothing, head over to DD Bullwinkel’s Outdoors.

The Ktchn may have a strangely vowel-free name, but it does have fantastic burgers and brick oven pizza. The Falls Landing is a great place downtown to grab a savory seafood meal. Head around the corner to Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop for a classic diner feel with burgers, fries, and shakes.

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

Explore Brevard 175 East Main Street, Brevard, NC | 828-884-8900 |https://explorebrevard.com

Explore Brevard
175 East Main Street, Brevard, NC
828-884-8900
https://explorebrevard.com

Where to Stay in Brevard

Just ten minutes outside of downtown, at an area locally called The Hub, are two excellent 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.

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

Do you enjoy camping? 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.

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Stop No. 44

Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Milepost 417

From the Looking Glass Rock Overlook, you can see the prominent rise of Looking Glass Rock. At 3,970’ it’s an impressive geological formation jutting above the local landscape and a favorite for rock climbers. The 5.3-mile Looking Glass Rock Trail begins near U.S. Highway 276 and ascends nearly 1,700’ to the top of the mountain.

Stop No. 45

East Fork Overlook at Milepost 418.3

Pull off at the East Fork Overlook for one of the most surprisingly amazing overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The overlook features a view north across the rugged mountains toward Asheville; at night, you can see the dome of light pollution from the nearby city.

What makes this such an interesting overlook is the sheer rock wall on the other side of the road. Stanley Abbott, the manager in charge of building the Blue Ridge Parkway, wanted to leave as little scar on the landscape as possible. There are very few cuts through the mountains in the Parkway. However, the Parkway at this particular point is a rare example. The towering cliff wall frequently drips water onto the road, and in the winter is covered with ice.

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Stop No. 46

Graveyard Fields at Milepost 418.8

Graveyard Fields is one of the most geologically intriguing and mysterious stops along the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. In 1925 a wildfire swept across the ridge, destroying most of the area. To top it off many years later, high winds toppled the charred remains of the trees, leaving only stumps across the meadow that resembled tombstones. But the mystery comes from a single thought: it’s been almost one hundred years since why haven’t the trees grown again?

Today it’s one of the most popular hiking destinations on the Parkway. Parking is frequently a problem. If you manage to find a parking spot, the adventure begins down a staircase near the restrooms.

The 1.1-mile Graveyard Fields Trail loops through the open meadow. After descending through a tunnel of rhododendron and crossing a small footbridge, you’ll come to Second Falls. The cascading waterfall tumbles into a river strewn with enormous boulders that have become popular hangout spots to read a book or take a nap.

The loop trail continues toward the west end of Graveyard Fields. Unlike most of the trails on the Parkway, there are very few trees on this trail; be sure to bring plenty of water with the sun beating down on you during the hike. Near the point where the loop begins its return to the parking lot the 1.8-mile Upper Falls Trail splits off toward the 40’ Upper Falls.

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

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The view standing atop the Devil’s Courthouse Overlook.

Stop No. 47

Devil’s Courthouse Overlook at Milepost 422.4

Pull into the parking lot at Devil’s Courthouse Overlook, and you’ll already have a rather amazing view. But from the parking lot facing southeast, you’ll see an exposed rock cliff; look closely, and you just might see tiny people on top of the cliff.

The 1-mile Devil’s Courthouse Trail is about as strenuous as it gets with a nearly 300’ climb in about a quarter-mile. But that’s okay because at the top you’ll find a scenic overlook on a rocky outcropping surrounded by a stone wall with plenty of places to sit and take in the view in all directions. It’s also one of the few scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway that is perfect for watching both sunrise and sunset, though probably not on the same day.

READ MORE: Road Trip to the Southern Sixers

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Stop No. 48

Cowee Mountain Overlook at Milepost 430.7

The Cowee Mountain Overlook is my favorite scenic overlook on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The extended parking lot at the edge of a ridge has the longest unobstructed panorama view of any scenic overlook on the Parkway. The view continues to the Georgia border on the horizon and the Great Smoky Mountains far to the right.

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Stop No. 49

Richland Balsam Overlook at Milepost 431.4

At 6,053’ above sea level, the Richland Balsam Overlook is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a large sign on the side of the road announcing the point of interest that makes a perfect backdrop for portrait or selfie.

The overlook itself doesn’t offer a spectacular view with trees blocking much of the panorama, but it’s still nice enough to wander around for a moment to enjoy the overlook.

Intersection

Highway 74/23 at Milepost 443.1

This intersection leads to U.S. Highway 74 & 23, locally called the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway. The four-lane divided highway connects nearby Interstate 40 with Bryson City, passing several mountain destinations along the way.

It’s a quick 15-minute drive down the mountain ridge into Sylva, and just a 10-minute drive the other direction into Waynesville. You’ll find gas, food, and lodging at both destinations.

