Know Before You Go, Blue Ridge Parkway Asheville
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most visited national parks in the country and is fondly called “America’s Favorite Drive.” It’s no wonder.
The entire drive from Shenandoah to the Great Smokies was purposefully designed to display the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains – like “jewels” in a spectacular 469-mile setting.
With its breathtaking scenery, rich cultural heritage, traditional music and folk art, unique plant and animal life, and real gems and minerals – the parkway is indeed a “national treasure.”
Exploring the Scenic Stretch
Grandfather Mountain Overlook/ Shuttershock
On this section of the tour, we’ll explore 90 miles of the parkway from Asheville to Blowing Rock, North Carolina. From beautiful overlooks and fan-favorite hikes to mountain-top vistas and stunning waterfalls – we’ll make sure to show you the best of the parkway’s treasures.
Delve into the Region's Story
You’ll also have a chance to dig deep and learn more about the history, geology, and ecology of the region at the many visitor centers and museums along the way. If that isn’t enough, you can opt for even more adventure by visiting one of the optional tourist attractions.
Explore a real gem mine, tour limestone caverns, cross a mile-high swinging bridge, and more! With over 25 stops, there are so many things to see and do on this section of the parkway that it would be impossible to fit it all into one day.
Customize Your Journey
The beauty of this tour is that you get to decide when and where to stop. No matter when the year you visit or how long you stay, we hope you’ll make treasured memories exploring the gems of the Blue Ridge Parkway!
To get the most out of your visit, there are a few things you need to know before you go.
- This tour takes approximately 6 to 10 hours to complete. It can take longer if you do all the hikes or visit all the suggested tourist attractions. Feel free to split the tour into two to three days if you want to spend more time at each stop.
- The tour begins just north of the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville and ends at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in Blowing Rock. It covers a 90-mile stretch of the parkway between milepost 384 and 294.
- The tour is available both south to north and north to south.
- The parkway is open 24-hours year round. However, sections of the road may close temporarily due to severe weather or road maintenance operations. Check road conditions on the NPS website for up-to-date information.
- Along the parkway, access to gas, food, and water is limited - plan ahead. You can access gas and food in Spruce Pine (halfway) and at the end in Blowing Rock. Little Switzerland has a couple of restaurants as well.
- The maximum speed limit for the parkway is 45 mph unless otherwise marked. The app works best if you stick to the speed limit–otherwise, it may get cut off if you go too fast.
Overlooks have limited parking space and may be full during the busy season. Please don’t block traffic to take pictures. You may park along the shoulder as long as all four wheels are off the pavement–except in the designated watershed area.
What to Expect
Mt.Mitchell Overlook/ Shutterstock Image
To Start Early
If you want to pack in as many hikes as you can or visit more than one tourist attraction in a day, then you’ll definitely want to get an early start hitting the road by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. at the latest. However, if you’d prefer a shorter trip or have more than one day to spend on the parkway, then you could start after 10 a.m. when the Folk Art Center opens.
To Spend 4-10 Hours (or a Couple of Days) Exploring
You can drive the parkway from Asheville to Blowing Rock in as little as 2.5 hours if you drive straight through. However, the best way to experience the parkway is to take your time, get outside, and enjoy the views.
In about 4 hours, you can catch a few highlights of the tour–like the visitor centers and overlooks. But if you want to get out in nature and hike a couple of the short trails, then plan for 6-8 hours.
Extending Your Tour
Additional hikes or taking the optional side trips to Mount Mitchell or any of the tourist attractions will extend the tour even further. You get to choose the kind of adventure you want! Visit as few or as many stops as you like or as your time permits.
You can even break up the tour into two or three days. But remember, if we mention stops on the tour, it's because we feel they’re worth a visit. However, at the end of the day, you’re in charge, so, make the tour whatever you want it to be!
To Be Active
The Blue Ridge Parkway is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Whether you’re a hard-core hiker or fair-weather walker, we’re confident you’ll find a trail on this tour that’ll knock your socks off.
