The Blue Ridge Parkway isn't technically a national park, but it might as well be. It connects two—Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains—and each year, more people drive it than visit the Grand Canyon.
Honestly, you can't pick a bad time to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. In summer, the parks along the road are lush and green. In the fall, the entire drive is covered in fiery foliage (usually from early October to early November). In winter, the driving can be a tad precarious, especially if it's snowy, but in spring, flowers bloom across the route. No matter the time of year, here are a few of our favorite stops to see along the way.
The Smokies has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the U.S., and is home to several species of wildflowers that range from white to pink to orange and every color in between. The secluded Cades Cove is a great place to take it all in.
Great Smoky Mountains Nat'l Park, Gatlinburg, TN, US
The most distinctive feature about Grotto Falls is that it's the only waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you can actually walk behind. The 25-foot-high waterfall offers a cool, shady, and moist retreat for hikers in the summer and provides an ideal habitat for salamanders.
107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN, US
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the area is incredibly awe-inspiring. Fall is a popular time to visit the Smokies, and with good reason: The changing colors are unlike anything you'll find anywhere else in the world. Avoid the crowds and still get awesome views by visiting in the summer or when everything is blooming in the spring.
303 Henderson Chapel Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN, US
Pigeon Forge is a very popular tourist destination, and you can't go wrong staying at the Music Road Resort, which is located half a mile from the Titanic Museum. It features an outdoor water park and an indoor pool and hot tub open 24/7. Enjoy the free hot breakfast and ask to upgrade to a room with a whirlpool tub and fireplace.
903 Parkway, Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler, Gatlinburg, TN, US
Ole Smoky is the first legal moonshine in Tennessee (a state that loves moonshine so much, at least one of its state songs outright mentions it), so you know it’s the real deal. A tour of the distillery offers a chance to learn about moonshine legends and the opportunity to taste its many flavors (from the original to the classic staple apple pie flavor to other fun varieties).
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2522 Colonial Ave SW, Roanoke, VA, US
When you're ready for some hearty road food, the Roanoker Restaurant is a good bet. It opened in 1941 and has remained a local favorite ever since.
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15 Appledore Ln, Natural Bridge, VA, US
The Natural Bridge Hotel is a charming hotel close to a lot of local attractions including a wax museum, caverns, and a zoo. Request a mountain view room and don't miss the on-site restaurant and bar.
6477 S Lee Hwy, Natural Bridge, VA, US
Further south in Virginia—and another short detour off the Blue Ridge Parkway—you'll find the Natural Bridge, with its 20 stories of solid rock, carved out by nature. It has dazzled people for centuries, including founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
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67 Cave Mountain Lake Rd, Natural Bridge Station, VA, US
Nestled in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains is Cave Mountain Lake Family Camp, a rustic and relaxing camping getaway. Close to Natural Bridge and the Parkway, this is a great spot to relax after a long day of driving. The 7-acre campground was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
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Amherst, VA, US
Take a short side-trip to Amherst, Virginia, a scenic and bucolic town along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Don't miss the beautiful Sweet Briar College, several golf courses, the Monacan Ancestral Museum, and the historic James River.
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11581 Crabtree Falls Hwy Route 56, Montebello, VA, US
Crabtree Falls, located in the George Washington National Forest, is one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Nellysford, VA, US
Located at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Humpback Rocks is an area rich in history, scenic beauty, and abundant hiking trails. At an elevation of more than 3,000 feet, Humpback Rocks provides a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Mile 51.2 Skyline Drive, Luray, VA, US
If you're visiting Shenandoah National Park, Big Meadows Lodge is a fantastic place to spend the night. Located directly within the park, this historic lodge is close to the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center and just over 3 miles from Dark Hollow Falls. The wood-paneled rooms are charmingly rustic—but be warned, the cabins don't have TVs or phones. There's an on-site restaurant and taproom, as well as free WiFi in the lodge.
Sperryville, VA, US
Sperryville is a historic river town along the Thornton River. It was founded in the early 19th century and is currently listed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry and National Registry of Historic Places. The town is located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and includes another access point for Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
101 Cave Hill Rd, Luray, VA, US
Take your Blue Ridge Parkway adventure underground at Luray Caverns. You can rock out to the one-of-a-kind “Great Stalacpipe Organ,”' and make sure to toss some money into the wishing well and make a wish. All of the change tossed into the well goes to charity.
3655 Hwy 211 East, Luray, VA, US
Just 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C., the pristine 200,000 acres of Shenandoah National Park offer 500 miles of trails through dense forests, ancient caves, towering mountains, and misty waterfalls.
Skyline Dr., Front Royal, VA, US
While you're in Front Royal, stop by the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and head out on a hike across from the Parkway. You can visit Fox Hollow and Snead Farm, and you'll pass by a historic graveyard. It's a great way to immerse yourself in the local area's history.
Skyline Drive, Luray, VA, US
Whether you're starting or ending your drive in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is sure to be one of the most unforgettable parts of the trip. The 105-mile (169-km) road is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. Designated a National Scenic Byway, the road takes a winding path along the mountaintops of the Blue Ridge Mountains east of the Shenandoah River. There are nearly 75 overlooks that provide views of the surrounding valleys and local wildlife. Numerous trails can be accessed along the drive, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. The southern end of Skyline Drive is located in Rockfish Gap, where it connects to the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a free-access road that continues southward along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Simpsonville, South Carolina, United States