Best Stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway—A Local’s Perspective

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the country, winding its way through mountains and over rivers in an inspiring marriage of engineering and natural beauty. Growing up, I was lucky enough to spend a good deal of time driving on the Parkway: to school, to visit friends, and to reach some of Asheville’s finest trailheads.


With summer on its way, it’s that last piece I’d like to talk about. A hike off the Parkway is not only enjoyable on foot, but on the drive there and back you're bound for some gorgeous vistas. Here’s five of some of the best stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so that you too can enjoy this imperative addition to your visit to Asheville.


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1: Rattlesnake Lodge

Just minutes away from downtown, Rattlesnake Lodge is a hidden gem of first-hand Appalachian history. Park off Ox Creek Road and switchback up the lodge’s original access trail to visit the ruins of this 20th century summer-home—burned to the ground in 1926—complete with a toolshed, tennis courts, and a shallow pool. About a mile further on, you’ll find the old spring-fed reservoir.


A roundtrip hike here runs at about four miles, mostly through hardwood forest. As far as the rattlesnakes, don’t worry. The name comes from the lodge’s old living room, said to have had snakeskins covering the ceiling.


Distance from Asheville: Twenty minutes.

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2: Craggy Gardens

Craggy Gardens is famous among locals and visitors alike for its rhododendron blooms, best seen in mid-June. If you can’t catch the gardens in that time of year, fret not. A cornucopia of flowers spring from between the crags, coloring the whole summer, and the changing of the leaves has a similar effect in the fall.


Hike the 1.5-mile Craggy Pinnacle Trail to see three-hundred-and-sixty-degree views of the surrounding mountains. If you’re after the flowers, take the 2-mile Craggy Garden Trail. Note that the gardens to be at least ten degrees cooler than the city, on account of the elevation.


Distance from Asheville: Forty minutes.

Image from Wix

3: Graveyard Fields

If I had a nickel for every time I visited Graveyard Fields on a school trip, with friends, or on a family hike, I’d sure have a bunch of nickels. And for all that, I’d gladly go again. Graveyard Fields spans a flower-filled valley, thick with twisting streams and boasting twin waterfalls. Blackberries and blueberries come on in the late summer, making for an extra sweet incentive to visit this excellent stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


A full roundtrip, hitting both waterfalls, runs at about 3.5 miles. As for the “graveyard” bit, it’s due to the resemblance of some of the field’s tree stumps to gravestones. No hauntings here. That I know of, at least.


Distance from Asheville: One hour.

Image from Wix

4: Skinny Dip Falls

A true local watering hole. There’s no visitor’s center, and if you blink, you’ll miss the trailhead, but Skinny Dip Falls is hands down one of the best places to swim on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Stop at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook (mile marker 417), take in the view, then cut across the road to the beginning of the trail. Just about a half mile later on and you’ll find yourself at the falls themselves, a series of stunning cascades and placid pools, perfect to cool off on a hot summer’s day.


The parking lot can get pretty crowded at summer’s height, but even so, the falls are large enough you can usually find a place to relax on your own. If you’re more in the mood for a hike than a dip, take the Mountain to Sea Trail to connect up with Graveyard Fields, 1.5 miles away.


Distance from Asheville: One hour.

Image from Unsplash

5: Black Balsam Knob

My favorite of these five top spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Black Balsam Knob offers unparalleled views of the mountains. The trailhead begins at mile marker 420, at the edge of a grove of shady balsam fir. Once you hike up and above the tree line, you’ll find a series of rolling balds, spotted with shrubs and boulders. There’s a barren beauty to it, but note that without tree cover the wind and the sunshine can be forces to reckon with.


It’s a 2-mile roundtrip to the main summit, with an Eagle-eye view of the surrounding peaks and valleys. Especially vigorous hikers can extend their visit here for miles, hitting the adjacent summits for even more views of the mountains.


Distance from Asheville: One hour.


Locations Mentioned

Rattlesnake Lodge

Blue Ridge Pkwy, Weaverville, NC 28787

Craggy Gardens Visitor Center

(828)-298-0398

364 Blue Ridge Pkwy, Black Mountain, NC 28711

Graveyard Fields

(828)-348-3400

Graveyard Fields, Canton, NC 28716

Skinny Dip Falls

(828)-348-3400

Blue Ridge Pkwy, Canton, NC 28716

Black Balsam Knob Trailhead

Black Balsam Knob Rd, Canton, NC 28716