Julie and I recently took “America’s Favorite Drive,” enjoying the fall foliage and beautiful vistas along the Appalachian Mountains. It was a dream come true for us and an experience we would like to share with you. We will outline 27 superb Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks and stops to see on your adventure.
Before we cruise into the overlooks, let’s cover what you need to know about the parkway.
Blue Ridge Parkway
The iconic Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles, starting at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park, and ending at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance in Cherokee, North Carolina.
On your journey, you will encounter rugged mountains, pastoral landscapes, more than 200 overlooks, and 26 tunnels. If you meander off the road by hiking or driving, you can quickly find many other natural wonders and recreational activities. Blue Ridge Parkway has an array of opportunities to customize your adventures.
The speed limit is 45 miles per hour in most areas, while a few sections have a maximum speed of 35. With so much natural beauty, various wildlife inhabits the area along the entire parkway. You never know when an animal could suddenly cross the road.
Savor the view, but pay attention to your surroundings. We encountered deer on the road and along its edge several times.
Operating Hours & Seasons
Blue Ridge Parkway is open year-round. Sections of the parkway may close during times of inclement weather.
Due to the extensive length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the weather can vary widely. Temperatures tend to be warmer the further south you drive but may contradict this logic in higher elevations.
Precipitation can occur during all four seasons. You may encounter snow in winter, especially at higher elevations. Temperature swings in spring and fall can go from below-freezing to more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer is hot in lower elevations but can stay cool in higher altitudes. Thunderstorms are common in summer.
To our surprise, we encountered a road closure due to icy conditions in October. Although temperatures in the valley were considerably above freezing, ice developed along the road’s higher elevations.
We detoured, re-entering the parkway ten to fifteen miles further south. Ironically, this resulted in one of our recommended stops.
You must pay attention to weather and road conditions. It will be helpful to build flexibility into your plans.
Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is free.
Blue Ridge Parkway Mileposts
The Blue Ridge Parkway uses mileposts to mark points of interest like visitor centers, overlooks, and trailheads. It is an excellent system for finding your way around.
Mile markers start at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, Mile 0, and end at Mile 469 in Cherokee, North Carolina.
The Blue Ridge Parkway comprises four regions:
- Ridge Region: Miles 0 to 106
- Plateau Region: Miles 106 to 217
- Highlands Region: Miles 217 to 340
- Pisgah Region: Miles 340 to 469
People occasionally refer to the Shenandoah Region and the Great Smoky Mountain Region. Shenandoah National Park is the northern gateway to Blue Ridge Parkway, while Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the southern gateway.
A vast canopy of trees envelops the mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The alluring scenery consists of four national forests:
- Jefferson National Forest
- George Washington National Forest
- Nantahala National Forest
- Pisgah National Forest
While the Blue Ridge Parkway is not a national park, it is a national parkway that connects two national parks and takes you along four national forests. You can see why it is “America’s Favorite Drive.”
You will find many visitor centers on your long journey. It is an opportunity to rest, enjoy a scenic view, and obtain maps and information. Each visitor center has restrooms and water fountains. Hours of operation vary, so visit the Blue Ridge Parkway site to verify the hours for each location.
Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Centers:
- Humpback Rocks – Mile 5.8
- James River – Mile 63.6
- Peaks of Otter – Mile 86
- Explore Park – Mile 115
- Rocky Knob – Mile 169
- Blue Ridge Music Center – Mile 213
North Carolina Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Centers:
- Doughton Park – Mile 241.1
- Moses H. Cone – Mile 294.1
- Linn Cove Viaduct – Mile 304.4
- Linville Falls – Mile 316.4
- Museum of North Carolina Minerals – Mile 330.9
- Craggy Gardens – Mile 364.5
- Folk Art Center – Mile 382.2
- The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville – Mile 384.5
- Waterrock Knob – Mile 451.2
Blue Ridge Parkway Tunnels
As a kid, when on family vacations, my brother and I found driving through tunnels thrilling. To this day, tunnels still deliver a sense of excitement and wonder.
Where are the tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway?
