In August of 2010 Nancy and I took a week to explore the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in depth. We started our trek at the southern end and worked our way north.
An excellent source for information about the Blue Ridge Parkway and many other routes are the Motorcycle Adventure books written by Hawk Hagebak. He has published three volumes. Vol 2 covers the southern part of the BRP from Asheville to the NC/VA state line. Vol 3 covers VA. Volume 1 covers the far western NC, northern GA and eastern TN areas. We always have these when we ride and they are available in our ON-LINE STORE.
History of the Blue Ridge Parkway
The BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY is designated a National Parkway and which protects it as a scenic highway corridor with surrounding parklands. It is also recognized as a National Scenic Byway by the US Department of Transportation to preserve, protect, promote tourism and encourage economic development.
The BRP is 469 miles long stretching for the most part along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It is a wandering path that is but 300 airplane miles. Work on the Appalachian Scenic Highway as it was first called began in 1935 and finished 52 years later in 1987 with completion of the Linn Cove Viaduct bridge in the area of Grandfather Mountain.
There are 25 TUNNELS in North Carolina and one in Virginia. The highest point is 6053 feet elevation at the Richland Balsam's Overlook (mp 431) while the lowest is Otter Creek VA (mp 64) at 649 feet. Commercial vehicles are prohibited and there is no fee for using the highway. Speed limit for the most part is 45 mph while there are some 25 and 35 mph zones. Parking is allowed anywhere unless posted otherwise. Make sure all wheels are off the pavement when parking on grassy areas.
The parkway is remote allowing wildlife to be quite prevalent. Most common are deer, turkeys and black bears. The extremes in elevation offer a wide variety of flora. The most popular times for visitors is mid-to-late April for spring flowers and early-to mid October for fall colors. We saw plenty of wild blueberries ripe for picking in August. Several sections are closed in the winter months.
Be aware that even in the hottest months temperatures can be chilly in the higher elevations. In the heat of late August our summer jackets were comfortable most of the time.
Cherokee to Asheville – Mile Marker 469 to 382
Spiral CurveWe began our journey at the southern terminus near Cherokee, North Carolina. Cherokee is Indian Tribal Land located completely in the Qualla Boundary Land Trust. The town is a tourist oriented community located on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Cherokee operate Harrah’s Casino (completely electronic gaming), lodging, dining facilities, Indian heritage exhibits, and gift shops. There is a wide variety of accommodations here ranging from camping, inexpensive mom and pop motels, to national chain motels.
Traveling north on US 441 from Cherokee you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Just half-a-mile into the Park is the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. You might want to visit the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and Mountain Farm Museum on 441 just north of the BRP.
Turning onto the Parkway (elevation 2020) the first mile marker 469 is on the left. All mile markers along the route are on the same side of the road. In 2.7 miles the road climbs to 2920 feet and you will encounter the first tunnel. Note that tunnel clearances are as low as 10 foot 6 inches measured at the white line DETAILS.
At post 455 is BIA 413 (Bureau Indian Affairs 413) which is gravel Dodson Ridge Road leading southward to US 19 and Cherokee. Take the gravel Bunches Creek Road to the north and descend into Big Cove Cherokee Indian Reservation and intersect the end of the one-way Heintooga/Round Bottom Road SEE NEXT PARAGRAPH.
At post 458 is Heintooga Overlook Spur Road. Travel 1.3 miles to a mile high overlook. A few miles farther is Balsam Mountain Campground. This is primitive camping and the small sites are not suitable for larger RVs ($14 a night). At 5340 feet elevation it offers the highest tent camping in the Smoky Mountains. There are no hookups at this campground. This road is paved for 8.5 miles which takes you to the beginning of the one-way gravel Heintooga/Round Bottom Road, an easy 14 mile dual sport route that is closed in winter DETAILS . At the transition from pavement to gravel there is a scenic picnic area with overlook. We encountered road work on the paved section, but it is nearly completed.
At mile post 456 there is an exit for US 19 which will take you westward back into Cherokee and eastward into Maggie Valley. This gap or pass was the primary trail used by early settlers moving to the west. The Cherokee Indians had an outpost here to protect them from invaders. The Cherokee word for the gap is “ahuluna” which means place to ambush. A good place for authentic Cherokee souvenirs is BEARMEAT'S INDIAN DEN five miles down US 19 to the west. Take US 19 east 3 miles for food and fuel in Maggie Valley.
