After driving the entire Blue Ridge Parkway multiple times year after year, we are sharing everything you need to know to make the most of your visit, including when is the best time to visit, where to stay, tips for a great trip, and the must see highlights along the way.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive that winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the eastern United States. It stretches almost 470 miles, making it one of the longest linear drives in the U.S. and we would argue one of the best. It is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, road trippers, and nature lovers and it’s not hard to see why.
You are driving through beautiful mountains on a two lane road, mostly bordered by nothing but beautiful foliage, wide mountain views, hiking trails, and the occasional historic cabin.
Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a week-long adventure, the Blue Ridge Parkway has something to offer. Its scenic beauty and rich history make it an unforgettable experience for anyone who visits.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is unlike other roads in many ways. Doing a bit of planning ahead will help with figuring out practical matters as well as ensuring you don’t miss any of the hidden gems.
How the Blue Ridge Parkway Began
The Blue Ridge Parkway was first proposed in the 1930s as a way to connect Shenandoah National Park in central Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. The project was part of the New Deal program, aimed at providing jobs during the Great Depression.
The first day of work was September 11, 1935 and the final day September 11, 1987. In the 52 years it took to finish the project, various groups contributed to creating the uninterrupted drive.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is managed by the National Park Service and has been the most visited area managed by the park service since the 1940s. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
How to enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway
Aside from the beautiful drive, visitors can look forward to amazing hikes, historic sites, and picturesque overlooks. There’s a lot to see and do, way too much to take in on a single visit.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is first and foremost a road, so visiting the Parkway is primarily a driving experience. No matter what you do on the parkway, driving will be part of it.
The speed limit is 45 mph for most of the parkway and never rises higher than that.
The parkway is a beautiful place to drive and take in the scenery even if you never leave your car.
Because the parkway has numerous entry and exit points onto highways, you can easily enjoy a few hours driving on the parkway or spend an entire day there.
Many people enjoy driving through the tunnels. If that’s you, then you want to head down to the Pisgah Region south of Asheville, NC and get on at milepost 393.6 and drive to 411.9. There are ten tunnels in this section, making this the highest density on the parkway.
Taking in the View
Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway is elevated over the surrounding mountains and dramatic views are everywhere. There are more than 200 scenic overlooks along the parkway where you can pull off the road and take in the views.
Some of these overlooks include picnic tables, hiking trails, and historic cabins, but many of them are simply spots along the road where you can stop and enjoy the beauty of the mountains. Most of the time, you can enjoy the beautiful views without ever leaving your car, which is wonderful for those with limited mobility.
Whether you are visiting to see the fall colors or just checking out our amazing blue hazy mountains, there are two times of day that are particularly beautiful. Sunrise and sunset are magical in these mountains.
You can find east and west facing overlooks throughout the parkway. You want to arrive half an hour before sunrise and 45 minutes before sunset. Grab a camera and enjoy the show.
There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can find trailheads for the Appalachian Trail as well as the Mountain to Sea trail. Some of our favorite hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains are accessed via the parkway.
In late spring you can find some of the most beautiful rhododendron blooms in the region along many of the trails in North Carolina. In Fall the hardwood forests explode with color; walking among the brightly colored trees in October is breathtaking.
On many weekends during warmer months, it’s common to see people road biking along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Make sure you wear bright colored fabrics and stay aware of your surroundings. Though cycling on the parkway has become more popular, the two lane road was not originally designed for bicycles.
The NPS has created a page specifically for cyclists that gives the safety requirements for bicycling on the parkway as well as all the major ascents northbound and southbound.
People had been present in these mountains long before the Blue Ridge Parkway was built. Some of the historic sites from that time still remain and there are many log cabins you can visit.
There are grand homes like Flat Top Manor at Moses H Cone Park as well as tiny wooden structures that strain the definition of home for modern visitors.
Many of the historic sites require a short walk to tour the grounds. Aside from the structures, the historic sites also have many interpretive signs with stories and information about the people that populated the region.
Tips for the Blue Ridge Parkway
We live less than five minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway and have spent many years exploring it from one end to the other.
While we love driving on the Parkway, it isn’t like driving on a typical highway and there are some things you need to keep in mind for an enjoyable trip.
Never take the parkway if you are in a hurry. Between the low speed limit and the winding road, it takes longer than you think to get everywhere.
Don’t rely on your phone’s GPS to help you navigate. Aside from the spotty signal, we’ve found Google and Apple maps don’t want to route along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a good idea to do some research before any trip so know where you plan to get on and off the Parkway before you begin.