- Bluff Mountain – Mile 53.1
- Little Switzerland – Mile 333.4
- Wildacres – Mile 336.8
- Twin Tunnel #1 – Mile 344.5
- Twin Tunnel #2 – Mile 344.7
- Rough Ridge – Mile 349.0
- Craggy Pinnacle – Mile 364.4
- Craggy Flats – Mile 365.5
- Tanbark Ridge – Mile 374.4
- Grassy Knob – Mile 397.1
- Pine Mountain – Mile 399.1
- Ferrin Knob #1 – Mile 400.9
- Ferrin Knob #2 – Mile 401.3
- Ferrin Knob #3 – Mile 401.5
- Young Pisgah Ride – Mile 403.0
- Fork Mountain – Mile 404.0
- Little Pisgah Ridge – Mile 406.9
- Buck Spring – Mile 407.3
- Frying Pan – Mile 410.1
- Devil’s Courthouse – Mile 422.1
- Pinnacle Ridge – Mile 439.7
- Lickstone Ridge – Mile 458.8
- Bunches Bald – Mile 459.3
- Big Witch – Mile 461.2
- Rattlesnake Mountain – Mile 465.6
- Sherrill Cove – Mile 466.2
If you enjoy tunnels, you can hike the Blue Ridge Tunnel Trail under Rockfish Gap between the end of Skyline Drive and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a unique experience that we recommend.
Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks and Stops
With over 200 overlooks throughout Virginia and North Carolina, there are views, activities, and attractions to cover all interests. I acknowledge any list is subjective. Julie and I recommend these stops as part of your journey.
The state line sits at Mile 216.9. All points of interest with a milepost number less than that are in Virginia. Attractions with a higher number are to the south, in North Carolina.
Rock Point Overlook
- Location: Mile 10.4
- Elevation: 3,115 feet
The overlook surveys a vast valley below that includes Torry Mountain and Mount Torry Furnace, a historic iron furnace built in the early 1800s. Some of the rock formations in the area have a greenish appearance and are aptly called Catoctin Greenstone.
Ravens Roost Overlook
- Location: Mile 10.7
- Elevation: 3,200 feet
The roost, situated 1,800 feet above the valley, delivers a breathtaking vista. A persistent tree somehow survives in an area of rugged rocks, making for a nice photo against the vast horizon. The beautiful site is popular, especially at sunset.
Bald Mountain Overlook
- Location: Mile 22.1
- Elevation: 3,252 feet
Mountains with a treeless patch near the peak are called “balds.” From this vantage point, you can see the open meadow summit of Bald Mountain. You can take a trail near the overlook through St. Mary’s Wilderness to Bald Mountain.
Yankee Horse Ridge Overlook
- Location: Mile 34.4
- Elevation: 3,140 feet
Although listed as an overlook, it is a parking area along the edge of the woodlands. You get two for the price of one here: Wigwam Falls and the Irish Creek Railroad.
A short 0.1-mile walk along a gurgling stream in the forest leads you to Wigwam Falls. The setting is peaceful, perfect for a picnic and exploration.
You will find a section of rebuilt 42-inch narrow gauge track in the middle of the woods. The railway was built from 1919 to 1920 and ran 50 miles. Logging companies transported logs to the mill by train.
Julie and I loved this area, as it was unexpected and different from the overlooks with a view of mountains or valleys. We found the beautiful walk along train tracks in the woods and the tranquil stream soul soothing.
Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook
- Location: Mile 44.9
- Elevation: 2,485 feet
I want to share a secret about the Chimney Rock Mountain Overlook. The best view is not at the overlook itself.
Walk south, following the main road, about 0.1 miles, until the treeline thins out. You will have a sweeping, unimpeded view worthy of photos.
Otter Lake Overlook
- Location: Mile 63.1
- Elevation: 650 feet
Although low in elevation and lacking a view of mountains, Otter Lake is picturesque and peaceful. The area offers a 45-minute loop trail around the tranquil lake.
A stone dam along Otter Lake’s edge gives way to a cascading waterfall that spills into Otter Creek. The Otter Creek Trail takes you along the stream, crossing to the other side by stepping stones.
We thoroughly enjoyed Otter Lake. During our visit, the trees lining the lake donned vibrant fall foliage. We felt like young kids, hopping like frogs on the stepping stones to cross the creek. The beautiful setting was peaceful and rejuvenating.
- Location: Mile 63.6
- Elevation: 650 feet
There are many things to see and do at James River. You will find the James River Visitor Center, a lovely bridge that spans the river, a canal and lock, a picnic area, and campgrounds.
You have a few hiking trails here as well:
- Canal Lock Trail – 0.4 miles
- Trail of the Trees – 0.4 miles
- Otter Creek Trail – 3.5 miles (connects the James River Center and Otter Creek Campground)
Terrapin Mountain Overlook
- Location: Mile 72.6
- Elevation: 2,885 feet
At an elevation of 3,500 feet, the arched ridges of Terrapin Mountain stand out on the horizon. The area serves as a canvas on which autumn splashes its vibrant colors.
