blue ridge parkway map
Gear Patrol Studios

High along the western edge of North Carolina, where the untouched beaches of the Outer Banks have been traded for the untouched peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, weaves 175 miles of roadway: i.e. North Carolina’s gorgeous section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The parkway, which runs southwest from Virginia into North Carolina towards Tennessee, is often called “America’s Favorite Drive,” and it’s easy to see why. The two-lane highway follows the natural shape of North Carolina’s most rugged terrain, including Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain peak in the eastern United States, and Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon.

Nevertheless, who says you have to drive on every roadway? Each year, hundreds of cyclists make their way up to Blue Ridge Parkway; with the most ambitious aiming to hit roughly 50 - 60 miles per day. Of course, with over 200 scenic overlooks dotting the parkway, there are plenty of ways to plan a more leisurely ride. Fans can also find their way off the beaten path into all sorts of cozy haunts, trails and pitstops, so read on to learn how to explore one of North Carolina's smoothest stretches.

By Bike

bikers at blue ridge parkway
blue ridge parkway biking
Visit North Carolina

Each year, cyclists abound across the parkway. From May to October, the 'drive' finds itself suddenly full of road and gravel bikers, all set on making the most out of the jaw-dropping twists and turns the Blue Ridge Parkway has to offer.

While there are tight blind turns and narrow tunnels (26 in NC, to be exact), the BRP has become a popular biking destination because it’s gorgeous and, maybe surprisingly, very safe. Instead of sharing the road with impatient commuters, cyclists will appreciate leisure drivers slowly enjoying the view — all of whom are more than happy to give bikers a wide berth.

Popular biking trips out of Asheville include a visit to Waterrock Knob, which sits at almost 6,000 ft. and features breathtaking views of the east and west. Just make sure you bring a bike repair kit, put reflectors on the front and rear of your bike, and note elevation changes to best prepare yourself for the hilly terrain.

If you want to hone in on the perfect route, consider biking up from Mount Mitchell north to Altapass. The trek will take you about three hours, and once there, make sure to check out The Orchard at Altapass. This year, the orchard will open on May 13. The farm proudly propagates 'the best heirloom apples possible' on a pollinator-friendly plot that hosts activities for children of all ages, plus plenty of educational opportunities to entertain the family.

Another option would be to start at Blowing Rock and bike the roughly three and a half hours up to West Jefferson. There, you can hop off and settle in for an excellent recovery at the Park Vista Inn & Restaurant. Ambitious cyclists can fuel up with the bar and restaurant's fresh, seasonal menu, while others can spend a fabulous night (or two) at the Inn. With everything from king suites to pet-friendly rooms, the Inn has everything you'll need — and want — after a long ride in.

By Foot

visit north carolina group of hikers on appalachian trail
Visit North Carolina
blue ridge parkway hiker
Visit North Carolina

Two long distance trails, the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains-to-Sea Trail , a state hiking trail, follow closely with stretches of the BRP. Visitors can explore these trails during day-hikes, over multi-day backpacking trips, or, for the more adventurous thru-hiker, complete the entire challenge — all at once or over the course of a lifetime! These trails take you through some of the most beautiful places in NC along the way.

Those looking for a challenge — an ascent of 3,689 ft over 5.5 miles-type challenge — should consider turning off at milepost 355.4 for the Mount Mitchell Hike, a difficult summit of Mount Mitchell, which, at 6,684 ft in elevation, is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Plan for a full day, or make it a two day trip and camp near the summit. (Note: There are easier ways up.)

For more casual hiking options, head to Moses Cone Memorial Park roughly an hour's drive from Asheville. Here you can explore a family cemetery, carriage, and apple barn. You can also ride horseback or walk on 25 miles of historic roads and trails.

Of course, if you're looking for the very easiest route possible, consider the seven-minute trek down to the Mile High Swinging Bridge. Near Linville, the 0.3 mile hike will take you down a short path to a swinging bridge that sits lofted up at a full mile above sea level. It's a great place to start before exploring the expansive Grandfather Mountain, but can be a popular place. Consider avoiding it during times of high use, like weekends, and have a backup plan in case it's overcrowded. And make sure to check out the local's coffee spot DT'S Blue Ridge Java, to get your caffeine fix before hitting the park.

By Foot with Camera

visit north carolina
Visit North Carolina
blue ridge parkway cameraman taking picture of cabin
Visit North Carolina

The Tanawha Trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway on Grandfather Mountain and offers spectacular views of the distant mountains. The trail is an easy to moderate walk that leads hikers through a vast amount of biological and geological terrains worth capturing on camera.

Alongside the scenic motor road are trails that provide panoramic photo opportunities of some of the most beautiful wilderness in the country, including unique biological, geographic and historic sites. We recommend visiting Tomkins Knob Overlook. The 1.2 mile, out-and-back has a historic overlook perfect for capturing a photo and stretching your legs.

Plan your trip to North Carolina.