America’s longest linear national park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, zigzags across western North Carolina, connecting Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. For 469 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway climbs over mountains and dips into valleys as it catapults its visitors across gorgeous vistas. Around each bend of the road, a new wonder awaits.
Driving the parkway is a must for any Carolinian awed by the spectacular beauty of the Appalachian Mountains or drawn to the distinct cultures and heritage of western NC. To help you make the most of your drive, we’ve assembled a list of the best Blue Ridge stops, from mile marker 271 to 468. Drive slowly, and don’t be afraid to pull off the road in pursuit of a trailhead or a sweeping view.
Learn about the trees of the Blue Ridge via an easy stroll among instructive plaques. Lengthen your wanderings by 1.5 miles to feel the mist from the impressive Cascades waterfall and wander among historic cabins and churches.
(290.4) Thunder Hill Overlook
The perfect place to catch a sunrise, Thunder Hill Overlook faces due east and offers 180 degrees of panoramic Blue Ridge beauty.
(294.1) Moses H. Cone Memorial Park
Here, a Gilded Age mansion headquarters the Southern Highland Craft Guild on a 3,500-acre estate.
(296.5) Boone Fork Trail
The Boone Fork Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Boone area, sporting a 5.2-mile loop replete with waterfall, meadows, and rhododendron tunnels.
(297) Price Lake Loop Trail
Price Lake Loop is a 2.2-mile, year-round all level trail circling a beautiful mountain lake.
(302.8) Rough Ridge Trail
This out and back trail is one of the best places to bask in western North Carolina’s fall colors. Lookouts abound, including one with sweeping views of Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct.
(304.4) Linn Cove Viaduct
The viaduct is an engineering feat constructed to the tune of 10 million dollars as the final piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was designed to minimize impact on the natural environments it passes through and garnered 11 design awards.
(305.2) Beacon Heights Trail
Pause at the Beacon Heights overlook, but don’t stop there. Continue on for a short hike up to the summit of Beacon Heights, where spectacular views from rock platforms perch 4,340 feet in the sky.
(316.4) Linville Falls Trail
A variety of trails of varying difficulty and length surrounds Linville Falls. Linville Falls Trail offers multiple views of the falls at close and long view. Nearby Linville Gorge Trail, although more strenuous, delivers hikers right to the base of the waterfall for a chilly dip. After hiking, pass through the breathtaking town of Linville.
(323) Bears Den Overlook
Named for the black bears that once had dens here, the overlook offers views of rows and rows of peaks and valleys.
(339.5) Crabtree Falls Loop Trail
2.5 miles of moderate to strenuous hiking with rewarding views from the base of crabtree falls, where branches of water fall from a 60-foot cliff.
(349.9) Mt. Mitchell
At a steep elevation of 6684 feet, Mt. Mitchell rises above the overlook as the highest peak in the Eastern United States. The mountain is named for Elisha Mitchell. Mt. Mitchell rises to a height of 6684 feet. Mt. Mitchell State Park is located 4.8 miles from the Parkway and provides a nature museum, trails, campground, and restaurant.
(361.2) Glassmine Falls
This beautiful waterfall in Buncombe County, on Glassmine Branch, near Dillingham, North Carolina makes for a scenic parkway detour if you’re willing to get out of the car and hike.
(364.2) Craggy Pinnacle
Craggy Pinnacle Trail, a moderate-level trail right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a popular destination for its sunset views, wildflower blooms in the spring and summer, and leaf-peeping in the fall.
(364.6) Craggy Gardens
The Craggy Gardens Visitor Center at Milepost 364.4 has a spur to Craggy Gardens trails and a picnic area at 367.6.
(407.6) Mt. Pisgah Overlook
The climb to Mount Pisgah is a classic hike southwest of Asheville that begins at the Buck Spring Gap Overlook. The trailhead is not marked, but follow the sign pointing towards the Buck Springs Overlook / Mount Pisgah Lodge.
(408.5) Frying Pan Mountain Trail
Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower is a 1.5 mile back trail located near Asheville. Take in the summit views from the historic steel fire tower just off the parkway.
(410) Graveyard Fields Waterfall
Follow this Graveyard Fields hike to uncover stunning waterfalls, walk through fields of wildflowers and wild blueberries, and to take in the beautiful views.
(417) Looking Glass View
One of the largest masses of granite in the Eastern United States, Looking Glass Rock gets its name from the shimmering effects of sunlight on its surface. The stone face in Pisgah National Forest looks impossible to hike, and you can sometimes see professional rock climbers on this impressive peak.
(422) Devil’s Courthouse Trail
At just under a mile round trip, this trail packs views and forest beauty into a relatively short trip off the parkway.
(431) Richland Balsam Overlook
Continue south on the Parkway about one-third of a mile to the overlook on the left with the large sign proclaiming “Highest Elevation” and enjoy a short, forested hike.
(451) Waterrock Knob
Located at 5,820 feet in elevation, Waterrock Knob is the Parkway’s highest visitor center. Known for its beautiful long-range views, this is a must-stop along the drive.
(468) Raven Fork
Raven Fork enters the Oconaluftee River a mile downstream and is a beautiful place to set up a picnic and take in the water views.
Additional contributor: Sunny Hubler