The best overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway for seeing and photographing a beautiful sunset along with tips for a great sunset experience.
The other day I was driving around town running errands when the most beautiful sunset took over the sky.
It stopped me in my tracks and I wished I’d had a better place to sit and enjoy it than from a Target parking lot.
In fact, it got me inspired to make the effort to really experience more sunsets and yes, even sunrises. And one of my favorite places to do that is the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Watching Sunset from the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Parkway is one of the few places you can see an amazing sunset over beautiful mountains without having to walk more than a few steps from your car. And in fact, for those with limited mobility, there are quite a few overlooks where you could enjoy a gorgeous sunset without needing to take a single step from your vehicle.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is filled with beautiful overlooks and amazing views, but they aren’t all positioned well for enjoying the sunset.
If you wanted, you could get on the Parkway and just start driving and hope to find a great overlook facing west for sunset. But there’s a good chance you won’t find a great spot just by driving around.
Because the Parkway winds through the mountains, there are lots of areas where you could be driving a very long time without a single glimpse of the beautiful sunset that’s completely blocked by ridges and trees.
Instead of just driving around hoping for the best, it really helps to already know the best spots ahead of time. In this post, I’m sharing 11 overlooks where you can enjoy truly epic sunset views.
How to predict a great sunset
While there really aren’t any bad sunsets, there are definitely some that are more colorful and strikingly beautiful than others.
There are several factors that affect how spectacular a sunset will be including cloud cover, humidity, rainfall, and wind:
- Cloud cover – you want some clouds in the sky to reflect the beautiful colors of the sunset, but a sky covered in clouds will obscure the sunset.
- Humidity – lower humidity is generally better for sunsets, but not extremely low.
- Rainfall – while you don’t want a rainstorm during the actual sunset, often the best sunsets follow just a few hours after a good rainstorm
- Wind – strong winds can enhance or destroy a sunset and it’s really hard to predict which, so in general low wind speeds are the best for predicting a good sunset
As you can see, it’s actually really tricky to predict what nights are going to have an extra special sunset!
If you want more detailed info on how to figure this all out, I found this article about how to predict a great sunset super helpful.
But for those of us who aren’t interested in figuring it out ourselves and just want to know if it’s a good night for a great sunset, there are a few apps and websites that can help.
Of course, weather can be very unpredictable and nothing is a sure thing, but these sites will help give you a solid prediction of what you can expect from sunset.
SunsetWx has a simple map of the United States that shows their prediction of how spectacular the sunrise and sunset will be wherever you are.
Sunrise predictions are updated for the following morning at 7pm each evening and sunset predictions are updated at 1 pm.
SkyCandy App gives you a sunset and sunrise quality score for your location. If the quality score is high, you have a good chance of seeing a great sunset; if it’s low, not so great. There’s a free app for both ios and android as well as an upgraded paid version.
The paid upgrade includes a bunch of other cool features like the ability to be notified when your location will have a particularly good sunset as well as a tool to show you the direction of the sun so you can easily preplan photos.
I’ve been using SkyCandy for a few weeks now and I’ve found it really helpful for planning which nights to make a special effort to catch sunset.
The Best Time for Sunset Viewing
The beauty of a good sunset lasts a lot longer than those few minutes it takes the sun to dip below the horizon.
Once you’ve checked the time for sunset in your area, be sure to arrive at your chosen spot at least thirty minutes early.
If you’re watching the sun set over the mountains, there’s a good chance it may dip below the mountains before the official ‘sunset’ time and you don’t want to arrive at your chosen spot only to find you’ve missed it.
Plus, the time right before sunset is referred to as the golden hour and it’s usually pretty beautiful all on its own.
During this time, the low angle of the sun’s rays makes the light all around appear warmer and softer. This is an amazing time of day for photography and it’s also just a beautiful time to sit and take in the beauty around us.
Don’t rush off too quickly after the sun sets either. Often people pack up and leave as soon as the sun sinks below the horizon, but a lot of times the most beautiful colors show up after the actual sun is down.
