Meandering more than 400 miles along the western edge of both Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers stunning sights and views that go on for miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The parkway draws visitors throughout the year and leads to many national and state parks. Many small and larger towns offer vacation rentals for a family looking for a couple of days away or an extended vacation. Along the parkway, there are many access points to hiking trails. There are trails for families and others for dedicated hikers. Here’s a guide to the eight best day hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
1. Grassy Gap Fire Road, North Carolina
Drive to mile marker 243.7 near Boone for a hike of a little over six miles. The attraction of this trail is the wide lane that allows two hikers to walk side-by-side. It’s a great hike for a little hand-holding for you and your hubby along the trail that requires a moderate skill level. Meander through some of North Carolina’s backcountry and catch sight of raccoons, squirrels, and other wildlife. The trail winds its way through the Doughton Park and slowly rises to meet the Bluff Mountain Trail that ascends to a mountain peak, but you can skip the steeper climb if you aren’t up for it. Over the cross of the hike, you gain almost 1,500 feet.
2. Roanoke River Trail, Virginia
Take the little ones and the entire family to mile marker 114.9 close to Roanoke for an easy hike that winds along the river for less than a half a mile and loops back on itself. Kids love stopping to see the river below. The trail has some hills, but nothing kids can’t handle. Bring water on this hike that takes around 30 minutes. Several trails join this one, and you can opt to traverse the Fisherman’s Trail before returning to the car. Once back in the parking lot, take the kids over to the bridge for additional views of the river.
3. Gully Creek Trail, North Carolina
Bring your sturdiest hiking boots to your vacation rental in Galax or Meadow of Dan to tackle the Gully Creek trail just over the border of North Carolina with the trailhead at mile marker 217.5. This two-mile trail is rated as strenuous, but you can enjoy the sounds of gurgling water as you tackle this challenge. Located in the Cumberland Knob Recreation Area, this trail loops around to the start and provides stunning views from the ridge it parallels. Splash in the creek that you have to cross and stop for a bottle of water and protein snack at one of the waterfalls along the trail.
4. Rocky Knob Picnic Loop Trail, Virginia
Located at mile marker 169 near Mabry Mill, the Rocky Knob Picnic Loop Trail is great for families with kids of all ages. This one-mile loop is an easy hike to stretch your legs and build up your appetite for the picnic lunch you brought from your vacation rental. This trail lies inside the Rocky Knob Recreation Area, and you find access to a couple of other trails in the same area and a visitor’s center to get a map and learn more about the area. The large oaks provide shade as you hike, and in the spring months, you can smell the scent of the Fraser magnolias.
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5. Watkins Carriage, Horse and Hiking Trail, North Carolina
Near the gorgeous town of Asheville at mile marker 294, you find the Watkins Carriage, Horse and Hiking Trail that’s rated moderate to easy for an afternoon of hiking and enjoying the fresh mountain air. Kids love it when horses trot by as they travel this trail that extends a little over three miles. The trail and surrounding area are usually awash with wildflowers, including buttercups and crested dwarf iris in the spring and black-eyed Susan and witch hazel in the fall. Bring your binoculars and trail guide to see a host of birds, such as peregrine falcons, barred owls, and the Scarlet Tanager.
6. Spec Mine Trail, Virginia
Near the town of Buchannon, the Spec Mine Trail offers experienced hikers a day of moderate to strenuous fun. Park the car at mile marker 96 and find the trailhead near Montvale Overlook. You can bring your dog as long as you keep it on a leash throughout the hike that runs a little over five miles roundtrip. While the path starts out gently, you find many steep areas that offer a challenge and gets your heart pumping, especially on the hike out. The mine isn’t accessible to hikers; however, you might run across some bears. Make plenty of noise as you’re hiking to ensure any unwelcome encounters.
7. Boone Fork Trail, North Carolina
Settle in the town of Boone for your holiday break and hike the Boone Fork Trail from the trailhead at the 296.5 milepost. Wear good hiking shoes and bring older children, since this trail is marked as moderate to strenuous. Part of the hike brings you close to stream with cool running water while other parts switch between meadowlands and forested areas for amazing views. With few other hikers, it’s easy to enjoy the peace and quiet. Plan to spend most of the afternoon on this trail that runs a little over five miles. You can bring your dog but only if he stays on his leash. Bring bottled water and a snack to enjoy when you reach the waterfalls.
8. Abbott Lake Trail, Virginia
You can choose a vacation rental in Lynchburg or Bedford for easy access to mile marker 85.7, the trailhead for the Abbott Lake Trail. This is a great trail for families with little kids as the one-mile trail winds around Abbott Lake and provides an easy trek for little feet. If you’re looking for a more challenging trail, there are a couple in the area. Dogs are welcome along this lightly traveled trail, but you need to keep him on his leash. It’s a popular spot for bird watching and checking out the local wildlife.
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