In partnership with KOA

Essential stops along the bewitching Blue Ridge Parkway

This trip through three states to the Great Smoky Mountains includes stunning vistas, two national parks, and Dollywood

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains, connecting two of the most stunning national parks in the U.S. But the parkway offers more than just the beauty of misty, lush mountains—here you’ll also find quaint small towns, gorgeous hikes to jaw-dropping natural features, impressive historic and cultural sites, and more. It’s no surprise that the scenic drive is one of the most popular in the country. 

From iconic must-visit attractions to hidden gems, here are 15 essential stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

a rock wall and a scenic lush green overlook under cloudy skies

1. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is one terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but you could easily spend a week exploring this park alone. Mountain hikes are a popular draw, including Stony Man Mountain, one of the park’s signature hikes with gorgeous views. Hawksbill Mountain has a shorter and a longer hike option, and Old Rag Mountain is a bit longer, but remains one of the most popular and iconic hikes in the park. The park’s tallest waterfall, Overall Run Falls, is worth the 6.4-mile round-trip hike. Shenandoah National Park is also home to Rapidan Camp, a group of three historic buildings built by President Herbert Hoover and frequented by other presidents in search of peace and quiet.

a curving road with a stone wall and dotted white line surrounded by golden trees under a grey cloudy sky

2. Skyline Drive

Shenandoah’s most famous feature is Skyline Drive. This 105-mile route follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, connecting all of the park’s visitor centers. It also contains a whopping 75 scenic overlooks, which are necessary since the ever-changing scenery is constantly begging to be photographed, or simply admired for more than a passing moment. The speed limit of 35 mph helps keep the drive nice and relaxing. Mileposts along the way make it convenient to find and plan stops. Take a break at the Rocky Top Overlook for incredible views; especially popular in the fall, when the leaves start to change color, it’s equally gorgeous in the spring. 

3. Harrisonburg / Shenandoah Valley KOA Holiday

Settle into the Harrisonburg / Shenandoah Valley KOA Holiday for a night of comfort, or use it as your home base for exploring the park. The amenities, including 24-hour laundry, cable TV hookups, on-site pizza delivery, and concierge service make this an exceptionally cozy campground. Offering activities for the whole family, including a pool, playground, fishing pond, and fenced-in dog park, this KOA’s calendar is full of events such as ice cream socials, theme weekends, and movie nights. Deluxe and Camping Cabins are perfect for visitors needing flexibility, and there are a variety of RV and tent sites available as well.

4. Humpback Rocks

There’s nothing like a quick, 1-mile hike to stretch your legs during a road trip. Humpback Rocks is a popular photo op, thanks to the short (but slightly strenuous and uphill) trail, which also provides access to the Appalachian Trail. There’s a visitor center here, with museum exhibits on mountain life, seasonal concerts, and 1890s-era log cabins that were relocated during the parkway’s construction.

5. Lynchburg NW / Blue Ridge Parkway KOA

Another great campground along the route is the Lynchburg NW / Blue Ridge Parkway KOA in Monroe, Virginia. This part of the parkway has a lot to see and do, so it’s worth it to set up camp and take a day or two to fully explore the area. This KOA has activities and amenities that set it apart from other campgrounds, including an outdoor pool, jump pad, catch-and-release fish pond, gem mine, and train rides. The campground offers tent sites, Camping and Deluxe Cabins, and standard, value, and premium RV sites. No matter which option you choose, you’re sure to find your accommodations comfy and serene.

Arched bridge rock formation in Natural Bridge State Park

6. Natural Bridge State Park

Natural Bridge State Park is named for its 215-foot-tall limestone rock formation carved by Cedar Creek. The park features 6 miles of hiking trails (including the Cedar Creek Trail that goes under the bridge), a recreated Monacan Indian Village, and the 30-foot Lace Falls. For another view, U.S. Route 11 (aka Lee Highway) runs across the top of the bridge.