Back on the BRP the next point of interest is the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center and trail head at mile post 451. Here is a great place for photos from the 5800 feet elevation parking area looking westward at the Great Smoky Mountains and eastward at the Plott Balsam Mountains with the BRP twisting below.
Balsam Gap at marker 443 at 3370 feet exits the BRP onto the 4-lane US 74/23 AKA The Smoky Mountain Expressway. Take US 74/23 east 4.6 miles to exit 98 for fuel, Wal-Mart and Best Buy.
At mile post 431 the BRP reaches its highest point at 6053 feet. Take a photo break in front of the marker like everyone else. There is a trail here to the summit of Richland Balsam Mountain with an elevation of 6410 feet. We rode some Aprilia Caponords up here on October 23, 2002 and found a few icy places on the BRP DETAILS. From here it is all downhill …. uphill …. downhill … you get the picture.
By now we have already been through six tunnels. To be safe in the curving tunnels slow down, turn on your brights, and watch out for RVs over the centerline and bicycles on the white line.
At Beech Gap and marker 423 is the intersection of NC 215. Northward on 215 is a great downhill twisting road passing by Lake Logan before coming to US 276 and fuel at the small Bethel Community 18 miles distant DETAILS. Take 215 southbound for some other good downhill twisties and fuel is 8.5 miles away at Balsam Grove.
This is where GPS units come in handy when looking for fuel in remote places on the BRP. There are many exits where the closest fuel might be 10 or even 20 miles away.
A good place for picts and a short exerting hike is the Devils Courtyard pull-off at marker 422. The half mile trail leads to the top some 250 feet above the parking area at 5733 feet with a stunning 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains.
At mile marker 419 is the Graveyard Fields pull off. This popular hiking area leads down to the flowing waters of Yellowstone Prong where a number of waterfalls are visible from the BRP itself. There are several theories on the naming of Graveyard Fields. One is that a big storm laid down all the trees and the upturned roots looked like gravestones. Another is that loggers left the field littered with stumps that became mossy and looked like tombstones.
Anyway, there are few trees in this mountain valley. That is said to be a result of two raging forest fires (1925 and 1940) which sterilized the soil. More recent fires have kept new tree growth to a minimum.
Visible from a number of locations is Looking Glass Rock two miles distant. This mountain, named for the reflection of sunlight off it's bare rock face, is popular with rock climbers.
Blue Ridge Motorcycle CampAt mile marker 412 and an elevation of 4533 feet US 276 intersects and offers some great twisties in the first couple of miles both north and south bound. To the north six miles is the BLUE RIDGE MOTORCYCLE CAMPGROUND in Cruso. They have camp cabins and tent camping available. Fuel is a few miles down the road.
To the south 15 miles on US 276 is the fairly large town of Brevard and US 64 in case you need something special. Along the way are a number of waterfalls. The scenic Looking Glass Falls is on the left with free parking. A little farther south on the right is Sliding Rock Falls where visitors jump in the chilly water at the top and slide some sixty feet over the naturally smoothed rocks into a deep pool ($3 parking fee).
A few miles farther south on 276 is the CRADLE OF FORESTRY. Walk the Forest Festival Trail and learn more about forest conservation in America.
Back on the BRP at marker 408 is the MOUNT PISGAH CAMPGROUND. We camped here in 2005 and really liked it. There are no hook-ups for the 137 sites. The nearby Pisgah Inn Store is convenient. Nightly fees are $19.
Pisgah InnJust across the road is the PISGAH INNwhere we like to stay for a quick get-away. At 4900 feet elevation the views from the Inn are spectacular. We always get a second floor deluxe room with deck overlooking the forested mountains. On arrival we bought a bottle of wine at the restaurant and enjoyed it on the deck. Rates start at $120 a night and are higher on weekends, holidays and in October. The meals are always excellent. On this trip Nancy had the Charbroiled Mountain Trout which came with head still attached. The waiter started to cut off the head and filet the fish but Nancy stopped him preferring to operate herself. The Inn is closed November through March.
Leaving early the next morning the Parkway was dense with fog. We had to be especially careful of bicyclists which are most prevalent in this area near Asheville.
NC 151 (Pisgah Highway) intersects at mile 406 and winds its way northward 11 miles into Candler. The first 4 miles are quite twisty.
