The Blue Ridge Parkway (part of the U.S. National Park Service) near Asheville, North Carolina, offers plenty of spots for roadside picnics, breathtaking vistas, easy to difficult hiking trails, and a reprieve from commercialism. The 469-mile, non-stop recreational motor road follows the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, connecting Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. With the use of the milepost system (the numbers increase as you drive south), you can easily find points of interest along the way. There is no admission fee and most of the things to do along the way are free. It's definitely a romantic drive, and one of the most scenic routes in America.
Hike on Rough Ridge
Blue Ridge Parkway Mile-By-Mile: Top 50 Things to Do
Here are our top picks for things to do along the 172-mile North Carolina section from north to south. Asheville exits are b/w Mileposts 382 and 393. Also see our Favorite 15 Photo Tour. Print this list and take it with you (cell service is spotty along the Parkway).
- Milepost 297, Julian Price Park: Walk around to canoe Price Lake, hike, picnic, camp. See our Julian Price Park Guide.
- Milepost 302.8, Rough Ridge: 1/3-mile hike to wonderful views on a boardwalk atop a rocky ridge along Tanawha Trail. See photos and more in our Rough Ridge Hiking Guide.
- Milepost 304.4, Linn Cove Viaduct: This masterpiece of engineering was constructed to preserve Grandfather Mountain, as the viaduct curves with the contours of the mountain. Drive across it and turn around to do it again. Stop at the Visitor Center and walk under this marvel. See our Linn Cove Viaduct Guide.
- Milepost 305, Grandfather Mountain: Exit onto U.S. 221 to reach this famous mountain. See our Grandfather Mountain Guide and read about the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. The town of Banner Elk is 12 miles.
- Milepost 305.2, Beacon Heights: A one-mile roundtrip hike with panoramic views from a rock face mountaintop. See photos on our Beacon Heights Hiking Guide.
- Milepost 312.2: Highway 181 Crosses. Take NC 181 south to hike to Table Rock or Hawksbill Mountain at Linville Gorge. Or go south 5.5 miles for Upper Creek Falls.
- Milepost 316.3, Linville Falls: Take an easy 1 or 1.5 hike to see the beautiful falls and gorge. Visitors Center and picnic area. See our Linville Falls Guide. Also see Duggers Creek Falls. Nearby is Linville Gorge.
- Milepost 317.4: US 221 Crosses. Take US 221 South for a faster return to Asheville, (US 221 to Marion, then I-40 West to Asheville). Linville Caverns is four miles south of the Parkway.
- Milepost 320.8, Chestoa View: Stop and walk a short trail to one of the best views on the Parkway. Elevation 4,090 ft. See our Chestoa View Guide.
- Milepost 328.3, The Orchard at Altapass: A great stop to enjoy mountain music, buy jams, take a hayride through the orchard and buy late summer apples. See our Orchard at Altapass Guide.
- Milepost 331, Museum of North Carolina Minerals (Highway 226): See minerals found in North Carolina and regional geology (and nice restroom stop!). Free. See our Museum of NC Minerals Guide. Travel north on Highway 226 for six miles to Spruce Pine.
- Milepost 334, Little Switzerland: Stop in this tiny village along the Parkway for food and a little shopping. See our Little Switzerland Guide. Adjacent to the Parkway is the hike to Grassy Creek Falls. Just three miles away is Emerald Village and the NC Mining Museum.
- Milepost 339.5, Crabtree Falls & Meadows: Take a 3-mile moderate hike to the beautiful 70-foot waterfall. Picnic area and campground. See our Guide to Crabtree Falls.
- Milepost 344, NC Highway 80 Crosses: Go south to Marion and I-40 (18 miles). This is the road to take to get to Mt. Mitchell during the winter months, since the Park Rangers try to keep the section of Parkway between NC 80 and Mt. Mitchell plowed of snow and open as much as possible. Go north on NC 80 to Roaring Fork Falls, Setrock Creek Falls, Burnsville andToe River Artist Studios. (Part of the Mount Mitchell Scenic Byway.)
- Milepost 355.4, Mt Mitchell: Drive 4.6 miles to the top of the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi (6,684 feet) for 85-mile views from the observation deck (if the clouds are not hanging on the peak). Hike through Alpine forests to Mt. Craig or pick up some food at the restaurant and have a mile-high picnic. No admission fee. See our Mount Mitchell Guide.
- Milepost 362.1, Glassmine Falls Overlook: See this 200-foot waterfall from across the valley. Glassmine Falls flows most after a good rain. During drier periods, the waterfall almost dries up. Elevation 5,197 feet.See our Glassmine Falls Guide.
