A stunning autumn sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC on Monday, October 31, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette
18 Outstanding Overlooks for Sunsets on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A Scenic Overlook Story

As sure as every day begins it must also end and the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best places to watch that end. With stunning scenic overlooks, hiking trails, and hidden destinations on the westward side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Parkway has over a dozen outstanding places to watch the sunset. It’s a great end to just about any day. Here are some of the best overlooks for sunset views, when to visit for the best show, and a few tips along the way.

01
Ravens Roost (Milepost 10.7)

This overlook near the northern end of the Parkway in Waynesboro, Virginia can literally take your breath away. The parking spaces in the paved lot face a short stone wall and then nothing but air from a perch near a big drop off. It is entirely possible to enjoy the sunset from the comfort of your car, but please take the short thirty-second hike to the left toward a rocky outcropping with a lone tree for one of the best views on the Parkway.

Best Time of Year: June-July

02
Thunder Ridge (Milepost 74.7)

A small parking area just off the Parkway provides access to an equally short trail to an overlook on the edge of the mountain. Just below the overlook is the Appalachian Trail. From here visitors can admire the beauty of the Allegheny Mountains across the horizon, Purgatory Mountain to the left, and House Mountain on the right.

Best Time of Year: June-July

03
Apple Orchard Mountain (Milepost 76.5)

A small parking area on the side of the Parkway leads to the Appalachian Trail and a beautiful overlook atop Apple Orchard Mountain. At 3,950′ it is the highest point on the Parkway in Virginia (keep reading to discover the highest point in North Carolina).

Best Time of Year: Year Round

04
Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86.0)

Late afternoon sunlight beams across Abott Lake at the Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA on Friday, October 28, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette

The view across the lake at the Peaks of Otter is pretty spectacular during sunset.

The best place on the Parkway to see a stunning sunset over the water is at the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Park near the lodge and walk along the lake to find a good viewing spot, then come back to the main building for a fantastic meal in the restaurant.

Best Time of Year: March-July

05
Iron Mine Hollow (Milepost 96.2)

This pull off overlook features some pretty spectacular views into the valley below and mountains in the distance. Named after a series of failed Iron Mines that shut down in 1892 today the overlook is a great place to watch sunsets.

Best Time of Year: June-July

06
The Great Valley (Milepost 99.6)

This overlook has a large parking area perfect for RV’s and campers and features a great sunset view in the early summer months. In the later months you may not be able to see the sunset directly because of trees and foliage, but you can still see the color splash across the sky over The Great Valley.

Best Time of Year: June-July

07
Roanoke Mountain (Milepost 120.4)

The sunset from an overlook along the Roanoke Mountain Loop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in VA on Saturday, October 29, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette

During the fall and winter the sunset at this overlook is straight ahead, and you’ll probably have the entire place to yourself.

Located on a six-mile one-way loop road the Roanoke Mountain Overlook is a great winter location for sunset views. The one-way loop begins just minutes from downtown Roanoke making this a great place to catch a sunset before turning in for the night in the Virginia mountain city. On the way up the loop road be sure to pull over at the Mill Mountain Overlook for a stunning mountain view (but no sunset view).

Best Time of Year: December-March

08
Air Bellows (Milepost 236.9)

This overlook offers a sweeping panorama vista of the nearby rolling hills and Christmas tree farms in the valley below. This overlook is also designed at the Crest of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Best Time of Year: June-July

09
Raven Rocks (Milepost 289.5)

The Raven Rocks Overlook provides one of the best sunset views on the Parkway in Virginia. The large parking area has plenty of room for cars and the rustic wooden fence makes a great photographic subject for a sunset photo. FYI: Just around the corner at Milepost 290.4 is the Thunder Hill Overlook, one of the best places on the Parkway to watch the sunrise.

Best Time of Year: March-September

10
Beacon Heights Trail (Milepost 305.2)

The parking lot just off the Parkway offers a pretty nice view of Grandfather Mountain, but you’ll need to do a little hiking for a great sunset view. The trail is short but ascends 1,400′ making it rather strenuous. Atop Beacon Heights there is an exposed rocky outcropping facing east and another facing west, making this a great spot to catch sunrises and sunsets.

Best Time of Year: January-May, August-October

11
Black Mountains (Milepost 342.2)

This large pull off has a stunning panorama view of the towering Black Mountains on the not-so-distant horizon. Each it’s view just a little north of southwest it has one of longest viewing periods for sunsets of any overlook on the Parkway.

Best Time of Year: February-October

12
Craggy Gardens (Milepost 364.2)

A stormy sunset at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette

So many places to watch the sunset at Craggy Garden but the easiest, at the visitor center, is certainly not the worst.

There are three stunning places to watch the sunset at Craggy Gardens. The first is to park at Craggy Pinnacle at Milepost 364.1 and hike the short, moderately difficult trail to a pair of overlooks above the Parkway. The second place to watch a sunset is from the comfort of your car at the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center along the Parkway. The view here looks more into the valley but still offers a gorgeous sunset view. The third option is to hike the short and easy trail to Craggy Dome. Once the trail reaches a covered shelter turn left to find the bald spot on top of the gently sloping mountain for an amazing sunset view.

Best Time of Year: Year Round

13
Mount Pisgah (Milepost 408.6)

The parking lot of the Mount Pisgah Trail is a surprising, and hidden, destination for sunset views. The first parking area on the left looks over the Parkway to the west and provides a stunning view of the setting sun. The second parking lot just around the corner is on top of the tunnel and provides a decent place to watch the sunset, but not as good as the first.

