A Complete Guide for a Blue Ridge Parkway Roadtrip
At Autio, we often get the question: What’s the best road trip in the United States? Unfortunately, that’s like asking us which of our kids we love the most. We love them all!
Plus, with great friends, proper preparation, and a positive attitude, any road trip can be the best road trip in the country.
For the sake of this article, though, we could boil it down to two answers. The best of the west is none other than the Pacific Coast Highway. However, over on the east, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a strong challenger for the throne.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 384-mile stretch between Charlottesville, Virginia, and Asheville, North Carolina. If you’ve never been to this corner of the country before, you may be wondering, what’s so special? Trust us; there’s a reason why 15 million people make this drive each year.
Affectionately nicknamed “America’s Favorite Drive,” this route winds through Shenandoah National Park, over the Blue Ridge mountain range, and into the Great Smoky Mountains.
From majestic mountains to towering trees, you will never forget the immersive natural scenery of this drive (don’t even get us started on the autumn leaves).
Sold yet? If you’re looking to plan your Appalachian adventure or still need some convincing, keep reading for our complete guide for the perfect Blue Ridge Parkway road trip.
Start Your Engines in Charlottesville
The thriving mountain town of Charlottesville—home to the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s estate—is a perfect place to begin your journey.
Here, you will find plenty of hotels, B&Bs, and car rental services. On top of that, the quaint downtown village (known to locals as the downtown mall) is home to some of the best eateries and boutique shops in the state.
Charlottesville also has tons of surrounding nature. You can hike along the Appalachian Trail, fly-fish in the Tye River, or visit Natural Bridge State Park. The 215-foot-high natural limestone arch known as “Nature’s Cathedral” is a must-see.
Take a Quick Detour to Shenandoah National Park
Less than a 30-minute drive from Charlottesville is Shenandoah National Park, one of the lesser-known national parks in the region. Don’t let that deter you, though, as this oasis has plenty of Appalachian beauty to offer.
One of the most popular activities here is cruising Skyline Drive, a winding road that offers dramatic views of the densely forested national park. Might as well get the driving started now!
Take in the Culture as You Travel Southwest
As you begin your journey, you will immediately be hit with the natural scenery that makes Blue Ridge Parkway so famous. Believe us, you’ll feel like you’re driving through an edition of National Geographic.
In fact, this is a perfect road trip for photographers––both professional and aspiring. Make sure to pull over and snap some pics of stunning canvases before you.
While this drive is certainly worth it for nature alone, the small mountain towns that you will pass through make the experience so much better. Filled with rich history and unique Appalachian culture, be sure to make plenty of stops in these towns and villages that have been thriving for over a century.
Just under the two-hour mark from Charlottesville, Roanoke is far from a small Appalachian mountain town. Nonetheless, it will serve as a perfect lunch stop to refuel before you hit the road again.
The Floyd Country Store is a favorite among locals, thanks to its famous chicken salad and indulgent soda fountain. Plus, on weekends you can enjoy live bluegrass music.
Known for its strong music and literary scene, Floyd County is a historic Appalachian nook with a population of just over 15,000.
First established in 1831, this county was among the few white areas in the antebellum states to endorse radical reconstruction. In fact, its inhabitants abandoned the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
A perfect place to spend your first night on the road is the nearby Mabry Mill. This picturesque mill built in 1903 is one of the best photo opportunities on the entire trip. Even more, nearby Primland offers an observatory for some of the best stargazing you will ever experience.
Once you get back on the road, the nearby town of Palax is home to the historic Bluegrass Music Center. Here, you can catch daily live bluegrass performances.
Whether or not you like bluegrass music, this stop is a must for its importance to Appalachian culture. It wouldn’t be the Blueridge Parkway without it!
Crossing the Border to North Carolina
What makes the Blueridge Parkway such a special drive is that the drive itself is so spectacular.
While the stops along the way can be a large part of what makes road trips special, the beauty along the Blueridge Parkway creates the best driving experience you can possibly imagine.
Make sure to drive slowly, as you will want to take in as much of the beauty as possible (while keeping your eyes on the road, of course).
While the Virginia leg of the trip is spectacular, North Carolina has plenty of its own treasures, too.
Although it’s rapidly growing, Asheville remains a hidden gem in America’s east. A culinary and cultural hub, Asheville is home to the best restaurants and bars in the state, as well as tons of live music, museums, and theatre. Asheville’s River Arts District is an oasis for artists and patrons alike.
Among Asheville’s most popular sites is the Biltmore Estate. Built for George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895, this 178,926-square-foot Châteauesque-style mansion is the largest privately-owned house in the U.S. You can live like a Vanderbilt by staying at one of the three on-premise hotels.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The ending point of this trip also happens to be the most-visited national park in the country, as well as one of our favorite national parks.
Visitors come to this 500,000-acre national park in droves due to its massive scale, dense natural beauty, and rich Appalachian history. You can spend weeks hiking atop the towering mountains and dense forests that fill this park from edge to edge.
The most popular site in the park is Clingman’s Dome. At an elevation of 6,643 feet, this peak is not only the highest point in the park, providing a panoramic view of the park’s expansive majesty, but also the highest point in the entirety of Tennessee.
(You might be thinking, “Aren’t we in North Carolina?” Fun fact: Great Smoky Mountains straddles North Carolina and Tennessee, and its highest point is in the Volunteer State.)
In our opinion, Great Smoky Mountains serve as the perfect endpoint to your journey as you can leisurely camp and hike for as long as your soul needs. What better way is there to recharge?
Explore the East Coast With Autio
Weaving between historic Appalachian towns and towering mountain ranges, the Blueridge Parkway deserves recognition as one of the best, if not the best, road trips in the entire country.
Not only will you get to immerse yourself in some of the densest beauty the world has to offer, but you will also get a taste of the vibrant Appalachian culture. No matter what time of year it is, you will be rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime.
Are you looking for something to listen to on your East Coast road trip? Autio and explore why the Blueridge Parkway continues to be one of the most visited U.S. regions in the world.
Our bite-sized stories are the perfect road trip companion—ranging from sports to history and everything in-between—so you can always travel like a local.