America’s favorite the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip

  • Post last modified:April 15, 2021
  • Reading time:17 mins read
America’s favorite the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles (750 km) through Virginia and North Carolina. This scenic and colorful road trip lets you travel through dense forests and wind past great mountains. It’s not called America’s favorite drive for nothing. During the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip you will continue to ask the question, what’s around the next turn?

The route for the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip goes from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia in the north to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina in the south. The Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary shows you the best of the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachian Mountains.

And when we have driven the 469 miles (750 km) of the Blue Ridge Parkway we continue with a stop at the Great Smoky Mountains to round off this spectacular road trip.

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Blue Ridge Parkway guide

The Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary includes overnight stops in Roanoke, Blowing Rock, Asheville and Gatlinburg and a lot of interesting places to discover along the way.

You find all the stops marked out on the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip map below.

The total distance of the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip is about 504 miles (809 km), which equals to an estimated driving time of 14 h. That’s including the extra 35 miles (56 km) to get from the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway to Gatlinburg.

Some good to know things about the Blue Ridge Parkway

The speed limit of the parkway is typically 45 miles (72 km) per hour or in some cases even less. This means that the pace throughout the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip is low. That’s great if you want to take your time and enjoy the scenery. Not so great if you just want to put the miles behind you as soon as possible.

In this Blue Ridge Parkway guide and on the parkway the mileposts are used to identify the locations. They are ordered from Afton and Shenandoah National Park in the north to Cherokee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south.

That’s it. Now it’s time to get out there and start with the first stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip itinerary from the north entrance of the parkway.

Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
Fall at the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Part 1: Afton (Milepost 0) to Roanoke (Milepost 120)

  • Driving time: 3 hours
  • Distance: 120 miles (193 km)

In Afton you find the north entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here you start the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip at MP 0 and when you arrive in Roanoke you are at MP 120. During this stretch you especially don’t want to miss to explore the Natural Bridge located at MP 61 before you arrive to Roanoke at MP 120.

Cross country road trip and the Appalachian Mountains
The Appalachian Mountains.

Natural Bridge at Milepost 61

The Blue Ridge Parkway shows off one of its most unique spots already at MP 61. Natural Bridge is a 215 foot-tall (66 m) stone structure that reaches 90 feet (27 m) across the gorge it’s situated in. The gorge has been carved by Cedar Creek, a tributary of James River. And Natural Bridge is the remains of the cave or tunnel that Cedar Creek once flowed through. 

This place interested the Native Americans who used it as a sacred site. And it also caught the attention of George Washington who surveyed it in 1750. Later in 1774 Thomas Jefferson purchased a 157 acres of land including the bridge.

The Natural Bridge is today the main attraction of Natural Bridge State Park. And it’s a great stop to start off your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip with.

Natural Bridge on Blue RIdge Parkway road trip
The Natural Bridge in Virginia.

Explore Roanoke (Milepost 120)

Roanoke (MP 120) is a an optimal place to base yourself for the first night or nights when you explore the Blue Ridge Parkway. The place is literally surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here nature is only a short hike away.

And Roanoke isn’t just a city you pass by from point A to point B. There are good reasons to stay a night or two extra here during your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip to see what it has to offer.

An optimal location hotel location in Roanoke is near downtown and the Mill Mountain Star. That way you can reach the star by foot and also have plenty of dining options nearby.

See the Roanoke Star

On top of the list of things not to miss is the Roanoke Star. You might ask what that is? Well, just the way Hollywood has its Hollywood sign, Roanoke has the Roanoke Star. The about 90 feet (30 m) tall star is located on top of Mill Mountain and protectingly looks out over the city and its surroundings.

At the top of Mill Mountain you get a close-up view of the star and an impressive panoramic view of Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And even though you can drive up to the star you can also hike or bike up to reach it. So you can easily have a car free day while you explore Roanoke.

The Roanoke star during cross country road trip
Roanoke’s star.

Be surprised by the beauty of the McAfee Knob

Just some miles outside Roanoke you find a segment of the Appalachian Trail. There you find even more incredible vistas. And maybe most spectacular of them all is the rock overhang perch, which you can reach by hiking. It’s called the McAfee Knob and it’s about an 8-mile (13 km) round trip from the parking lot to the knob. If you like hiking, this is for you!

The McAfee knob during Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
McAfee knob of the Appalachian Trail.

Part 2: Roanoke (Milepost 120) to Blowing Rock (Milepost 293)

  • Driving time: 4.5 hours
  • Driving distance: 173 miles (278 km)

This is by far the longest drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary. From Roanoke you have 173 miles (278 km) to Blowing Rock. If you feel that five hours in the car is too much and you need to break it up with an overnighter, somewhere around Fancy Gap at Milepost 199 is a strong option.

During this stretch the Mabry Mill at Milepost 176 and the Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213 are beautiful stops that you should include on your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip itinerary.

Mabry Mill at Milepost 176

Mabry Mill is an idyllic and restored millhouse originally built in 1905. It has become one of the most famous sights along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here you can take a self guided tour of the mill to learn a little bit about its history. And of course you shouldn’t miss to try the amazing pancakes at the on-site restaurant.

