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COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.
Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!
It might be a little daunting to hop on the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway and find a visitor center if you don’t know where to begin. There are 14 visitor centers along the entire stretch and most of them are easily accessible. This list will help you find them, tell you what is there, and give you a few other things to do while you’re there.
- 1. Humpback Rocks Visitor Center at Milepost 5.8
- 2. James River Visitor Center at Milepost 63.6
- 3. Peaks of Otter Visitor Center at Milepost 86
- 4. Virginia’s Explore Park Visitor Center at Milepost 115
- 5. Rocky Knob Visitor Center at Milepost 169
- 6. Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213
- 7. Moses H. Cone Manor and Visitor Center at Milepost 294.1
- 8. Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center at Milepost 304.4
- 9. Linville Falls Visitor Center at Milepost 316.4
- 10. Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Milepost 331
- 11. Craggy Gardens Visitor Center at Milepost 364.6
- 12. Folk Art Center at Milepost 382
- 13. Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at Milepost 384
- 14. Waterrock Knob Visitor Center at Milepost 451.2
1. Humpback Rocks Visitor Center at Milepost 5.8
The first visitor center heading south from Waynesboro is a great place to begin exploring this end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The small visitor center has information, maps, a small gift shop, and a place to collection your National Park Passport stamp.
Mountain Farm Exhibit
At the end of the parking a short, easy trail leads through the Mountain Farm Exhibit. There is a large log home usually left open for visitors to explore during business hours.
2. James River Visitor Center at Milepost 63.6
At just 650 feet above sea level the bridge crossing the James River is the lowest point on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The small visitor center has restrooms and an information desk open during normal business hours.
James River Hiking Trails
There are three trails to hike at the James River Visitor Center. The Trail of Trees Trail is an easy 0.4-mile loop trail from the visitor center. The 0.4-mile Canal Lock Trail includes a rather cool walk along a pedestrian path beneath the highway bridge over the James River. On the other side of the river the trail leads to the restored Battery Creek Lock.
The final hiking trail is more strenuous but also more exciting. The 7-mile roundtrip Otter Creek Trail ascends from the visitor center to Otter Lake and then along Otter Creek to the campground. The best hiking option is just a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike from the visitor center to the end of Otter Lake where you’ll find a nice waterfall at the dam.
3. Peaks of Otter Visitor Center at Milepost 86
There is a lot to see and do while visiting the Peaks of Otter. The visitor center is located in a small building directly beside the Parkway within sight of Abbott Lake. The visitor center includes an information desk, restrooms, and a small gift shop.
Peaks of Otter Picnic Area
Located along Highway 43 about a mile from the Parkway is a rather nice picnic area. One end of the picnic area is a parking lot where visitors can hike the 1-mile Abbott Lake Loop Trail. The other end is a one-way road through a dense forested area with picnic table scattered around a creek.
Peaks of Otter Hiking Trails
The 1.8-mile Johnson Farm Loop Trail takes visitors to the historic Johnson Farm to see what life on a farm was like in the late 1800’s. The 3.3-mile Harkening Hill Trail is a moderately strenuous hike across a ridge to a beautiful viewing area at Balance Rock. The 1.5-mile Sharp Top Trail is a strenuous route that challenges even the best of hikers as it ascends the side of Sharp Top Mountain to a stunning 360-degree overlook at the summit. Adventurous hikers can also tackle the 4.4-mile Flat Top Trail as it winds through a beautiful area back to the Fallingwater Cascades Parking Area.
4. Virginia’s Explore Park Visitor Center at Milepost 115
Explore Park is not owned or operated by the National Park Service, but they do have a very nice visitor center with information about the Parkway. The visitor center also includes a wonderful museum with giant 3D map of the Parkway. There is a large gift shop with lots of items like books, clothing, and souvenirs.
Hike the 0.17-mile Journeys End Trail to discover a hidden settlement village at Explore Park. The village includes about a dozen historic log structures like a two-story house, grist mill, and outbuildings.
5. Rocky Knob Visitor Center at Milepost 169
The Rocky Knob Visitor Center is a reminder of something that is no longer available on the Blue Ridge Parkway: gas stations. Located inside an old gas station complete with island where the pumps used to be, this is a reminder that at one time visitors would have needed gas in their vehicles just to do a short day trip on the Parkway.
The visitor center includes a small gift shop, information, and restrooms.
6. Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213
Located near Galax, Virginia, the Blue Ridge Music Center is a part of the music heritage-oriented Crooked Road. The visitor center includes a very nice museum exploring that heritage of the surrounding area.
The biggest attraction to the Blue Ridge Music Center is the outdoor concert venue. Throughout much of the year (excluding the winter months) Saturday evenings are filled with music from bands playing all night long.
