The Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip Guide
America’s Favorite Drive – the Blue Ridge Parkway – is nestled in the lush mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. This scenic route links two of the most beautiful and accessible national parks and offers fantastic hiking, camping, and more.
Join us as we head out on a road trip like no other.
Where Is the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountain range. It begins near Waynesboro, Virginia, at Rockfish Gap at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park.
The road runs southwest past Roanoke, Virginia, through central and southwestern Virginia before crossing into North Carolina. It continues southwest past Asheville, North Carolina.
Then it turns northwest to meet Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Stats
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile route that runs along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina. It connects Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park with the North Carolina portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The road is a national parkway, meaning the government protects it for recreational driving and historical reasons. Believe it or not, you won’t have to pay any tolls, and most commercial vehicles aren’t allowed.
The parkway was built during the Great Depression as part of New Deal efforts to revive the region’s struggling economy through travel and tourism. It’s the longest road planned as a single unit in the entire country.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is just two lanes for most of the route, winding through fields and forests and over hills rich with beauty and Appalachian culture. Because traditional addresses aren’t used along the parkway, most destinations are referred to by their mile marker. These run from 0 at Rockfish Gap to 469.1 at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Recreational areas along the route make great places to get outside. Every year, millions of visitors take advantage of the hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and other outdoor activities offered at various points along the parkway.
How Long Does it Take to Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?
At nearly 470 miles long, driving the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway will almost certainly be a multi-day trip for most people. The speed limit is just 45 miles per hour for most of the route, though it’ll occasionally drop to as low as 25 mph. Driving straight through with no breaks would take about 11 hours.
However, we don’t suggest driving the Blue Ridge Parkway solely to get to the other end. Slowing down and experiencing the road is half the fun! Most travelers making the drive will spend from three days up to a week or more.
With relatively easy access to major interstates and medium-sized cities, day trips or overnights on smaller portions of the parkway are also possible.
Is the Blue Ridge Parkway Dangerous?
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the mountains, so naturally, you’ll encounter some steep grades, tighter curves, small or non-existent shoulders, and other minor hazards. RV travelers may also face issues with low-clearance tunnels on parts of the route.
Still, people don’t consider the Blue Ridge Parkway dangerous. Keep in mind, people make millions of trips on the road every year, and the vast majority of them involve no trouble whatsoever. By observing general common sense, you’ll be able to enjoy this one-of-a-kind road safely.
Know Before You Go: Don’t become one of the approximately 200 accidents the National Park Service investigates each year on the parkway. Review their driving safety tips before you head out.
What is the Best Time of Year to Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Blue Ridge Parkway is open year-round. Though people generally enjoy it best in the spring, summer, or fall. Due to the road’s higher elevation, winter can bring colder, wetter, and windier conditions than the surrounding areas. This can occasionally lead to weather-related closures of portions of the parkway.
Those looking to see the first blooming trees can visit as early as late March. And leaf-peepers looking to see fall colors should take the drive during October or early November. As with many popular attractions, summertime and holiday weekends can bring extra crowds and traffic.
So be prepared if you’re visiting during these times.
Best Hikes Near the Blue Ridge Parkway
The parkway itself is best enjoyed via car. But, there are some great hikes along the route that can bring you up close and personal with the fantastic natural world of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Beacon Heights is located at mile marker 305.2, on the route between Boone and Asheville, North Carolina. This short, one-mile hike takes you up a mountain to the Beacon Heights area. At more than 4,300 feet in elevation, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of rolling, forested terrain, including nearby Grandfather Mountain.
Visitors note that it’s a bit rocky but generally an easy hike. While it may be short, the views are worth your while, regardless of your skill level or hiking experience.
Linville Falls is another top hiking area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The trails to the falls begin at the visitor center located at mile marker 316, northeast of Asheville, North Carolina. Both provide you access to Linville Falls, which cascades nearly 2,000 feet from Grandfather Mountain down through a scenic gorge. This gorge was the nation’s first officially designated wilderness area.
Hikers can choose the more moderate, 1.6-mile Erwins View Trail, which offers four overlooks, or the Linville Gorge/Plunge Basin Trails, more strenuous options that range between 1 and 1.4 miles round trip. As beautiful as this area looks, it’s also dangerous. The park prohibits swimming in the river and climbing on the rocks for this reason.
The NPS suggests those looking for a more serene, less crowded experience should try the hike on weekdays rather than weekends.
Best Campgrounds Near the Blue Ridge Parkway
There’s no better way to get to know these breathtaking mountains than to spend a night or more camping there. While you have many choices both along and near the parkway, here are our two top picks.
Doughton Park campground is located at mile marker 239, approximately 20-25 miles after the parkway crosses into North Carolina. The campground offers more than 120 sites, the vast majority of which are only available on a first-come, first-served basis by booking directly at the campsite.
Camping costs $20 per site per night. Each area is shaded and includes tables, campfire rings, and grills. The campground has drinking water and bathrooms with flush toilets, though no showers are available. RVs are permitted. However, you’ll be dry-camping as there are no electric or water hookups. You will, however, have access to a dump station if needed.
Doughton Park offers great and affordable camping and easy access to 30 miles of nearby trails. They range from short and easy to strenuous and lengthy, providing hikers of all skill levels the opportunity to explore the local bluegrass bluffs. Visitors can also check out the area’s history at the nearly 140-year-old Brinegar Cabin, which offers weaving and craft demonstrations in the summer months. Fishing is available as well, at the nearby Basin Cove Creek.
Linville Falls Campground
We mentioned the great hiking available at Linville Falls, but the area is also a popular camping destination. Just a mile further down the road at mile marker 317, you’ll find more than 60 campsites. The campground has set aside 25 of these for first-come, first-served campers.
Like Doughton Park, campsites start at $20 per night, and you’ll have access to tables, campfire rings, and grills at each site. Campers can take advantage of drinking water and bathrooms, but no showers or utility hookups for RVs are available here. Boondockers can use the campground dump station.
In addition to the great hikes noted earlier, campers can fish just a short walk away at Duggers Creek Falls or go birdwatching at Lost Cove Cliff Overlook.
Is a Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip Worth It?
Traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway is absolutely worth it for most who love nature or road trips. For one, it connects two of the most popular parks in the National Park System due in part to their easy access to millions of Americans on the east coast. It allows you to exchange the traffic and speed of the interstate for the calm and beauty of nature and history.
You’ll also have no shortage of outdoor recreational opportunities, including hiking, biking, camping, and fishing. There’s no better way to get to know this often-missed part of America than by an extended, on-the-ground trip.
Finally, it can be very affordable, thanks to the low-cost campgrounds available along or near the parkway.
Experience the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway has truly earned the nickname of America’s Favorite Drive through its easy accessibility, breathtaking natural wonders, and myriad opportunities to play and experience the great outdoors. There’s something for everyone on this 469-mile journey. All that’s left for you to do is go out and find it!
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