Mabry Mill of Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
The Mabry Mill is the definition of picturesque.

Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213

The Blue Ridge Music Center has its mission to bring forward the rich musical tradition and heritage of the Blue Ridge mountains. It does that with the help of a museum, an outdoor amphitheater and an indoor venue. When you visit it’s likely that the sounds of the fiddle, banjo, and guitar will be the sounds that welcome you.

Sights in Blowing Rock (Milepost 293)

At MP 293 you find a good place to stay in during your road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway, namely Blowing Rock. In a place named Blowing Rock there must be a blowing rock too, right? The answer is, yes there is. The Blowing Rock that has been the inspiration to the town name and Moses Cone’s Flat Top Manor are two interesting places to visit during your stay.

The blowing rock that gave name to Blowing Rock

The Blowing Rock is just what is sounds like. It’s a rock that stands out a bit from the other parts of the mountain. And from the overlook you have a sweeping view of the mountains. Don’t forget to read about the history of the Blowing Rock if you go. It has an interesting story to tell.

Blowing Rock during the Blue RIdge Parkway road trip
The blowing Rock.

Moses Cone’s Flat Top Manor

Textile magnate Moses Cone developed his estate and built the unbelievable summer retreat with his wife, Bertha, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Flat Top Manor is a white 20-room mansion built in Colonial Revival style.

The manor itself with the beautiful views is very impressive but the estate also includes a family cemetery and an apple orchard.

And on the estate you as well find the carefully curated 25 miles of carriage trails for even more magnificent views. The trails are partly overgrown, but that only contributes to the feeling of stepping back in time.

Today the manor and the estate belong to National Park Service. And the Flat Top Manor is open seasonally for visitors but the trails in the area are always open.

Flat Top Manor in Blowing ROck
Flat Top Manor.

Read more: The optimal mountain escape to Blowing Rock in North Carolina >>

Part 3: Blowing Rock (Milepost 293) to Asheville (Milepost 382)

  • Driving time: 2.5 hours
  • Driving distance: 89 miles (142 km)

From Blowing Rock at Milepost 293 to Asheville at Milepost 382 there is a lot to be explored on the Blue Ridge parkway road trip. The 89 miles (142 km) take about 3 hours to drive. On the way Linn Cove Viaduct, Linville Gorge and Falls as well as Mount Mitchell are three stops that you should make sure you don’t miss.

Linn Cove Viaduct at Milepost 304

The bridge Linn Cove Viaduct has become an icon for the Blue Ridge Parkway just like Brooklyn Bridge is an icon for New York. This is one of the most photographed sights on the parkway. The S-shaped bridge that is 1243 feet (379 m) long has become a destination on its own.

You can of course just drive over it. But nearby hiking trails could give you an even better view of the bridge and the surroundings.

Linn Cove Viaduct of Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
The Linn Cove Viaduct.

Linville Gorge and Falls at Milepost 316

Just a few miles after Blowing Rock you face one of the highlights of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linville Falls. It’s a magnificent waterfall that moves in distinctive steps. It starts with a twin set of upper falls and moves down through a small gorge before it culminates with a drop of 45-foot (14 m).

At the visitor center you find two trails that link to different observation points. If you want to take it one step further you can go for a hike in the Linville Gorge. The further away from the falls you get the smaller the crowds will get. The hike is a good way to appreciate the gorge, which also goes by the name Grand Canyon of North Carolina, and the Linville River.

As the story goes Linville Falls were used for execution of prisoners by the Native Americans in the area as the final plunge was so deadly. So enjoy the beauty when you visit, but make sure that you watch your steps at the falls.

Linville Gorge near Blowing Rock
Linville Gorge.

Mount Mitchell at Milepost 355

Mount Mitchell offers the highest point east of Mississippi. At 6684 feet (2037 m) no one on the east side of Mississippi is as high up as you when you are at the summit. The risk of visiting a cloudy day is big as most days there are cloudy. But even if it’s cloudy it’s well worth a visit.

You can get to within a quarter mile from the summit before you need to put on your walking boots and do the last part by foot. Up at the summit it feels so worth it even if the weather is bad. When you’re up there notice that the fauna at the summit is a bit different compared to the surrounding Appalachians because of the elevation change.

Discover Asheville (Milepost 382)

Asheville is located at Milepost 382 along the Blue Ridge Parkway and it may be misunderstood as just a pit stop. But that couldn’t be more wrong. Asheville is a very picturesque town with fun things to do during the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip. Two fun places to consider are the famous Biltmore Estate and the retro Pinball Museum.

Visit America’s largest home

In Asheville you have the chance to visit the largest home in America that is privately owned. With the size of 178,926 square feet (16622.8 m2) the Biltmore Estate is truly impressive. It was built in the late 1800s by George Vanderbilt II and still to this day belongs to the Vanderbilt family.

The Biltmore estate during cross country road trip
The Biltmore estate in Asheville.

The Asheville Pinball Museum

Yes, this is definitely a contrast to visiting the Biltmore Estate. In the Pinball Museum you find about 80 pinball machines and vintage video games. Visitors can play as much as they want. And as you play your way through the museum you also find interesting history and facts along the way.