At mile 400 the BRP crosses FR 479. Roads designated as FR mean Forest Road and are gravel. FR 479 leads northward into the Bent Creek area and southward into some of the best dual sport riding in western North Carolina. We rode much of this on our 2002 APRILIA CAPONORD ADVENDURE TOUR with motorcycle journalist Neale Bayly and friends.
NC 191 intersects at mile 393. Fuel, food and shopping are a little over a mile to the north. Here the BRP crosses over the French Broad River which flows north and then west to meet the Holston River at Knoxville, Tennessee at which point the two rivers become the Tennessee River.
At 391 the BRP crosses I-26. There is no access here.
At 389 US 25 (Hendersonville Road) intersects. This is a good place to fuel, eat and shop in either direction. MR Cycle is just two miles northward for tires, parts or repairs. Three miles northward (just north of I-40) are a number of chain motels. A little farther north is the 8,000 acre Biltmore Estate, the 1895 home of George Vanderbilt. The home and gardens are truly amazing, but it’s a little pricey at $55 a head if purchased online. Be there at 9 am to beat the crowds.
Traffic is heavier here as locals use the BRP for getting around the city.
At 384 is the new BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY VISITOR CENTER. Exhibits and a 24-minute film relate history and information of the Parkway.
At 383 US 74 (Charlotte Highway) intersects and provides easy access to I-40. Food and fuel is just a jog to the east on 74.
At marker 382 is the FOLK ART CENTER. Here is a large collection of folk art, exhibits of handmade crafts, bookstore and information center.
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA is a great place to visit if youAsheville Art are in the area. The city population is some 77,000 and consists of a wide variety of life styles from retirees to crafters to bohemians. When we first started going to Asheville in the 1990s, I had flashbacks to the 1960 era of flower children. Named “the New Freak Capital of the US” by Rolling Stone Magazine, and "2010 Beer City USA", it has been cited by many as one of the top cities to live in and visit. Good place to visit, but difficult to navigate, have a map or GPS handy! For more information visit ExploreAsheville.com and RomanticAsheville.com.
Some of our favorite Asheville restaurants include: 12Bones for BBQ, Barleys Tap Room for Pizza & Beer, Moose Cafe for home cooking, Sunny Point Cafe for eclectic, Salsas for Caribbean, sidewalk dining at Grove Arcade. And of course, the Biltmore Estate is a must see.
Heading northward from the Folk Art Center the Town Mountain Road (NC 694) intersects on the left at Mile Marker 377.4 (Craven Gap). This is a six and a half mile paved scenic ride into downtown Asheville with several glimpses of the city from above, especially in winter. No nearby fuel or food.
Webb Cove Road (NC 2053) intersects at the same point. This is gravel for two miles and then paved into northern Asheville. No nearby fuel or food.
A mile to the north Elk Mountain Scenic Highway (NC 2230) intersects at 376.6. This paved road leads 7 miles westward into northern Asheville. Also here is paved Ox Creek Road (NC 2109 and NC 1003) which leads 9 miles into Weaverville. No nearby fuel or food on either route.
Soon the BRP re-enters the Pisgah National Forest. From elevations of just 2,000 feet in Asheville the roadway climbs to over 5,600 feet in 20 miles.
At Mile 375 is a pull-off for the RATTLESNAKE LODGE TRAIL. Two trails, one a short steep climb (half a mile) and the other a gradual 1.5 mile jaunt, lead to the ruins of this remote 1920s mountain resort. It burned in 1926 but the rocky foundations for the main building, swimming pool, and outbuildings are interesting to explore.
CRAGY GARDENS at mile 364.5 has a visitor center and great views both east and west from 5,500 feet elevation. Park in the pull-off at mile 364.1 for a short half-mile hike to Craggy Pinnacle at 5,892 feet for an even better view. The rhododendrons are spectacular here mid-June.
At mile 358.5 is the highest point on the BRP north of Asheville at 5,676 feet.
The Mount Mitchell Spur Road is at mile 355 and leads northward a fairly easy 4 miles to the summit of MOUNT MITCHELL At 6,684 feet it is the highest point east of the Rockies. On the way up you’ll pass the Mount Mitchell Restaurant with spectacular views from the dining room. We didn’t eat there, but have heard they make a good hamburger. At the top parking area are a snack stand, gift shop and informational display. The Observation Deck at the summit is a short, steep hike on pavement.
