How to Plan an Amazing Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip - Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide (2024)

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The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles in Virginia and North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Though seasoned travelers might attempt to clock such mileage in a single day, that simply isn’t realistic (or desirable) for the world-renowned scenic route.

In all, the Blue Ridge Parkway requires about 15 hours of driving. But a good BRP road trip would spread this out over several days (or even weeks), visiting all the amazing sites along the way!

This scenic road curves around the Blue Ridge Mountains, with speed limits topping out at 45 mph.

There are scenic overlooks every few miles, andgreat day hikes, historic buildings, and visitor centers that add value to the trip. You’ll pass mountain townsworthy of exploring in-depth, plus national forests and state parks.

To be blunt, it’s a route made for cruising leisurely, rather than quickly getting from point A to point B.

Read on for our in-depth guide to planning the perfect Blue Ridge Parkway road trip, including the best times of year to visit, a section-by-section breakdown of highlights, the best BRP hotels, and much more!

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Why is the Blue Ridge Parkway Worth Driving?

With more than 16 million annual visitors, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the most popular of all the U.S. National Parks.

It showcases the spectacular beauty of one of theworld’s oldest mountain ranges, and is famous for its breathtaking panoramic vistas, biodiversity, and historic sites.

The Parkway also connects two of America’s most beautiful national parks, passes a myriad of beloved state parks, and traverses three national forests.

There arequaint mountain towns, towering summits, and gorgeous waterfallsaround almost every curve.

Popular stops in Virginia include the Peaks of Otter, Roanoke, Mabry Mill, and the Blue Ridge Music Center.

In North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain, Blowing Rock, Linville Falls, and Mount Mitchell draw tons of visitors each year.

But even this barely scratches the surface of what’s on tap when you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway!

READ MORE:The 15 Best Blowing Rock Cabin Rentals (1 to 4+ Bedrooms)

When is the Best Time to Drive the BRP?

Each season has its own perks, but it’s difficult to beat that Blue Ridge Parkway in Autumn. It’s one of the world’s premier leaf-peeping destinations.

Nevertheless, here’s what it looks like throughout the year:

  • The Blue Ridge Parkway in Spring is beloved for its beautiful blossoms. Rhododendrons, mountain laurels, and dogwoods are prevalent flowering trees along the road. The fields are filled with wildflowers like buttercups and columbine, and the woods might have fire pink and dwarf irises.
  • In the Summer, everything is lush and green, and the temperature along the Parkway tends to be more tolerable than it is in lower elevations. Campgrounds and visitor centers are open and bustling. There are also loads of swimming holesavailable.
  • Many visitors plan their trips around the amazing fall colors in Autumn. The Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall delivers expansive vistas to show off a landscape rich with colors. The widely varying elevations and biodiversity along the Parkway also give it a long leaf-peeping season.
  • The Blue Ridge Parkway in Winter is the most challenging time for driving. Inevitably, some sections get shut down due to dangerous weather conditions. The biggest benefits ofvisiting in Winterare that the lack of leaves opens up the stellar views even more, and there are far fewer people to contend with.

READ MORE:The 20 Best Cabin Rentals in Boone NC

Where Should I Start?

Milepost 0 of the Blue Ridge Parkway is at the southernmost entrance to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where it connects with Skyline Drive.

The southern terminus of the BRP (MP 469) is near the Oconaluftee Visitor Centerin Cherokee NC, where it leads into Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

You can start your BRP road trip at either end, depending on which is closest to you. But the two states do offer very different landscapes and diverse attractions.

North Carolina tends to have higher elevations around Asheville, especially atCraggy Gardens and the Great Balsam Mountains. Moving north, Grandfather Mountain and Julian Price Memorial Park are beloved for their hiking.

From the Virginia side, Peaks of Otter has a beautiful lake and good trails, the James River is very photogenic, Natural Bridge State Park is phenomenal, and Appalachian music is all the rage near Galax VA.

