What to Do on the Parkway
Here are some of the top sights on the Blue Ridge Parkway, listed from north to south. Many of the visitor centers have gift shops.
Humpback Rocks (Milepost 5.8) – visitor center, museum of 19th century log buildings, picnic area, access to Appalachian Trail and trail to summit of Humpback Mountain.
James River and Otter Creek (MP 60-63) – visitor center, restored canal locks on the James River, campground and hiking trails along Otter Creek.
Peaks of Otter (MP 86) – lodge and restaurant, visitor center, 1930s restored Johnson farm, campground, picnic area, and access to Appalachian Trail, extensive trail system. The museum at the visitor center has good information on the Native American history of the mountains.
Roanoke (MP 106-120) - access to the parkway’s largest neighboring city, hiking and horse trails and campground.
Mabry Mill (MP176.2) – the Mabry Mill Trail features a blacksmith shop, wheelwright's shop and whiskey still, as well as one of the most photographed structures on the parkway, Mabry Mill itself. This is a working gristmill. There are three picnic areas, a visitor center, campground and hiking into Rockcastle Gorge.
Blue Ridge Music Center (MP 215) – outdoor amphitheater, visitor center and museum. This is the parkway's premier site for interpreting and featuring the musical heritage of the region.
Moses H. Cone and Julian Price Parks (MP 295-298) – the Cone house is a 23-room, 13,000 square feet mansion completed in 1900 on a 3,500-acre estate near Grandfather Mountain. Moses Cone was a textile manufacturer and was called the “denim king of America.” His company was a major supplier of denim to Levi Strauss for about 100 years. The Cone estate had 25 miles of carriage roads, several lakes, extensive rose gardens, four orchards with 32,000 apple trees, stables, barns, carriage and apple houses, a bowling alley and a carbide plant that provided gas and lighting to the manor. The house now contains a Southern Highland Handicraft Guild craft store. There is a 47-acre lake at Price Park, along with many hiking trails, picnic area and campground.
Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304) -- the 1,243-foot-long Linn Cove Viaduct is a dramatic feat of engineering on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. This was the last section of the Parkway to be completed, in 1987. Here you can visit the bridge museum and visitor center maintained by National Park Service and hike on a trail that runs under the viaduct.
Linville Falls (MP 317) – visitor center, campground, picnic area and access to popular wilderness area, Linville Gorge.
Museum of North Carolina Minerals (MP 331) – visitor center and museum highlighting the geology and gems of the region, open year-round. Kids especially will enjoy it.
Crabtree Falls (MP 349) - campground, picnic area and access to Crabtree Falls, in the Black Mountain Range.
Mt. Mitchell (off MP 355), the highest peak in the East, is at the end of a 4.8-mile access road from the Parkway. At Mt. Mitchell State Park, there’s a visitor center, restaurant and snack bar open seasonally, along with walk-in and hike-in campsites. The restaurant, snack bar and restrooms are open May through October.
Craggy Gardens (MP 364) – Craggy Gardens is a high elevation heath bald. There is a visitor center here and a picnic area. Spectacular displays of rhododendron blooms occur in June and early July.
Asheville (MP 382-393) – Asheville is home to park headquarters and is the region’s major tourist destination. The parkway runs through part of the Biltmore Estate. If you exit the parkway at U.S. Highway 25 North (MP 389), you’re only about 3 miles from the entrance to Biltmore. The Folk Art Center (MP 382), open year-round, is one of the best crafts centers in the region. The main Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center (MP 384), open year-round, has exhibits and films. Near MP 394, adjacent to the parkway, is the wonderful North Carolina Arboretum.
Pine Mountain Tunnel (MP 399.3) -- the longest tunnel on the parkway, at 1,320 feet long.
Mt. Pisgah (MP 408) – the section around Mt. Pisgah has a campground, picnic area and the Pisgah Inn lodge and restaurant. The Cradle of Forestry, the birthplace of forestry in America, Sliding Rock and the largest trout hatchery in North Carolina are nearby – to reach these attractions go south toward Brevard on U.S. Highway 276 into the Pisgah National Forest at MP 412.
Cold Mountain (MP 412) – overlooks offer views of the mountain made famous in Charles Frazier’s best-selling 1997 novel and the 2003 movie of the same name. For the best view, stop at Wagon Gap Road parking area at MP 412.2, then walk north a short distance on the parkway. There also is a view, somewhat obstructed by trees, of Cold Mountain from the overlook at MP 412.2. The movie made from the novel was not filmed in Western North Carolina but in Eastern Europe.
Graveyard Fields (MP 419) – has views quite different from what you see on most of the rest of the parkway, in that there are few tall trees. The spooky name comes from the tree stumps and dirt mounds left after a windstorm and later forest fire. There’s a popular hiking trail (Graveyard Fields Loop) here that passes three waterfalls and a nice swimming hole. About 1,500 feet of the trail from the overlook is a boardwalk. In August, Graveyard Fields is a good place to pick wild blueberries – Park Service rules permit the picking of one gallon per person per day. In 2014, the Park Service is doubling the parking capacity at the Graveyard Fields park lot, from 17 to 40 spaces, and adding new bathroom facilities. The Park Service manages the Graveyard Fields overlook, but most of the 3,000 acres of Graveyard Field is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Waterrock Knob (MP 451) – visitor center near the Cherokee Reservation and near the parkway’s highest elevation, featuring views over the Great Smokes region.
