- North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway: one of the most scenic drives on the East Coast
Spanning 755 kilometers through Virginia and North Carolina, the rolling Blue Ridge Parkway offers access to tons of hiking trails, picnic areas, cultural exhibits and awe-inspiring overlooks. Completed in 1983, the parkway was built as a Scenic Byway between Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most visited attractions in the United States National Park System.
The best way to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway is by car, which you can rent at the nearby Charlottesville-Albermarle Airport in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the start of your trip. You’ll need anywhere from three to six days, depending on if you drive the entire parkway and how often you stop along the way to enjoy the scenery. We’ve outlined an itinerary for five fun-filled days on the parkway.
Starting Point: Charlottesville, Virginia
About 40 kilometers from the beginning of the Parkway, Charlottesville, Virginia, makes an excellent starting point to your journey. Spend a couple days in Charlottesville exploring Monticello (the home of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States) and the region’s many local wineries. Before you start your drive, rest up at the elegant and intimate Clifton Inn, set on more than 40 hectares nestled in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Before hitting the road, spend some time exploring the Charlottesville area, where you’ll find plenty of historic sites and charming wineries.
Day 1: Humpback Rocks to Peaks of Otter
Less than 10 kilometers down the parkway from Charlottesville is the Humpback Rocks Visitors Center, which features exhibits about pioneer life in the mountains and an outdoor farm museum. Take your first hike break and challenge yourself with a strenuous portion of the Appalachian Trail to the top of Humpback Rocks, where you’ll find gorgeous Shenandoah Valley vistas. After your hike, continue south along the parkway and stop for a picnic lunch near the shores of the James River before enjoying a leisurely hike along the James River Canal Trail. Wrap up your first day by sleeping under the stars to the soothing sounds of Abbott Lake at the Peaks of Otter Campground, a short drive farther south along the parkway.
Days 2 and 3: Roanoke Mountain to Linville Falls
Head out early and drive south to Roanoke, Virginia, where you can hike the 6.5-kilometer loop around Roanoke Mountain to enjoy spectacular views of southern Virginia. Back on the Parkway, stop for a lunch of buckwheat cakes and country ham at Mabry Mill, and then round out the evening with a bluegrass performance at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Performances take place several times a week from May through October.
On day three, cross into North Carolina and spend a relaxing morning bird watching at Cumberland Knob, the site where construction of the parkway first began in 1935. Then, gear up for about a two-hour stretch in the car to the Linn Cove Viaduct, a concrete bridge that hugs the curves of Grandfather Mountain. Finish the day with a less than 30-minute drive to Linville Falls and spend the night in a camping cabin, complete with linens, fully stocked kitchen and television.
You’ll find many scenic overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Save time to stop and enjoy the view.
Days 4 and 5: Linville Falls to Asheville, North Carolina
Take in the natural beauty up close at Craggy Gardens where vivid floral displays hit their peak in June and July. Continue south to the Southern Highland Craft Gallery to shop for traditional Appalachian crafts from Southern Highland Craft Guild artists such as decorated pottery, jewelry and leather goods.
A little more than 7 kilometers down the road from the craft gallery you’ll find the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters, where you can orient yourself on the parkway’s offerings and find tips on places to hike and admire the view. Exit the parkway and drive to Asheville, North Carolina, a bustling mountain town known for its craft beer scene, artisan community and diverse cuisine. After conquering the Blue Ridge Parkway, check in for a night at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn and treat tired muscles to a treatment at the nearly 4,000-square-meter spa.
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway. So be sure to get out and stretch your legs!
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