Get gas before you get on the parkway and plan where you will fill up before it gets below a quarter of a tank. There are no gas stations on the Parkway itself. There are often gas stations near the Parkway’s access points, but these can be many miles apart.
If you are going into Shenandoah National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there will be even fewer gas opportunities, so don’t let your tank get too empty.
Most people on the Parkway are there to enjoy the ride, but just like anywhere, you might find yourself being tailgated by someone impatient to get where they are going. The best thing to do is just pull into an overlook and let tailgaters pass. Let them drive like dumb-dumbs, while you enjoy your trip.
One final tip we think we should mention is the Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner app. The app is full of helpful tips from hikes, overlooks, fishing spots, and a lot more. It’s free to download and use or you can purchase it for offline maps. You can learn more from their website. We use it regularly and love it!
Restaurants along the Blue Ridge Parkway
You won’t find many places to eat on the parkway, but there are a few. If you are planning to eat at one of the restaurants, be sure to check the restaurant’s website before you go to review hours of operation and if reservations are available. If you can make a reservation, do it.
Peaks of Otter Restaurant (Milepost 86) – There are breakfast, lunch, and dinner options available between May and October.
Brugh Tavern (Explore Park, Milepost 115) – You can find typical pub fair and some tasty brews.
Mabry Mill (Milepost 176) – Seasonally Mabry Mill Restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Bluffs (Milepost 241) – The Bluffs menu features many homecooked meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Northwest Trading Post (Milepost 258) – You can grab premade sandwiches, local pastries, and fudge.
Pisgah Inn (Milepost 408) – The restaurant at Pisgah Inn offers fine dining and requires a reservation for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Seating is limited so if you are unable to get a reservation, you can instead pick up some grab and go food from their store.
Lodging on the Blue Ridge Parkway
If you are lucky enough to have multiple days to spend driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’re going to need somewhere to spend the night.
There are two lodges and eight campgrounds on the parkway itself, along with many surrounding communities where you can find a hotel, campground, or private rental.
Lodges on the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are only two lodges on the parkway and both are excellent options in beautiful locations.
Peaks of Otter Lodge (Milepost 86) – Peaks of Otter Lodge sits along the shore of Abbott Lake, surrounded by the three Peaks of Otter and is a destination for hiking, history, and relaxing.
Pisgah Inn (Milepost 408) – Pisgah Inn rests on the edge of one of the most picturesque locations on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to the amazing view, you can find hiking and numerous incredible overlooks nearby.
Camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway
We love camping because it’s one of the best ways to escape into nature and fees for camping are very affordable. There are eight campgrounds directly on the parkway. Each of the campgrounds can host RVs and tents from May to October.
Otter Creek Campground (Milepost 61) – Otter Creek campground is near Otter Lake and the James River area.
Peaks of Otter Campground (Milepost 86) – Peaks of Otter campground is at the base of Sharp Top Mountain and the second largest campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Rocky Knob Campground (Milepost 167) – Rocky Knob campground is near historic Mabry Mill as well as one of the toughest hikes on the parkway in Rock Castle Gorge.
Doughton Park Campground (Milepost 239) – Doughton Park Campground is on the edge of the Doughton Recreation Area and very close to Stone Mountain State Park.
Julian Price Campground (Milepost 297) – Julian Price Campground is one of the best destinations on the parkway for people that enjoy fishing in addition to hiking and history. There are even camping spots on the water.
Linville Falls Campground (Milepost 316) – Linville Falls is perhaps the most beautiful waterfall on the parkway. This makes the campground a great option for photographers wanting to catch the waterfall during the Golden Hour.
Crabtree Falls Campground (Milepost 339) – This beautiful, heavily forested area is great for tree lovers and waterfall lovers.
Mt Pisgah Campground (Milepost 409) – Mt Pisgah Campground is the highest elevation campground on the parkway making it an excellent choice to escape the heat of summer and to enjoy the high mountain views.
Highlights of the Blue Ridge Parkway
With so many miles and so many things to see, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where you want to go.
Here are some of our favorite places to stop when we travel on the parkway, organized by region.
Ridge Region, milepost 0 – 106
The Ridge region of the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most northern section of the Parkway. It begins at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park and stretches to the border of the City of Roanoke. Much of the parkway in this section is on the mountain ridges, providing some amazing views.
In this beautiful section of the Blue Ridge you can see some of the few wilderness areas in Virginia as well as the lowest point on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway at Otter Creek (milepost 63) near the James River.