- Location: Mile 75.3
- Elevation: 3,510 feet
A prominent rocky outcropping splits the sweeping vista as you peer at the valley at an altitude of 2,710 feet. Your perspective highlights the vast scale of the valley.
Peaks of Otter
- Location: Mile 85.6
- Elevation: 2,565 feet
Julie and I loved the Peaks of Otter. It is a cornucopia of nature’s beauty.
The Peaks of Otter comprises three mountains:
- Sharp Top Mountain – 3,875 feet
- Flat Top Mountain – 4,001 feet
- Harkening Hill – 3,372 feet
Abbott Lake, nestled between the mountains, houses a small but striking island of trees. You can walk across a boardwalk and wooden footbridge along the lake.
In addition to beautiful scenery, you will find a lot here:
- Visitor center
- Peaks of Otter Lodge – 63 rooms, full-service restaurant, and lounge.
- Peaks of Otter Campground – 144 campsites.
- Picnic area – picnic tables, charcoal grills, and comfort stations.
- Hiking trails – six trails and three National Scenic Trails within eight miles.
- Fishing – open to those with a valid Virginia or North Carolina fishing license.
- Polly Wood’s Ordinary – an early tavern that served as the area’s first lodging.
- Johnson Farm – help work the farm or appreciate nature’s beauty.
With so much to do, Peaks of Otter is popular. It is beautiful and a stop that should be on your list.
- Location: Mile 90.0
- Elevation: 2,100 feet
Lined by trees along the edge, the overlook is unique and provides a magnificent view of a mountain horizon at 2,576 feet. Stand between the trees for an unobstructed view or behind them for the best pictures.
- Location: Mile 176.0
- Elevation: 2,100 feet
As much as we appreciate overlooks featuring mountains or valleys, Julie and I relished the stops with other features. These stops are a nice change of pace, each bringing something unique to the table.
Mabry Mill is a photographer’s dream, with the historic mill and surrounding trees casting reflections in the pond. A spring visit offers blooming flowers, while an autumn trip may yield colorful foliage.
Even if you are not into photography, Mabry Mill has a lot to offer:
- Historic mill
- Matthew’s Cabin
- Mabry Mill Trail or Mountain Industry Trail – 0.5-mile easy hike with views of the area’s landmark buildings.
- Mabry Mill Restaurant – serves delicious country fare.
- Location: Mile 179.3
- Elevation: 2,800 feet
Although the name may be misleading, Round Meadow is a lovely area. You will not observe a meadow but find a bridge cutting through the forest. If you want to explore the section further, Round Meadow Creek Trail is a 20-minute loop hike along a creek and through woodlands.
Little Glade Mill Pond
- Location: Mile 230.1
- Elevation: 2,709 feet
Julie and I arrived at Little Glade Mill Pond shortly after sunrise, with the morning sun revealing a perfect reflection of trees donning fall foliage. It is one of our most memorable moments on Blue Ridge Parkway.
I can’t promise a breathtaking photo op as we had, but Little Glade Mill Pond is a peaceful pond surrounded by woodlands. Take notice of this stop.
- Location: Mile 233.7
- Elevation: 3,200 feet
Supposedly, early settlers thought the crest looked like a bull. You will find rugged rocks in front of the sign and a channeled view into layers of mountains in the distance.
Jumpinoff Rock Parking Area
- Location: Mile 260.3
- Elevation: 3,165 feet
You gain a narrow vision of the distant mountains from the parking area. To reach Jumpinoff Rock, you will hike 0.5 miles along a wooded trail, culminating in a broader perspective from a viewing platform.
Linn Cove Viaduct
- Location: Mile 304.4
- Elevation: 4,100 feet
Possibly the most recognizable section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Linn Cove Viaduct protects the fragile habitat of Grandfather Mountain by taking cars around the peak in a sweeping “S” curve. It was the last piece of the parkway, completed in 1987.
Driving on the viaduct can be scary as it extends over a deep gorge. However, it is a thrill to traverse the engineering marvel.
Here are a few quick facts about Linn Cove Viaduct:
- 1,243 feet long
- Contains 153 segments
- Each segment weighs 50 tons
- Location: Mile 306.6
- Elevation: 4,154 feet
You have a spectacular view of Grandfather Mountain, peaking at 5,939 feet. It was initially named Tanawha by the Cherokee, which means fabulous eagle.
Early European settlers later named it Grandfather since one of the west-facing cliffs appeared like an older man’s face. Aptly named, the mountain formed about 300 million years ago.