7. Poor Farmers Market 

Poor Farmers Market started as a roadside vegetable stand. Today, it’s part gift shop, part produce market, part deli, and part bakery. Stock up on local wine, old-fashioned candy, farm-fresh apples or peaches, homemade ice cream sandwiches, hot sauce, homemade cornbread and possum pie, specialty sub or biscuit sandwiches, pimento cheese, apple cider, and more seasonal specialties.

8. Fancy Gap / Blue Ridge Parkway KOA

The Fancy Gap / Blue Ridge Parkway KOA is a stellar stopover along the route. Activities and amenities include a gemstone- and fossil-panning sluice, a clubhouse, paddle boats, a pool, hay rides, and fishing. Take advantage of ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts, Friday cookouts, and pizza delivery during the busy season. Those staying in an RV, a tent, or a Camping Cabin can also use the Camper Kitchens. The beautiful, forested setting is another huge advantage of this KOA.

9. Blue Ridge Music Center

Music is an important part of Appalachian culture, and you can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding for the sounds that helped shape folk and bluegrass at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Open from May through October, the center features an interactive Roots of American Music Museum and concerts at the outdoor amphitheater.

10. Linville Falls

Shenandoah isn’t the only place along the Parkway to find waterfalls. North Carolina’s Linville Falls is another stunner worth visiting. Stop at the visitor center and take several different trails for various views of the 150-foot-tall cascade. Erwins View Trail is a moderate, 1.6-mile round-trip hike with four overlooks. Another trail, starting at the visitor center, forks: One side takes hikers into Linville Gorge (1.4 miles round trip) and the other ends at the Plunge Basin Overlook (1 mile round trip). 

11. Little Switzerland

Little Switzerland is a tiny community on the parkway. It started as a mountain resort in 1910 with inspiration from the Swiss Alps. One of the gems in this unique town is the Switzerland Cafe & General Store. The smokehouse has been serving up tasty and fresh fare to travelers for decades. The menu includes salads, quiche, sandwiches, and plenty of smoked meat. Save room for dessert; no matter which cake or pie you order, it’s bound to be memorable.

a scenic overlook with fog and trees under blue skies

12. Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive

If you can’t get enough Blue Ridge beauty, tack on the 52-mile Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive. It begins at the top of the 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell summit (the highest peak east of the Mississippi), then follows the Blue Ridge Parkway before dipping into the South Toe River Valley, and ending at the intersection of U.S. 19/23 and Interstate 26. Hiking trails range from quick walks to day hikes.

13. Folk Art Center

Folk art is another unique aspect of Appalachian life; learn all about the style and craft at the Folk Art Center in the art haven of Asheville, North Carolina. The Folk Art Center houses a library, bookstore, three galleries, and a craft shop, all highlighting traditional and modern folk art. Demonstrations are held during the spring, summer, and fall in the visitor center as well. This is the headquarters for the historic and illustrious Southern Highland Craft Guild.

a view from biltmore estate with a corner of the stone mansion in the shot of a scenic sweep of trees

14. Biltmore Estate

Asheville is the location of the opulent Biltmore Estate, one of the most luxurious homes in the U.S, boasting 250 rooms spread across nearly 200,000 square feet—and that’s just the main home. The main house includes an indoor pool, bowling alley, vintage workout room, stunning conservatory, cathedral, and two-story library. The Bilmore’s grounds feature acre upon acre of impeccably manicured gardens (and 2.5 miles of walking paths through them), as well as a farm and a village with shopping, dining, accommodations, and a winery in a former dairy barn. You can take a self-guided tour, or hire a guide for an additional cost. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to spend the better part of a day here to make the most of a visit.

Sunset with an orange and pink sky overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains with a valley full of fog

15. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After 269 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway ends in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Explore Elkmont, an abandoned resort community; cruise Cades Cove; admire the sweeping mountain views; or take in a sunset from the observation tower atop Clingmans Dome. Standout waterfalls and hikes include Abrams Falls, Mingo Falls, Ramsey Cascades, the Alum Caves Trail, and Chimney Tops. Celebrate completing the parkway with a day spent exploring Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, popular tourist destinations filled with activities and entertainment including Dollywood.

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