There are many things to do on a Blue Ridge Mountains road trip but if you don’t properly research what those things are ahead of time, you may miss out on a lot of stuff.
And that’s exactly what happened the first time I did a Blue Ridge Mountains road trip. My buddy and I did an impromptu trip there figuring that we would “figure it out” along the way and while we did see some amazing sights, the truth is that after the fact, we discovered there was so much we missed out on and the purpose of this article is to help you avoid the same mistakes.
If you are planning to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains for the first time, I want to share the 7 most important things you need to do there.
- 1 Here are the 7 things (now 9) to do on your first Blue Ridge Mountains road trip:
- 2 First, what are the Blue Ridge Mountains?
- 3 Blue Ridge Mountains map:
- 4 The 7 things to see on your Blue Ridge Mountains road trip:
- 5 1) The famous Blue Ridge Parkway drive:
- 6 2) The masses of scenic stops and viewing areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway road:
- 7 3) Visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park:
- 8 4) Check out the town of Gatlinburg:
- 9 5) Explore the hiking trails and waterfalls across the Blue Ridge Mountains:
- 10 6) Drive over Linn Cove Viaduct (the famous Blue Ridge Mountains bridge):
- 11 7) Explore Natural Bridge State Park (Virginia):
- 12 8) Stay in a cabin overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains:
- 13 9) Explore Grandfather Mountain State Park:
- 14 10) Bonus: How to find incredible Blue Ridge Mountains hiking trails (and waterfalls).
- 15 Other questions about the Blue Ridge Mountains you may see or have:
- 16 What to wear when exploring the Blue Ridge Mountain hikes:
- 17 Finishing up:
Here are the 7 things (now 9) to do on your first Blue Ridge Mountains road trip:
- Drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Stop in one or more of the scenic stops off the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy the views.
- Check out Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- Stop at the town of Gatlinburg, right near Great Smoky Mountain Park.
- Check out the many waterfalls across the Blue Ridge Mountains.
- Explore the Linn Cove Viaduct bridge.
- Make sure to stop at Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia.
- Stay in one of the countless cabins in Blue Ridge.
- Explore Grandfather Mountain State Park.
Before I get into these things, let me explain some important things about the Blue Ridge Mountains just to give you some background since this is a very famous area after all:
First, what are the Blue Ridge Mountains?
It is basically a very long mountain range that is the southern most part of the Appalachian Mountains, within which also lies one of the longest, most popular hiking trails known as the Appalachian Trail.
Blue Ridge Mountains map:
They are located mostly within Virginia State, and stretch all the way down to Georgia state.
Here is a map of the Blue Ridge Mountains region:
In addition, the Blue Ridge Mountains are also part of the Appalachian Mountain range, but those stretch further, all that way into New Foundland and Labrador (provinces in Eastern Canada), where you’ll find amazing parks like Gros Morne National Park, Bay of Fundy and the Cabot Trail, and those particular areas have mountain ranges which also are part of the Appachalchians.
At least 50% of the Appalachian Mountain Trail (not road) goes through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
When you combine the Blue Ridge Mountains with the rest of the Appalachian Mountains, here is how it looks on a map:
I’ll be doing a list of things to see along the greater Appalachian area in a future article, but for now, we’ll stick to only this section of it.
Update: I have created an article describing things you can see, hike and drive through (scenic areas) within pretty much most of the Appalachian Mountain Range here.
How long is are the Blue Ridge Mountains?
Estimates say it’s between 400 to 500+ miles and within that length is a main road which goes through all of it (the Blue Ridge Parkway which is one of the things I recommend you do when visiting this region of the US).
Ever wondered why this place is called Blue Ridge Mountains?
It’s because when you stand at the top of many of the areas and look out into the distance, the mountain ranges there have a blue color the further out you look.
I don’t exactly know why that is, but it’s beautiful to see the mix of green nature start to blend with a blue hue the further out you look.