Back on the Parkway at Mile 344 is the intersection of NC 80 at Buck Creek Gap. Good twisties both directions on NC 80, but the southerly run, part of the Diamondback Loop, is the tightest. Marion NC is 16 miles to the south. Fuel and food are closest heading northward toward Spruce Pine.
At Mile 339.5 is the Crabtree Meadows Camping area. There is a store, restaurant and camping for tents and small RVs (30 feet or smaller) at $14 a night (no hook-ups). Hike to Crabtree Falls on a 2.5 mile trail.
In the next few miles we passed Deer Lick Gap, Coots Gap, and Bearwallow Gap. There are a lot of “gaps” in North Carolina. These are passes between the mountains where roads and trails usually follow.
Little Switzerland is located just off the Parkway at Mile 334 at 2,800 feet elevation. We stayed at the 100-year old SWITZERLAND INN and enjoyed this motorcycle friendly lodging which offers a wide choice of accommodations, great food and a fabulous view. We have been spoiled with hot tubs and there are two here at poolside. There are also cottages, A-frames, and several different options for inn rooms. The owner/manager is a rider.
On the same property is the Diamondback Lodge with eight rooms at $69 a night. Each room has satellite TV and a private bath. Guests have access to all of the Switzerland Inn amenities (pool, hot tubs, tennis, horseshoes, wireless Internet). There is covered bike parking too. We had a great 38-mile challenging ride on the DIAMONDBACK LOOP which begins right at the Lodge.
At Milepost 331 is the intersection of NC 226 and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Gillespie Gap. Just a mile to the north is fuel and food. The town of Spruce Pine is another 2 miles. South on NC 226 are some good twisties in the first mile.
At Mile 328 is the Historic Orchard at Altapass. Originally an apple orchard dating from 1908, the businesses here have boomed and busted over the last century. The railroad which was built in the late 1800s and completed in 1908 actually planted the orchard along their right-of-way. Passenger service brought many tourists and the town of Altapass developed several hotels and a golf course. When passenger service was discontinued and the main highway was rerouted through Gillespie Pass to the south, tourism declined. The Blue Ridge Parkway split the orchard in two which added to the area decline. Today the Orchard is an Appalachian Cultural Center with music, dancing, hay rides, art, local souvenirs and food. It is quite busy on weekends. SEE PHOTO AT BOTTOM OF PAGE
Construction of the train route in the early 1900s was an engineering marvel. The line crosses under the BRP in a 2,000 foot tunnel and then loops four times as it descends the mountain. There are 18 tunnels along the route in just 13 miles. The railroad is still in use.
The Chestoa View Overlook at Mile 320 requires a short hike to the walled overlook, one of the best on the BRP. Here you can see the Linville Gorge, Grandfather Mountain and Table Rock.
US 221 intersects the BRP for the first time at Milepost 317. The two routes will crisscross a number of times as they parallel each other all the way to Roanoke, Virginia. South on US 221 less than a mile is Linville Falls community for fuel and food. It’s another 3 miles south to LINVILLE CAVERNS (admission $7 adult). US 221 south is a fast 55 mph downhill run of sweepers with moderate traffic.
The Linville Falls Road is at Mile 316. The parking area is 1.5 miles and the hike to the falls has a number of view areas at varying distances. No swimming is allowed because of the strong currents in the Linville River.
NC 181 intersects the BRP at Mile 312. This 26 mile run to Morganton has some good downhill sweepers at 55 mph speed limit and a couple of surprise corners to watch-out for. There was minimal traffic on the road when we ran it on a Monday morning. Fuel is less than 2 miles north on NC 181 in Pineola and a little over 2 miles south in Jonas Ridge.
US 221 interests once again at Milepost 305. To the west just a mile is the entrance to Grandfather Mountain. This 4,000 acre tourist attraction is operated by a non-profit conservancy foundation. The two-mile long access road is steep with a couple of switchbacks winding up to the mile-high parking area and swinging bridge. The switchbacks are challenging and require clutch, throttle, brake on the steep climb to the top. Also be aware of the strong winds you will likely encounter. Nancy’s riding pants went blowing across the parking lot as we hiked to the top. Use a lower gear on the way down as the sign says.
There are beautiful picnic areas on the mountain, a gift shop, fast food restaurant (with picnic lunches available), and hiking trails. Admission is $15 per person.