- Milepost 364.4, Craggy Gardens Visitor Center: A short drive north from Asheville (24 miles from downtown) will take you up, up, up in elevation to the Craggy Gardens with great views to the east and to the west. Enjoy the crisp air, summer rhododendron, and hiking trails. Elevation 5,640 feet. See our Craggy Gardens Guide and our Craggy Pinnacle Hike Guide.
- Milepost 367.6, Craggy Gardens Picnic Area: Ample parking, lots of picnic tables, and easy access to several lovely trails make this a favorite destination. Also a delightful place for stargazing, weather permitting.
- Milepost 375: Tanbark Ridge Tunnel and parking area for Rattlesnake Lodge hiking trail.
- Milepost 376.6: Ox Creek Road intersects and winds down into the valley. At the end of Ox Creek Road (four miles), take a left on Reems Creek Road to go into the Weaverville area. Take a right on Reems Creek to visit Vance Birthplace State Historic Site.
- Milepost 377.4: Turn onto NC 694 (not marked from the Parkway) for a fun drive on Town Mountain Road into downtown Asheville. You can hike on the Mountains to Sea trail from the small parking area there.
- Milepost 382, Folk Art Center: This is the best stop to see and buy some of the finest art and crafts from Southern Appalachia artists. Browse the three fine art galleries, see daily craft demonstrations, and visit the Parkway information center. Read more about the Folk Art Center. See the latest Folk Art Center Art Exhibition.
- Milepost 382.6: Asheville, US 70 crosses. Go east to find I-40 East or go to Black Mountain (10 miles). Head west into Asheville.
- Milepost 384, Visitor's Center: Get plenty of info, see exhibits and watch a great high definition film at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.
- Milepost 384.7: Asheville, US 74A crosses. Head east to Chimney Rock and Lake Lure (25 miles). Head west to find I-40 West.
- Milepost 388.8: Asheville, US 25 crosses. Travel north three miles to Biltmore Estate or south for I-26 South toward Hendersonville.
- Milepost 393.6: Asheville, NC 191 crosses. Go north for Asheville and I-26. Exit here for the gardens, exhibits and trails at the NC Arboretum (adjacent to Parkway) and Bent Creek Mountain Biking and Lake Powhatan Camping. Elevation 2,100 feet.
- Milepost 407.6, Mt. Pisgah: This is a favorite hiking and picnic spot. The trail to the summit of this 5,721-foot peak may be a bit strenuous, but the reward is the view from the top. Picnic area at Milepost 407.8. See our Mt. Pisgah Hiking Guide.
- Milepost 408.7, Pisgah Inn: The only inn and restaurant on this stretch of Parkway is located at 5,000 feet. It's a great place to stop for lunch since their dining room has big windows with beautiful vistas. Open April through October.
- Milepost 409.6, Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower: Forest Service Road 450. 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to the lookout tower affords a better view (when it's open) than neighboring Mt. Pisgah. Read more about Fryingpan Mountain Tower.
- Milepost 412: US 276 crosses. Forest Heritage Scenic Byway. Take a beautiful drive south to the Pisgah National Forest, Pink Beds Hike (4 miles), Cradle of Forestry (4 miles), Sliding Rock (8 miles), Looking Glass Falls (10 miles) and Brevard (18 miles). Head north to Waynesville (22 miles). This area (Wagon Road Gap) is home to monarch butterfly migration in middle September to early October each year.
- Milepost 412, Cold Mountain Overlook: Read more about Cold Mountain. Elevation at overlook, 4,542 feet.
- Milepost 417, Looking Glass Rock Overlook & Skinny Dip Falls: Named for reflecting light brilliantly when water and ice are on the rock's granite surface. Hike to the top of Looking Glass (trailhead on U.S. 276). From overlook, hike 1/2 mile to Skinny Dip Falls, a popular summer swimming spot.
- Milepost 418.8, Graveyard Fields: This barren scenery is very different from what you see along most of the parkway. Enjoy nice vistas with fairly easy hiking to some waterfalls. However, it can become very crowded here. Elevation 5,120 feet. Read more about Graveyard Fields.
- Milepost 420.2, Black Balsam: Two spectacular hikes across bald mountains above 6,000 feet elevation for sweeping vistas: Black Balsam Knob and Sam Knob.
- Milepost 422.4, Devil's Courthouse: Take a strenuous 1/2-mile hike to the "Courthouse" for a 360-degree view. See our Devil's Courthouse Guide and Photos. Elevation at parking area, 5,462 feet.
- Milepost 423.2: NC Highway 215 Crossover. Go north to Canton, then back to Asheville. The trailhead for the Cold Mountain summit hike is 13 miles north. Also north is Wildcat Falls and Sunburst Falls. Go south on NC 215 for more waterfalls: Dill Falls, Courthouse Falls and Cathedral / French Broad Falls. This is the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway.