It’s also important to remember that cruising the Parkway doesn’t have to be an end-to-end affair. There are loads of things to see in each section, and it’s easy to pop on and jump off it for fun detours along the way.

In other words, start wherever it makes sense for you, and go in whichever direction you choose. Either way, it’ll be well worth the drive!

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What Are the Best Sections of the BRP to Drive?

The Blue Ridge Parkway is generally split into four distinct regions, each with over 100 miles to explore.

My personal favorite section of the BRP to drive is in the Highlands region of North Carolina, near Boone NC.It’s where I live, and it’s full of amazing parks and attractions.

However, each section has its own offerings that rank among the best stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway:

Ridge Region (MP 0 to 106)

This is where the Parkway officially begins. It kicks off in Afton VA at the southern terminus of Skyline Drive. Much of this section cuts through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Highlights of this region include Ravens Roost, Sherando Lake, the James River Visitor Center, and Peaks of Otter.

Plateau Region (MP 106 to 217)

The Plateau basically starts inRoanoke VA, where Virginia’s Explore Park Visitor Center greets guests. Other major stops in this section include Rocky Knob, Mabry Mill, and theBlue Ridge Music Center. This section takes drivers all the way to the NC border.

Highlands Region (MP 217 to 340)

NC’s Highlands section has loads going on. Doughton Park is the largest recreational area on the BRP. Moses H. Cone Memorial Park and Julian Price Memorial Park are near each other, just outside Blowing Rock. The famous Linn Cove Viaduct, Linville Falls, and Crabtree Falls are all on this route, as is the tourist town of Little Switzerland.

Pisgah Region (MP 340 to 469)

This part runs through Pisgah National Forest and cuts through Asheville. Premier stops are Craggy Gardens, Mount Pisgah, and Richland Balsam, the highest point on the Parkway at 6,047 feet. The Folk Art Center and NC Arboretum are also along the route. In our experience, this section has the best Blue Ridge Parkway overlooksNC has to offer.

READ MORE:The 15 Best VRBO Cabins in Asheville NC

Which Towns Should I Visit Along the Way?

There are loads of awesome mountain towns associated with the Blue Ridge Parkway, withLexington VA, Boone NC, and Brevard NCa few that come to mind. To keep things digestible, we’ve reduced this list down to places that brush up against the Parkway, or at least have addresses on it:

  • Roanoke VA (MP 120) is a wonderful town to visit on the Parkway. It is accessed via Mill Mountain Park, where the famous Roanoke Star looms above the town. Roanoke has great restaurants, several craft breweries, a cool transportation museum, and the family-friendly Center In The Square.
  • Blowing Rock NC (MP 294) has been a top tourist town for over a century. It’s a beautiful place, with a full fleet of restaurants, shops, and museums, and theGlen Burney Falls Trailright in town. Of course, the famous Blowing Rock and family-friendly Tweetsie Railroad are also huge attractions.
  • Little Switzerland NC (MP 334) is a historic tourist town that shuts down during the winter. It’s a unique stop on the Parkway, with all of the spoils of a larger resort town. Emerald Village Discovery Mill, the Orchard at Altapass, and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals are nearby highlights.
  • Asheville NC (MP 384) is home to the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center. It’s also where you’ll find the Biltmore Estate and Omni Grove Park Inn for luxury sightseeing and relaxation. Asheville has a thriving art scene in the River Arts District, a bustling downtown area, and amazing craft breweries.
  • Cherokee NC (MP 469) is our final BRP town, just beyond its terminus at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cherokee has tasty restaurants as well as enlightening attractions— museum, theatre, village, etc.— to help visitors gain insight into the Cherokee history and culture.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Hotels in Asheville NC to Visit

What are the Best BRP Hotels & Campgrounds?

There are a slew of great hotels and campgroundsavailable just off the BRP, but here we’ll stick to the best places to stay along the Blue Ridge Parkway proper.

Interestingly, true Blue Ridge Parkway lodging is limited to just 3 hotels along the 469-mile route!