Terminus of Parkway (MP 469) – connects with US Highway 441, the main road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Oconaluftee visitor center and the Mountain Farm Museum.
Biking is permitted the entire length of the parkway, and bicycling is popular. Keep in mind, however, that automobile drivers may have trouble seeing bikes on curves and especially in long, unlit tunnels. Always wear high-visibility clothing and equip your bike with front and rear lights and reflectors. Even if you’re an experienced rider and you’re in good shape, you should plan on seven to eight days to bike the entire length of the parkway. That’s 60 to 70 miles a day, with much of it up steep grades. At that pace, you won’t have much time to stop and smell the flowers.
The parkway offers about 100 hiking trails, ranging from short nature walks to multi-mile hikes. There is access from the parkway to the Appalachian Trail at several points, including near Roanoke and Peaks of Otter.
Some of the most popular trails with trailheads on or near the parkway in North Carolina include Linville Falls Trail (Milepost 316.4, 0.8 mile to view of lower and upper falls), Crabtree Falls Loop Trail (MP 339.5, 2 miles to waterfall), Craggy Pinnacle Trail (MP 364.2, 0.7 miles to panoramic high mountain view), Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MP 382, parallels parkway, 7.2 miles), Bent Creek-Walnut Cove (MP 393.7, 3.1 miles), Graveyard Fields Loop Trail (MP 418.8, 2.3 miles passes two waterfalls), Black Balsam Knob (MP 420.2, 2 miles to mountain bald) and Waterrock Knob Trail (MP 451.2, 1.2 miles to view over Smokies).
There are eight National Park Service campgrounds along the parkway with nearly 650 tent sites and almost 300 RV/trailer sites. The exact number of sites at each campground, shown below, is subject to change, due to changes in campground configurations or repair work in progress.
All campgrounds have restrooms. There are showers at the Pisgah Campground. While all campgrounds have RV dump sites, they do not have RV hook-ups, and most sites cannot accommodate large RVs (trailers and RVs are limited to 30 feet in length and at some campgrounds length limits are shorter). Near the parkway are many private campgrounds, most with RV hook-ups and some with amenities such as swimming pools.
Camping along the parkway is permitted only in designated campgrounds. Fees are $20 per night. Lower rates apply for Senior Pass and Access Pass holders.
Reservations for some sites at most campgrounds can be made up to six months in advance at www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777. Usually, advance reservations require a two-night minimum. Otherwise, camping is first-come, first-served.
Otter Creek Campground (MP 60.8), with 45 tent and 24 trailer sites, is near Virginia's Lake Otter, which offers fishing. This is the lowest-elevation campground on the parkway.
Peaks of Otter Campground (MP 85.6), with 88 tent and 53 trailer/RV sites, is near the Peaks of Otter Lodge, 24-acre Abbott Lake, the restored 1930s Johnson Farm and an excellent trail system.
Rocky Knob Campground (MP 161.1), with 81 tent and 28 trailer sites, has easy access to Rockcastle Gorge and is just nine miles from Mabry Mill.
Doughton Park Campground (MP 241), with 110 tent and 25 RV/trailer sites, is near the Brinegar Cabin with its craft demonstrations, Ba-sin Cove and an extensive trail system.
Julian Price Park Campground (MP 297), with 129 tent and 45 RV/trailer sites, is at the foot of Grandfather Mountain near Boone and Blowing Rock. It is close to the Moses Cone Estate and a lake. Together, Julian Price and Moses Cone make up the largest recreation area on the parkway.
Linville Falls Campground (MP 316), with 44 tent and 22 trailer/RV sites on the banks of the Linville River, has access to the trail system into Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Trails lead to the three-tiered Linville Falls, the most popular waterfalls on the parkway. It is the only developed campground area on the parkway that allows group camping.
Crabtree Falls Campground (MP 340), with 71 tent and 22 trailer/RV sites, is near the Crabtree Falls Loop Trail (2 ½ miles, strenuous) and within 15 miles of Mt. Mitchell State Park. Named for the crabtrees that grew here, today there aren’t many of the colorful May-blooming trees left.
Mt. Pisgah Campground (MP 408) is the highest parkway campground at almost 5,000 feet elevation. It has 78 tent and 70 trailer/RV sites. Here also is the Pisgah Inn, a motel-like lodge here with stunning views, a restaurant and a small convenience store (all open seasonally, usually May-October). See below.
There are currently only two lodging options on the parkway, Pisgah Inn near Asheville and Peaks of Otter Lodge in Virginia. Rocky Knob House-keeping Cabins, also in Virginia, are closed as of this writing. However, there are hundreds of motels, inns and lodges in towns and cities near the parkway.