- Milepost 430, Cowee Mountains Overlook: At an elevation of 5,950 feet, stunning mountain views afford one of the best places on the Parkway to watch a sunset.
- Milepost 431.4, Richland Balsam Overlook: Stop at the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway at 6,047 feet, and hike a 1.5-loop to the summit. See our Richland Balsam Guide.
- Milepost 443.1: US 74/23 Crossover. For a fast route back to Asheville, follow US 74 east to Waynesville, then I-40 east to Asheville. Head south to Sylva and Jackson County.
- Milepost 451.2, Waterrock Knob: Stop here for lofty views from the parking area and hike to the summit of one of highest peak along the Parkway. Visitor Center and restrooms. Another popular spot to watch the sunset. See our Waterrock Knob Guide.
- Milepost 455.7: Soco Gap, US Highway 19 exit to Maggie Valley or Cherokee & Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. Drive south on Highway 19 for 1.5 miles to Soco Falls, a 120-foot waterfall.
- Milepost 458.2, Heintooga Road: Spur road to a mile-high overlook. Go 12 miles to Balsam Mountain Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains. Read more about Balsam Mountain and Heintooga Round Bottom Road.
- Milepost 469.1: Blue Ridge Parkway ends at US 441 at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee. Visit the Oconaluftee Visitors Center to plan your visit to the Smokies.
15 Tips for Driving the Parkway
- Go slowly and enjoy the scenery. The speed limit is 45 mph. Although there are no stop signs or stoplights, this is not a freeway.
- Stop at the overlooks to soak in the views. If an overlook is busy, take a short walk to find a more secluded spot.
- Take a blanket and picnic. There are several picnic areas along the way, and many green areas along the drive to stop.Top 20 Picnic Spots
- Take a jacket. With the elevation changes along the drive, the temperature may vary as much as 20 to 30 degrees. At the highest elevations, the hottest summer days only reach into the 70s.
- Watch for hikers and bicyclists, especially in tunnels.
- Be certain to take your camera. Ask someone to take a picture of you along the way.
- Gas up before you get on the parkway. There are no gas stations on the parkway. Gas stations are also located on intersecting highways near the Parkway exits (see list of exits for gas on FAQ page).
- Restrooms are located at major stops such as picnic areas and visitor centers.
- Please do not disturb wildlife or plant life. Bear sightings are rare. Practice Leave No Trace!
- If you are into bird watching or wildflowers, be sure to take your guidebooks.
- Along the Parkway, you will see numbered mileposts. The zero milepost marker is at the north end of the Parkway in Virginia. Numbers progress as you drive south.
- Dogs and other pets must be on a leash or under physical restraint at all times while along the Parkway and hiking trails.
- Parking is permitted on road shoulders (unless noted). Be sure to have all four wheels are off the pavement.
- To help plan your journey, begin at the Parkway Visitor Center that is located in Asheville.
- For emergencies along the Parkway, call 1-800-ParkWatch.
- Road closures and conditions, along with weather reports, are available by calling the Parkway information line at (828) 298-0398. Many sections of the Parkway close in winter months because of snow and ice. See a real-time map of which sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway are open/closed.
Getting on the Parkway in Asheville: Take the Blue Ridge Parkway north or south from Asheville, and in either direction you will quickly climb the ridge and reach elevations of 5,000+ feet. Keep in mind that the higher stretches of the Parkway are closed during the winter months (November-March), depending on the weather. There are five entrances to the Parkway in the Asheville area. If you are taking the Parkway to the north, take the entrance from U.S. Highway 70 east of town (at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 382), and if you are heading south, take the entrance from NC Highway 191 near I-26 (at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 393). There are no exits to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Interstate highways. While the Parkway is open 24 hours a day, facilities along the way operate on a seasonal schedule.
Biking: The Parkway is a popular biking route, so watch for bicyclists! See our Biking Tips for the Parkway.
Driving Tour Suggestions
From Asheville take a leisurely ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway north or south. Then take a "regular" highway for a fast return to Asheville.
- The North Loop: Drive north from Asheville to Milepost 304.4 (about 80 miles - allow three hours), ride across the Viaduct and turn around to return to Milepost 317.4. Exit onto US 221 South to Marion, then take I-40 West to Asheville. The return trip is about 1.5 hours.
- The South Loop: Drive south from Asheville about 50 miles to Milepost 443.1 (allow 2.5 hours). Take US 74 East/US 23 North to Waynesville, then I-40 East to Asheville. Return trip is about an hour.