An example of the beauty and that “blue” you see in the Blue Ridge Mountains:
This is the type of scenery you’ll see through much of this region and it’s really an awesome sight (at least at first, it gets repetitive after awhile though).
How my trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains happened:
A buddy of mine who came to visit me in New York City a few years back had been interested in seeing some great hiking trails, so I took him to a place I still visit frequently, and that is the Catskills.
He enjoyed it so much, he then told me about The Blue Ridge Mountains which he has visited a few years before and said it had similar views.
When he mentioned this location, it was the first time I had heard of it and because he said it had similar views, we decided to plan a trip there.
But the planning wasn’t concrete, and we went back n forth talking about taking a trip through this area for YEARS and we finally did it in 2018 (but first we did this amazing road trip through the eastern United States). While my buddy lives in Fort Lauderdale Florida, and I live in NYC, I do visit FL once a year because I have family there.
When I visited it in July, we finally decided to make this trip happen. I was in the Sarasota area and the plan was for me to drive up to Atlanta, and him to fly into Atlanta from Fort. Lauderdale early in the morning. This would end up saving us nearly a day to spend more time enjoying this area.
I had to drive through the night to pick him up at 8 am, but it worked out. He flew in, got into my car, and we took off. From Atlanta, it takes about 2-3 hours to get to the official start of the Blue Ridge Mountains and there’s many roads you can take into it.
I recommend you pick out one of the locations on this list and mark it down on your GPS because it’ll help you get see the best sights (as we found out).
What followed was a day inside this area, which we really enjoyed but decided to steer away from and into another location very west of it, which was Daniel Boone National Forest and after that, we made our way back east, into the northern part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in West Virginia and Virginia.
Now with all this said, let me give you the 7 spots I recommend you check out along this area:
The 7 things to see on your Blue Ridge Mountains road trip:
Firstly, because this whole area is so huge, there’s tons of roads and places to enter it from. Most people enter from the north or south (we entered from the south), but with all the choices there are, not all of them lead to scenic areas (you have to basically ask locals where they are if you get it wrong).
So the first spot on this list is what I consider the best central area to start from, and it doesn’t matter where you enter the Blue Ridge Mountains from, make this the first spot you mark on your GPS, because once you enter it, everywhere you go from there (north or south) will take you through the best spots along this whole area and that is:
1) The famous Blue Ridge Parkway drive:
Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most famous scenic roads that basically runs through the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains and basically offers you a VIP look into the most popular parts of this whole mountain range. The Blue Ridge Parkway is also in my opinion one of the best scenic drives in North America (based on the ones I’ve done so far).
If you’re doing a road trip through this range, start by entering it through this road, because you’ll see PLENTY of signs for scenic spots within it.
If we had known about this area, we would have saved hours on our trip and skipped to the best looking locations, quickly. The only downside is that you can’t drive fast while there, because the road is very winding.
But now that we do, we are sharing this info with you readers 🙂
2) The masses of scenic stops and viewing areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway road:
While on Blue Ridge Parkway, you will simply have too many areas you can stop at to enjoy the views.
There’s a stop every minute or so on this road that will usually allow you to park your car and take a look at the views.
Most of the photos I took were on these scenic stops and that itself can make this list grow to over a 100 different places you can see, but I’ll let you decide which stops on this road are most beautiful to you.
The bottom line is that if you wish to enjoy the most beautiful areas in the Blue Ridge Mountains, hope into the road there, and let it take you to those spots (you won’t be able to miss them).
3) Visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park:
The scenic road took us through one of the first national parks I’d ever been to and that is Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The reason it is called that is because of the high elevation there and the clouds which cover the top areas, giving it that affect, especially during early mornings and whenever rain passes through.
Anyway, the area in these parts is gorgeous. As you drive along the road within this park, you feel like you’re being swallowed whole by the mountains there, as they are huge. Within the park are also many trails you can hike on, and scenic areas in general you can see.
I really enjoyed this park a lot and I also did a comparison between it and the Grand Canyon (among other famous national parks), and in all honesty, Great Smoky Mountain wins.