The museum is not in a very big space, but on the other hand the amount of people allowed inside is restricted. So everyone can have a good time and find a game to play. Here people of all ages have fun together!

Pinball stop during Blue RIdge Parkway road trip
Pinball time!

Read more: 7 reasons to book a trip to Asheville, NC >>

Part 4: Asheville (Milepost 382) to Cherokee (Milepost 469)

  • Driving time: 3 h
  • Driving distance: 87 miles (140 km)

The last stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway route is from Asheville at Milepost 382 to Cherokee at Milepost 469. These 87 miles (139 km) take about three hours to cover. Here you want to make sure that you include Black Balsam and Oconaluftee.

When you have reached Cherokee you have reached the end of America’s Highway. It has taken you all the way from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia down to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To best explore the Smokies you should make the one hour drive from Oconaluftee up to Gatlinburg.

Black Balsam at Milepost 420

A hike at Black Balsam provides some of the best views of the entire Blue Ridge Parkway road trip. Black Balsam Knob is the most prominent and popular peak in the area. It’s treeless covered just with grass or low vegetation. Thanks to this the views are spectacular, with nothing blocking your sight.

So take the Art Loeb Trail, with its trailhead located just a short distance away from Milespost 420 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. And from here explore the grassy and wildflower packed mountain with impressive vistas. If you feel adventurous you can add to the Black Balsam Knob and also hike to two other summits, Sam Knob and Tennent Mountain.

Oconaluftee at Milepost 469

Oconaluftee at the end of the road just has to be a part of the Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary. It’s a former Cherokee village about two miles south of where the parkway ends. There the Oconaluftee Indian Village recreates life of an 18th century Cherokee village.

As you enter the Indian Village you are swept away all the way back to the 18th century. In the beautiful Appalachian environment you take part in craft demonstrations including pottery, weaponry, fingerweaving and basket making. You also get to experience the replicas of traditional Cherokee homes and other community structures. And a fun extra touch is the re-enactors who are dressed in traditional Cherokee clothing.

A visit to the Great Smoky Mountains

  • Driving time: 1 h
  • Driving distance: 35 miles (56 km)

The Smokies are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains. The part “Smoky” comes from the fog that naturally and frequently hangs over the mountain tops, appearing much like smoke plumes from a distance. And the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect place to end the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip.

When you visit Gatlinburg is a good place to base yourself. And in the park you definitely shouldn’t miss Cades Cove.

The Great Smoky Mountains after Blue Ridge Parkway road trip
The Smokies.

A perfect base in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is located just at the entrance of the Smokies in the northwestern direction from Cherokee. And it’s a very convenient place to stay in. There you have great access to the Smokies, good restaurants and a great variety of activities for the days you prefer not to spend in the wild. There’s something for anyone.

View over Gatlinburg, Tennessee
The Smokies and Gatlinburg.

Cades Cove of the Smokies

When you are in the national park Cades Cove is a unique spot that shouldn’t be missed. It’s an isolated valley that once upon a time was home to settlers. Cades Cove is really scenic with the valley floor contrasted by the rugged mountain tops.

And make sure that you show your best side when you meet the bears, white-tailed deer, hogs, turkeys, skunks and raccoons that call the Smokies their home.

Cades Cove in the Smokies
Cades Cove takes you back in time.

Where to stay in Gatlinburg?

Anywhere in Gatlinburg is good for exploring the Great Smoky Mountains. Select your dates and search for your hotel on the map below, or press search to get all the accommodation options in Gatlinburg listed.

Read more: Where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park >>

The journey is as important as the destination
The journey is as important as the destination.

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Blue Ridge Parkway road trip FAQ

You find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip below.

Where does the Blue Ridge Parkway start and end?

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles (755 km) from Afton in Virginia to Cherokee in North Carolina. The parkway links Shenandoah National Park in the north to the Great Smoky Mountains in the south.

How long does it take to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip? 

It’s recommended to have a week to fully enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip. With an estimated driving time of 13 h for the Blue Ridge Parkway plus another hour to get to Gatlinburg you will drive 2 hours a day if you have a week. That gives you time to explore the things along the way as you drive and the places where you stop for the night. This Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary includes 3 places for overnight stops just along the Blue Ridge Parkway and then also Gatlinburg to see some of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Can you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in one day?

Completing the Blue Ridge Parkway takes 13 hours without stops included. So it’s theoretically possible to make the Blue Ridge Parkway drive in just one day. However, it’s not recommended to do so. Even if you don’t plan many stops you need at least two or three days to be able to enjoy it.

What is the best time to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?

The best time to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway is from May to September. In spring and summer the vegetation is very green. And autumn is a very popular time of the year because of the impressive fall foliage. Winter is the least good time to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway due to the risk for road closures. The parkway is open year round but sections could be closed due to snow, ice, storm damage, maintenance and construction.

How was the Blue Ridge Parkway estimated driving time calculated?

The estimated driving time for the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip was calculated with Google Maps by taking the shortest amount of time from point A to point B and rounding upwards to the next half hour. Stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary are not included in the driving time.

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