July 2014 Update: Graveyard Fields hiking and waterfalls reopened after nice additions of parking and restrooms. Weekly guided hikes by rangers continue - the list is updated weekly.
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 connects 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 doalong the way are free. It's definitely a romantic drive, and one of the most scenic routes in America.
15 TIPS FOR BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
1. 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.
2. Stop at the overlooks to soak in the views. If an overlook is busy, take a short walk to find a more secluded spot.
3. 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
4. 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.
5. Watch for hikers and bicyclists.
6. Be certain to take your camera. Ask someone to take a picture of you along the way.
7. 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).
8. Restrooms are located at major stops such as picnic areas and visitor centers.
9. Please do not disturb wildlife or plant life. Bear sightings are rare. Practice Leave No Trace!
10. If you are into bird watching or wildflowers, be sure to take your guidebooks.
11. 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.
12. Dogs and other pets must be on a leash or under physical restraint at all times while along the Parkway and hiking trails.
13. 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.
15. For emergencies along the Parkway, call 1-800-ParkWatch.
16. 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.
THE PARKWAY @ 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.
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.
Blue Ridge Parkway:
NC Top 50
Things to Do
Here are our top picks for things to do along the 170-mile North Carolina section from north to south: (Asheville exits are b/w Mileposts 382 and 393) Also see our Favorite 15 Photo Tour.
Rough Ridge, Milepost 302.8: 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.
Linn Cove Viaduct, Milepost 304.4: 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.
The Orchard at Altapass, Milepost 328.3: 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.
Museum of North Carolina Minerals (Highway 226), Milepost 331: 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.
Mt Mitchell, Milepost 355.4: Drive 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). This is the perfect place to escape the heat of a hot summer's day, because it is usually 15 or 20 degrees cooler than the city. Hike through Alpine forests to Mt. Craig or pick up some food at the restaurant and have a mile-high picnic. No admission fee. Allow an hour to drive the 35 miles from downtown. See our Mount Mitchell Guide.
Glassmine Falls Overlook, Milepost 362.1: 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. See our Glassmine Falls Guide.
Craggy Gardens Visitor Center, Milepost 364.4: 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. See our Craggy Gardens Guide and our Craggy Pinnacle Hike Guide.
Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, Milepost 367.6: 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 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.
Folk Art Center, Milepost 382: 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.
Tunnels of Love: As you leave the Asheville area, you will climb quickly in elevation and go through a dozen tunnels in the next 15 miles or so.
Mt. Pisgah, Milepost 407.6: This is a favorite hiking and picnic spot. The trail to the summit of this 5,000-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.
Pisgah Inn, Milepost 408.7: 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.
Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower, Milepost 409.6: Forest Service Road 450. 1.5 roundtrip hike to the lookout tower affords a better view (when it's open) than neighboring Mt. Pisgah. Read more about Fryingpan Mountain Tower.
Graveyard Fields, Milepost 418.8: 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. Read more about Graveyard Fields.
Black Balsam, Milepost 420.2: A must hike for sweeping vistas. See our Black Balsam Guide.
Cowee Mountains Overlook, Milepost 430: At an elevation of 5,950 feet, stunning mountain views afford one of the best places on the Parkway to watch a sunset.
Richland Balsam Overlook, Milepost 431.4: 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.
Click image above once to see our video with just a glimpse of the Blue Ridge Parkway. See more of our YouTube Asheville videos.
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.
Waterrock Knob, Milepost 451.2: 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.