What to bring for sunset viewing
You don’t really need anything special to watch the sunset, but there are a few things you might want to bring to make your experience more enjoyable.
It’s a good idea to dress warmly and you may even want to bring a warm hat and gloves. Once the sun goes down, the temperature usually drops pretty quickly. And if you’re at a high elevation on the Parkway, that can mean chilly temps even in summer.
If you are going to be at an overlook, it’s always nice to bring a comfy chair, a blanket, and maybe a snack to enjoy.
And if you think you might walk any distance from your vehicle, a flashlight or headlamp is a good idea. Remember, there are no streetlights or other artificial lights on the Parkway so it gets very dark.
Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks to see Sunset
You can find beautiful sunset views throughout the Blue Ridge Parkway, but these are the overlooks with the best views.
I created this custom map of all the overlooks mentioned below so you easily find one near you.
Each overlook below is listed in order from north to south.
Raven’s Roost Overlook
Milepost 10.7, Virginia
Raven’s Roost is one of the northernmost overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, only ten miles south of where the Parkway connects to Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive.
What really sets this overlook apart from the others in the area is the beautiful tree right at the edge of the overlook.
This tree has been featured in many, many Blue Ridge Parkway photos and it makes an especially beautiful contrast when you’re taking photos at sunset.
Milepost 74.7, Virginia
This is a fun little overlook with a super short path that leads from the parking lot to a stone platform overlooking the mountains. This little stone ledge is tucked away in the trees and out of sight of the parking lot so all you see is trees and gorgeous mountain views.
The view from this stone ledge at Thunder Ridge Overlook is always beautiful and it is particularly amazing at sunset. And if you are hoping to capture photos of sunset, the stone steps and low stone wall will look beautiful in your photos.
View Arnold Valley Overlook
Milepost 76, Virginia
The Arnold Valley Overlook gives you a view over the valley from near the top of Apple Orchard Mountain, the highest peak on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.
This long overlook is actually divided into two sections and gives a wide view over the surrounding ridges as well as the farmland in the rolling valley below the mountains.
Purgatory Mountain Overlook
Milepost 92.1, Virginia
This overlook offers a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains along with farmland tucked in among the rolling hills. You can even catch a glimpse of the James River far below.
The actual sunset can be seen in the far left corner of the overlook, but you’ll also be treated to a huge wide open view of the sky’s changing colors.
Iron Mine Hollow Overlook
Milepost 96.2, Virginia
There are two small overlooks very close together that are both called Iron Mine Hollow Overlook.
You can view sunset from either, but I prefer the more northern of the two for photographs. You can easily tell which one this is because there is a gorgeous dead tree right next to the overlook sign. I’m a sucker for a beautiful tree and this one has a very distinct draping shape that looks amazing in photos.
I also love this overlook because of the way the nearby ridges slope together into a beautiful V-shaped valley that frames the view of the rolling hills and valleys beyond.
And because this is a smaller, lesser known spot, you’re more likely to have it all to yourself.
Roanoke Mountain Overlook
Milepost 120.3, Virginia
The Roanoke Mountain Loop Road is a four mile road that detours off the Parkway at milepost 120.3. This is a one-way road that leads to several overlooks as well as a short trail before looping back around to the Parkway.
The drive up the mountain is pleasant, but the main attractions are the Mill Mountain Overlook and Roanoke Mountain Overlook. Both give a great view of the surrounding area, but the Roanoke Mountain Overlook is the only one where you’ll be able to see sunset.
**Currently this entire loop road as well as a small section of the Parkway is closed due to a landslide. It is projected to reopen in Spring of 2023. In the meantime, you can still reach Mill Mountain star (listed below) from the Parkway heading south or from the Parkway detour that goes around the closure.**
Mill Mountain Star
via Mill Mountain Parkway at Milepost 120.5, Virginia
This sunset view isn’t technically at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but it’s well worth the extra five minute drive off the Parkway.