A little farther west on 221 is the site of the annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in July. Part of the opening ceremonies is The Bear, a 5-mile run from Linville to the top of Grandfather Mountain with an increase in elevation of nearly 1,600 feet. Nancy ran in the first Bear in 1994. She has also run in half a dozen Grandfather Mountain Marathons from Boone which ends on the oval track at the games amid the whine of bagpipes, shouts from Scottish dancers, the braying of sheep and grunts from men in skirts tossing telephone poles.
One of the most scenic sections of the BRP is at Marker 304. The Linn Cove Viaduct was the final section of the Parkway. Completed in 1983 this quarter mile concrete bridge was required to prevent any damage to Grandfather Mountain that conventional highway construction would cause. The 153 precast concrete sections weighed 50 tons each. It took 4 years to complete the complicated bridge project. To really appreciate the engineering feat there is a paved trail from the Linn Cove Parking Area leading under the viaduct. Continue farther climbing on the Tanawah Trail for a view of the bridge from above.
US 221 to the east has 4 miles of great twisties (watch for some gravel/sand) before coming to residential sections and eventually the Town of Blowing Rock which has a noise ordinance if you’re running loud pipes. This quaint town of only 3 square miles is notable for its many shops, specialty restaurants and mountain inns. Blowing Rock is named for the main attraction of trails, garden waterfall, jutting rocks, and distant vistas. Admission to the 75 year old attraction is $6 for adults.
At Marker 295 Holloway Mountain Roads intersects providing access to US 221. No fuel or food here.
At 297 is a good rest stop overlooking Price Lake. There is camping, fishing, hiking, picnic tables and restrooms. The boat ramp loop is secluded and not crowded with good views of the lake.
At Marker 292 NC 1571 intersects and connects to US 221. This is the easiest access into the Town of Blowing Rock if you are northbound.
The BRP once again meets US 221 at Marker 285. This provides the easiest access to Blowing Rock if you are southbound and Boone if you are northbound. Fuel and food just to the south.
At Deep Gap Mile Marker 276 there is access to US 421. If you are southbound take US 421 westward for easy access into Boone. Boone is the home of the highly rated Appalachian State University. There are numerous places to stay and dine. We had a great Three Sisters Tamale (stuffed with about a dozen different veggies) in the downtown sidewalk patio of the Hob Nob Farm Café while watching the coeds strut. Traffic is quite heavy on the downtown streets. There is some good riding in the area.
Take US 421 west into Tennessee to get to the motorcycle destination known as the Striped Snake. It’s 35 miles from Boone to the crossroads of 421 and TN 91/133 at Shady Valley Warning: this area is heavy with LEOs much of the time.
NOTE: We returned to the Blue Ridge Parkway in October to photograph the fall colors. It is a spectacular place when the colors hit, but it is crowded with leaf-lookers even on weekdays. The huge Pisgah Inn parking lot was packed even on Wednesday afternoon. We later heard they served some 4,500 meals on the following weekend.
Leaving Boone via 421 at Deep Gap Mile Post 276 the BRP continues meandering northeasterly toward the Virginia State Line. At Benge Gap Mile 268 the Park Vista Motel is where we stayed once on our first BRP ride in 2000. We noticed the motel and restaurant in front were closed and for sale, apparently another victim of the economic slump.
NC 16 intersects at Mile 261 with food and fuel a short hop to the west. Eighteen miles to the south is North Wilkesboro, birthplace of NASCAR and home of Ted’s Kickin’ Chicken (I’m salivating as I write). To the north on 16 is Glendale Springs. We toured this area on our KLRs in 2007. At Mile 258 is the Raccoon Holler Campground where we stayed.
Stop at the Northwest Trading Post right on the BRP at Mile 259. The store has a great selection of books, souvenirs and crafts.
At Mile 248 NC 18 intersects. Here is the Station’s Inn Motel, Restaurant, Bar and Store, a favorite of motorcyclists. Room rates are $80 a night and they have live music on Sundays. Also at this exit is Freeborne’s Motel and Restaurant, another motorcycle friendly stop. Take 18 (Sparta Road) south 24 miles to North Wilkesboro. There are some good twisties in the first 4 miles crossing Grandmother Mountain.
The Bluffs Lodge and Restaurant is located at Mile Post 241 with reasonably priced rooms and down home country cooking.
