The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile scenic road that connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
This NPS site, which is known as one of America’s greatest road trips, is home to more than 200 scenic overlooks, over 100 hiking trails, and 8 campgrounds.
Aside from cruising along the scenic road and stopping at the overlooks, outdoor recreational opportunities such as hiking, camping, biking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing are all available on the Parkway. This makes the Blue Ridge Parkway a perfect road trip journey and destination!
In this guide, I’m going to share the best stops to make on the Blue Ridge Parkway. These stops – from overlooks to hiking trails to historic buildings – encompass some of the most spectacular sights and activities that the Blue Ridge Parkway has to offer.
12 Best Stops to Make on the Blue Ridge Parkway
1. Shenandoah National Park (Mile 0)
Shenandoah National Park is the northern gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since Shenandoah National Park and its famous park road, Skyline Drive, are less than a mile from the Parkway entrance, this park is ideal to add to the beginning or end of your road trip, depending on which direction you’re going.
Best Things To Do in Shenandoah National Park
- Hike. Some of my favorite trails are Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, Stony Man, and Blackrock Summit.
- Camp. Loft Mountain is just 25 miles north of the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you need a spot to camp before or after completing the drive, Loft Mountain is the perfect option.
- Cruise Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive is the 105-mile road that slices through Shenandoah National Park. The drive itself is very scenic, and there are many overlooks, hiking trails, lodging, campgrounds, and picnic areas along the route.
2. Peaks of Otter (Mile 85.6)
This tranquil slice of the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a lodge, impressive lake views, a visitor center, picnic tables, and several hiking trails.
Take a break from driving and relax lakeside by tossing a fishing pole in the water or munching on a picnic lunch. When you’re ready to stretch your legs, an abundance of scenic hiking trails located beside the visitor center awaits you!
3. Mabry Mill (Mile 176)
The Mabry Mill is the most photographed historic building on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
At this historical site, you can peruse the gift shop, chow on pancakes at the local restaurant, and walk the half-mile trail around the structures.
4. Blue Ridge Music Center (Mile 213)
The Blue Ridge Music Center is a music venue, museum, and visitor center known for its live midday mountain music.
It’s a fun stop to make to listen to some lively music, peruse the museum, and immerse yourself in the thriving American musical culture.
5. Rough Ridge (302.8)
Don’t miss Rough Ridge! If you’ve seen the iconic photo of the person sitting on a rock that looks like it’s jutting out into the valley with no bottom in sight, that’s Rough Ridge!
On this satisfying 1.5-mile roundtrip trail, you’ll be treated to some of the most spectacular views on the Parkway, including distant views of the Linn Cove Viaduct, the rolling peaks, and of course, the recognizable rock that everyone wants a photo on.
The famous rock that lies at the end of this trail is spectacular because it looks like it juts out far into the valley with a major drop below, but it really isn’t as scary, dangerous, or elevated as it appears on camera.
Come see for yourself!
6. Linn Cove Viaduct (Mile 304.4)
The Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering marvel carved into the face of Grandfather Mountain, is the most photographed section of the Blue Ridge Parkway road.
The Viaduct was the final piece of the road; it was completed in 1987.
Aside from the thrill of driving on a road carved into the face of a mountain, I’d encourage you to hike the trails that surround the viaduct and explore the museum.
7. Linville Falls & Linville Gorge (Mile 317)
Linville Falls is arguably the most popular waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway. While there are plenty of other beautiful falls, this one is special because it sits in the Linville Gorge, which is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians.”
The hiking trails that stem from the visitor center boast four overlooks of the waterfalls.
This is also a great place to camp! While the Linville Falls Campground is the smallest campground on the Parkway, it is also the most popular, so book your stay in advance.
8. Crabtree Falls (Mile 339.5)
Crabtree Falls is another spectacular must-see waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The hiking trail to the falls is 2.5 miles and is rated moderately strenuous.
Due to its strenuous path and no nearby visitor centers, this trail is often less busy than some of the other waterfalls on the Parkway, such as Linville Falls.
9. Mount Mitchell State Park (Mile 355.4)
The entrance to this state park is right off the Parkway, but you’ll need to drive four miles to the summit of Mount Mitchell. This is where all of the action is!
At this North Carolina state park, you can drive to the summit of the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, gaze at the scenery from the observation deck, and go hiking or backpacking along the array of trails.
Even if all you did was stand at the observation deck and draw in the surrounding landscape, the stop will be worth it.
10. Craggy Gardens (Mile 364.4)
The Craggy Gardens are beautiful to see all year, but specifically in June, visitors flock to this area of the Parkway to see all of the rhododendrons.
If you can’t get there in June, fear not. Many other beautiful flowers can be spotted on this high-elevated portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Aside from wildflower peeping, make sure to hike the Craggy Pinnacles Trail and explore exhibits on the natural history of the region at the visitor center (open seasonally).
11. Richland Balsam Overlook (Mile 431.4)
Richland Balsam Overlook is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so the stop is worth it simply for the photo op and experience.
While you may not feel a headrush at just 6,053 feet, it’s still fun to know you’re at the highest point on the road.
12. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Mile 469)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the southern gateway to the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it is the perfect addition to your road trip. Either begin with a trip to the Smokies or cap off your drive with a visit to this beautiful park.
Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Hike. Some of my favorite trails are Mt LeConte, Chimney Tops, Rainbow Falls, Alum Cave, and Abrams Falls. Stop by Clingman’s Dome – the highest point in the Smokies – if you have the time!
- Camp. Backcountry and frontcountry camping options are available at the park. Smokemont Campground is only 4 miles east of the south end of the Parkway, so it’s a perfect option if you need a spot to camp at the beginning or end of your road trip.
- Drive. Take the many scenic drives throughout the park. Don’t miss Cades Cove and Newfound Gap drives!
While these stops are all noteworthy, I’d suggest stopping at as many overlooks and hiking as many trails as you can. There is beauty around every bend of the Blue Ridge Parkway.