Updated: 7/6/2017 – The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. While not officially a national park, it is part of the National Park System (NPS). Every year, since 1946, except for 1949, The Parkway has been the most visited part of the NPS.
The Parkway travels for 469 Miles from The Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in NC. The Parkway travels along some of the highest ridges and mountains in North Carolina and is known for its incredible scenic views. The highest point is located near Waynesville, NC at Milepost 431 where the elevation is 6,053 feet.
Traveling along the parkway you’ll venture through numerous tunnels, have the opportunity to stop at numerous overlooks and see wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfalls. There are also numerous hiking trails along the parkway to explore.
The Blue Ridge Parkway was part of The New Deal instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress. The New Deal was designed to provide work for those unemployed and poor as a result of The Great Depression. Construction on the Parkway began on September 11, 1935, near Cumberland Knob in North Carolina. The Parkway was completed 52 years later near Linn Cove Viaduct, which runs around Grandfather Mountain.
The Parkway itself, especially Linn Cove Viaduct, is an American engineering marvel. The parkway winds it’s way along the mountain ridges, through mountain valleys (often called Gaps along the Parkway) and over and around many of the tallest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Engineers also designed the Parkway to have a minimal impact the mountains and to be barely visible from lower elevations. Tunnels were often used to avoid damaging mountains and causing large “scars”. North Carolina contains 25 tunnels and there is 1 in Virginia.
There are numerous access points, but no direct interchanges to interstate highways on the Parkway. Engineers developed small side roads that serve as access points to various NC highways. The Parkway has numerous access points along many large and smaller roads in Virginia and North Carolina. Some of these would probably be considered by most to be trails and not roads.
There are many different “major entrances” where the Parkway crosses larger roads in larger towns and cities. Their entrances are generally where the majority of people enter. These are:
Rockfish Gap is accessible via Virginia Interstate 64 from Staunton, Charlottesville, and Richmond VA. Rockfish Gap is Exit 99. Rockfish Gap is also the southernmost access point for Skyline Drive.
From Roanoke, VA, take Interstate 581/220 to Milepost 121 on the Parkway. The Parkway is about 5 miles from Roanoke.
There is no direct interchange between the Parkway and Interstate 77, although the Parkway does cross I77. To access the Parkway from I77, take Exit 8 to Highway 52 and follow the signs to the Parkway. You’ll enter the parkway at Milepost 199.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is accessible to Both Boone and Blowing at MP 291.8 off US 321/221. From Boone, take highway 321 South about 5 miles. From Blowing Rock, take highway 321 North about 1 mile.
Traveling west on Interstate 40, towards Asheville NC, the easiest Parkway access is via Highway 221 towards Linville NC. Take exit 86 off I-40 (Large Love’s Travel Stop is there). Take 226, then 221 towards Marion, NC. Distance to MP317.5 on the Parkway is about 26 miles.
You can also take 226 off 221 and catch the Parkway at MP330.9 in Spruce Pine. Highway 226 in this area is pretty narrow and a very winding road.
Asheville NC has several Blue Ridge Parkway Access points:
From Waynesville, head towards Sylva on Highway 74/23/441. The Parkway access road will be on the right about 4.5 miles after leaving Waynesville. This will bring you onto the Parkway at MP 443.1.
From Maggie Valley, head west on Highway 19 towards Cherokee NC. The Parkway entrance is about 4 miles past Ghost Town in the sky. This access point will bring you onto the Parkway at MP 455.7.
Cherokee, NC is the southern end of The Blue Ridge Parkway where the Parkway connects with Highway 441 for access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From Cherokee, take US 441 towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Just prior to reaching the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, you’ll see the Parkway entrance on your right. Just watch for the signs. Milepost 469.1
Information on current closures on The Blue Ridge Parkway can be found on the Parkway’s Real-time Closure page.
We’ve traveled various sections of The Blue Ridge Parkway more times than we can count. We’ve traveled with family members, in groups of multiple cars, with young kids, and with no kids. We’ve also driven during all 4 seasons. As a result, we have lots of helpful tips to help you when traveling the parkway.
So many tips, in fact, we wrote up a separate article about them. Visit our Blue Ridge Parkway tips page for lots of tips!
When many people think of the parkway, they think of a beautiful, serene and quiet drive through the upper elevations of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Well, they’re right, as traveling the parkway is all of this and more. But The Parkway is more than just a beautiful road you can drive on. Throughout its 469 miles, there are tons of hiking trails, overlooks, places of interest, visitors centers, waterfalls and more.
In fact, there is so much to do, it would be near impossible for us to cover it all, but we’ll definitely hit on some of the highlights. Locations on The Parkway are marked by mileposts, small stones to the side of the road with mile marker numbers on them.
