What to Do on the Parkway
Here are some of the top sights on the Blue Ridge Parkway, listed from north to south. Many of the visitor centers have gift shops.
Humpback Rocks (Milepost 5.8) – visitor center, museum of 19th century log buildings, picnic area, access to Appalachian Trail and trail to summit of Humpback Mountain.
James River and Otter Creek (MP 60-63) – visitor center, restored canal locks on the James River, campground and hiking trails along Otter Creek.
Peaks of Otter (MP 86) – lodge and restaurant, visitor center, 1930s restored Johnson farm, campground, picnic area, and access to Appalachian Trail, extensive trail system. The museum at the visitor center has good information on the Native American history of the mountains.
Roanoke (MP 106-120) - access to the parkway’s largest neighboring city, hiking and horse trails and campground.
Mabry Mill (MP176.2) – the Mabry Mill Trail features a blacksmith shop, wheelwright's shop and whiskey still, as well as one of the most photographed structures on the parkway, Mabry Mill itself. This is a working gristmill. There are three picnic areas, a visitor center, campground and hiking into Rockcastle Gorge.
Blue Ridge Music Center (MP 215) – outdoor amphitheater, visitor center and museum. This is the parkway's premier site for interpreting and featuring the musical heritage of the region.
Moses H. Cone and Julian Price Parks (MP 295-298) – the Cone house is a 23-room, 13,000 square feet mansion completed in 1900 on a 3,500-acre estate near Grandfather Mountain. Moses Cone was a textile manufacturer and was called the “denim king of America.” His company was a major supplier of denim to Levi Strauss for about 100 years. The Cone estate had 25 miles of carriage roads, several lakes, extensive rose gardens, four orchards with 32,000 apple trees, stables, barns, carriage and apple houses, a bowling alley and a carbide plant that provided gas and lighting to the manor. The house now contains a Southern Highland Handicraft Guild craft store. There is a 47-acre lake at Price Park, along with many hiking trails, picnic area and campground.
Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304) -- the 1,243-foot-long Linn Cove Viaduct is a dramatic feat of engineering on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. This was the last section of the Parkway to be completed, in 1987. Here you can visit the bridge museum and visitor center maintained by National Park Service and hike on a trail that runs under the viaduct.
Linville Falls (MP 317) – visitor center, campground, picnic area and access to popular wilderness area, Linville Gorge.
Museum of North Carolina Minerals (MP 331) – visitor center and museum highlighting the geology and gems of the region, open year-round. Kids especially will enjoy it.
Crabtree Falls (MP 349) - campground, picnic area and access to Crabtree Falls, in the Black Mountain Range.
Mt. Mitchell (off MP 355), the highest peak in the East, is at the end of a 4.8-mile access road from the Parkway. At Mt. Mitchell State Park, there’s a visitor center, restaurant and snack bar open seasonally, along with walk-in and hike-in campsites. The restaurant, snack bar and restrooms are open May through October.
Craggy Gardens (MP 364) – Craggy Gardens is a high elevation heath bald. There is a visitor center here and a picnic area. Spectacular displays of rhododendron blooms occur in June and early July.
Asheville (MP 382-393) – Asheville is home to park headquarters and is the region’s major tourist destination. The parkway runs through part of the Biltmore Estate. If you exit the parkway at U.S. Highway 25 North (MP 389), you’re only about 3 miles from the entrance to Biltmore. The Folk Art Center (MP 382), open year-round, is one of the best crafts centers in the region. The main Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center (MP 384), open year-round, has exhibits and films. Near MP 394, adjacent to the parkway, is the wonderful North Carolina Arboretum.
Pine Mountain Tunnel (MP 399.3) -- the longest tunnel on the parkway, at 1,320 feet long.
Mt. Pisgah (MP 408) – the section around Mt. Pisgah has a campground, picnic area and the Pisgah Inn lodge and restaurant. The Cradle of Forestry, the birthplace of forestry in America, Sliding Rock and the largest trout hatchery in North Carolina are nearby – to reach these attractions go south toward Brevard on U.S. Highway 276 into the Pisgah National Forest at MP 412.