Best Time of Year: March-May

14
Devil’s Courthouse (Milepost 422.4)

If you pull into the parking lot at Devil’s Courthouse and think you’ll have a great sunset view, think again. This one is gonna require some strenuous hiking. Look for the trail alongside the Parkway, beginning your hike on a paved path. The steep path eventually ends and a primitive path covered with large rocks and roots continues to the top of Devil’s Courthouse. Once at the top a breathtaking overlook built atop a rocky outcropping provides one of the best sunset views on the entire Parkway.

Best Time of Year: Year Round

15
Cowee Mountain (Milepost 430.7)

A warm mountain sunset at the Cowee Mountain Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. Copyright 2017 Jason Barnette

The sunset view from the Cowee Mountain Overlook is just unbelievable. Until you visit it for yourself.

This has long been my favorite sunset spot on the entire Parkway and offers one of, if not the, best view for the sunset. The large parking area has plenty of room for lots of cars, although it’s rarely crowded during sunset. There are no trees or foliage to block the view so the overlook provides a stunning 270-degree panorama of the local mountains, with the Great Smoky Mountains on the horizon.

Best Time of Year: Year Round

16
Richland Balsam (Milepost 431.4)

At 6,053′ the Richland Balsam Overlook is the highest point on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The view is average, but partially blocked by trees and foliage. Although I wish some overlooks could be cleared again I hope this overlook actually remains just as it is. The southwestern corner of the overlook is mostly free and clear for watching sunsets early and late in the year.

Best Time of Year: January-March, October-December

17
Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2)

Sunset view from Waterrock Knob at Milepost 451.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina on Tuesday, October 20, 2015. Copyright 2015 Jason Barnette

There is a reason this is one of the most popular places on the Parkway to watch sunset.

One of the most popular and most visited sunset locations on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Waterrock Knob. A small visitor center and restrooms are part of what makes this a popular overlook, but really it’s the view. Located on top of a ridge the overlook features views looking toward sunrise and sunset. In the distance during sunset visitors can see the Great Smoky Mountains on the horizon just before the sun disappears of the day. There is a short and moderately strenuous trail that leads to the summit of Waterrock Knob with a couple of overlooks and some nice views, but the view from the parking lot is really the best here.

Best Time of Year: Year Round

Additional Overlooks

Sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC on Monday, October 31, 2016. Copyright 2016 Jason Barnette

With only minutes to spare until sunset I found this view off the side of the road in a slight curve. I stood next to a rustic fence and watched deer grazing in the field.

Are there other places to view amazing sunsets along the Blue Ridge Parkway? Of course there are! The Parkway runs from northeast to southwest along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains so while you’re heading south any overlook on the right will offer great sunset views and if you’re heading north those same overlooks will be on the left.

The unwritten rule of parking etiquette on the Parkway is that you can park anywhere, even in the grass on the side of the road, so long as the property is still part of the Parkway and you get all four tires off the road. If you come across a beautiful field with a westerly view feel free to pull your car, truck, or van into the field and enjoy the sunset!

Some other areas on or near the Parkway for amazing sunsets are places like Grandfather Mountain (though you will have to access the mountain top from the state park because the private attraction closes before sunset), Frying Pan Tower, and the Mill Mountain Overlook just beneath Roanoke’s infamous star.

Overlooks to Avoid

Overlook may be too strong of a word, but I wanted to make a point about a couple of places you can’t go to see outstanding sunsets on the Parkway. As I already said the privately-owned Grandfather Mountain attraction typically closes before sunset so you won’t have the chance to see it from the Mile High Swinging Bridge.

Another irritatingly early closer is Mt. Mitchell State Park. The highest point on the East Coast would be a stunning place to view the sunset but the park typically closes about half an hour before sunset. There is still a way to see the sunset from the mountain top but it would require several miles of rigorous hiking along the Appalachian Trail, and most likely an overnight stay.

Another thing to keep in mind is the dreaded winter season. While a fresh snow could make the mountain landscape a stunning sight for sunsets, the winter season is also the Parkway’s least-staffed period of year. From roughly October until April several areas like Waterrock Knob are gated closed.

Things to Know

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the country’s most popular and visited scenic drives. This means it can get crowded during warm weekends and throughout the summer, but fortunately most people are gone by sunset. Locals want to get home for dinner and tourists tend to get off the Parkway before dark to find a restaurant and their hotel. That means if you do a little planning you could very well have a stunning overlook all to yourself for sunset.

The Parkway has a maximum speed limit of 45 mph and sometimes as slow as 25 mph. Keep this in mind if you are trying to reach an overlook in time for sunset. Not only is it rude and inconsiderate to other drivers to travel above the speed limit, it is also dangerous with hair pin turns, tight curves, and big drops that come up quickly even at 45 mph.

Give yourself plenty of time to reach a sunset location. You need to figure you can only drive 30 miles in an hour to plan ahead. I typically get on the Parkway two hours before sunset to find a great location to set up for the evening. Even with that lead time I usually only have half an hour before the sun hits the horizon to set up my camera gear, pull out a chair, and enjoy the view.

The Mileposts are numbered by mile starting in Waynesboro, Virginia. This will give you a good idea of how far you have to drive along the Parkway; use the Virtual Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost Guide to find the best place to access the Parkway.

  • Elisa Perry

    Great article Jason! Amazing photos as always…

  • Chad and Stef

    This is amazing! I wish we would have had this list while we visited the Great Smoky Mountains, but that just means we will have to go back! Beautiful photos!

    • The more you know! I’ll keep writing about the Southeast if you keep visiting. One day I’ll come to Arkansas and we’ll switch roles!