The highest and most memorable parts of the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway are the 250 mountainous miles leading along the backbone of North Carolina. Following the southern Blue Ridge Mountains as they fade into the taller and more massive Black Mountains, the Parkway skirts three other mountain ranges before ending up at Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee border. Spring flowers (including massive rhododendrons), fall colors, songbirds and wild turkeys, numerous waterfalls, and occasional eerie fogs that fill the valleys below all make this an unforgettable trip no matter what the time of year. Take your time and drive carefully, however hard it is to keep your eyes on the road.
A couple of worthwhile detours—to the mountain hamlets of Blowing Rock and Little Switzerland, and to the city of Asheville—are covered in greater detail in the main text. From north to south, here are the mile-by-mile highlights along the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway:
Milepost 216.9: Virginia/North Carolina border.
Milepost 217.5: A very easy half-mile trail leads to the top of 2,885-foot Cumberland Knob. A visitors center marks the location workers began construction of the parkway in 1935.
Mileposts 238.5–244.7: Doughton Park, named for one of the politicians who made the Parkway possible, has a gas station, a nice café, a campground, and the small Bluffs Lodge (336/372-4499).
Milepost 260.6: An easy mile-long trail leads to the top of Jumpinoff Rocks for a sweeping view.
Mileposts 292–295: Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is a 3,600-acre former private estate, with many miles of mountaintop hiking trails. At Mile 294, Southern Highlands Crafts Guild members demonstrate various Appalachian crafts throughout the summer, on the front porch of the former Cone mansion, which is now the nonprofit Parkway Craft Center.
Milepost 304: The marvelous engineering feat of the Linn Cove Viaduct carries the Parkway around rugged Grandfather Mountain. Completed in 1987, this was the last part of the Parkway to be built. Dense walls of rhododendrons border the Parkway south of the viaduct.
Milepost 305.1: US-221, which used to carry the Parkway before the viaduct was built, leads a mile south to 5,837-foot Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak in Blue Ridge, now a private park (daily; $14) with trails, a zoo, and the famous “Mile-High Swinging Bridge.”
Milepost 308.2: A half-mile nature trail leads to 3,995-foot Flat Rock for a view of Grandfather Mountain.
Milepost 316.3: Linville Falls crashes through a rugged gorge; short trails lead to scenic overlooks.
Milepost 331: At the junction of Hwy-226, the Museum of North Carolina Minerals (daily 9 am–5 pm; free) displays all kinds and sizes of local gemstones, which you can watch being polished.
Milepost 355.4: West of the Parkway, the 1,650 acres of Mount Mitchell State Park include a mountaintop observation tower. Drive to within 200 yards of the weather-beaten 6,684-foot summit, the highest point east of the Mississippi River.
Milepost 364.6: Best seen in late spring when the rhododendrons are in full bloom, the lush greenery of Craggy Gardens feels like an Appalachian Shangri-la.
Milepost 382: You can check out exhibits and demonstrations of Appalachian arts and crafts in the Folk Art Center.
Milepost 431: At the highest point on the Parkway (6,047 feet in elevation), a self-guided nature trail leads through a first-growth spruce and fir forest.
Milepost 469: Southern end of Blue Ridge Parkway, at the junction with US-441 and the entrance to Smoky Mountains National Park.