The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most picturesque roads in the USA, perfect to drive in the spring, summer, or fall.
If coming in the fall, expect to not be the only one! Many people come to enjoy the fall foliage, some of the best in the USA.
On this Blue Ridge Parkway road trip, you’ll explore the states of Virginia and North Carolina. The road trip offers endless views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, hiking and biking opportunities, and some great natural attractions.
You can easily extend your road trip to a week and include a few days in each of the two National Parks.
If you do, note the entrance fee for National Parks, but happily, there’s no entrance fee for the Blue Ridge Parkway, this gem of a National Scenic Byway!
Not sure what to pack for your road trip? Check my packing list here.
Blue Ridge Parkway Itinerary
Day 1: Shenandoah National Park to Buena Vista
The first day of this Blue Ridge Parkway drive takes you from Shenandoah National Park to Buena Vista, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
You’ll enter the Blue Ridge Parkway through the North Entrance and spend about 2 hours driving and exploring it. This is a short day in terms of stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so use that extra time to explore more of Shenandoah National Park first or enjoy a late start to your day.
Stay at Buena Vista Motel for a retro motel experience that doesn’t break the bank. It’s good for one night and just a short detour of 5 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway!
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful park with lots of opportunities for hiking, as well as smaller and multi day hikes.
Before entering the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can spend up to 6 hours driving the Skyline Drive, hiking, enjoying the waterfalls and outlooks as a first encounter with the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Stop at all or at least a lot of the overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway, as they offer grand views on the mountains and valleys below.
See for yourself why they’re called the Blue Ridge Mountains in this gorgeous portion of the Appalachian Mountains!
Old Logging Railroad
Stop at this old railroad which leads into the woods: it’s hauntingly beautiful and a great spot for photos.
It’s a reconstruction of part of the railroad, which was originally built in 1919-1920. There were lots of these railroads in the mountains to carry the logs to the mill, which you can now visit today.
Day 2: Buena Vista to Fancy Gap
Yesterday was a short drive, but today is a long day of driving, with more mesmerizing views all day long. We take a detour for an attraction and get some hiking going on.
The day from start to finish takes about 11 hours of sightseeing, hiking, and driving. Start your day with breakfast at Hardee’s in Buena Vista to get you fueled up for the day!
Certainly, you should make a quick stop at Roanoke Valley overlook, Pine Spur overlook and Devils Backbone overlook, all for the great views. For lunch, have a picnic at one of the many overlooks.
End your day at Fancy Gap with a stay at Fancy Gap Cabins and Campground. It’s a lovely place to stay with a kind owner, and it’s directly on the Parkway, with a beautiful view of the mountains with fireflies, wild rabbits, and deer to entertain yourself with spotting.
Natural Bridge is about 15 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Spend about 3 hours here, admiring the Natural Bridge. The bridge is high and you can walk underneath it.
After the Natural Bridge, the paved path goes on and leads through rebuilt homes and tents from the Indigenous inhabitants of the area. Learn about how the Monacan people originally lived in this land today and its cultural importance to the tribe today.
Enjoy the butterflies and the creek you walk along on the path. At the end, you can gawk at the view at the Bridge Entrance & Gift Shop.
Roanoke River Trail
Stop at the Thunder Ridge Pedestrian Overlook at the Blue Ridge Parkway. From here, two short hikes are possible.
The overlook is 1,000 feet away from the parking area: it’s a loop trail that takes about 10 minutes. The overlook has a gorgeous, wide view.
You can also opt to do the 20-minute Roanoke River Trail, a hike along rocky cliffs above a river gorge. Take in the beautiful nature and enjoy the man-made waterfall.
Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center
Stop at the Visitor Center, which is located just two miles from the parkway, for information about how the mountains come into being, the beautiful nature and what there all is to do along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The information is provided by the NPS, which manages the parkway. Take about 20 to 30 minutes for this stop.
Rail Fences and Mabry Mill
At Groundhog Hill Picnic Area, there’s a barn that you can climb to have a 360-degree view on the surrounding area.
Next to that, the NPS has built several different rail fences here. These are the rail fences that you can find along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Spend about 5 to 10 minutes here.
Other great attractions along this stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip are Mabry Mill and Virginia’s Explore Park.
