The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best scenic drives in America, spanning from the far western reaches of North Carolina (near the Smoky Mountains) to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It is a thrilling, and somewhat dangerous, drive through the mountains that is not for the faint of heart. This October I took a very colorful road trip in the North Carolina section of the drive, starting from Asheville. See my personal blog post for all the details: https://rccircuit93.wordpress.com/2020/10/20/blue-ridge-parkway-the-colored-journey-is-the-destination/
I will denote the scenic areas/attractions by *mm*, meaning mile marker. The GPS is not readily available on the parkway, so the Parkway uses these mile markers: 0 denoting the Smoky Mountains end and 469 denoting Shenandoah's end. For my trip I travel between mm ~450 to mm ~300. See http://www.blueridgeonline.com/MilePost for all the attractions. Also since this was fall, it's useful to know some good sites that monitor fall colors. I made good use of "Fall Color Guy" and his regular fall foliage updates here https://www.facebook.com/FallColorGuy. 4 The fall color changes dramatically across elevations, so next to each attraction I also write an *elev*, denoting the elevation of that scenic stop.
If you plan to go north and south on the Parkway, I recommend staying near Asheville, NC. It's at around mm ~380, and there's plenty to see driving in both directions. Asheville itself is a nice tourist area, and features the very popular Biltmore Estates. There are two other notable "hubs" that are located directly on the Parkway (Mt. Pisgah Inn - mm. 408 and Little Switzerland - mm. ~340). You can grab snacks, small meals, restrooms, etc. from these small establishments.
Day 1 AND Day 3 (north -> Asheville mm. 380 to mm. 304)
On day 1, I skip a few attractions with the intent of returning to them on day 3. You, however, can pick and choose which ones you want to see, so I'll simply list all the attractions that I saw in day 1 and day 3 combined.
Craggy Gardens (elev. 5000-6000 ft; mm. 364) is one of the highest peaks on the Parkway, and is the first stop you encounter north of Asheville. It's named for the craggy rocks in the area, offering a fantastic overlook at the pinnacle and various hiking trails through its gnarled trees.
- Craggy Pinnacle (this is the overlook, highest point of Craggy Gardens)
- There are other trails in this area I did not see since the colors expired here
Crabtree Falls (elev. 3000 ft - sea level; mm. 339) is an ugly sounding but very pretty looking 70ft slender, tall waterfall. The hike to get there is pretty easy and shouldn't take more than 1-1.5 hours to complete the trek.
Little Switzerland (elev. 3000ft; mm. 334) is one of very few cute mountain towns on the Parkway. It features just a few shops and the Little Switzerland Inn (which requires reservations). Stop here for refreshments and souvenirs.
Linville Falls (elev. 3200 ft - sea level; mm. 316) is the most popular falls in North Carolina's side of the Parkway. It's situtated in a large gorge surrounded by forest, and there are vantage points to see the smaller Upper Falls pour into the another waterfall that spills into the gorge.
- Falls Trail (the family friendly trail that shows Upper Falls and shows how it connects into the gorge area)
- Gorge Trail (shows you only the gorge area, and also extends further away from Linville Falls area)
Grandfather Mountain (elev. 5000-6000ft; mm. 305) is one of the oldest mountains in North Carolina. Its massive structure is the first thing you see as you drive near the area.
- Swinging Bridge (a tall swinging bridge is the main thrill ride of the mountain, leading to a nice overlook of the entire surrounding valleys)
- Grandfather Mountain Peak trail (if you're really crazy, you can venture even higher to the very top of the mountain after signing a waiver)
Linn Cove Viaduct (elev. 4100 ft; mm. 304) is the engineering masterpiece of the Parkway, featuring an extensive bridge/roadway that wraps around the base of Grandfather Mountain. Stop at the roadside for many good pictures.
Day 2 (south -> Asheville mm. 380 to mm. 451)
On day 2 I venture south along the Parkway. I recommend alternating between north and south from day 1 to day 2 to see some different sights.
Graveyard Fields (elev. 5100ft; mm. 418) is another very popular, and possibly most unique, stop. The fall colors bloom here with brilliant reds early in the fall season, but the area otherwise looks like a cemetery for trees. After being extensively damaged by logging and wildfires in the past, this area offers a few hikes through its quiet, morose atmosphere.
- Lower Falls trail (a quick hike through the bushes and trees to see a reasonably tall waterfall)
- Upper Falls trail (a longer hike that I didn't finish, extends in the opposite direction from Lower Falls)
Mt. Pisgah Inn (elev. 5000ft; mm. 408) is a mountain top inn very close to Mt. Pisgah and Graveyard Fields. Stop here for lunch when you return from either destination; dinner is by reservations only. It also offers great views into the valley below from the patio chairs or the inn's own dining room.
Devil's Courthouse (elev. 5400ft; mm. 422) is a jagged rock with a 360 degree view into the valleys from its tall perch. Requires a short strenuous hike from the parking lot that is very much worth it.
Waterrock Knob (elev. 6200ft; mm. 451) is another tall rock knob that features a short, hard hike, similar to Devil's Courthouse. The top is not much different from the many other overlooks/climbs on the Parkway, but stop here for the hike and climb, and also restrooms/refreshments here.
Things I didn't have time for but might interest you?
Well...every attraction and overlook that I didn't write down here? Seriously though, check out the dizzying number of available overlooks and scenic sites on a mile marker map of the Parkway, such as the link I provided under Resources. There are maaany overlooks and stops that I didn't write about here. Refer to my overview of what I consider to be must see locations, and then add on any more stops that you see fit. I highly recommend going in the fall, but there is so much to see and do in any season.