Cold Mountain (MP 412) – two overlooks offer views of the mountain made famous in Charles Frazier’s best-selling 1997 novel and the 2003 movie of the same name. For the best view, stop at Wagon Gap Road parking area at MP 412.2, then walk north a short distance on the parkway. There also is a view, somewhat obstructed by trees, of Cold Mountain from the overlook at MP 412.2. The movie made from the novel was not filmed in Western North Carolina but in Eastern Europe.
Graveyard Fields (MP 419) – has views quite different from what you see on most of the rest of the parkway, in that there are few tall trees. The spooky name comes from the tree stumps and dirt mounds left after a windstorm and later forest fire. There’s a popular hiking trail (Graveyard Fields Loop) here that passes three waterfalls and a nice swimming hole. About 1,500 feet of the trail from the overlook is a boardwalk. In August, Graveyard Fields is a good place to pick wild blueberries – Park Service rules permit the picking of one gallon per person per day. In 2014, the Park Service is doubling the parking capacity at the Graveyard Fields park lot, from 17 to 40 spaces, and adding new bathroom facilities. The Park Service manages the Graveyard Fields overlook, but most of the 3,000 acres of Graveyard Field is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Waterrock Knob (MP 451) – visitor center near the Cherokee Reservation and near the parkway’s highest elevation, featuring views over the Great Smokes region.
Terminus of Parkway (MP 469) – connects with US Highway 441, the main road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Oconaluftee visitor center and the Mountain Farm Museum.
Biking is permitted the entire length of the parkway, and bicycling is popular. Keep in mind, however, that automobile drivers may have trouble seeing bikes on curves and especially in long, unlit tunnels. Always wear high-visibility clothing and equip your bike with front and rear lights and reflectors. Even if you’re an experienced rider and you’re in good shape, you should plan on seven to eight days to bike the entire length of the parkway. That’s 60 to 70 miles a day, with much of it up steep grades. At that pace, you won’t have much time to stop and smell the flowers.
The parkway offers about 100 hiking trails, ranging from short nature walks to multi-mile hikes. There is access to the Appalachian Trail at several points in Virginia, including near Roanoke and Peaks of Otter.
Some of the most popular trails with trailheads on or near the parkway in North Carolina include Linville Falls Trail (Milepost 316.4, 0.8 mile to view of lower and upper falls), Crabtree Falls Loop Trail (MP 339.5, 2 miles to waterfall), Craggy Pinnacle Trail (MP 364.2, 0.7 miles to panoramic high mountain view), Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MP 382, parallels parkway, 7.2 miles), Bent Creek-Walnut Cove (MP 393.7, 3.1 miles), Graveyard Fields Loop Trail (MP 418.8, 2.3 miles passes two waterfalls), Black Balsam Knob (MP 420.2, 2 miles to mountain bald) and Waterrock Knob Trail (MP 451.2, 1.2 miles to view over Smokies).
There are nine National Park Service campgrounds along the parkway with more than 700 tent sites and nearly 350 RV sites:
Otter Creek (MP 61) is near Virginia's James River.
Peaks of Otter (MP 86) is near the Peaks of Otter Lodge, Abbott Lake, the restored 1930s Johnson Farm and an excellent trail system.
Roanoke Mountain (MP 120) has easy access to the largest city along the Parkway corridor.
Rocky Knob (MP 167) has easy access to Rockcastle Gorge and is just nine miles from Mabry Mill.
Doughton Park (MP 241) is near Basin Cove and an extensive trail system.
Julian Price Park (MP 297) is near Boone and Blowing Rock and close to the Moses Cone Estate and a lake. This is the Parkway's largest campground, with 129 tent sites and 68 RV sites.
Linville Falls (MP 316) is on the Linville River and with access to the trail system into Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.
Crabtree Falls (MP 340) campground is near the Crabtree Falls Trail and within 15 miles of Mt. Mitchell State Park.
Mt. Pisgah (MP 408) is the highest parkway campground at almost 5,000 feet elevation.
Camping along the parkway is permitted only in designated campgrounds. Fees are $20 per night, with group camping at Linville Falls $35 a night. Senior lifetime national park pass holders pay $8 to $10 per night. (The Senior pass, by the way, is a terrific deal, available to those 62 and older. It costs just $10 and allows admission to most federal parks and recreations areas in the United States at no charge. It’s sold at many national park units.)
