The Blue Ridge Parkway winds over five major ranges of the Appalachian Mountains for 469 miles through western Virginia and North Carolina. Drivers can stop at scenic lookout points to take in spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, the valleys below and some far-off cities that dot the landscape. There are 369-day hikes along the stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, all of which offer you a chance to connect with nature while seeing awe-inspiring panoramas. Watch out for quick changes in the weather, so bring appropriate hiking gear and clothing. Take bear spray with you in case a black bear gets too close. After you eat a hearty breakfast at vacation rentals in Virginia and North Carolina, discover these eight best day hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
1. Humpback Rocks
At milepost 5.9, near the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway, sits the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center. Park here at the trailhead to start two hikes. The first one is an easy jaunt of 1/4 mile that takes you through an outdoor museum consisting of a mountain cabin and few outbuildings. During the summer months, you might find costumed interpreters demonstrating what farm life was like back in the 1890s. For a longer and more scenic journey, pick up the Humpback Rocks Trail south of the visitors center and veer to the left.
A strenuous 700-foot climb in elevation leads to majestic views of Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys. After about 1 mile, you reach the summit of Humpback Mountain. You can turn back at this point for a 2-mile hike, or continue south to for another 2 miles to reach a picnic area where you can eat lunch while gazing out at the Shenandoah Valley below. A round-trip to the picnic area is 8 miles or an all-day hike. At some points, the Humpback Rocks trail follows the Appalachian Trail, so be on the lookout for blue blazes on trees, rocks, and other natural features.
2. Wigwam Falls
An easy hike of 0.4 mile leads you to Wigwam Falls, a 30-foot waterfall just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 34.4. Follow the Yankee Horse Trail until you reach the falls. Along the way, look at a 200-foot stretch reconstructed, narrow-gauge railroad with interpretive signs that teach you about the logging done in this heavily forested area in the early 1900s. This hike is great for kids, and reaching the falls gives you a cool respite on sunny summer afternoons exploring the natural beauty of the area.
3. Peaks of Otter
At milepost 83.1 sits the Fallingwater Cascades Trail, a 1.6-mile loop trail that takes you to Fallingwater Creek and its gentle, cascading waterfall amid rocky outcroppings and forest vegetation along a relatively easy 260-foot elevation drop. On the opposite side of the road, pick up the Flat Top Trail with an elevation change of 1,600 feet from the trailhead. This 4.4-mile out-and-back trail leads to Flat Top, the highest of three peaks in this area at 4,004 feet above sea level.
Just south of this point, at milepost 85.9 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, hike for 3 miles up and back along the Sharp Top Trail that starts at the visitor center. This steep and strenuous route gives you a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside, including nearby peaks, the Shenandoah Valley below, the Allegheny Mountains to the west, and the flat Piedmont region of Virginia to the east. The Abbott Lake Trail is a 1-mile, kid-friendly and ADA-compliant paved trail that takes you through forested land and a meadow to reach picturesque and serene Abbott Lake. Take plenty of drinking water with you on this day hike. Among these four trails at Peaks of Otter, you can spend all day in this section alone.
4. Roanoke Valley/Chestnut Ridge
The Chestnut Ridge Trail starts at milepost 120.4 and continues for 1.75 to 5 miles, depending on how long you want to hike. These moderate trails give hikers in good health great views of the sprawling valley below, as well as the city of Roanoke, the largest population center along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This loop trail has a picnic area near Chestnut Ridge so you can grab a bite to eat for lunch.
Explore the forested land and the natural history of the area along the way to the picnic area. At milepost 115, head to the Roanoke River Trail, a 1/2-mile trek down into the Roanoke River Valley. This trail features wooden steps going up or down, so be prepared for some climbing. This part of the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a great chance to take in nature while staying at some great vacation rentals Roanoke to serve as your headquarters for the trip.
5. Rock Castle Gorge Trail
This day hike begins at Rocky Knob Campground near milepost 167 and follows a loop of 10.8 miles. Descend 1,000 feet in the span of 3 miles through a hardwood forest as you head to Rock Castle Creek. On the way back, you parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway. You pass through meadows, rich fields of blooming wildflowers in the spring, and a field of boulders called Bare Rocks. Eventually, you reach the Rock Castle Gorge Overlook with its views of the Piedmont and rolling countryside. Just north of this spot is the steep summit of Rock Knob, with its outstanding, panoramic views. This is one of the most varied trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway thanks to its flat meadows, steep inclines, forested growth, rocky boulders and quaint little waterways.
6. Cumberland Knob
Allow two hours for a day hike at Cumberland Knob and the Gulley Creek Trail. This serene walk lasts for two miles, and you come across verdant greenery, lush plants, and a gently rolling stream. You also encounter cascades and a small waterfall when you cross this creek a total of eight times. There are steps along the trail, so get ready for some climbing. This moderate trail is ideal for a stretch break for you and your family in the middle of your scenic drive, while the vegetation here contrasts greatly with the type you might find on dry mountain peaks.
7. Tanawha Trail
Pick your length of a day hike, depending on your experience and health, along the Tanawha Trail in North Carolina. Start near milepost 305.5 and turn north along the trail that parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. The entire trail is 13.5 miles one way, or 27 miles for a round trip, with a moderate level of difficulty. You could hike the entire length in a day, but it may be best to take this hike in stages from the eight parking lots that span the road from milepost 305.5 to 299.
At any point along this trail, you get spectacular mountain views, especially that of Grandfather Mountain. Along your route, you might see thick tunnels of wildflowers, old forest growth, coves of evergreen trees, fields of boulders, and mountain streams that cut through the wilderness. Park at Ravens Rock Overlook and walk for 6.8 miles (up and back) to see Grandfather Mountain, Calloway Peak, and Boone Fork Creek while crossing the historic Daniel Boone Scout Trail that runs west towards Grandfather Mountain. Hikes along this stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway are moderate to strenuous.
8. Crabtree Falls
Walk along a 2.5-mile loop trail at milepost 339.5 to see Crabtree Falls in North Carolina. The falls themselves cascade over a 60-foot cliff along Crabtree Creek, where the mist from the falls helps ferns and wildflowers thrive near the banks of the water. This moderate hike lasts about two hours, and you should avoid the wet rocks near the waterfalls, so you don’t slip and get hurt. You can return to the parking lot using the same route you took to the falls, or follow the rest of the loop trail for a more gradual change in elevation that offers a scenic overlook of the falls before passing by a nearby campground and returning to the parking area.
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