Here’s a list, by milepost, of things to do on The Blue Ridge Parkway:
MP 469.1 – Cherokee and The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Lots to do in both of these areas: attractions, hiking, scenic drives, Elk, fishing … you name it. Cherokee is also the location for Harrah’s Casino, a very popular attraction and travel destination for people all around the world. Be sure to visit Mingo Falls while you’re there.
MP 458.2 – Heintooga/Balsam Mountain Rd – The Blue Ridge Parkway has a number of side or spur roads. Balsam Mountain Road takes you past mile high campground, a few gorgeous overlooks, and into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. You’ll pass the Masonic Marker as well. At the end of the road, you can find the trailhead for Flat Creek Trail and the entrance to Heintooge Round Bottom Road.
MP 455.7 – Soco Gap/Maggie Valley, NC – The Parkway crosses over Highway 19 at Soco Gap, providing access to Cherokee NC and Maggie Valley, NC. Drive south on Highway 19 towards Cherokee on Highway 19 to Soco Falls, a real hidden gem and one of our favorite NC waterfalls. Stop here and be sure and eat at Frankie’s Italian Trattoria and visit Maggie Mountaineer Crafts as well.
MP451.2 – Waterrock Knob – Nearly 6,000 feet in elevation, the area provides beautiful sunset and sunrise views, and throughout the day, under clear conditions, provides fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. There is also a small visitors center, parking lot and a fairly steep trail to the top of “the knob”. A gorgeous place to see both sunsets and sunrises.
MP 443.1: US 74/23 Waynesville NC – The parkway crosses over US 74/23 here, and offers access to Waynesville, Sylva and Dillsboro NC. Western Carolina University is in nearby Cullowhee. Waynesville is a great little town and offers a more rural location than larger Asheville NC. Downtown Waynesville is a popular tourist location due to it’s “old-fashioned feel” and numerous unique stores and restaurants. Waynesville is also home to Barber Orchard, a fantastic apple orchard. Stop here and visit downtown and have dinner at The Sweet Onion restaurant.
MP 431.4 Richland Balsam Overlook – the Highest point on the Parkway at 6, 047 feet. There is also a 1.5-mile loop trail leading to the summit of Richland Balsam.
MP 430 Cowee Mountains Overlook – This overlook provides beautiful mountain views at an elevation of 5,950 feet. It is one of the most popular places for photographers to take sunset photos.
MP 418.8 – Graveyard Fields – One of our favorite places on the Parkway. Graveyard fields offers unique vegetation, hiking trails and waterfalls and absolutely gorgeous colors in fall. Graveyard Fields is one of the first areas on the parkway to turn.
MP 417 – Looking Glass Rock Overlook – One of the best places to see the beautiful, and unique Looking Glass Rock. But that’s not why we’re mentioning this overlook. The Looking Glass Rock Overlook is also the location of the trailhead to one of our favorite waterfall areas and swimming hole, Skinny Dip Falls located just a short .5 hike off the parkway.
MP 412 – US 276 crossing – US276 through Pisgah National Forest, and between Waynesville NC and Brevard NC crosses the parkway here. Nearby on US276 are Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock and Dupont State Forest.
MP 409.6 Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower – A 1.5-mile roundtrip hike offers access to Fryingpan tower, a fire watch tower built in the 40s by the National Park Service. The tower offers gorgeous, high elevation scenic views. The tower is locked, but you can climb the stairs for a better view.
MP 408 – Mount Pisgah and the Pisgah Inn– Scenic views, hiking trails, Pisgah Inn, and camping make this location along the parkway very popular. The location contains two main trails, one to the top of Mount Pisgah and another called “Shut-in” trail. Shut-in trail is a 16-mile trail that is part of a much larger trail created by George Vanderbilt for hunting parties.
MP 388.8: US 25 crossing – Biltmore Estate – Located just a short drive north along US25 is the entrance to Biltmore Estate. This is also a really nice and historic area of Asheville.
MP 384 – Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center – The visitors center not only provides some beautiful views, but has bathrooms, and nice store.
MP 362.1 Glassmine Falls – The 200-foot tall waterfall, Glassmine falls is visible from this overlook. Make sure you visit after a rain when it’s flowing the strongest.
MP 355.4 Mount Mitchell – Take a drive up the tallest mountain in North Carolina and east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet.
MP 344 – Little Switzerland – A neat, small little town with a little shopping, food, and gas. Located nearby are Grassy Creek Falls, and Emerald Village, neat historical mining areas just 3 miles off the parkway.
MP 328.3 – The Orchard at Altapass – A 100+ year old Apple Orchard, that has been turned into a cultural center. There is always something going on here, spring, summer and fall. Music, dancing, crafts and there is lots to eat!
MP 324.8 – Bear Den Campground – A private campground located off the parkway a bit. We have some very fond memories camping here with our kids. Large campground, with plenty of room for big RVs. They have a camp store, fishing pond, playground equipment for the kids, and a few hiking trails. One leads out to a really pretty waterfall. Visit their website for more information.