River Bend Overlook
- Location: Mile 316.4
- Elevation: 3,219 feet
Near Linville Falls is an area called River Bend Overlook worth a quick stop. You will find a bridge crossing the water in the distance. Walking to the water’s edge gives you a magnificent perspective of the cliff wall leading to the horizon.
We visited on a sunny day with a blue sky and fall foliage. It was gorgeous.
- Location: Mile 316.4
- Elevation: 3,268 feet
Near the Linville Falls parking area, you will find:
- Visitor center
- Hiking trails
- Picnic area
The Linville River flows down the slopes of Grandfather Mountain, cascading through two falls nearly 2,000 feet through a rugged gorge. Woodlands and wildflowers surround the beautiful area.
Julie and I wish we had allocated more time to spend in this area. There are a few hiking trails here, each granting different perspectives of the waterfall.
A footbridge behind the visitor center gives you a sneak peek of nature’s beauty as tree reflections show in the water. Each step along the wooded trail brings more beauty as you traverse along the forest and cliffs to the cascading falls. The entire scene is alluring.
- Location: Mile 355.0
- Elevation: 6,684 feet
Julie and I found Mount Mitchell due to sheer dumb luck. Icy road conditions caused us to exit the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile 355, or NC-128. This road is a dead end leading you to Mount Mitchell. Why am I grateful for a route that did not move us past the road closure?
Mount Mitchell, 6,684 feet, is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. It is a short drive off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Adjacent to the parking lot, a steep but short trail leads to the summit. Although the temperature in the valley was in the low 50s, the path to Mount Mitchell had patches of snow. The cold air and strong scent of pine instantly filled us with the Christmas spirit.
At the top, you will find a sign acknowledging the altitude and a viewing platform to survey the vistas in all directions. It is spectacular.
- Location: Mile 396.4
- Elevation: 2,920 feet
The lookout, surrounded by walnut trees, provides an excellent sight of forested ridges along the horizon. We arrived before sunrise, the glowing sky orange above the textured peaks.
- Location: Mile 397.3
- Elevation: 2,930 feet
A window to the Crest of Pisgah Ridge, Sleepy Gap is similar to Walnut Cove. Both stops are fantastic for sunrise.
Bad Fork Valley Overlook
- Location: Mile 399.7
- Elevation: 3,350 feet
The stop is a great observation point for layers of ridges and peaks. Tufts of fog regularly nestle in the hills.
Big Ridge Overlook
- Location: Mile 403.6
- Elevation: 3,820 feet
The overlook, somewhat like Bad Fork Valley, delivers layers of rolling hills that seem to stretch forever.
Cradle of Forestry Overlook
- Location: Mile 411.0
- Elevation: 4,710 feet
The Cradle of Forestry Overlook surveys the Pisgah National Forest stretching across layered mountains. You have a great perspective of Looking Glass Rock, which glistens like a mirror when water freezes on its surface and is in direct sunlight.
There is a lot of history to note here. George and Edith Vanderbilt purchased the land in 1888. A logging boom occurred during that time without land management efforts.
Recognizing the potential harm, the Vanderbilts called upon a forestry educator from Germany, Dr. Carl A. Schenck, to help. Schenck founded The Biltmore Forest School, America’s first forestry school. It is now the Forest Service’s Cradle of Forestry historical site.
If you are wondering, George and Edith Vanderbilt are of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.
- Location: Mile 415.7
- Elevation: 4,327 feet
There is an overlook specifically for Looking Glass Rock a little further south. If you are driving this section of Blue Ridge Parkway in the early morning hours, the sun shines in your face, negatively impacting your sight and photographs.
Cherry Cove, which sits 1,000 feet below the overlook, provides a better view of Looking Glass Rock as the sun is not directly in your face. Depending on the time of year, you may find a pop of color in the foreground of your pictures.
Wrap-Up: Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks
With so much beauty and a wide array of things to see and do on the journey, Blue Ridge Parkway is “America’s Favorite Drive.” Visit our suggested Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks and stops to experience a cross-section of all the drive offers. Do yourself a favor, take a scenic drive along the parkway and let your stress melt away.
Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey
More Articles from Miles with McConkey
- Hocking Hills: Amazing Hikes for All Ability Levels
- Kickstart Your Day With These Top Asheville Coffee Shops
About the author
We are Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey. After nearly 30 years, we took a leap of faith out of the corporate world to enjoy a life of travel and adventure. We hope to inspire you to find ways to travel more and enjoy life now.