Day 3: Fancy Gap to Canton
This day takes about 12 hours, depending on whether you end your day at Canton or a little further along in Asheville.
On this day, you cross the border from Virginia to North Carolina. Along the way, Cumberland Knob, High Piney Spur Overlook, Rough Ridge Overlook, and Grandview Overlook are worth a short stop for the views.
Have a picnic at the Blowing Rock for lunch, and for dinner, enjoy something to eat at Mt. Mitchell State Park Restaurant. The restaurant offers comfort food with a stunning view.
End the day by watching the sunset at one of the overlooks along the parkway.
For the night, stay at the Pisgah Inn, directly on the parkway and often fully booked.
If there’s no vacancy, drive further and overnight at Best Western Asheville Tunnel Road with great views of the surrounding mountains and a swimming pool in case you want to go for a morning swim the next day!
There are also a ton of cozy cabins in Asheville that make a great place to lay your head at night.
Northwest Trading Post
This is a nice stop for local goodies and souvenirs, with different vendors each year.
Stroll around the store, stock up on sweets and bread, grab some picnic supplies, and buy some local souvenirs for your loved ones back home.
The Blowing Rock
This is a rock with a story, which you can learn all about at the center next to the rock. It’s about 3 miles away from the Blue Ridge Parkway and well worth the detour.
Spend about an hour at this legendary cliff with an amazing view, have. a picnic lunch, and spend some time climbing on rocks. The rock is known for its strong wind gusts, so be careful!
Set aside about 2 hours for your visit to Grandfather Mountain. It’s a 3.3-mile detour from the Parkway, and worth every minute of the stop!
The mountain is part State Park and part natural attraction. Go hiking here on the trails (especially the Cragway Trail), do a bit of rock climbing, or learn about the natural history and animals at the nature museum in the park.
Most of all, don’t miss the Mile High Swinging Bridge with its 360-degree views on the Blue Ridge Mountains!
The views on Grandfather Mountain are referenced to as the best views of the region and the Mile High Swinging Bridge is a real highlight of any Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary.
Mount Mitchell State Park
Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, with an elevation of 6,648 feet. It’s about 5 miles to the top by car, and here you can enjoy some fabulous views from the observation deck.
The state park is an International Biosphere Reserve, so the biodiversity here is incredible! Learn the mountain’s cultural and natural history at the museum and go on a short hike near the summit.
Set aside 1 to 3 hours for the state park depending on whether you go for a hike and/or have dinner here at the restaurant as I suggested.
Other options to explore for this part of the Blue Ridge Parkway are: Linville Falls Trail; Moses H. Cone Memorial Park; Southern Highland Craft Guild; Dutch Creek Trails; Julian Price Memorial Park; Linn Cove Viaduct or The Orchard at Altapass.
Day 4: Canton to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The last day of your Blue Ridge itinerary takes about 3 to 4 hours driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Stop at some more scenic overlooks for your last views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and spend the afternoon hiking at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, celebrating your arrival!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is the most visited National Park of the country, with over 10 million visitors a year, double the number of visitors to the next most popular park, the Grand Canyon, and triple the number of visitors to Yellowstone!
The park is located both in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee. So adding a third state to your list can be done easily here if you’re counting your US states!
If you extend your road trip a bit, you can pay a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in the Tennessee portion of the park. Inside the park, there are 800 miles of hiking trails and a scenic highway through the park.
Instead of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can also explore Chimney Rock State Park with the Chimney Rock, or go to Sliding Rock on a beautiful day and have a swim.
Another option is to do the Craggy Pinnacle Hike at Craggy Gardens, or you could visit The Biltmore or the North Carolina Arboretum while in Asheville — the latter of which is a good place to visit in Asheville with kids!.
Other options are Gorges State Park for the Rainbow Falls, climb Looking Glass Rock and be rewarded with incredible views, or go to the Folk Art Center.
The Blue Ridge Parkway road trip can easily be divided into more days, if 12 hour days are too long for your liking, or if you want to include more of the attractions along the way.
However long you spend driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s well worth your time no matter what!
Cosette is a seasoned traveler who has traveled to various countries with her husband and son. She blogs about road trips, family travel, and cultural experiences on her blog KarsTravels. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.