You are limited to camping a total of 21 days between June 1 and Labor Day. RVs and trailers are limited to 30 feet in length. Dump stations are available at all campgrounds, as are toilets, but there are no water or electric hook ups. There are many private, commercial campgrounds near the parkway, some with amenities such as hot showers and swimming pools.
For the most popular campgrounds -- Peaks of Otter, Mt. Pisgah, Price Park, Doughton Park and Linville Falls -- reservations can be made on-line at www.recreation.gov or by calling toll-free 877-444-6777. The advance reservation charge is an extra $3 per night. Otherwise, camping is first-come, first-served. Campgrounds tend to fill up on holidays and weekends in summer and fall.
There are three lodging options on the parkway, along with hundreds of motels, inns and lodges in towns and cities near the parkway:
Peaks of Otter Lodge (Milepost 85.6, 85554 Blue Ridge Pkwy., Bedford, VA 24523; 540-586-1081 or 866-387-9905, www.peaksofotter.com.) The concessionaire for the Peaks of Otter Lodge and the National Park Service could not agree on a renewal of the lease on the lodge, and it closed in November 2012 but, happily, reopened in summer 2013, although as of this writing not all details have been finalized. The 63-room motel-style lodge was built in 1963 and opened in 1964. While the setting is beautiful – it is right beside Abbott Lake with its reflection of Sharp Top Mountain -- not much has been done to update or refurbish the lodge since the 1970s or 1980s. There are no televisions, no internet, no room phones and no cell phone reception. Rooms are not ADA-compliant. Furniture and furnishings need replacing. Room-only rates are around $135 to $150 double including taxes and fees, with higher rates during fall color season. AAA, AARP, military discounts and other specials are available. There is a restaurant that most guests describe as good but not exceptional. Peaks of Otter Lodge is 9 miles from Bedford and 25 miles from Roanoke.
Rocky Knob Cabins (Milepost 174.1 near the town of Floyd, 20 Rock Church Rd., Meadows of Dan, VA 24120; 540-593-3503, www.rockyknobcabins.com; rates $75 double, $79 on holidays and in October; open May-Oct). Eight rustic cabins, each with two double beds and a kitchenette but no bathroom (except for one ADA-compliant cabin that has one bed and an ensuite bathroom), were built in the 1930s by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Toilets and showers are in two sex-segregated bathhouses about 100 feet from the cabins. Consider this basic but clean and pleasant cabin camping in a get-away-from-civilization setting.
Pisgah Inn (Milepost 408.6 near Mt. Pisgah, Mail: P.O. Box 749, Waynesville, NC 28786, tel. 828-235-8228, www.pisgahinn.com; basic rates $125 single or double weekdays, $135 weekends, $10 additional for room with king bed, basic October and holiday rates $150 to $156, all rates include breakfast for two; open Apr.-Oct.). This is more of a motel than an inn, and the rooms are basic, but the setting at 5,000 feet and the dramatic mountain views are the reasons to stay here. The inn is directly on the parkway near the 5,721-foot Mt. Pisgah about 26 miles from Asheville, 20 miles from Brevard and 24 miles from Waynesville. Once part of the vast Biltmore Estate, the site of the Pisgah Inn along with some 80,000 acres was sold by Edith Vanderbilt in 1914 and became the basis of what is now Pisgah National Forest. The present day inn is not far from George Vanderbilt’s beloved late 19th century Buck Springs Lodge, visited frequently by horse and wagon by Vanderbilt and friends. Sadly, the chestnut-log lodge was later disassembled and razed by the U.S. government, over the objections of preservationists. A short walk down the Buck Spring Trail from the Mt. Pisgah parking lot takes you to a historic exhibit located at the foundation stone remains of the hunting lodge.
The original Pisgah Inn opened in 1919, but it closed and, in disrepair, was torn down in the 1990s. The current two-story inn was constructed in 1964. On the grounds are a restaurant – the food here is surprisingly good and reasonably priced, and the views from the dining room are fabulous – and a gift shop and small convenience store. Nearby is a 137-site park campground, operated separately from the inn. You can make reservations for the campground in advance on-line at www.recreation.gov or by calling toll-free 877-444-6777. Keep in mind that the weather at this elevation can be unpredictable. A storm in early May 1992 dropped 5 feet of snow on the inn and stranded guests for several days.