Destination

Sylva, NC

Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just minutes from the Parkway, the small town of Sylva is about as picturesque as it gets. Of course, to get to that scenic view, I had to climb I don’t know how many stairs up a hill to the Jackson County Public Library. I felt like throwing my arms into the air and shouting victory when I reached the top.

You’ll find lots of great places to shop for outdoor gear and clothing in Sylva at places like Black Balsam Outdoors and Tuckaseegee Fly Shop. The Farmhouse Mercantile & Coffee is equal parts boutique, coffee shop, and the best place in Sylva to hang out for a while. The Friends of the Library Used Book Store was the first used bookstore I’d ever come across that sold old books no longer used by the library.

White Moon is a great place to start any day with fresh ground coffee and a menu of breakfast items and sandwiches, brunch on the weekends. Lulu’s on Main and Mad Batter Kitchen are the places to go in town to sit down menus of deliciousness. Any night in Sylva should conclude with a stop at Balsam Falls Brewing Co. where you can try some of their good craft beers.

Discover Jackson, NC 773 W. Main Street, Sylva, NC | 800-962-1911 | www.discoverjacksonnc.com

Discover Jackson, NC
773 W. Main Street, Sylva, NC
800-962-1911
www.discoverjacksonnc.com

Where to Stay in Sylva

Sylva is a beautiful 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.

Comfort Inn has a stunning view of the mountains from its perch on a hill above the 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.

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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.

Stop No. 50

Waterrock Knob at Milepost 451.2

The parking area at Waterrock Knob is located on an exposed ridge just above the Blue Ridge Parkway with gorgeous views from either side. The west side of the overlook, with a concrete picnic table I often use as a mobile desk while traveling, features a view of Cherokee in the distance below.

With privy restrooms, a visitor center, and gift shop, and wide-open spaces, Waterrock Knob is a popular place just to hang out with friends and family while waiting on gorgeous summer sunset.

The 1.2-mile Waterrock Knob Trail ascends about 400’ to the summit of the mountain where you are treated to a spectacular view. About ¼-mile on the trail is a scenic overlook with a view of the parking area.

Tunnel

Low Clearance Tunnels

Three of the five tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Waterrock Knob have very low clearance that usually means RVers need to exit the Parkway.

Lickstone Ridge Tunnel at Milepost 458.8 has a clearance of just 11’1”. Bunches Bald Tunnel at Milepost 459.3 has the lowest clearance of any tunnel on the Parkway at only 10’6”. Finally, Big Witch Tunnel at Milepost 461.2 has a clearance of 11’3”.

Intersection

South Entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Congratulations! You’ve either read this far through the massive Blue Ridge Parkway road trip itinerary, or you’ve bought the Mobile Travel Guide version to take with you. Either way, here you are, the South Entrance at Milepost 469.1.

The Blue Ridge Parkway ends at U.S. Highway 441, leading into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Oconaluftee Visitor Center is just minutes from the South Entrance to the Parkway. The visitor center has information, a huge gift shop, restrooms, and the Mountain Farm Exhibit.

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Destination

Cherokee, NC

Would it surprise you to learn Cherokee and the surrounding Qualla Boundary is a sovereign nation? The land is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Take a drive through town, and you’ll see street signs and business names printed in English and Cherokee.

The towering Harrah’s Casino is undoubtedly the most popular attraction in town, but I view Cherokee as the perfect basecamp for days of outdoor fun and cultural exploration. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian was one of the most moving museums I have ever visited with a chronological depiction of Native American history. Across the street, Qualla Arts and Crafts sell the artwork made by Cherokee who still live on the reservation. Unto These Hills is the official outdoor drama of North Carolina where visitors are treated to incredible performances from moments in Cherokee history.

My favorite place to eat in Cherokee is Granny’s Kitchen. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner revolves around an all-you-can-eat buffet of fantastic southern cooking. Qualla Java Café is my favorite place to get a coffee not only because it’s delicious, but also because of the view while sipping on the drink.

Visit Cherokee, NC 498 Tsali Boulevard, Cherokee, NC | 800-438-1601 | https://visitcherokeenc.com

Visit Cherokee, NC
498 Tsali Boulevard, Cherokee, NC
800-438-1601
https://visitcherokeenc.com

Where to Stay in Cherokee

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.

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.

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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2 Responses

  1. Going from Asheville to front Royal on a motorcycle where is a good half way stop to stay over night ?

    1. It all depends on how much driving you want to do each day. If you’re thinking of doing this in two days, with about 8-9 hours driving each day, I recommend staying the night in Roanoke, Virginia. Check out the Peaks of Otter Lodge and Explore Park on the Parkway for interesting lodging options. If you have a bit more time I would recommend a night in Blowing Rock, NC as well. If you follow the links in this post to the individual road trip itineraries you’ll find a list of hotels and lodging I recommend in those destinations. Have fun!

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