Peaks of Otter Lodge (Milepost 86, 85554 Blue Ridge Pkwy., Bed-ford, VA 24523, 866-387-9905, www.peaksofotter.com; rates start at around $100 double offseason plus tax, and average around $140 most of the year, but are higher, up to around $200 double, on some weekends, holidays and in autumn, with discounts often available for advance booking; open week-ends only Dec.-late Mar.). The 63-room motel-style lodge opened in 1964. The setting is beautiful – it is right beside Abbott Lake with its reflection of Sharp Top Mountain. Furnishing in rooms needs some updating, but for many the setting outweighs the less-than-perfect rooms. No cell phone reception, and wi-fi is spotty at best. There is an onsite restaurant that most guests describe as okay but not exceptional. You may want to check out restaurants in Bedford or Roanoke. The lodge is 9 miles from Bedford and 25 miles from Roanoke.
Pisgah Inn (Milepost 408.6 near Mt. Pisgah, Mail: P.O. Box 749, Waynesville, NC 28786, tel. 828-235-8228, www.pisgahinn.com; room rates $180 weekdays, $190 weekends, plus tax, single or double weekdays, higher on holidays and in October, breakfast included; open Apr.-Oct.). This is more of a motel than an inn, and the rooms are fairly basic, but the setting at 5,000 feet and the dramatic mountain views are the reasons to stay here. The inn is directly on the parkway near the 5,721-foot Mt. Pisgah about 26 miles from Asheville, 20 miles from Brevard and 24 miles from Waynesville.
On the grounds are a restaurant – the food here is surprisingly good, and the views from the dining room are fabulous. It is open to the public, but there are no reservations are accepted. Also here is a gift shop and a small convenience store, but it does not sell gas.
Once part of the vast Biltmore Estate, the site of the Pisgah Inn along with some 80,000 acres was sold by Edith Vanderbilt in 1914 and became the basis of what is now Pisgah National Forest.
The present day inn is not far from George Vanderbilt’s beloved late 19th century Buck Springs Lodge, visited frequently by horse and wagon by Vanderbilt and friends. Sadly, the chestnut-log lodge was later disassembled and razed by the U.S. government, over the objections of preservationists. A short walk down the Buck Spring Trail from the Mt. Pisgah parking lot takes you to a historic exhibit located at the foundation stone remains of the hunting lodge. The original Pisgah Inn opened in 1919, but it closed and, in disrepair, was torn down in the 1990s. The current two-story inn was constructed in 1964.
Nearby is a park campground, operated separately from the inn.
Keep in mind that the weather at this elevation can be unpredictable. A storm in early May 1992 dropped 5 feet of snow on the inn and stranded guests for several days.
You can stop anywhere on the parkway and picnic, except at designated and signed watersheds including a section north of Asheville and a section near Waynesville. Be sure to pull completely off the roadway to park. In ad-dition, there are many developed picnic areas, including ones at Humpback Rocks (Milepost 5.8), Peaks of Otter (MP 86), Rocky Knob (MP 167), Mabry Mill (MP 176.2), Doughton Park (MP 241), Moses Cone Park (MP 294), Julian Price Park (MP 296.4), Linville Falls (MP 316.5), Crabtree Falls (MP 364), Folk Art Center (MP 382), Parkway Visitor Center (MP 384) and Mt. Pisgah (MP 407). This is not an exhaustive list of developed picnic areas on the parkway.
Flora and Fauna Along the Parkway
Wildlife and birds are plentiful along the parkway, including 74 species of mammals, more than 50 species of amphibians and 35 species of reptiles. About 160 species of birds nest along the parkway with many others passing through. Having said that, many wild creatures have learned to avoid the traffic on the roadway, and you may never spot most of them unless you get out and hike.
At least 1,600 species of vascular plants grow along the parkway, and nearly 1,300 of these are wildflowers. More than 130 species of trees are present, about as many as are found in all of Europe. In addition, it is estimated there are almost 400 species of mosses along the parkway and around 2,000 species of fungi.
Blue Ridge Parkway by the Numbers
$2.5 billion Annual tourism spending generated by parkway
14-22 million Annual visitors to parkway (includes commuters)
82,000 Acres of government land along parkway
6,053 Highest elevation in feet on parkway, at MP 431
1,300 Types of wildflowers along the parkway
650 Lowest elevation on parkway, at MP 64
469 Total miles of parkway
256 Miles of parkway in North Carolina
250+ Number of auto wrecks on parkway annually
200+ Number of overlooks on parkway
174 Number of bridges and viaducts on parkway
160 Number of species of birds that nest along parkway
74 Number of species of mammals along parkway
52 Years required to complete parkway (1935 to 1987)
45 Maximum speed limit in mph
26 Number of tunnels on parkway
25 Number of tunnels on parkway in NC
20 Nightly fee in dollars for parkway campgrounds
12 Hours to drive entire parkway without stopping
2 Lodging on parkway
0 Gas stations on parkway; entrance fee to parkway
All content copyright © Lan Sluder except selected photographs used by permission and brief quotations or other fair use text, which are owned by the copyright holder.
We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.