A National Park Story
A National Park Story
The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in America. Maintained by the National Park Service, the Parkway features dozens of scenic overlooks, hiking trails, campgrounds and lodges, and stunning vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But if you only had a one or two days to explore the Parkway where would you go? Maybe this list of 10 places you must visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway will help.
There is so much to do at the Peaks of Otter it’s no wonder it is one of the most popular Blue Ridge Parkway destinations in Virginia.
The Peaks of Otter Lodge is a wonderful place to spend a night or two. The lodge is located on the edge of Abbott Lake and features a grand view of Sharp Top Mountain. The lodge includes 63 rooms all with a view of the lake.
The Lake View Restaurant is a popular dining destination for locals and guests alike. The full service restaurant features delicious meals throughout the day with stunning views of the lake and mountain.
The Peaks of Otter Campground is located on the opposite side of the lake from the lodge. The campground has 141 sites with 53 of them designed for RVs and campers. A large picnic area nearby also gives you place to enjoy a quick meal.
There are several trails to enjoy at the Peaks of Otter. The easiest is the 1-mile Abbott Lake Loop Trail that provides amazing views around the lake. The 1.8-mile Johnson Farm Loop Trail takes visitors to the historic Johnson Farm to see what life on a farm was like in the late 1800’s. The 3.3-mile Harkening Hill Trail is a moderately strenuous hike across a ridge to a beautiful viewing area at Balance Rock. The 1.5-mile Sharp Top Trail is a strenuous route that challenges even the best of hikers as it ascends the side of Sharp Top Mountain to a stunning 360-degree overlook at the summit. Adventurous hikers can also tackle the 4.4-mile Flat Top Trail as it winds through a beautiful area back to the Fallingwater Cascades Parking Area.
Just a quarter mile down the Parkway from the lodge is the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center. This small building has lots of information about destinations on the Parkway and restrooms for those needing a quick pit stop. The gift shop sells books, clothing, and souvenirs.
The Mabry Mill is perhaps the most iconic destination on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. Within site of the parkway as you drive past it is a popular place on weekends during the peak of fall colors. The large parking area is often full but fortunately there is an overflow just behind the restaurant.
Mabry Mill is so much more than just the mill and pond, though. A short trail leads up a set of stairs and across the aqueduct that feeds water to the wheel. It then winds through and around several smaller buildings, an old wagon, and past a still in the forest. Sometimes on autumn weekends the mill will be open so you can peak inside.
The gift shop at the main parking lot has just about anything you could want that features the iconic mill: postcards, photos, clothing, mugs, calendars, and so much more.
The Mabry Mill Restaurant is open Monday-Thursday 7:30a.m.-5p.m. and Friday-Sunday 7:30a.m.-6p.m. Stop in for some wonderful country cooking in a comfortable atmosphere. The wait can get a little long during the peak foliage but it’s worth the wait.
The Parkway Craft Center is a large gift shop and visitor center located inside the beautiful Flat Top Manor at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. The gift shop features the artwork of many regional artists including everything from jewelry to photography and interesting wooden puzzles. The park also features 25 miles of gentle carriage trails winding around two lakes. It’s a great place to stop to stretch your legs, use the restrooms, and do a little shopping.
The curving bridge hanging off the side of a mountain is one of the most iconic views of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The viaduct is more than just a unique, curvy bridge, though. The visitor center has a nice gift shop and small museum with a video and scale model showing the construction of the bridge. There are restrooms as well.
But one of the neatest things about this stop is the Tanawha Trail. At the far end of the parking lot a trail leads underneath viaduct before zigzagging to an elevation above the bridge. The trail connects Julian Price Memorial Park with the Stack Rock Overlook for an exciting hike, but the portion under the viaduct is only about two miles roundtrip.
Linville Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the Parkway and certainly the most popular. Visitors will find a nice visitor center and restroom facility at the trailhead leading to five different views of the waterfall. A picnic area along the river provides a quiet escape for a packed meal with the family. There is an additional waterfall on a short trail from the visitor center, and a second parking area long the river for a quiet escape.
During the peak of fall colors this will be one of the busiest places on the Parkway. Parking will be scarce and the crowds huge. Arrive early if you want to beat the crowds and have the place to yourself. The least-visited overlook at the waterfall is Erwin’s View with a 1.6-mile roundtrip hike and an 800′ ascent to get there. A bit strenuous, but worth it.
