Like many others, I began 2020 with grand ideas and plans. One of those plans included visiting Switzerland to ski in Zermatt for my first wedding anniversary.
Then the Coronavirus came through and turned everything upside down.
On the morning of our anniversary, it was a crisp spring day in North Carolina. One of those days where the sun rises but that warmth doesn’t quite touch your skin.
Thankfully the sky was a clear baby blue with puffy white clouds scattered to the horizon.
Instead of waking up with a view of the Matterhorn and skiing for the day, we set out for the Blue Ridge Parkway with a picnic basket full of food and a full tank of gas. We started out just over the Virginia line in Galax and headed south.
Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the most beautiful drives in the USA
Rolling fields – used as farmland for years – lined the Parkway until we got into a more wooded area where walls of rhododendrons grow tall. In the summer these really put on a show with their dark pink flowers against the forest green leaves.
With nowhere to be, we pulled off at each overlook and read the signs that the National Park Service have installed.
You can learn all kinds of cool things like how the National Park Service purchased farmland surrounding the Parkway so they could preserve the look for future generations or areas that are best for viewing birds of prey.
Top 7 Spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway
A series of waterfalls, the upper and lower, are located a short distance off of the Parkway. It’s an easy hike that’s perfect for kids and families, but be sure to watch your kids near the water.
There are some more strenuous routes if you hike to the lower falls and if you explore more of the Linville Gorge Wilderness there are camping options and hikes for all skill levels.
With abundant interconnecting trails, Doughton Park is a hidden gem when it comes to hiking or backpacking. The park is skipped over by many for Stone Mountain State Park that is located right next door.
Bluff Mountain Trail
Don’t underestimate the options here. And obviously it is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic.
The further south we went, the more dramatic the overlook views became with the mountains slowly growing taller around us. Just south of Doughton Park (MP 241.1) we stopped at the Alligator Back Overlook and parking area.
Alligator Back Overlook
The view from the overlook was amazing but the real gem is found when you head up the Bluff Mountain Trail. The sign said a 20-minute walk to Bluff Overlook so we grabbed our backpack with food and water and started off.
It wasn’t long until we were out of breath (or maybe that was just me) because of the steep trail and don’t get me started on the stairs. However, the reward was well worth it. After walking through a heavily wooded area, it was like a movie scene where the characters see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Suddenly we stepped out into that light and were greeted with an incredible view of the beautiful mountain tops sprawling into the distance. You could count the peaks for miles.
This provided a magnificent view but the ground was completely made of stone so not the best picnicking spot. We continued on for about 10 minutes until we made it to a shelter with another fantastic view and the perfect spot to sit for lunch.
View from the picnic spot
The sun was shining down making it much warmer than when we began our journey that morning. My ham & cheese sandwich in hand, I drank in every last drop of Vitamin D and relished the view over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
That heart-pounding hike was more than worth the effort.
As we made our way back down, bellies full, and laughing all the way, it wasn’t hard to realize how lucky we were. Lucky that the Blue Ridge is our backyard playground.
Turns out you don’t have to be in another country to have a proper celebration. You can find adventure right outside your back door.
In the shadow of Grandfather Mountain, Rough Ridge can be reached by the Tanwha Trail in a parking area directly off of the Parkway.
Once you reach the top there is a beautiful view of the mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct.
Linn Cove Viaduct
The Linn Cove Viaduct is a long, concrete segmental bridge which snakes around Grandfather Mountain. It was one of the last major construction projects on the Blue Ridge Parkway which runs 469 miles (755 km) linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you love flowers, specifically rhododendrons, then visit here in early June. These beautiful pink blossoms line the hiking trail like you’re in the middle of a romance movie.
Plus it’s an easy one that takes you to breathtaking views. My favorite kind of hike.
At the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway right before you get to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you’ll find the Waterrock Knob hike. These beautiful views are best enjoyed at sunrise or sunset.
View from Plott Balsams Overlook
Travel Tips for Blue Ridge Parkway
Best Time to Visit
The Parkway can be enjoyed during any season. Spring and summer are best for flowers and great hiking weather.
Fall brings beautiful colors that cloak the trees in red, orange, and yellow as far as you can see.
Fall colors view from the Blue Ridge Parkway
In winter the views are even better if that’s possible. Be sure to check the National Park Service Website for road closures as it is commonly closed due to ice, snow, or other safety hazards like landslides and fallen trees.
Where to Stay
Sunset view in Blue Ridge Mountains
There aren’t many hotels close to the Parkway unless you stay in Cherokee or Asheville on the North Carolina section. You will find many adorable cottages and Bed & Breakfasts though.
Airbnb is a great place to find these or you can check out the Linville Falls Lodge & Cottages, Fire Mountain Inn & Cabins, or the Pisgah Inn.
Where to Eat
You’ll have to make a tiny detour into small towns to pick up food for the most part as there aren’t many restaurants directly on the Parkway but Western North Carolina offers some incredible cuisine.
Many of the Inns also have restaurants like Fire Mountain and Pisgah Inn mentioned above. You can also try interesting places like the Gamekeeper which serves items like bison steak and ostrich sausage or Louise’s Rockhouse which sits on the literal corner of three counties.
In most areas the speed limit is 45mph. In crowded places, it will go down to 35mph and through pedestrian areas, it will be 25mph.
The Blue Ridge Parkway website is incredibly helpful to map out your route and find things to do. The National Park Service also provides great technical information about what is open and the Visitor’s Centers.