Iconic Spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway Everyone Should See

North Carolina Stops
Photo: Art Meripol

Anytime is the time to explore the South's most iconic road. Traversing the mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway is not only a transit system but a pathway to discovering the area's biodiversity, scenic outlooks, and regional specialties.

America's longest linear park encompasses 469 miles of picturesque highway winding through Virginia and North Carolina. There are lookout points to observe majestic mountains and hiking trails leading to waterfalls, and picnic spots tucked away throughout the drive. There are lodges, outdoor adventures, and family-friendly activities on the road between Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Enthusiasts travel this road to capture a photo of the perfect sunrise or sunset. Every journey can lead to someplace new.

01 of 10

Drive the Blue Ridge

Drive the Blue Ridge
Art Meripol

An asphalt ribbon some 469 miles long, the parkway connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the country's most visited national park) and the Shenandoah National Park (one of the least). The road gets more travelers than any park, in fact, yet it rarely feels crowded. Stop awhile, and then drive awhile. You won't see many signs or much development. Every turn reveals something special—a split rail fence, an awe-inspiring vista, a stacked-stone bridge.

Driving the parkway can be overwhelming. After all, it covers 469 miles across two states—Virginia and North Carolina. These don't-miss spots will give you the best of this scenic road. It takes about three days to drive it at a leisurely 45 mph pace with time for stops.

02 of 10

James River & Otter Creek

Virginia Stops
Art Meripol

Mile 60: James River Visitor Center

The James River Gorge is the lowest elevation on the Parkway. At 650 feet above sea level, this critical waterway helped boats traverse the river after the construction of Battery Creek Lock. The unobstructed views are ideal for leaf-peeping in autumn.

Mile 86: Peaks of Otter Lodge

The Peaks of Otter Lodge is the Parkway's only year-round hotel, with mountain and lake views. Hiking trails near this stop include the one-mile path circling Abbott Lake. Visitors can journey the Sharp Top Trail for a more advanced hike to glimpse the panoramic view at Sharp Top's summit.

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Refreshment Stops

Fall Foliage in Mabry Mills
Bruce Henderson / Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Mile 154: Smart View Picnic Area

During springtime, blossoming dogwood trees surround the area overlooking the meadowland. The wooded picnic area and a moderately challenging 2.6-mile trail encompass the "Smart View Picnic Area." Containing 72 grills and picnic areas available in certain seasons, the flowering plants cover the area making it a designated stop along the Parkway.

Mike 176.1: Mabry Mill

Stop in the Mabry Mill Restaurant for a taste of country cooking. The historic water-powered mill is one of the top photographed establishments along the Parkway. Restoration of the mill allows visitors to discover how an authentic mill operates. During the summer, musicians and dancers gather at The Mill for weekend celebrations.

04 of 10

The Market & The Music Trail

Mile 178: Poor Farmer’s Market
Art Meripol

Mile 178: Poor Farm's Market & Primland Resort

Poor Farmer's Market, a deli open year-round at Meadows of Dan, serves homemade biscuits, jams and jellies, and freshly made pizza. Off the stop at this mile marker, the Primland Resort immerses you in nature's tranquility to nourish visitors' wellness. Horseback riding and the golf course provide ways to stretch your legs during your trip.

Mile 199.5: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail

The Fancy Gap exit positions you in the center of Virginia's Heritage Music Trail. The stop has various shops, boutiques, and dining options for wayward travelers. Here you can check out the Blue Ridge Plateau Regional Visitor Center for more information about local activities.

05 of 10

Mayberry Trading Post

Mayberry Trading Post
Art Meripol

Mile 180: Mayberry Post Office

This authentic country store, built in 1892, was the original Mayberry Post Office and general store. You can still shop here today, as the Post sells apple butter. In the fall, The Mayberry Post entertains visitors by making apple butter.

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Blue Ridge Mountain Music

Blue Ridge Music Center
Art Meripol

Mile 213: Blue Ridge Music Center

Blue Ridge mountain music celebrates its regional origins, history, and deep roots at this center. There are jams on the deck, and concerts fill the theaters when musicians come to perform. The museum highlights this genre's history, tracing its form from Europe and West Africa, and discusses its influence on today's music.

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North Carolina History

Blowing Rock North Carolina
Louise Heusinkveld / Getty Images

Mile 291: The Blowing Rock

You could spend an entire day perusing the shops on Main Street before even stepping on the rocks of North Carolina's oldest attraction. The Blowing Rock is a 4,000-foot cliff overlooking a gorge. The expansive views are highly photographable.

Mile 294: Flat Top Manor

At this stop, Flat Top Manor sits on the largest area on the Blue Ridge Parkway for public recreation. The 23-room Colonial Revival mansion is a lovely place for hiking and visiting the apple orchards. Locals frequent the area to utilize this developed space.

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Natural & Man-Made Wonders

Linville Falls in western North Carolina is one of the most popular waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Kate Silvia / Alamy Stock Photo

Mile 304.4: Linn Cove Viaduct

Designed to protect Grandfather Mountain, these seven miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway were the last to be completed. This concrete bridge's mission was the conserve the habitat surrounding the mountain. The result was an S-shaped curve around the mountain's circumference.

Mile 316.4: Linville Falls

This stop will lead you to a stunning waterfall trailing down Grandfather Mountain. Hiking the Erwin's View Trail or Strenuous Linville Gorge Trail is a great way to see the 90-foot waters. Campgrounds and picnic areas surround the falls, so you can enjoy this wonder for as long as you like.

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Mountain Top Culture

Orchard at Alta Pass
Art Meripol

Mile 328: The Historic Orchard at Altapass

Engrained in the region's culture, The Orchard at Altapass is a landmark that promotes pollinator-friendly environments to produce their signature heirloom apples. In season, visitors can pick their own apples. The Orchard General Store sells homemade apple treats and honey from their bees and local beekeepers.

Mile 355.4: Mount Mitchell State Park

This summit is a sight-seeing must since it was the inspiration for one of the nation's first state parks. The highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains has an observation deck to take in lush, green forest. Located near the mountain's summit, a museum dedicated to the surrounding wildlife displays the area's topographic representations.

Mile 382: Folk Art Center

Explore the Folk Art Center, the oldest craft shop in America, and its gallery featuring over 250 works of art. Modern folk art displayed through furnishings, textiles, hand-made jewelry, and pottery highlights the artist's craftsmanship. Enjoy daily crafting demonstrations from artisans in all fields.

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Nature's Playground

Sliding Rock in Psgah National Forest
Gary Clark

Mile 411.8: Sliding Rock

This stop is your chance to see a 60-foot rock water slide in the Pisgah National Forest. Sliding Rock is nature's waterpark, with gallons of water spilling down the ridge each minute. There are plenty of observation decks and trails for those not interested in taking a turn sliding down this incredible untouched playground.

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