  • The Pisgah Inn in North Carolina has stunning views near Mount Pisgah. This hotel has restaurants, a country store, a souvenir shop, and a campground right across the street.
  • Peaks of Otter Lodge is in Bedford VA, on the shores of Abbott Lake. The lodge has 63 rooms and fantastic views of Sharp Top Mountain. There’s also a nice restaurant, and several marquee hiking trails nearby.
  • The Switzerland Inn is between two beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls, Linville Falls and Crabtree Falls. Rooms in the main lodge can be casual or mountain-view suites, and there are rustic cottages as well. There’s alsop on-site fine dining, a spa, and shops.

Campers will find a large selection of Blue Ridge Parkway campgrounds to choose from, all of which have sites available on a first come, first served basis.

These campgrounds all have flush toilets, drinking water, and dump stations. And they can accommodate RVs, which are permitted on the Parkway.

  • Otter Creek Campground (MP 60.8) has 68 sites, 29 of which are first come, first served. It’s near Otter Lake, James River Visitors Center, and Natural Bridge State Park, and open from May to the end of October.
  • Rocky Knob Campground (MP 167.1) sits amongwildflower meadows and offers 100 campsites, over half of which are first come, first served. This campground is in the 4,000-acre Rocky Knob Recreation Area, which has hiking trails, a visitor center, and Rock Castle Gorge.
  • Doughton Park Campground (MP 239.2) is the Parkway’s northernmost campground, in the largest recreation area on the Parkway (7,000 acres). Doughton Park has two historic cabins, a hip retro café, and 30+ miles of hiking trails. There are 121 campsites, including sites for RVs and tent camping.
  • Julian Price Campground (MP 297) is adjacent to the stunning Price Lake and has stunning waterfalls within hiking distance. This campground is massive, with over 200 sites, 75 of which can be reserved. Great hiking and water-based recreation are also available here.
  • Crabtree Falls Campground (MP 339.5) is the top spot for waterfall lovers to camp. The 70-foot Crabtree Falls is a short hike from the campground, and several other Blue Ridge Parkway waterfalls (Linville Falls and Roaring Fork Falls) are nearby. The campground has 27 reserve sites and 54 first come, first served sites.

READ MORE:The 15 Best Cabins in Cherokee NC for Rent

General BRP Tips & Regulations

When planning your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip, there are some things to keep in mind to make your adventure low-stress and high payoff.

The BRP is designed for cruising, relaxing, and appreciating nature. Starting with that mindset will help, and using these tips should also make a big difference:

  • The Parkway speed limit tops out at 45 mph. There’s a lot of starting and stopping, as well as pulling on and off at the Blue Ridge Parkway lookouts. There are a lot of cyclists and pedestrians who aren’t fully paying attention, and wildlife is common. Don’t plan on being in a hurry!
  • Bathrooms are readily available on the Parkway at all Visitor Centers, recreation areas, and major attractions.
  • There are no gas stations on the BRP, but it’s easy enough to get off the road and fill up in towns.
  • Large RVs are permitted on the BRP, which has 26 tunnels (25 of which are in North Carolina). It’s worth checking out the Blue Ridge Parkway tunnels’ height restrictions if you think it might be an issue.
  • Commercial vehicles are not allowed on the Parkway, period.
  • Swimming is technically not permitted in any Parkway waters, but there are plenty of spots in adjacent national forests and state parks.
  • Fishing along the Blue Ridge Parkway is permitted with an appropriate state license.
  • Hunting along the Blue Ridge Parkway is completely prohibited. Concealed firearms are allowed (with proper paperwork), but they are illegal to discharge.
  • Alcohol is allowed for registered campers in the camping areas and in picnic areas until 9PM.

Lastly, I would highly recommend stopping at the first Visitor Center you pass and grabbing a Blue Ridge Parkway road trip map.

While it’s just one road, there are so many stops long the way that it’s worth knowing what’s coming soon. Plus, it’s a perfect souvenir of your road trip! –by Jonathon Engels; lead image by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

How to Plan an Amazing Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip - Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide (2024)
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