Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway - It's a Lifetime Must-Do!
Any seasoned road-tripper knows that if there’s a must-do road to plan a road trip down, it’s the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ll never forget the first time I rode on this route the summer I was twelve years old – the shadowy humps of mountains all around us, the curving road bordered by flowers, the smiling people we met everywhere. We were there in the summer and the cool haze of humidity turned everything a blue-green. Imagine my surprise when I returned to this road one fall as an adult and the sky was a bright snapping blue while the brilliant colors of autumn popped from every tree!
If you’re going to plan a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can go anytime and the beauty is always there, but there’s no more spectacular time to visit than in the fall (that’s usually mid-October in North Carolina and Virginia). The humidity clears to allow views that go on forever and the mountains are blanketed with a patchwork of orange, yellow, and red.
As you’re driving through parkland – it is a parkway after all – you’ll never see ugly billboards, commercial traffic, or built-up areas.
What will you see? Trees, mountains, streams, wildflowers, wildlife (bears, hawks, beaver, deer, and fox to name a few), great exhibits about pioneer life, folk art demonstrations and sales, and much more. This road was actually designed to be recreational, so it’s just one long beautiful ribbon of a road with tons of great scenery and points of interest.
The entire route from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina is outstanding. There is no place you must start or end your trip, but there are many things that can really make a difference when you a plan a road trip down this gorgeous parkway through the mountains.
Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Tip #1
Get gas before you get on this road! There are no gas stations along it and, depending how much of the road you plan on riding, you’ll need to get off the parkway in order to refill your tank.
Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Tip #2
Plan on getting out of your car a lot. Yes, there are many beautiful vistas to see from the comfort of your car, but you’ll miss a lot of the beauty of this road if you don’t get out of your car. There are tons of great stops along the way and you really don’t need a guide to find them – just keep your eyes peeled and pull over often at the many visitor centers, roadside exhibits (be sure to stop at Mabry Mill), overlooks, picnic areas, and hiking trails.
Definitely pack some decent hiking boots or walking shoes and go for a hike – even if it’s a mini-hike. My favorite place to hike is to the Peaks of Otter in Virginia – beautiful mountains, a lake, forests and fields filled with wildflowers.
Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Tip #3
Drive slowly – this is not a race. If you’re a speed racer, this may not be the road for you. This is a leisurely-drive type of road, so slow down and enjoy the view. Slowing down will also ensure that you don’t miss a great spot to pull over (and you can pull over wherever there is room).
Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Tip #4
For those just riding only one section of the Blue Ridge Parkway – plan on riding the segment between Asheville, NC and the southern end of the route which finishes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Definitely spend a day or more in Asheville visiting the Biltmore Estate – for more details, check out this free road trip plan that includes Asheville. This section of the road is widely known to be the most spectacular of all.
Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Tip #5
Drive this route during the week during non-holiday time. This is such a popular route that it becomes ridiculously congested on weekends and whenever school is out. Going when there are no maddening crowds can make all the difference with this road trip. If you have kids, consider pulling them out of school for a week (yes, you can – my teachers let me leave school for a month in 6th grade to travel).
Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Tip #6
Go to all of the top sights and towns along the route. They are: Asheville, NC (Biltmore Estate and great town/city), Staunton, VA (history and charm), Shenandoah National Park, VA (Luray Caverns are a must-see of a lifetime with its "stalac-pipe organ" that actually plays music!), Mabry Mill, VA (historic mills, blacksmith shop, and great restaurant), Floyd, VA (go to Floyd Country Store for authentic Appalachian music – see their schedule and get tickets if necessary), and Blowing Rock, NC (home to multiple festivals and the perfectly quaint mountain town you’d expect to encounter on this trip).
Plan a Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Tip #7
Pack wisely. Be sure to pack lots of layers. The weather is very changeable and can be warm one minute and cold the next, especially as you move from one elevation to another. Layering is the key! Be sure to pack a camera and tripod so you can take lots of photos (you’ll be glad you did). It’s a good idea to pack a picnic/picnic blanket. There are so many wonderful places along this route to picnic it would be a shame to miss them all. If you want some inspiration for your picnic, check out my road trip recipes.
How long this road trip will take depends on how much time you plan to spend hiking, visiting various sights and towns along the way, etc. It can take you anywhere from three to seven days depending on your fph (fun-per-hour).
If you’ve never been down the Blue Ridge Parkway, plan a road trip on this amazing route soon – it’s a real must-do of a lifetime!
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