The Blue Ridge Parkway is well known for its colorful scenery in the fall. This famous drive between Virginia and North Carolina twists and turns for 469 miles, following the ridge of the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains.
It is a long and slow drive; the speed limit is mostly 45 mph and slows down to 25 mph in some areas. However, you can take your time to appreciate the views with no traffic lights, no billboards, and no commercial vehicles.
The All-American Road winds through forests and meadows, reaching over 6,000 feet in elevation. Cell service and GPS can be spotty, so be prepared with maps and brochures from the visitor centers. There are also no gas stations along the Parkway, so fuel up before making the drive.
There are, however, lots of pull-outs, overlooks, and destinations to visit along the way, such as:
- Mabry Mill (Milepost 176.1): Stop to see the quaint old Mabry Mill, built around 1908. There is an easy half-mile trail that leads to the original structure and a restaurant on-site that is open seasonally. They serve simple country dishes including all-day breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On Sundays, there are also free music concerts held at the mill; see their schedule here.
- Linn Cove Viaduct (Milepost 304.4): The famous view of the Parkway (pictured above) is from Linn Cove Viaduct. This viaduct is a seven-mile stretch of the highway that hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is widely recognized as an engineering marvel. Browse the seasonal museum and visitor center, or take one of the walking trails around the viaduct.
- Mount Mitchell State Park (Milepost 355.4): This park is a short drive from Asheville and home to the highest point east of the Mississippi River. It has a network of hiking trails, a museum that details the area’s history, a picnic area, and an easily accessible observation deck with panoramic views. There is also a restaurant within the state park that serves burgers and sandwiches.
- Craggy Gardens (Milepost 364.4): This scenic area grows wildflowers like mountain laurel and rhododendron in the spring, and red berries in the fall. Stop and hike the easy trails and marvel over the views of the mountains.
The best time to see fall colors varies every year, but it generally starts around the beginning of October in higher elevations and works its way down, with lower elevations at peak color by the middle or end of October. You can find updates online here.
The Parkway has eight NPS campgrounds that are open from May through late October, weather permitting. Many can accommodate RVs, but most do not have hookups. If you would rather not boondock, there are also lots of privately-owned RV parks and resorts not far off the Parkway where you can find full hookups and other amenities.
These are the best places to camp on the Parkway:
- Peaks of Otter Campground (Milepost 86): This is an older mountain campground for tent campers and smaller RVs/trailers. There are no hookups, but there is access to Abbott Lake, where anglers can cast a line for smallmouth bass and bluegill. The Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant is also within walking distance of the campground and has meals, camping supplies, firewood, and ice available.
- Doughton Park (Milepost 238.5-244.7): Doughton Park has hiking trails, historic buildings, a picnic area, and a seasonal campground. The park has wide-open meadows where you can often spot white-tailed deer, red and grey foxes, and bobcats, and wildflowers like flame azalea in the spring. The campground does not have hookups or showers, but water and a dump station are available.
- Julian Price Park (Milepost 297): At the base of Grandfather Mountain, this park has affordable $20/night campsites by Price Lake, a sparkling high country lake ideal for kayaking or canoeing. There is also easy access to hiking trails nearby and around the lake. While you’re here, check out the many local shops and restaurants nearby in Blowing Rock.
- Linville Falls (Milepost 316.4): There are two trails you can take from the visitor center (just off the Parkway) to five different viewpoints of the Upper and Lower Falls. There is also a picnic area and a standard NPS campground with about 70 RV-friendly sites.
- Crabtree Falls (Milepost 339.5): Crabtree Falls has five major drops and many smaller cascades that total about 1,200 feet, making it one of the highest sets of waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. The campground, unlike most others on the Parkway, has RV sites with full hookups.
- Mount Pisgah (Milepost 408.6): This mountain in Western North Carolina has a campground, seasonal inn, a hiking trail that leads to the summit, a picnic area, restaurant, and a country store. The campground includes 70 tent sites and 70 RV sites with no hookups and is the highest, coolest, and most secluded place to camp on the Parkway.
The Parkway is big-rig friendly, but it does have some tunnels; you can check the clearance levels here. On the north end, the route also connects with Skyline Drive, which winds throughout Shenandoah National Park. Read about more scenic fall drives.