We’ve recommended 6 popular hikes that range from short and easy half-hour walks to moderate hikes that may require over an hour. In the highlights, we also mention a few of the more difficult trails for those outdoor enthusiasts who just can’t get enough.
Hike as little or as much as you’re able but make sure to get out onto the trails occasionally. There are some things on the tour you can only see on foot. Beyond hiking trails, there will be plenty of recommended stops for visitor centers, tourist activities, and viewpoints, so be prepared to get out of the car often.
To Try Local Goodies
With all the activity possible on this tour, you’ll probably work up an appetite! There are a couple of options for restaurants in Little Switzerland (open seasonally) and several in Blowing Rock.
We’ll recommend a few of them to you on the tour and you can always learn more in the highlights section of the app. At the Orchard at Altapass, you can pick fresh apples, try a slice of homemade pie, and take home other homemade goodies when it’s open. Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain also offer food options seasonally.
To Drive On Curvy Roads
The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the contour of the mountains, so be prepared for numerous curves and elevation changes. Drive carefully, follow the speed limit, and keep your eyes open for bicyclists who also share the road.
On your tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll learn fascinating facts about the history of the parkway and the people who lived here in years past.
You’ll get to hear about the geology of the mountains, the unique plants and animals that live high in the spruce-fir forests, and the wealth of gemstones and minerals buried deep underground.
We hope to inspire you with the music of Appalachia as well as delight you with local legends and true tales. In short, we hope you come away with a new understanding and appreciation for the Blue Ridge Mountains and its people.
Budgeting & Hours of Operation
While on the tour, you’ll need to budget for food, souvenirs, and optional tourist attractions. Of course, you should also take into consideration any supplies you may need to purchase before starting the tour, like gas, snacks, picnic food, sunscreen, and water.
- $15-$20 per person for lunch
- $20+ per person for dinner
- $10-25+ per adult for entrance fees to recommended tourist attractions. See individual websites for details.
- $-$$ per person for souvenirs. There are several gift shops in the visitor centers and tourist attractions.
Hours of Operation
Most picnic areas and all campgrounds are closed for the winter, but trails are open year-round.
Most visitor centers are closed for the winter, but the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, Folk Art Center, and Museum of North Carolina Minerals are open all year long.
Many tourist attractions have extended summer hours but limited winter hours. Check websites for days and hours of operation.
When to Visit?
Linn Cove Viaduct Overlook/ Shutterstock Image
Summer and fall are the busiest seasons for travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you’re visiting in winter, please visit the NPS website in advance for any road closures that may impact your visit. Please also note that many of the parkway’s facilities have seasonal hours. You can learn more about those here.
The weather along the parkway varies depending on the season and elevation. Keep an eye on the weather, and if you plan to travel during the cooler months, dress in layers.
Bring a warm coat when visiting Mount Mitchell or Grandfather Mountain where temperatures can be 10-20 degrees colder or when visiting Linville Caverns which remains at 52 degrees year round. In the summer, remember to use sunscreen and drink plenty of water.
These are pretty standard, but here we go: Lock valuables in the car. Bring water and hike in groups. Use insect repellent. Stay away from ledges, and keep an eye on young children when hiking in areas with no guardrails. Watch out for bears, snakes, ticks, and poison oak/ivy. Stay on clearly marked trails to avoid most of these dangers.
Follow posted speed limits, be prepared for narrow roads and tight curves, turn on lights in the tunnels, and be aware of bicyclists on the road. One of the biggest causes of accidents on the parkway is speeding and not paying attention.
If you head off the tour route onto backcountry roads or trails, you are responsible for your own safety. Water sources are rare and unreliable.
Hiking the more difficult trails in Linville Gorge or on Grandfather Mountain should only be attempted by experienced hikers with proper gear. Each year, unprepared or inexperienced hikers have to be rescued. Please don’t be one of them.