At Mile 238 is Doughton Park. This 7,000 acre scenic park has camping, trailer sites, and hiking trails. See Brinegar’s Cabin which dates back to the 1880s.
US 21 crosses the BRP at Mile 229. Five miles to the south is Roaring Gap. The next 5 miles south of Roaring Gap is a great twisty run. Find fuel and food in Sparta 5 miles to the north.
The North Carolina/Virginia State Line is at Mile 217.
Low Gap Bridge at Mile 216 is a Kodak moment. Here Virginia 81 intersects. Fuel and food is in Galax five miles to the north.
We stayed at the just off the BRP at Mile 213. This remote wooded location was perfect for us. There is a half-mile gravel access, but we had no difficulty with the FJR fully loaded and two-up. The cozy Twin Oak Cabin had everything we needed including a well stocked kitchen, full bath, satellite TV, fire pit, rockers and a two-person hot tub on the porch. The cabin was $135 a night. A breakfast was included, but we left early to sample the buck wheat pancakes at Mabry Mill.
The Blue Ridge Music Center at Mile 213 features bluegrass and old-time music June through September.
VA 620 intersects at Mile 206 Pipers Gap. No food or fuel here.
At Mile 201 old meets new as the BRP crosses Interstate 77 giving a glimpse of the high speed traffic of today.
The Parkway passes through Fancy Gap at Mile 199. This offers an easy fuel, food and lodging access.
At Mile 194 is Raps Orchard Gap, another biker favorite stop on the BRP. There’s a little bit of everything here from a 50s style soda shop with great food to gas pumps. Friendly staff, clean restrooms and even occasional live music make this a good place to visit. Cabin rentals are nearby.
Mabry Mill is at Mile 176. We had a good breakfast featuring buckwheat pancakes in the restaurant. The grounds offer a chance to stretch your legs and there are some interest things to see. The fully functional grist mill, itself over 100 years old, was expanded by Ed Mabry to include a wheelwright shop, sawmill and blacksmith shop. There is an old log cabin, old fashion whisky still and a number of out buildings to explore. Often there are demonstrations and live music at this old time community gathering place.
Tuggle Gap at Mile 165 has fuel and food right on VA 8 just south of the exit. Tuggles Gap Restaurant and Motel are popular with bikers. There are mixed reviews on the motel.
We began to see quite a few deer in this area (Mile 152). We had been vigilant for deer since we left home, but these were the first encounters.
At Mile 139 Cahas Knob we met Michelle and Sean on the way back to Canada SEE PHOTO LEFT.
At Mile 136 (Adney Gap) a connecting road to the west jogs over to US 221 (2,690 feet elevation). No nearby fuel or food. Just north of here on the BRP is the Shaver Cemetery SEE PHOTO LEFT. The BRP has many interesting cemeteries along its entire length.
US 220 intersects the BRP at Mile 121. US 220 leads north into I-581 and downtown Roanoke and eventually I-81. Fuel and food can be found at this exit.
We discovered a lot of good roads north of Salem and Roanoke back in 2007. To the south on US 220 is the town of Rocky Mount, county seat of Franklin County. Franklin County proudly claims the title of “Moonshine Capital of the World”.
At Mile 120 is Roanoke Mountain Road to the east. This mostly one-way, paved, four mile loop has steep grades and several fantastic views from the summit at 2,170 feet elevation.
Roanoke has much to offer the traveler. Downtown features a great farmers market, museums, specialty shops and a number of diverse restaurants. At night the 100-foot tall Roanoke Star shines down on the city from atop Mill Mountain.
Access to Explore Park is at Mile 115. Once planned to be a tourist attraction with overnight facilities, nature trails and historical exhibits, today it is just a welcome center and hiking/biking trails. Expansion of this public/private joint venture is currently on hold due to lack of funding.
Leaving Roanoke northward the BRP crosses high over the Roanoke River at Mile 115.
VA 24 intersects at Mile 113 providing access into northern Roanoke. Fuel and food is to the west.
US 221 intersects the BRP at Mile 106 for the final time at Laymantown and then turns to the east toward Lynchburg. Fuel and food is at this exit.
At Mile 101 is the Quarry Overlook. Here, from an elevation of 2,170 feet, you can look down at the granite quarry near Blue Ridge, Virginia a mile to the south.
