The Blue Ridge Parkway isn't technically a national park, but it might as well be. It connects two—Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains—and each year, more people drive it than visit the Grand Canyon.
Honestly, you can't pick a bad time to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. In summer, the parks along the road 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 can be a tad precarious, especially if it's snowy, but in spring, flowers bloom across the route. No matter the time of year, here are a few of our favorite stops to see along the way.
Whether you're starting or ending your drive in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is sure to be one of the most unforgettable parts of the trip. The 105-mile (169-km) road is particularly popular in the fall when the leaves are changing colors. Designated a National Scenic Byway, the road takes a winding path along the mountaintops of the Blue Ridge Mountains east of the Shenandoah River. There are nearly 75 overlooks that provide views of the surrounding valleys and local wildlife. Numerous trails can be accessed along the drive, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. The southern end of Skyline Drive is located in Rockfish Gap, where it connects to the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a free-access road that continues southward along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just 75 miles outside of Washington, D.C., the pristine 200,000 acres of Shenandoah National Park offer 500 miles of trails through dense forests, ancient caves, towering mountains, and misty waterfalls.
Take your Blue Ridge Parkway adventure underground at Luray Caverns. You can rock out to the one-of-a-kind “Great Stalacpipe Organ,”' and make sure to toss some money into the wishing well and make a wish. All of the change tossed into the well goes to charity.
Sperryville is a 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 and includes another access point for Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.
If you're visiting 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 just over 3 miles from Dark Hollow Falls. The wood-paneled rooms are charmingly rustic—but be warned, the cabins don't have TVs or phones. There's an on-site restaurant and taproom, as well as free WiFi in the lodge.
Take a short side-trip to Amherst, Virginia, a scenic and bucolic town along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Don't miss the beautiful Sweet Briar College, several golf courses, the Monacan Ancestral Museum, and the historic James River.
Further south in Virginia—and another short detour off the Blue Ridge Parkway—you'll find the Natural Bridge, with its 20 stories of solid rock, carved out by nature. It has dazzled people for centuries, including founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Once you reach Banner Elk, North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain State Park is definitely worth a stop. It's a hiker's paradise with challenging trails for skilled hikers, and plenty of rocky cliffs offering breathtaking scenic views. You can also get a permit and camp in the park.
In Asheville, North Carolina, you'll find plenty of historic bed and breakfasts and cozy campsites, in addition to old-school diners and restaurants serving up the next great food trend. Asheville is full of unique characters, quirky galleries and boutiques, and dozens of microbreweries scattered around town.
You absolutely cannot visit Asheville and skip Wicked Weed. Wicked Weed Brewing specializes in West Coast-style hoppy ales, open fermented Belgian beers, and barrel aged sours. King Henry VIII declared hops “a wicked and pernicious weed” destined to ruin beer. That rebel integrity drives Wicked Weed's "defiant beer," which also happens to be delicious.