Mt. Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The mountain is located inside Mt. Mitchell State Park, the only park in the country accessible exclusively via the Parkway. The mountain peak features an observation tower with beautiful panorama views in all directions. It’s a fairly strenuous climb and although it’s paved the entire way I wouldn’t recommend trying to climb this in a wheelchair. Keep in mind the top of this mountain will reach peak colors about a week or two before the lower surrounding areas.
The parking lot at the top has a nice gift shop, a small museum, and some restrooms. There are some pretty good views from this parking lot just in case you can’t or don’t want to reach the summit.
The park also has a very nice restaurant with stunning views of Mt. Mitchell through tall windows. The food is pretty good and the menu can change depending on what they have in stock that day. There is another small gift shop at the restaurant.
Craggy Gardens is one of the most popular destinations from Asheville and is a beautiful place for a hike almost year round. Come in the late spring or early summer to catch the rhododendron in full bloom across the mountain peaks of the gardens.
Visitors can park at Craggy Pinnacle and enjoy a short hike to the top for stunning views across the mountains, or use the parking area at the visitor center for a view through the valleys. A short trail leads away from the south end of the visitor center to Craggy Knob, a bald mountain top with a covered shelter and amazing views of the Pinnacle and surrounding landscape.
Sunsets from Craggy Pinnacle are stunning year round with an uninterrupted view across the local landscape. If you can’t make it up there in time the view from the parking area beside the visitor center can be pretty awesome, too.
Mount Pisgah is one of the most beautiful and active areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway to explore. The lodge, campground, restaurant, and scenic overlooks combine for a chance to see and do it all with a few nights’ stay. The high elevation of around 5,000′ means the fall colors will arrive early here so be prepared.
The Pisgah Inn was built in 1964 but the building has withstood the test of time, and elements, and remains a gorgeous place to spend some time. The lack of air conditioning in the rooms is a testament to the fact it rarely gets hot at this elevation even in the middle of summer. All of the rooms include a private porch or balcony with a secluded view of the gorgeous mountain landscapes.
The inn includes a dining room that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week during the open season. Open to guests and visitors alike the dining room offers a stunning view to go along with a great meal.
Located right beside the Parkway is the Gift Shop and Country Store. This store has staples like food, snacks, drinks, and ice as well as locally made arts & crafts.
The campground is across the Parkway from the inn and includes 70 tent sites and 67 RV sites. It’s the highest campground on the entire Parkway and offers some of the most breathtaking views and seclusion. Parts of the campground can be reserved online but most of it is first come, first served.
A nearby picnic area gives you a place to spread out a blanket on those warm autumn days and enjoy a meal outside. Almost across the Parkway at Milepost 407.6 is the entrance to the Mount Pisgah Overlook and Buck Springs Lodge Overlook. The Mount Pisgah Overlook is atop a tunnel on the Parkway and includes a trail leading to the summit of the mountain. The Buck Springs Lodge overlook faces the opposite direction and includes a short half-mile trail to the former site of a hunting retreat for Vanderbilt.
At 6,053′ above sea level the Richland Balsam Overlook is the highest point on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. A lone sign in a large parking area marks the significance and offers a chance for a selfie. But the view here won’t be the best during the fall colors for one simple reason: there aren’t many deciduous trees at this elevation. Most of the trees are evergreens so at least you’ll have that nice vibrant green contrasting the starkness of autumn.
The parking area has a fairly nice view, but it’s limited by the growth of trees at the edge of the overlook. Nearby Cowee Mountain Overlook actually has a much better view (and it’s my favorite overlook on the Parkway).
Adventurous hikers can take the 1.5-mile loop trail to the summit of Richland Balsam. The very top of the mountain stands at 6,410′ so it’s a steep climb, but then you get to say you’ve been higher than almost everyone else on the Parkway.
Waterrock Knob has beautiful views in all directions along with a short hiking trail and a visitor center. It’s definitely a great place to visit while the fall colors are peaking and works any time of day. Come early for a stunning sunrise or stay late for a sunset, either way you’ll be amazed.
The visitor center will have someone to answer questions and a small gift shop with souvenirs and clothing. The restroom facilities are pretty nice considering how remote this overlook is on the Parkway.
The parking area has great views in all directions. It’s a wide parking area with a grassy area in the middle and picnic tables around the edge. During the peak of fall colors the parking area will fill up early with locals who come up just to see the stunning colors fade across the sky.
The Waterrock Knob Trail is a 1.2-mile roundtrip hike to the summit of the mountain. It’s a steep climb of just over 400′ in elevation but the views are worth the effort. The first 1/4-mile of the trail is paved leading to a small overlook just above the parking area. The very top has a stunning view of the local landscape, but it’s not an uninterrupted view.