You’ll exit the BRP at milepost 120.5 and drive a little more than two miles until you see a sign for Mill Mountain Park on your left. Turn in here and follow the road less than a mile to the upper parking lot. Here you can park and walk just a few steps to the beautiful overlook at the base of Mill Mountain Star.
The 88.5 ft electric star is a fun sight to see, but the view over the city is even better. You’ll get a gorgeous view of the city of Roanoke as well as a great view of the sun setting over the surrounding mountains. The sunset view from this overlook is best in spring and summer but it’s still a beautiful view any time of year.
Once the sun sets, you’ll be treated to the view of the city’s twinkling lights. If you’re hungry, you’ll be just a short five minute drive from downtown Roanoke with plenty of food and drink options.
But be warned, this is a very popular spot, so you’ll probably be sharing the view with quite a few others.
The Saddle Overlook
Milepost 168, Virginia
The Saddle Overlook is one of the few overlooks that offers views from both sides of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Because there are views to both the east and the west, this is one of only a few spots on the Parkway where you can watch both sunrise and sunset.
From this overlook, facing west for the sunset, you’ll get a great view of the nearby ridges including Buffalo Mountain.
Air Bellows Overlook
Milepost 236.9, North Carolina
Air Bellows overlook offers a slightly different view than many of the other Parkway overlooks. You’ll find a sweeping view of a patchwork of open fields, farms, and rolling hills. In particular, this area is well-known for it’s abundance of Christmas tree farms. All of this works together to make a beautiful backdrop for a great sunset.
Raven Rocks Overlook
Milepost 289.5, North Carolina
Raven Rocks is a beautiful sunset viewing spot located in the very popular stretch of the Parkway near Blowing Rock and Boone, NC. This overlook has a few huge flat boulders immediately next to the parking lot that make a great spot for photos. The boulders are easy to walk out onto, but if someone takes your photo from the side, you’ll look like you are perched high on the side of a mountain.
The rustic wooden fence, large rocks, and surrounding trees at this overlook all work together to create a beautiful frame for watching the sun sink behind the mountains.
Caney Fork Overlook
Milepost 428.0, North Carolina
Caney Fork gives a beautiful wide view of sunset over the surrounding peaks. It is only a few miles from the next stop, Cowee Mountain Overlook, but I wanted to include them both because they each offer a slightly different view.
Caney Fork has an abundance of beautiful trees and greenery framing the many layers of mountains. Some may think they get in the way of the view, but I would strongly disagree. I think the thriving plant life adds depth and beauty to the view at any time of day, including sunset.
Cowee Mountain Overlook
Milepost 430.7, North Carolina
Cowee Mountain Overlook offers a stunning, wide open 180 degree view of the surrounding mountains.
The overlook is high enough above the trees that there is no vegetation blocking the view and you can see layer after layer of mountains and valley.
This west-facing overlook offers probably the best sunset view of the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. If you’re ever in the area, make sure you plan to catch a sunset here.
Waterrock Knob Overlook
Milepost 451, North Carolina
This overlook near the southern end of the Parkway is one of the rare overlooks that is a great place to watch both sunrise and sunset. The wide open view reveals layers and layers of beautiful mountains that catch the fading light in a rainbow of colors.
There’s a short .6 mile trail at Waterrock Knob that you can take to the Parkway’s highest point for uninterrupted views, but you can also get an amazing view right from the parking lot. (The photo above was taken right from the sidewalk!)
This is a very popular sunset spot, so you’ll probably have plenty of company, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty at all.
Since that day I was struggling to enjoy sunset from the Target parking lot, I’ve been making it a point to take time to really slow down and enjoy sunset a lot more often. I’ve been able to enjoy amazing sunsets from many of the overlooks in this list and I’m hoping to catch them all within the next year.
My next goal – getting up early enough to start the day with a beautiful sunrise! I’ll be working on my list of overlooks to hit for sunrise soon!