There are some great views on both sides of the BRP as you pass through the Jefferson National Forest.
At Bear Wallow Gap Mile Marker 91 VA 43 intersects and runs northward to Buchanan on the James River 5 miles distant. Here you can find food and fuel and some pretty good twisties on the way down. There is a long swinging bridge, old movie theater and drugstore with soda fountain and grill.
VA 695 (Goose Creek Road) intersect here and runs to the south. There are no nearby facilities, but the first mile or two has some good, desolate curves.
At Bearwallow the BRP takes a 90 degree turn to the southeast. At Mile 85 is the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Rooms here are in the $100 a night range and there is a restaurant and bar. The food has mixed reviews, but the lake and mountain views are great. Ride with caution in this area as deer are plentiful.
Peaks of Otter refers to the three nearby mountains; Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill. The Lodge and Abbott Lake are located between these sharp three peaks offering scenic vistas are every direction. Stones from the peaks were sent to Washington DC and used in the construction of the Washington Monument.
At Peaks of Otter VA 43 intersects and heads southeastward. There is a campground located at the intersection. VA 43 has some good twisties in the first few miles.
From the Peaks the BRP turns back to its northeastward path.
At Mile 83 is Fallingwater Cascades Parking Area. Here a trail leads 1.5 miles along the length of Fallingwater Creek. The trail is moderate in difficulty and offers some good views of the cascades.
At Mile 77 you pass the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia at 3,950 feet. High above on Apple Orchard Mountain you’ll see the now defunct Bedford Air Force Station radar ball. The nearby Apple Orchard Pull-Off offers a good view to the southeast and a short 6 minute trail to stretch your legs. Here the Appalachian Trail crosses the BRP.
Arnold Valley Pull-off is at Mile 75 (3,700 feet) which has a long range view of the Allegheny Mountains and Arnold’s Valley to the west.
Petite’s Gap intersects at Mile 71 (elevation 2,361). Here a Petite’s Gap Road (gravel) meanders downhill four and a half miles before finding pavement. We took this road on our FJR on the 2009 Virginia trip PETITES GAP
At Mile 64 US 501 intersects. The BRP then crosses the James River. This is the lowest elevation for the entire Blue Ridge Parkway at 649 feet. The James River Visitor Center is located at the north end of the bridge. It has exhibits, hiking trails and a footbridge crossing the river underneath the highway bridge.
The BRP follows Otter Creek for a number miles passing Signthrough Otter Creek Recreation Area. There are various pull-offs to view Otter Lake and the creek.
VA 130, a Virginia Scenic Byway, intersects at Mile 62. Here the BRP turns toward the northwest for its final run to Waynesboro.
Otter Creek Campground at Mile 61 has tent and trailer camping, but no hook-ups.
Dancing Creek Parking Area at Mile 56 (elevation 1,300 feet) is a good place to have a picnic and enjoy the coolness of the babbling waters on a hot day.
Bluff Mountain Tunnel, the only tunnel in Virginia, is at Mile 53.
At Mile 46 there is a great view southwestward of the town of Buena Vista two and a half miles distant. A little farther west is the interesting town of Lexington, home of the Virginia Military Academy and Stonewall Jackson. We visited this unique town in 2009 and spent the entire day exploring its history. LEXINGTON
The Irish Creek Valley Overlook (elevation 2,660 feet) at Mile 43 offers a scenic look northwestward.
At Tye River Gap Mile 27 VA 56 (Crabtree Falls Highway) intersects and heads southward to the crossroads known as Montebello. Northward it is designated as the Tye River Turnpike. There is no fuel or food in either direction.Love Gap
The BRP then enters a mostly forested area passing a number of pull-offs. We then found the road surface to be deteriorated as we angled downhill near Mile 22.
At Mile 15 the BRP passes Love Gap and the nearby crossroads town known as Love. There is no fuel or food here.
At Reeds Gap Mile 14 VA 664 intersects. There are no facilities.
Ravens Roost Overlook (3,200 feet) at Mile 11 is a good picnic spot with great views and also a good photo op.
Rock Point Overlook at Mile 10 is a good vista looking northwestward.
As the Blue Ridge Parkway Marker 1nears its northern terminus there are some great mountain views to the northwest. On the east side of the road is a long rock wall with wood split rail atop.
In the last few miles the view switches to the southeast looking over Rockfish Valley and the town of Afton.