7. Moses H. Cone Manor and Visitor Center at Milepost 294.1
Also known as the Parkway Craft Center and Flat Top Manor, this gorgeous mansion is a destination all on its own. The visitor center has information like maps, brochures, and a place to collect your National Park Passport stamp. The restrooms are located in a separate building near the parking lot.
Parkway Craft Center
Explore a couple of rooms of arts and crafts from local artisans. These crafts include paintings, photography, clothing, and jewelry.
Moses H. Cone Hiking Trails
The 5.2-mile roundtrip hike to Rich Mountain is a strenuous adventure with a pretty nice view from the top. The longer 6.8-mile roundtrip hike to Flat Top Tower is a bit more strenuous but is one of the most popular hikes in the area. An easy hike is the 0.8-mile Bass Lake Loop Trail. Visitors can walk down a connecting 2.5-mile trail from the Parkway Craft Center or drive down to a parking area beside the lake.
8. Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center at Milepost 304.4
The iconic Linn Cove Viaduct just might be the most recognizable landmark on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Located just off the south end of the bridge is the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center. The small center has information, a gift shop, and a nice diorama depicting the construction of the viaduct. The restrooms are located outside at the edge of the parking lot.
One of the neatest things about this stop is the Tanawha Trail. At the far end of the parking lot a trail leads underneath viaduct before zigzagging to an elevation above the bridge. The trail connects Julian Price Memorial Park with the Stack Rock Overlook for an exciting hike, but the portion under the viaduct is only about two miles roundtrip.
9. Linville Falls Visitor Center at Milepost 316.4
Linville Falls is one of the most-visited destinations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The small visitor center includes information, brochures, a gift shop, and restrooms in a separate, connected building.
There are two different trails leading to a total of five ways to view Linville Falls. Visitors can hike the 4-mile roundtrip Linville Falls Trail to three different overlooks for views of the waterfall. For a little more adventure the strenuous 2.4-mile roundtrip Plunge Basin Trail leads to the bottom of the waterfall.
Dugger’s Creek Falls
This small waterfall is a hidden gem I overlooked for years before finally discovering it. Hike the 0.2-mile trail at the end of the parking lot to find the waterfall in a narrow ravine. The trail crosses a rustic bridge and on the other end you can climb down the easy path to the creek’s edge.
10. Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Milepost 331
This visitor center is located inside the Museum of North Carolina Minerals. The museum is free to explore where you will learn the fascinating geological history of minerals found in the North Carolina mountains. The small visitor center includes information, a gift shop, and restrooms.
11. Craggy Gardens Visitor Center at Milepost 364.6
Craggy Gardens is a beautiful place to explore about forty minutes from Asheville. At the heart of the active area is the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The small visitor center includes information, a gift shop, and restrooms in the basement level. These restrooms are not handicap accessible.
Hiking Craggy Pinnacle
The parking lot on the other side of the Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel has access to a trail leading to two overlooks at the top of Craggy Pinnacle. The 0.7-mile trail ascends about 230’ and is moderately strenuous, mostly because of the rugged terrain along the trail. The views from the top at the scenic overlooks surrounded by stone walls are amazing.
Hiking Craggy Knob
A much easier hike is along the 0.3-mile Craggy Gardens Trail to the bald-topped Craggy Knob. This trail passes beneath the shade of a dense rhododendron forest to a covered shelter before coming out on the bald mountain top.
12. Folk Art Center at Milepost 382
The Folk Art Center is mostly about arts and crafts from local artisans, but it also has a rather nice information desk and small gift shop. Be sure to walk through the museum/shop and check out all the wonderful art.
13. Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center at Milepost 384
Located just outside Asheville this is the visitor center for the Blue Ridge Parkway. The headquarters for the Parkway is located next door.
This visitor center is the largest on the Parkway. They have several exhibits about the wildlife, construction of the Parkway, and a giant, wall-sized map. The gift shop has clothing, bags, books, and souvenir items to collect. The restrooms are also located inside.
14. Waterrock Knob Visitor Center at Milepost 451.2
This small visitor center if the first one you’ll reach coming from Cherokee, North Carolina and the southern end of the Parkway. It’s about 15 miles to the end of the Parkway from this visitor center.
The small building has an information desk with maps of the Parkway and a small gift shop to explore. The restrooms are located in a separate building in the loop of the parking lot.
Hike to Waterrock Knob
The 1.2-mile Waterrock Knob Trail begins at the parking lot and lead to the summit of Waterrock Knob. It is a strenuous hike with a 400’ ascent to the top. The first ¼-mile of the trail is paved, though, and leads to a scenic overlook just above the parking lot.