Secret Spots on the Blue Ridge
Drive the Blue Ridge
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.
Mile 60: James River Visitor Center
Uncrowded lakeside view, ideal for fall photos of turning leaves reflected on water
Mile 86: Peaks of Otter Lodge
The parkway's only year-round hotel, with mountain and lake views. peaksofotter.com or 540/586-1081
Mile 154: Smart View Picnic Area
Large wooded picnic and day-use area with restrooms and a 2.6-mile moderately easy trail
Mile 170: The Saddle Trail
Hike 0.2 mile from the Saddle overlook to the original parkway shelter, a stone hut.
Photo: Mabry Mill, located off Milepost 176
Poor Farmer's Market
Best fried pies, jams, and jellies on the parkway, plus quilts and pottery. Open year-round at Meadows of Dan, poorfarmersmarket.biz
Mayberry Trading Post
An old-timey country store selling homemade wooden bowls and apple butter
Blue Ridge Music Center
This interpretive center honors Appalachian music, and concerts fill the amphitheater; noontime jams on the deck. blueridgemusiccenter.net
North Carolina Stops
Mile 294: Flat Top Manor
Southern Highland Craft Guild houses a crafts gallery in the 23-room Beaux Arts mansion.
Mile 304: The Lincove Viaduct
The last bit of parkway opened in 1987, preserving Grandfather Mountain
Photo: Milepost 303, near Grandfather Mountain
Orchard at Alta Pass
Apple store offering heirloom varieties grown on the parkway, altapassorchard.com
Mountain Top Views
Mile 355: Mount Mitchell State Park
5-mile spur road to highest point east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet; offers hot apple cider, ncparks.gov
Mile 451: Waterrock Knob
A 360-degree, four-state view; it's the best view of the Smokies, the Nantahalas, the Pisgahs, and the Cowee Mountains and the best sunrise/sunset spot
Photo: Eseeola Lodge, five minutes off Milepost 308 in Linville, eseeola.com
For more information on the Blue Ridge Parkway, visit blueridgeparkway.org.