The Blue Ridge Parkway is a drive like no other. It spans 469 miles from up near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and offers a slow-paced relaxing drive with stunning mountain vistas. With scenic pull-outs at every corner and beautiful towns and parks to explore along the way, it perfectly encapsulates why the southern and central Appalachians are so incredible.
10 Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park stretches north from the starting point of the Blue Ridge Parkway and is an excellent place to extend your Parkway journey! The most popular activity is to drive along the 105-mile Skyline Drive which snakes its way through this beautiful protected land. Like the Parkway, there are hordes of scenic vistas offering spectacular panoramic views over the park. There are also numerous trails leading to cascading waterfalls, wildflower fields, and tranquil forests for visitors who want to stretch their legs. Just keep an eye out for black bears, deer, and songbirds!
Roanoke is the first big stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway (starting from the northern end) and is known as the 'Star City of the South' due to the iconic Roanoke Star found at the top of Mill Mountain. Visitors can visit the Roanoke Star directly from the Parkway for scenic views over downtown Roanoke. Outdoor activities are also a popular pastime around Roanoke, mountain biking is particularly popular as it was the first place on the East Coast to be named a Silver-Level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bike Association.
Just across the North Carolina border is the charming small town of Boone, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Downtown Boone offers a surprising assortment of breweries, cafes, restaurants, and shops and is a perfect stop along the Parkway to enjoy a couple of days soaking up the mountain air. Close by there are plenty of opportunities for activities like rafting or kayaking, and just 15 minutes south of Boone is Appalachian Ski Mountain where visitors can enjoy the snowy slopes, or learn some skills at the ski school.
7 Grandfather Mountain State Park
Another 'can't miss' stop along the Parkway is the wonderful Grandfather Mountain State Park. The iconic activity here is to cross the wheelchair-accessible Mile-High Swinging Bridge, which stretches thousands of feet above the Carolina Piedmont. There are also 12 miles of trails and backpacking campsites for visitors to enjoy close by to the Parkway.
6 Linville Gorge
A little further south down the Blue Ridge Parkway from Grandfather Mountain is stunning Linville Gorge, known as one of the Eastern US's most scenic gorges. It is part of the Pisgah National Forest and is bisected by the Linville River. Visitors can hike 2 miles directly from a trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway for breathtaking views of the enormous waterfalls across a series of overlooks. A perfect way to break up the drive along the Parkway!
5 Mount Mitchell
With an elevation of 6,684ft, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. Just off of the Parkway, visitors can drive along NC Highway 128 right to the parking lot at the summit. From here, it is just a short quarter-mile paved trail to the observation deck where, on a clear day, it is possible to see 85 miles over the mountains. The perfect stop for the highest view along the Parkway!
If visiting a brewery is high on your holiday to-do list, Asheville is the perfect stop. It was voted Beer City USA 4 years in a row and took the number 2 spot for cities with the most breweries per capita. Many of the breweries are within walking distance of each other, making brewery-hopping a perfect way to spend an Asheville weekend. Downtown is also filled with quirky independent stores and restaurants with a huge array of cuisines for visitors to enjoy.
3 Fryingpan Tower
A little further south along the Parkway from Asheville is the unique Fryingpan Tower Lookout Tower. It is close to Mount Pisgah but offers better views for a shorter hike (1.5-mile round trip). After the hike up, visitors can climb five flights of stairs up the 70-foot steel fire lookout tower to just underneath the top platform. The views are spectacular, but the stairs up are not for those with a fear of heights!
2 Bryson City
Towards the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway is Bryson City, known as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains National Park. With the rolling hills surrounding the town, Bryson City is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy a break from the Parkway before exploring the Smoky Mountains. In the winter, visitors can enjoy a trip on the
town's Polar Express train on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, making it one of the best Christmas towns in North Carolina.
1 Smoky Mountain National Park
No trip to this region would be complete without a visit to the Smoky Mountain National Park. It is completely free and is the most visited National Park in the US, and it is easy to see why. The Cades Cove loop is a popular drive to spot elk, white-tailed deer, and black bears. For one last scenic mountain vista, take a trip to the top of Clingman's Dome, a tower right on the North Carolina - Tennessee border.