Humpback Rocks Visitor Center and Farm Museum – Milepost 5
Humpback Rocks is a popular stop with a visitor center, picnic area, historic buildings, and a popular hike. The farm museum next to the visitors center includes an old log farmhouse with several outbuildings to explore along with interpretive signs.
If you are up for more of a challenge, there is an almost 2 mile hike that climbs to the jagged exposed rocky cliff that is Humpback Rock.
Yankee Horse Ridge and Wigwam Falls – Milepost 35
Yankee Horse Ridge is has one of the easiest waterfall hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Wigwam Falls is less than half a mile from the parking area. There is a meandering hike that takes you to the base of the falls. Along the short walk you also pass over a decommissioned logging rail line and follow Wigwam Creek.
Peaks of Otter – Milepost 86
The three famous peaks of Peaks of Otter have long been a tourist destination. Aside from the lodge and restaurant, there are numerous hikes that visitors can enjoy. Sharp Top is the most popular but Johnson Family Farm is another wonderful hike. You can use our guide to help you plan if you are going to visit.
The Plateau Region, Milepost 106 – 217
Where the Ridge region is marked by undulating mountains and numerous overlooks, the Plateau region features fewer overlooks and feels less separate from the surrounding communities. It’s one of the few areas on the parkway where roads intersect directly with the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Explore Park – Milepost 115
Explore Park has a little bit of everything. There is a village of reconstructed historic cabins and barns, a ropes course, river tubing, hiking and biking trails, and even frisbee golf.
You’ll also find a visitor’s center here along with a brewery operating in the historic Brugh Tavern building and lots of camping and glamping options.
Mill Mountain Parkway to Mill Mountain Star and Zoo – Milepost 120
Along with the near 20 miles of trails on Mill Mountain, you can also take in an impressive view of the City of Roanoke from the huge Roanoke Star. The Mill Mountain Zoo is also situated in the Mill Mountain complex.
From Mill Mountain Park, you can continue a few more minutes down the spur road into downtown Roanoke for your pick of restaurants and shops.
Mabry Mill – Milepost 176
Mabry Mill is probably the most photographed spot on the parkway in Virginia.
It’s worth stopping here just to see this historic mill, but there is also a restaurant with great food along with a collection of other historic buildings. If you catch it at the right time, you can even watch demonstrations of traditional weaving and blacksmithing.
The Highlands Region, Milepost 217 – 339
The Highlands region of the Blue Ridge Parkway begins at the North Carolina and Virginia border. In this section of the parkway, you can find some of the most photographed spots in all of the Blue Ridge.
The mountains vary in height more in the Highlands than in the Plateau region and as the parkway edges closer to the Pisgah region, it becomes more heavily forested along the roadway.
Moses H Cone Park – Milepost 294
Moses H Cone Park is great place to visit whether you’re interested in history, love hiking, or just want to take in some beautiful views.
There are about 25 miles of old carriage trails throughout the historic property that are now open to hiking. You can also tour the historic home, Flat Top Manor, or check out the gorgeous mountain crafts for sale in the shop.
Julian Price Park – Milepost 297
Near Blowing Rock, NC, Julian Price Park is always worth a stop. You can fish or canoe in the lake or hike on the almost 20 miles of trails. There is also a campground with spots along the water and a huge picnic area.
Julian Price Park is a destination, not just a stop along the parkway.
Linn Cove Viaduct – Milepost 304
It seems the Linn Cove Viaduct is the cover picture for all things Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a beautiful bridge that follows the natural curve of the surrounding mountains and one of the most famous sections of the entire Parkway.
Linville Falls – Milepost 316
Linville Falls is accessed by a short spur road. You can view the amazing three tiered waterfall at the overlook area by taking an easy half-mile trail.
Aside from the waterfall, there are restrooms, a campground, and a large picnic area. In about an hour you can walk to the view and have a picnic, making this one of the best spots for lunch on the parkway.
Craggy Gardens – Milepost 364
Craggy Gardens is a beautiful hike to a high overlook where you can take in the amazing mountains. It’s a popular spot for sunrise and sunset because of the 360 degree view. The hike is just shy of two miles and should take a little less than an hour of walking, but give yourself extra time to take in the beauty.
The Pisgah Region, Milepost 339 – 469
The Pisgah region is the final region on the Blue Ridge Parkway and connects to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The highest peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains are located within the Pisgah region and it is known for the untamed feeling that remains throughout the mountains.
Almost all of the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway are in the Pisgah region. Of the 26 tunnels on the parkway, 23 of them are in the Pisgah section. You can also find some of the most breathtaking views in the Appalachian Mountains in this 130 mile drive.