MP 317.4 US 221 Crossing – Just south of here is Linville Caverns, one of the few underground caverns in NC. We’ve been there many times and always enjoy it. Warning, it’s often crowded in the summer months and on weekends.
MP 316.3 – Linville Falls – Beautiful waterfalls, and two hiking trails (one that’s really easy) make for a great place to stop. Linville Falls is one of our favorite NC waterfalls and is a great family-friendly location for hiking. See our Linville Falls guide for lots of photos, trail information, and more.
MP 302.8 – Rough Ridge – Hike out Tanawha trail along a 1/3 mile long boardwalk that runs across the top of Rocky Ridge. Offers outstanding views of the Blue Ridge and of The Parkway and Linn Cove Viaduct.
MP 304.4 – Linn Cove Viaduct – Be sure and drive across this iconic section and engineering marvel of The Blue Ridge Parkway. When people think of the parkway, the Linn Cove Viaduct comes to mind. See our complete guide to Linn Cove Viaduct.
MP 305 – Grandfather Mountain – Take 221 to reach this famous NC Mountain and be sure and drive to the top and walk across the “mile high bridge” for stunning views. Lots of camping and hiking trails in the area as well.
MP 295 – 298 Julian Price Memorial Park – Hiking, picnicking, camping and trails all around this beautiful mountain lake. Excellent photo spot. This park was the retreat for a former insurance executive.
MP 292 – to 295 – Moses H. Cone Memorial Park – Hiking, horse trails, and Flat Top Manor. You can also fish here.
MP 291.9 – US 221 Crossing – Head north on 221 for 7 miles to Boone, NC and south on 221 for 2 miles to Blowing Rock, NC.
MP 271.9 – Cascade Falls – Take the .8 mile loop trail out to Cascade Falls and back. Cascade falls is over 250 feet in length.
MP 258.6 – Northwest Trading Post – Gift shop and resting stop. Offers various crafts from North Carolina’s northwestern counties. Closed from November to April.
MP 238.5 to 244.7 – Doughton Park – This 7,000-acre park offers hiking, picnic spots, and camping. The park also features a few historic buildings and locations. The park is a popular location to see wildlife, especially deer. During the winter, it’s a great location to cross-country ski.
MP 238.5 – Brinegar Cabin – The northern gateway to Doughton Park, this historic cabin was built in 1880 by Martin Brinegar. The cabin contains a loom that is more than 100 years old and is used for craft demonstrations during the summer. Two trails for Doughton Park, Cedar Ridge Trail (4.3 miles) and Bluff Mountain Trail (7.5 miles) both begin here.
MP 217.5 – Cumberland Knob Visitor Center – Here is where it all begin. Cumberland Knob was where construction of the parkway began in 1935. Restrooms, picnic area, and water. There are two trails here, one a short hike to Cumberland Knob, the other a longer hike to Gully Creek Gorge.
MP 216.9 NC/Virginia State Line
MP 213 – Blue Ridge Music Center, Galax VA – Learn about the history of Blue Ridge Mountain music and see performances. Learn more on their website.
MP 189.9 – Puckett Cabin – Visit the last home of Orlean Hawks Puckett (1844-1939). Ms. Puckett was a midwife who delivered more than 1,000 babies between 1890 – 1939.
MP 188.8 – Groundhog Mountain – Observation tower, picnic area, restrooms, and scenic views.
MP 176.1 – Mabry Mill – Another iconic Parkway location. Marbry Mill was run by E.B. Mabry between 1910 and 1935. A short trail leads youth this historic and beautiful gristmill, sawmill, and blacksmith shop. During the summer months, old crafting skills are demonstrated in the summer and fall. This mill is a feature of many very famous photos. A definite “must stop” location along the parkway.
MP 154 – The Trail Cabin/Smart View – Nice 3 mile loop hiking trail, 1890’s historic cabin, and scenic views.
MP 85.9 – Peaks of Otter – Named for 3 peaks, Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill, this location has hiking trails, scenic vistas, camping, picnic areas, cultural displays, and a restaurant and lodge. A nice location to watch the sunrise.
MP 63.6 – James River Visitor Center – Location of a water canal along the James river completed in 1851. Visitors can see on the restored lift locks, of the original 90. There is a visitor center, campground, picnic area, restaurant, gift shop and fishing dock
MP 34.4 – The Yankee Horse Ridge – Features old narrow gauge railroad track that was once part of the Irish Creek Railway, a logging railroad. Old logging exhibits are also here for visitors to see.
MP 5 – Humpback Rocks – Features old farm buildings from the 1800s. During the summer, visitors can see many different history demonstrations and crafting activities.
MP 0 – Rockfish Gap – Marks the Northern Entrance to The Parkway and the connector to Virginia’s Skyline Drive.