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Must Drive: The Blue Ridge Parkway connects 2 national parks

The best of America's most famous scenic byway

  • 29
  • 25:11
  • 995 mi
  • $106

Created by Roadtrippers - March 17th 2016

The Blue Ridge Parkway isn't technically a National Park, but it might as well be. It connects two National Parks (Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains) together and the parkway itself is the most visited unit controlled by the National Parks System. Each year, more people drive along its roads than visit the Grand Canyon. True fact. People flock to it with good reason, though...it's pretty gorgeous. Plus, there's tons to see and do along the way. Here's a few highlights to see along the way.

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Luray, VA

Whether you're starting or ending the trip in Shenandoah, the park's Skyline Drive is one of the most unforgettably epic parts of the trip.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of pure beauty. It all begins in Front Royal, Virginia, and runs all the way down to Cherokee, North Carolina.

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    Front Royal, VA, US

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Dickey Ridge Visitors Center

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 an historic graveyard. It's a great way to immerse yourself in the local area's history.

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4.5

Luray, VA

75 miles outside Washington D.C., the pristine 200,000 miles of Shenandoah National Park wait to be explored! Shenandoah National Park offers 500 miles of trails within the park, plus dense forests, ancient caves, swooping mountains, misty waterfalls... need I go on?

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Luray Caverns

Take your Blue Ridge Parkway adventure underground at Luray Caverns. You can rock out to their one-of-a-kind stalacpipe organ, and make sure to toss some money into their wishing well and make a wish. You'll get instant good vibes once you find out that all the change tossed into the well goes to charity!

Then you'll come to Sperryville, an 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. Here, you'll find another access point for Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.

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    Sperryville, VA, US

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Big Meadows Lodge

If you're spending some time at 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 is just over three miles to Dark Hollow Falls. The rooms are rustic and charming with wood paneling, and there are cabins available as well. Be warned: there aren't any TVs or phones in the cabins. But, there's an onsite restaurant and taproom, as well as free wifi in the lodge.

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Humpback Rocks

Once you reach Lyndhurst, VA, check out Humpback Rock, a massively scenic rock close to the peak of Humpback Mountain. At a stunning elevation of over 3,000 feet, Humpback Rock provides a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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Crabtree Falls

In Montebello, VA you'll come to Crabtree Falls in the George Washington National Forest. It's one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River, so you know it's going to be magnificently gorgeous.

Next up is a short side-trip to Amherst Virginia, a scenic and bucolic town along the Blue Ridge Parkway. A few key attractions to check out include, Sweet Briar College (one of America's most beautiful colleges), several golf courses, the Moncan Indian Ancestral Museum and the historic James River.

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    Amherst, VA, US

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Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area

Then, nestled in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, Cave Mountain Lake Family Camp is a rustic and relaxing camping getaway. Close to Natural Bridge and the parkway, this is a great spot for some R&R while driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway. The seven-acre campground was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

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Natural Bridge, VA

Further south in Virginia, and another short detour off the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can find the ginormous Natural Bridge. It's 20 stories of solid rock, carved out by nature and it has boggled the minds of everyone who's seen it, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

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Natural Bridge Hotel

The Natural Bridge Hotel is a very charming hotel close to a lot of local attractions. You're a minute walk to the wax museum, and a little over a mile to the zoo, and there's free WiFi. TIP: Request a mountain view room. There's also a restaurant, cave and bar on site.

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The Roanoker Restaurant

When you're ready for some hearty road food, the Roanoker Restaurant is a good bet. It was first opened in 1941, then when WWII broke out the restaurant packed food for soldiers who stopped in Roanoke on trains. The eatery has been operating ever since, and has remained a local favorite!

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Banner Elk, NC

Once you reach Banner Elk, NC, Grandfather Mountain State Park is definitely worth a stop. It's a hiker's paradise. There are challenging trails for more skilled hikers, and rocky cliffs that offer breathtaking scenic views. You can also get a permit and camp in the park.

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Sugar Creek Gem Mine

If you're feeling lucky, stop by Sugar Creek Gem Mine and prospect for precious stones. They'll help you identify anything of value and even set it in jewelry for you!

Next, you'll arrive in Asheville, NC. This is a fantastic stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here's you'll find plenty of historic and bed and breakfasts and cozy campsites where you can rest your head, and there's tons of good eating, from old-school diners to places serving up the next great food trend. Asheville is the perfect place to stop and do a little exploring (and eating and drinking). The town is full of unique characters, quirky galleries and boutiques, plus it's a beer-lover's dream, with dozens of microbreweries scattered around town...they don't call it the "Brew" Ridge Parkway for nothing, you know!

Lexington Avenue Brew

A favorite Asheville stop for road travelers is the Lexington Avenue Brew. The pub food is locally sourced, and there's often live music. The industrial setting is pretty amazing, too.

Table Asheville

Also, if you have time, grab a bite at Table. It's a small, seasonal restaurant in the heart Asheville's vibrant downtown. They like to be innovative with their menu, and it's pretty whimsical and always changing.

Wicked Weed Brewery

You absolutely cannot visit Asheville and skip Wicked Weed. Here, they inspire rebellion and revolution with their brews, which include open-fermented Belgian beers and barrel-aged sours. If you want to feel like a rebel and drink epic beer, definitely grab a pint here.

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Honestly, you can't pick a bad time drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. In summer, the parks along the Blue Ridge Parkway 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 is a tad precarious, especially if it's a snowy winter. But, the Blue Ridge Mountains become blanketed in snow and it looks like a white wonderland. In spring, the flowers bloom across the route: the best to see them is between April and May.

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