Driving the parkway while towing a trailer is surprisingly easy. The speed limit is a relaxing 45 mph, and there are dozens of places to pull off to take in the views. People seem to understand that enjoying the journey is the whole point of traveling this scenic mountain byway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. We traveled the section from Asheville to Boone, just under 100 miles of the meandering 469 mile road. Fortunately for us, that stretch is considered to be the one of the most scenic.
The terrain, of course, is mountainous and winding. And there are many tunnels to navigate, which wasn’t a problem with our rig, but might be sketchy with a taller RV. If you have any doubts, check the NPS Tunnel Heights webpage.
Built With Nature In Mind
The Blue Ridge Parkway is unique in the realm of national parks in that it’s a road. But it’s not just any old road—it’s a destination unto itself, with beautiful views, historic structures, campgrounds, and myriad hiking opportunities.
The idea for the parkway was conceived in the 1930s, part of FDR’s New Deal to put people back to work after the Great Depression. Designing the parkway provided work for engineers and architects, while CCC crews supplied the labor. Construction took place in sections as land was acquired, and the guidelines were clear: Create a road that blends gracefully with the natural surroundings.
“The idea is to fit the Parkway into the mountains as if nature has put it there.”
~Stanley Abbott, Chief Landscape Architect for the Parkway
The rights-of-way were purchased by the states, and then turned over to the federal government to be managed by the National Park Service. Progress was slow, with challenges including narrow rutted roads that couldn’t accommodate construction equipment, rocky terrain, steep mountainsides, no maps, and extreme weather.
By 1966, the only task left was navigating the 7.7-mile stretch around Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. To preserve the fragile environment, the Linn Cove Viaduct was constructed. It’s a 1200-foot suspended section of the parkway that is considered a masterpiece of engineering.
The viaduct is one of the most popular places to photograph on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We took the first photo below from the Yonahlossee Overlook and thought, “Well, that’s not what the postcards look like!” So we ended up with this second strange photo, shot through the windshield at 45 mph with me begging Eric to pull over. His not unreasonable reply? “No way! There’s no place to pull over!” We’ve been through this before.😂 Some things never change.
Click on photos for a larger image
Although many sections of the parkway had been in use for decades, it wasn’t until September 11, 1987 that the viaduct was completed and the Blue Ridge Parkway was finally officially dedicated.
There are overlooks every few miles, and we pulled off at every opportunity to survey the gentle rolling mountains of the Southern Appalachians.
Ideally, we would have been traveling the parkway two weeks later—in mid-October—for prime fall foliage. Still, it was beautiful.
Blue Ridge Hiking
We stayed for 10 days in Pineola, an excellent location for exploring the nearby towns of Boone, Blowing Rock, Banner Elk, and Linville Falls. As the days grew shorter and the temperatures chillier, the leaves began to dramatically change color.
There’s a lot of good hiking in this area, with many trails leading right off of the parkway.
The easy Flat Rock and Beacon Heights Trails offer beautiful views for modest effort. A weather front moved in and squatted over us for the entirety of our 10-day visit, delivering buckets of rain and gray skies. That’s unusual for October in the mountains, but what’s usual anymore? Nothing. So we went out and enjoyed ourselves anyway.
Hiking the Linville Viaduct to Rough Ridge was a challenging hike of almost six miles on the Tanawha Trail. It was a gorgeous and interesting hike along a very rocky route. For an easier option, there’s a short trail that goes directly to the Rough Ridge overlook. We’re glad we made the effort to hike the longer trail, but we were definitely tired after a day of scrambling over the rocks.
A historic site along the parkway with easy trails is the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. It’s the former summer estate of Gilded Age textile magnate Moses Cone and his wife, Bertha, who made their money supplying denim to Levi Strauss. The mansion was closed for renovations, but we visited twice to hike the historic carriage trails and the 5-mile Flat Top Mountain Trail that leads to sweeping views from a fire tower.
Along with abundant hiking, we found plenty to enjoy in the cluster of interesting little towns in North Carolina’s High Country.
Boone, North Carolina
With a population of 19,000, Boone is the largest community in the area. The home of Appalachian State University, there are the usual cool things associated with a college town. We enjoyed the Saturday Farmers’ Market, the Turchin art gallery on campus, and a stroll on the Boone Greenway followed by lunch outdoors at Stick Boy Bread Company, a Boone institution. Spinach, avocado, grilled chicken, and bacon salad=delicious. We tried to visit Boonshine Brewery, but a big storm with sideways rain kept us from enjoying the outdoor seating and the danged pandemic kept us from sitting inside.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Blowing Rock is quite possibly the most floriferous town we’ve ever visited. Even in October, the town was lush with blooms. We enjoyed strolling the delightful Main Street, visited the excellent (and free!) Blowing Rock Art Museum (BRAHM), and had lunch on the patio at The Speckled Trout. With a menu focused on local foods and Appalachian specialties, they offer North Carolina mountain trout prepared several ways. It was excellent.
Banner Elk, North Carolina
On another gray and chilly October day, we did a little self-guided walking tour of Banner Elk. It’s a quaint mountain town, population 1300, and is home to Lees-McRae College, a beautiful historic campus. At 3700 feet, it’s the highest elevation of any college east of the Mississippi.
Valle Crucis, North Carolina
This tiny community—circa 1800, population 226—is between Boone and Blowing Rock. It has one of the nicest community parks we’ve ever seen, with peaceful walking trails along the Watuga River and through nearby meadows.
After a several mile walk on the trails, we had lunch just across the street at Over Yonder, an 1861 restored farmhouse. We enjoyed our meals on the porch and finished with affogato. Made with buttermilk ice cream and a shot of local espresso, this was a Southern twist on the Italian classic. Such a simple dessert, and so incredibly delicious.
Linville Falls, North Carolina
Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Honestly, after our two-month stay at Lake Toxaway and the bounty of waterfalls we found there, Linville Falls looked pretty modest by comparison. Still, we enjoyed hiking the pretty trails to the falls.
About The Campground
Fellow travelers and blogging friends Joe and Helen recommended Down by the River Campground. It was centrally located for all that we wanted to do and a great base for exploring the North Carolina High Country.
All sites have full hookups, the campground is immaculately maintained, and we really liked our site at the farthest end of the campground with a view of nothing but trees. Sites on the river are lovely, but those, as you can imagine, are booked far in advance.