Crabtree Falls – Milepost 339
You can take a three mile hike to the base of this powerful 70 foot waterfall. You’ll need to budget about an hour and a half to complete the loop. In addition there are more than 70 camping sites available, most of which are first come first serve.
Pisgah Inn – Milepost 408
Pisgah Inn is one of only two lodges along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along with the lodge here, there is a restaurant and a store with a few quick food options.
There is an incredible view at the rear of the lodge overlooking the lower mountain ridges plus there is nearby hiking along the Mountain to Sea Trail.
Graveyard Fields – Milepost 418
With a name like Graveyard Fields, you may be picturing the macabre. Instead, this overlook area is one of the best places to see the fall colors and has a 3 mile hike to a stunning waterfall.
This is a must stop on a trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is truly amazing and popular so come early.
Highest Point on Parkway – Milepost 431
The name sort of says it all. At 6053 feet along the top of Richard Balsam, you have a great view over the surrounding mountains. There is a large parking lot and it’s worth stopping to take a few photos before continuing on.
Waterrock Knob – Milepost 451
This is our personal favorite spot on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. There are plenty of picnic tables at the huge overlook as well as a small gift shop.
But that’s not what makes it special; the view does. Layered mountains unfold in every direction and when the light is just right, a certain kind of magic happens. It’s emotional and elusive and hard to describe. You can learn more about Waterrock Knob here.
Oconaluftee Visitor Center – End of Blue Ridge Parkway
This is the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the beginning of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can find a great visitor center and a mountain farm museum and there are often elk roaming near the visitor center.
For those of you with kids, you can pick up junior ranger books here as well.
When is the best time to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway?
We get four full seasons in the Blue Ridge and each one is distinctive. If you live in the region, you are very familiar with this. If you instead only vacation in our mountains, then there are some things you might not know.
Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Amenities on the Parkway open in April each year as winter fades to spring. Depending on where you are visiting, cold weather and barren trees may still be present in April. By late May to early June, spring finally sets in across the entire region.
One of the treats for springtime is the rhododendron bloom. At lower elevations, you can find this in early spring, but at higher elevations the bloom may not happen until June. Craggy Gardens at milepost 364 in early June is a special place.
Summer on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The number of visitors increase as it transitions to summer. Hiking trails along the parkway become more crowded on the weekends. The hardwood forests lining the mountains turn a deep green and thick canopies serve as a refuge from the heat in lower valleys.
Western North Carolina’s high elevations reach comfortable temperatures and it’s unusual to have a trail to yourself. This is your peak time to find a gorgeous sunrise or sunset and watch those overlapping mountain peaks merge in the dimming light. Sunset a Waterrock Knob is something I can’t get out of my mind and I can’t wait to see another one.
Fall on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Our beautiful forests explode with color in fall and crowds flock to the mountains to watch. Higher elevations experience leaf change first, then it flows down to lower elevations. The color change reaches Western North Carolina in early October and it isn’t until the beginning of November that the forest transitions in the lower elevations of the Ridge region of Virginia.
If you are planning a visit hoping to see fall colors in North Carolina, make sure you don’t let the season slip by. The high elevations transition fast and the relentless winds rob the trees of their ornate colors. In the lower elevations of Virginia the color stays a bit longer.
Visit Graveyard Fields in early October or Peaks of Otter in late October into early November for the fullest and brightest colored trees.
This time of year is the most beautiful, in our opinion, but knowing when to go where can be tricky. We have a helpful guide that can prepare you for the whole season.
As the cascading colors crescendo, the Blue Ridge Parkway again closes for winter.
Winter on the Blue Ridge Parkway
With fewer volunteers and bad weather likely, any winter visit to the parkway is at risk of being canceled. Some parts of the Plateau Region stay open all winter, but outside of that, almost every section of the parkway will shut down at some point during the winter season.
Ice storms and snow become more common throughout December and into January and with that the risk of downed trees that block the roadway increases. Always check for road closures before any winter visit.
Posts about the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Beacon Heights Hike: The Most Amazing short trail on the Parkway
- Tanawha Trail: The best trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
- The Saddle Overlook: Sunrise, Sunset, Huge Views, what else is there?
- Rough Ridge: A Spectacular Section Hike on an Amazing Trail
- 30 of the most beautiful overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Hawksbill Mountain Trail: This view is so good it doesn’t make sense
- Crabtree Falls, NC: The best waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway
- 5 ways to see and fall in love with Linville Falls
- Explore Park: Exciting things to do at this great outdoor spot