Road Trip Guide: The Blue Ridge Parkway

Road Trip Guide: The Blue Ridge Parkway

America’s longest linear park, the 469-mile (755-kilometer) Blue Ridge Parkway, takes you on an unforgettable road trip. Somewhere at its northern part lies the beautiful Shenandoah National Park with a network of forested trails, rocky peaks, and wetlands you can explore. Then at the southern tip, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park adventures await–hiking, rafting, climbing, skiing, and more. Experience this iconic American road trip for at least 10 days, which is enough time to discover the tourist destinations and campsites along the way. It’s highly recommended to rent an RV or if you have a car, a pull-behind trolley for convenience. Scroll down for a thorough Blue Ridge Parkway road trip guide.

Route suggestion

Explore every outdoor adventure there is and take the route from Knoxville in Tennessee, about 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) long. Along the way, there are cabins available for overnight stays. But for convenience and comfort during your 10-day road trip, we recommend renting an RV or a car with a trolley. You will have enough storage for your luggage and flexibility to extend your trip or change your itinerary.

RV Rentals for the Blue Ridge Parkway

Day 1: Knoxville, TN to start of Skyline Drive (I-81N)

Matthews Arm Campground
Source: Snappygoat

Drive: ~6 hours
Distance: 412 miles (663 kilometers)
Tip: Stop by a grocery store in Knoxville to stock up on food for your trip.

You can pick up your RV from downtown or at any point in Knoxville. After the pick-up, head straight to Skyline Drive, a highway drive, for approximately six hours.

Things to do at the location
1. Stop by Dickey Ridge Visitor Center: Your first stopover is inside the beautiful Shenandoah National Park. Dickey Visitor Center displays exhibits and provides maps for nearby trails.

Where to stay
1. Matthews Arm Campground: This site is the nearest campground from Dickey Visitor Center that offers picnic tables, fire pits, RV parks, and tents. For camping supplies and takeaway food, drive to Elkwallow Wayside, which is 2.1 miles (3.4 kilometers) away.
2. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Luray, VA: This place has water slides, giant pools, kayak rentals, arcades, mini-golf courses, and more fun recreational facilities for families.

Day 2: Drive from campground to Misty Mountain Camp Resort

Luray Caverns
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Ryan Somma used under CC BY 2.0

Drive: ~1.5 hours
Distance: 69 miles (111 kilometers)

Things to do along the way
1. Detour to Luray Caverns: This place is the largest caverns in eastern America with mesmerizing columns and mud that flows inside Shenandoah National Park.
2. Marys Rock Summit Trail: This is an easy trail surrounded by beautiful wildflowers, and it offers panoramic views of the valley at the look-out point.
3. Dark Hollow Falls: A short but steep trail leads you to gorgeous cascades of water.

Where to stay
1. Misty Mountain Camp Resort: This property is a massive park near Charlottesville with recreational amenities, such as a swimming pool, an arcade, and a sports field.
2. Waynesboro North 340 Campground: This site has open-wide grounds for tents, picnic tables, and large vehicles like RVs and trucks. It also comes with a swimming pool that your kids will love.

Day 3: Drive from detour to Otter Creek

Humpback Rocks
Source: Photo by Flickr user Ben Schumin used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Drive: ~1.5 hours
Distance: 71 miles (114 kilometers)
Tip: Detour to Monticello or Presidential Library for a half-day excursion

Things to do along the way in the afternoon
1. Humpback Rocks: Check out a look-out point near Humpback Mountain with 3,080-foot (940-meter) elevation and glorious mountain views, especially at sunrise or sunset.
2. Crabtree Falls: Go through a steep and rocky trail and be rewarded with not just one but also five stunning cascades.
3. Detour to Veritas Vineyards and Winery or Flying Fox Vineyards: Relax and take a sip of wine at the top-rated Veritas Vineyards and Winery that is surrounded by misty mountains. Alternatively, you can visit Flying Fox Vineyards, a small-scale, family-operated business in Afton.

