Itinerary: A 3-Day Drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Summer
About the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway, affectionately known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” winds 469 miles through the scenic mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. It connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south to Shenandoah National Park in the north. The entire roadway is considered one long linear park, and as such is the most visited in the United States.
It’s known far and wide as being a gorgeous drive, one that you could easily spend a week driving, exploring, and camping. While most if not all campgrounds and visitor’s centers are closed as of August 2020, it’s still more than worth it to drive this incredible route. I should know, because back in July I drove the entire length of the parkway, and enjoyed every mile! You can read my experiences in my story A Solo Voyage on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Because I live in Atlanta, Georgia, I started the route at the southern end. While most people probably start at the north end (officially Milepost 0), you can drive whichever direction you like.
It took me three days to drive the route, which seemed like the perfect amount of time, especially if you’re trying to fit it into a long weekend off from work. In this post I’m going to show you how you can make the most of the Blue Ridge Parkway in three days!
Why Travel in the Summer?
The Fall is certainly the most spectacular time of year on the Blue Ridge Parkway, as the trees explode with color. However, this all makes it by far the busiest season to go.
Going during the summer, particularly early and late summer, means you’ll have some nice, warm weather, and also fewer people to share the road with.
Things to Keep in Mind...
There are a couple of things to be aware of on this trip:
1. The speed limit on the Blue Ridge Parkway is capped at 45 mph. In some areas, it’s less. Trust me, there’s a reason this drive takes at least three days.
2. You will be stopping more than you think. There’s an overlook every two minutes and it can seem like each one is more scenic than the last.
3. There are no gas stations on the route itself. You may have to drive 15 minutes out of your way to find fuel, so plan accordingly.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Day 1: Driving North to Asheville, North Carolina
Southern Terminus near Cherokee, NC
Day’s Driving Distance: 85 miles
Starting in the small town of Cherokee, NC, look for the signs that point to the Blue Ridge Parkway. You’ll need to drive a little ways outside of town, so don’t worry if you don’t see it immediately. Eventually, you’ll come right up to it. Let the adventure begin!
Milepost 469: The southern starting point of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Milepost 431: Richland Balsam Overlook, the highest point in the parkway.
Milepost 384: Asheville, NC
Asheville, North Carolina
The first city you hit will be Asheville, NC. This charming little city is known far and wide as being extremely progressive, some might even say hippy-ish.
You can check into any number of lodging options around the city, the most budget-friendly being Bon Paul & Sharky’s Hostel in West Asheville.
There’s plenty to do and eat in Asheville, and just wandering around downtown can be a master class in people-watching. If you want a bit more structure with a dose of history, try the Asheville Urban Trail.
Day 2: Crossing Over from North Carolina into Virginia
Day’s Driving Distance: 164 miles
Milepost 361: Glassmine Falls Overlook
Milepost 216: Virginia state line
Milepost 144: Pine Spur Overlook
Milepost 120: Roanoke, VA
You’ll be covering a lot of ground this day. The middle portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through some (relatively) less attractive lowlands. Don’t worry, though: soon enough you’ll start climbing into the mountains once again. While Virginia may not have quite the same verticality as North Carolina, its sunnier weather more than makes up for it.
These falls are located about 3/4 of a mile out from the overlook, and the seemingly omnipresent mist can make seeing them difficult. However, if you have a drone, I recommend flying it out for some spectacular up-close footage.
Roanoke is a small city in southwest Virginia, named after the famous Lost Colony in North Carolina.
The high point of Roanoke (pun intended) is Mill Mountain, home to the Mill Mountain Star, at 88 feet the largest man-made star in the world. Right below the star is an observation deck for viewing the city of Roanoke below. You can also find the Mill Mountain Zoo and Discovery Center on top of the hill, both of which are perfect for families.
Pro Tip: Believe it or not, Roanoke has some very rough areas. Avoid the Days Inn Civic Center at all costs.
Day 3: The Home Stretch
Northern Terminus near Afton, VA
Day’s Driving Distance: 120 miles
Milepost 75: Arnold Valley Overlook
Milepost 19: 20-Minute Cliff
Milepost 0: Northern ending point for Blue Ridge Parkway
And just like that, we’re already on the third and final stretch of driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. Don’t worry though, because you have some of the best weather and best vistas ahead of you today!
You’ll pass by some simply amazing overlooks, such as the Vinewood Spur. With the exception of a bell tolling at a nearby church, there isn’t much development anywhere near here, although you can spy some farms way down in the valley.
Arnold Valley Overlook
Probably the most iconic overlook of the entire Blue Ridge Parkway is the Arnold Valley Overlook. Chances are if you’ve seen a picture of an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it was taken at the Arnold Valley Overlook. The big boulders allow for some fun climbing and photo opportunities, especially if you have a drone!
The End of the Road
Finally, near the small town of Afton, VA, your traversing of the Blue Ridge Parkway will come to a close. The last few miles of the parkway will be some of the most serene you’ll come across in the entire trip.
But not the worry! You still have plenty of road to cover! As it happens, Skyline Drive picks up right where the Blue Ridge Parkway ends, so you can keep going into Shenandoah National Park!
I hope you found this Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary to be helpful, and that it inspires you to get on the road! If you liked it and think others might, too, please feel free to Like, Share, Pin, and Tweet using the social media buttons below. If you want to drop me a comment, you can do that in the comments section below 🙂
Last but not least, have fun and be safe out here!