Keep pets on a leash at all times, even on trails. This reduces the risk of them having a surprise encounter with a bear or a wild animal with rabies. Yikes!
Stay on designated trails and within walls in viewing areas to protect the fragile vegetation. Don’t feed or pet wild animals–for their safety as well as your own. Chances are slim that you’ll see a black bear, but if you do, stay far away.
If one approaches you, slowly back away–don’t run. Leave wildflowers, plants, and animals in their natural state. And please do not pick, remove, or damage animals or vegetation.
Here’s our suggested packing list. What you take depends on what you plan to do on the tour.
- Cell Phone with this Tour Downloaded
- Car Phone Charger *Very Important*
- Phone Mount (optional, but very handy)
- Hiking Shoes
- Hiking Clothes (layers during cooler weather)
- Water Bottles
- Bug Spray
- Sun Glasses and/or Hat
- Hand Sanitizer
- Snacks/Picnic Lunch/Dinner (if desired)
- Cash/Credit Card for Admission Fees
- First Aid Kit
- Coat or Jacket (For visiting the high-elevation peaks or the caverns)
- Change of Clothes for Kids & Ziploc Bag (If planning to prospect at Emerald Village)
- Picnic - There are several beautiful picnic stops along the route
Things to Do Along the Park
There’s so much to see and do along the Blue Ridge Park Asheville. We recommend you decide ahead of time which attraction you’d like to visit and check out their websites for details on open days, hours of operation, fees, and reservations. Here are some major attractions:
Pan for gold, dig for gemstones, tour a historic mine, and more at this fun mining village in Little Switzerland. Emerald Village has activities for all ages.
Warning: Kids may get dirty prospecting, so bring a change of clothes–and a ziploc bag for treasure. Plan for around an hour for one or two activities. There are different prices for different activities. Emerald Village is only open seasonally and closes during the winter months.
Craving fresh apple pie or homemade jams? Want to wander through a beautiful historic hillside orchard or pick your own apples? Come get a slice of Appalachian heritage at The Orchard at Altapass.
The general store is open Wednesday - Sunday during the summer with special activities and live music on the weekends. It’s closed during the winter months.
Check out the fantastic limestone formations in Linville Caverns and learn about its fascinating history in this half-hour guided tour. Tours run every 10 minutes, but you may have to wait as reservations are first-come, first-served.
Linville Caverns is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the summer months and is only open on weekends during the winter.
Visit the Mile-high Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain for a thrilling and memorable experience! Stunning views, beautiful trails, impressive rocks, and wild animals are just a few of the highlights of this tourist attraction.
You can also drive the “Forrest Gump Curve” where the famous run across America scene from the classic movie was filmed. Grandfather Mountain is a popular destination, so we highly recommend you make online reservations ahead of time.
And since it’s toward the end of our tour, you’ll want to plan an entrance time for later in the afternoon or early evening. The park is open until 7 p.m. during the summer. Plan for at least two hours to see everything.
Come see North Carolina’s oldest tourist attraction and the town’s namesake! The Blowing Rock Attraction is open daily with seasonal hours but may close due to weather. You can see everything in less than an hour.
For a complete list of things to do, check out the Blue Ridge Parkway Asheville Itinerary.
When you visit a National Park, you’ll eventually come across the phrase “Leave no trace.” It is important to leave an area exactly as you found it. We can enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway because of efforts to preserve its natural beauty so let’s do our part.
At Shaka Guide, we promote ethical and responsible tourism. Please, pick up your trash, respect plant and animal life, and keep yourself safe, too. Leave no trace of your visit behind so future generations can continue to enjoy our wonderful National Parks.
We hope that we’ve given you all the information you need to make the most of your day. Your vacation is extremely important to us so if you have any questions feel free to reach out at email@example.com.
For more detailed information to help you plan check out our Blue Ridge Parkway - Asheville Trip Itinerary.
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