Where to stay
1. Otter Creek Campground: This site borders Otter Creek and the Susquehanna River, and it is filled with walking trails, playgrounds, and boat ramps.
2. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort at Natural Bridge: This property is a fun place to spend the night. It comes with splash pads, water slides, and canoes.
3. Natural Bridge Lexington KOA Holiday: This site is a fitting place for culture and history explorers. The campground features a playground, a pool, and a game room, and it is close to biking trails, movie theaters, and fishing spots.

Day 4: Drive from campground to Rock Castle Gorge Trail

Syon Abbey
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user L.kell21 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Drive: ~2.5 hours
Distance: 100 miles (161 kilometers)

Things to do along the way
1. Terrapin Mountain Overlook: This place is a dog-friendly loop trail with a waterfall. It offers dazzling views of Apple Orchard Mountain, Thunder Ridge, and Peaks of Otter.
2. Detour to Natural Bridge State Park: Visit an outdoor skate park and witness exciting skateboarding stunts.
3. Detour to Roanoke, VA: Roanoke is a city in the Blue Ridge Mountains, known for its neon landmark, Roanoke Star. Explore its museums, zoos, cafes, and parks.
4. Syon Abbey: This place is a Benedictine abbey near Roanoke. It stands beautifully in an open-wide grassy field, which makes it great for pictures and culture trips.

Where to stay
1. Chantilly Farm Camping and RV: This is an events venue and a campground with outdoor recreational facilities and stunning mountain views.
2. Rocky Knob Campground: This property is a campground that is surrounded by forests and equipped with camping facilities, such as tents, fire pits, grills, flush toilets, and dump stations.

Day 5: Drive from campground to West Jefferson

New River State Park
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user vastateparksstaff used under CC BY 2.0

Drive: ~2 hours
Distance: 87 miles (140 kilometers)

Things to do at the location
1. Saddle Mountain Hike: This is a challenging, out-and-back, elevated trail that features wonderful views of the valley and the Columbia River.
2. Bald Knob Hike: This is a short trail that is less crowded and filled with beautiful wildflowers, and it treats you to valley views.
3. Detour to Rocky Knob Hike: This is an easy loop trail that cuts through thick forests, offers lovely agricultural scenery, and features crystalline quartz rock formations.
4. Detour to Round Peak Vineyards: This is a vineyard with a stunning mountain backdrop where you can quietly sip French and Italian wine varieties.
5. New River State Park: This place is a basecamp near Jefferson for those who want to explore one of America’s oldest rivers, the New River.

Where to stay
1. New River State Park: This park covers about 3,323 acres (1,345 hectares) of a protected watershed and comes with parking, paddling, and swimming access.
2. Greenfield Campground: This place is a 400-acre (162-hectare) park near Otter Lake with a playground and a water park for families. It accommodates all types of RVs and also offers tents and cabins.
3. Hounds Gateway Campground: This site is a family-owned facility in Kings Mountain with RV parking spaces and cabins, and it is close to grocery stores and pharmacies. At night, you can drive to Dark Sky Observatory, which is roughly 26 minutes from West Jefferson.

Day 6: Drive from campground to Little Switzerland

Crabtree Falls
Source: Pixabay

Drive: ~2 hours
Distance: 85 miles (137 kilometers)

Things to do along the way
1. Detour to Grandfather Mountain State Park: This park boasts an iconic mountain scenery in North Carolina and offers backcountry hiking and relatively challenging trails.
2. Check out Tweetsie Railroad: This attraction is a heritage railroad and an amusement park for families.
3. Book an activity with High Mountain Expeditions: Experience exciting kayaking, water tubing, and rafting adventures in North Carolina’s scenic rivers and creeks.
4. Stop by Linville Falls Winery: Visit a family-run winery in a tranquil setting.
5. Explore Crabtree Falls: This place is a trail loop that runs about one to two and a half hours, leading to a majestic cascade of water.

Where to stay
1. Crabtree Falls Campground: This property is a family-operated campground with cabins, tents, and RV sites right along the Tyre River. It is close to the beautiful Crabtree Falls.
2. Crabtree Meadows Campground: This place opens from May to November and features 22 RV sites and 71 tent sites with a snack bar, a large picnic area, and a gift shop.
3. Briar Bottom Group Campground: This site sits at the foot of Mt. Mitchell and provides facilities for fishing and hiking.