You can stop anywhere on the parkway and picnic, except at designated and signed watersheds including a section north of Asheville and a section near Waynesville. Be sure to pull completely off the roadway to park. In addition, there are many developed picnic areas, including ones at Humpback Rocks (Milepost 5.8), Peaks of Otter (MP 86), Rocky Knob (MP 167), Mabry Mill (MP 176.2), Doughton Park (MP 241), Moses Cone Park (MP 294), Julian Price Park (MP 296.4), Linville Falls (MP 316.5), Crabtree Falls (MP 364), Folk Art Center (MP 382), Parkway Visitor Center (MP 384) and Mt. Pisgah (MP 407). This is not an exhaustive list of developed picnic areas on the parkway.
New Review of Pisgah Inn Restaurant
We drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway from Brevard Road and the NC Arboretum near Asheville for dinner at the Pisgah Inn at Milepost 408.5 and to see a bit of fall color. Leaves aren't spectacular this year, probably due to all the rain, but it's still a nice drive. In most areas above 3,500 feet or so the leaves are about 50% turned.
It was pleasantly cool, in the low 50s. As we arrived at Mt. Pisgah, the clouds were starting to roll in, so we knew the views from the Pisgah Inn restaurant would be limited at best. That turned out to be the case, and in any event we didn't get one of the prime window tables. Still, it was a very pleasant dinner. We arrived a little before 5, when the restaurant reopens for dinner, put our names on the list (there are no reservations except for large parties) and had a glass of wine on the small deck. It's wine and beer only at Pisgah Inn, and they would probably sell a lot more if the bar set-up were a little easier to figure out -- for a pre-dinner glass of wine you have to place your order in the gift shop area, pay for it there, then bring the ticket to the hostess stand.
At 5 on the dot the restaurant filled up almost completely, but there was no waiting. Aervice was very friendly and efficient. My apousw had the walnut-encrusted trout with blueberry butter (around $18). The blueberry butter doesn't add much and certainly gives the mountain trout filet a luridly colorful look. I sprang for the 8 oz. filet mignon with baked potato (around $27), which as expected wasn't Ruth's Chris quality, but I enjoyed it. We both started with the French onion soup (a $1.95 upcharge as a side, a deal), which was good, though the onions weren't quite carmelized enough and the beef broth was probably canned.
With one appetizer (the so-so fried green tomatoes, $6), a total of three glasses of wine ($7 to $9 each), two entrees and four sides including the onion soup, the total with tax and our usual generous tips came to close to $100. Prices, especially for main entrees, have increased a good deal in the past several years. But there are sandwiches, burgers and such even on the dinner menu, so you could eat for half what we paid or less. About 40 of the Pisgah Inn staff stay in quarters near the Inn, while the rest of the 120 or so staffers are locals who drive in from Asheville, Waynesville, Brevard or other surrounding towns. Given the setting at nearly a mile high, the atmosphere, the service and the certainly more-than- adequate food for a park concessionaire, we enjoyed it and hope to return again as we usually do once or twice a year for lunch or dinner.
--Lan Sluder, October 16, 2013
Flora and Fauna Along the Parkway
Wildlife and birds are plentiful along the parkway, including 74 species of mammals, more than 50 species of amphibians and 35 species of reptiles. About 160 species of birds nest along the parkway with many others passing through. Having said that, many wild creatures have learned to avoid the traffic on the roadway, and you may never spot most of them unless you get out and hike.
At least 1,600 species of vascular plants grow along the parkway, and nearly 1,300 of these are wildflowers. More than 130 species of trees are present, about as many as are found in all of Europe. In addition, it is estimated there are almost 400 species of mosses along the parkway and around 2,000 species of fungi.
All content copyright © Lan Sluder except selected photographs used by permission and brief quotations or other fair use text, which are owned by the copyright holder.
We have made every effort to confirm the accuracy of information on this website, and in the Amazing Asheville book and ebooks, but travel information is subject to frequent change, and no warranty is made, express or implied. Please notify us of any errors or omissions, and we will attempt to correct them as soon as possible. All opinions expressed are those of the author, Lan Sluder, unless otherwise noted.