Day 7: Drive from campground to Pisgah National Forest

Biltmore Estate
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user 24dupontchevy used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Drive: ~1 hour 45 minutes
Distance: 77 miles (124 kilometers)

Things to along the way
1. Mount Mitchell State Park: Watch skateboarders twist in the air while enjoying the dramatic summit views.
2. Detour to Walker Falls: This natural wonder is a 45-foot (15-meter) waterfall by the road that is a popular attraction in Buncombe County.
3. Explore Asheville: Discover a quaint city that is known for its art, architecture, and history. Visit Asheville’s street arts and museums too.
4. Check out Biltmore Estate: Tour every nook and cranny of the beguiling and historic Châteauesque-style mansion with a vast garden in Asheville.
5. Hang out at Sierra Nevada Brewery: Learn how to make beer in an immersive tour at this brewery.

Where to stay
1. Davidson River Campground: This place has several shaded campsites and easy access to fishing spots and hiking trails within Pisgah National Forest.
2. White Pines South Group Camp: This site lies along Avery Creek, and it is surrounded by thick trees. It is open all year round, and it accommodates groups of up to 25 people.
3. Cove Creek Lower Group Camp: This property is an all-year-round campground with two group sites and easy access to fishing areas and biking and hiking trails.

Day 8: Drive from campground to Cherokee NC

Great Smoky Mountains
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Tetra09 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Drive: ~1.5 hours drive
Distance: 77 miles (124 kilometers)

Things to along the way
1. Soco Falls: This is a majestic double falls at the border of Cherokee Indian Reservation you can visit via a short and easy trail.
2. Mingo Falls: Hike with your dog to a scenic waterfall in Cherokee Indian Reservation.
3. Sugarlands Visitor Center: This place is a plant and animal museum inside the Smoky Mountains National Park that offers park guides and film viewing.
4. Smoky Mountains National Park: This is a renowned park with lush forests, scenic landscapes, cascades of water, rivers, and trails, including Appalachian Trail.

Where to stay
Within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can find over 10 campsites that accommodate RVs. There’s the dog-friendly Townsend KOA near Little River where you can enjoy fly fishing and modern comforts like Wi-Fi access. For an exciting theme park experience, stay at Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA Holiday, which has a sauna.

Day 9: Slowly drive the rest of the way to Knoxville

Cades Cove
Source: Photo by Flickr user Great Smoky Mount... used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

You can spend the day slowly, making your way back to Knoxville while still enjoying outdoor activities in the Smokies. In winter, you can ski at Ober Gatlinburg Ski Resort or Cataloochee Ski Area. You can also hike up Chimney Tops Trail or drive through the picture-worthy Cades Cove Loop in autumn.

For convenience, select a campsite within the national park near Knoxville such as Clinton/Knoxville North KOA Journey. This campsite has cabins and tents with modern facilities, such as a playground, an exercise room, and a pool.

Day 10: Return drive to Knoxville

The drive back to Knoxville should take you less than an hour. Enjoy the wonderful scenery along the way. You can stop over for a drink at any of the small cafes if you wish to.

Things to pack

You can bring fewer items if you are driving a well-equipped RV. But for your guide, here are some camping and road trip essentials to bring:

  • Clothes for 10 days (bring extra)
  • Footwear (flip-flops and hiking boots)
  • Hat, cap, and sunglasses for sun protection
  • Camping essentials (e.g., blankets, tents, cooking utensils)
  • Personal toiletries
  • Outdoor gear (e.g., fishing rods, swimming goggles, trekking poles)
  • Headlamps or flashlights
  • Batteries for your devices
  • First-aid kit (include insect repellant and maintenance medicines if any)

It’s also wise to buy travel insurance to get you and your travel companions covered for unforeseen contingencies.

Best time to visit

The best time for a Blue Ridge Parkway road trip is somewhere between May to September–that sweet summertime transitioning into autumn. The roadside foliage displays beautiful colors. Plus, you can travel safely without slippery roads and camp outdoors without the biting cold.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Jahz is a Philippine-based writer who enjoys solo travels as much as group adventures. She believes that life is too short to be spent living in one place, so she makes it a point to experience a...Read more

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