4) Check out the town of Gatlinburg:
I’m honestly not much into towns, but while we were driving, it was getting late and we needed to stop somewhere. Gatlinburg came up on our list of suggestions and it was recommended by the locals and honestly, I am glad we went there. It is a beautiful, but small town that is right next to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
It has many amenities such as hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, and entertainment areas to check out. I was very happy with this spot and when we got there, even though were tired and wanted to call it a night, we were just drawn in by all the things available to see there and decided not to miss the chance. We’re glad we checked it out.
5) Explore the hiking trails and waterfalls across the Blue Ridge Mountains:
There’s plenty of trails and waterfalls to explore all across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many of the trails found in this region are part of the Appalachian Trail, but there are also many day hiking trails available off the main Blue Ridge Parkway Road.
As for waterfalls, there’s also many worth exploring and most of them can also be found off the road. Some require parking off the road and following short trails to reach them, like this one you see to the right calling Falling Spring Falls:
Falling Spring Falls has it’s own trail to check it out, but you’ll find plenty of signs and opportunities to see a lot of waterfalls along the road anyway, and in case you need to pre-select a list of them to check out before hand.
Just Googling waterfalls in this specific vicinity will bring up a ton of pictures of them and you can select which ones you think are most beautiful.
Then mark them down on your GPS and let it take you there.
6) Drive over Linn Cove Viaduct (the famous Blue Ridge Mountains bridge):
If you ever look up images for Blue Ridge Parkway, mountains or similar terms, you will often see pictures of this famous bridge.
This was actually one of the sights I sought to explore on my Blue Ridge Mountains road trip but again because of a lack of proper research and/or knowing where to look for it, I missed it.
This bridge is known as Linn Cove Viaduct and it is located in North Carolina and is basically in the middle area of Blue Ridge Mountains. As long as you drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will cross it eventually from whatever end you are driving on the road.
And from either end you will also have parking to stop and take great pictures of, and not just the bridge but of course the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance too.
7) Explore Natural Bridge State Park (Virginia):
Natural Bridge State Park is located in Virginia and is slightly outside the Blue Ridge Parkway (maybe a 1 hour drive), but if you are starting your road trip from the south, around the Virginia area is where things may get a little repetitive in terms of views, so a good way to stray a little of course but stay within the confines of the Appalachian Mountains is to visit this incredible park.
It’s very scenic, is easy to walk around and of course the main natural bridge there is stunning to check out.
What I took from my trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains:
Overall, the ride through through many of these areas was exciting, but you may find yourself in the same situation we did:
We actually got bored of driving on the main parkway road after awhile. Even though there wasn’t much traffic there (It was very surprising considering this trip was in July), we found the road to be very repetitive.
It just winds again and again, the speed limit there is pretty slow (there’s no rails in many areas and it’s very high up, so be careful).
We kept seeing the same kinds of beautiful views, but eventually, seeing the same things got boring, and we felt that we needed to change things up, and so we did. This is why we decided to shift northwest into Daniel Boone National Forest, which is in Kentucky and that was an enjoyable experience that I will document later on this blog.
But we did return to the Blue Ridge area 2 days later and finished most of the northern area, before heading into the western side of New York and Finger Lakes, which is another spectacular spot I recommend you stay tuned for on this blog, so you can see what we saw (amazing stuff!).
8) Stay in a cabin overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains:
As amazing as it is to do a road trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, another thing to consider doing here is renting a cabin near one of the most popular spots in the region. This is another highly popular thing many people do when they travel here which is why there are a plethora of cabin availability there.
Most people who check out Blue Ridge Mountains generally check out Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the nearest town to it (Gatlinburg) has a lot of awesome cabins you can rent.
By staying there, not only are you close to this park thereby letting you explore more of it but the cabins here are awesome too, offering a lot of amenities and this doesn’t just apply to the cabins near Great Smoky Mountains, but all throughout the Blue Ridge area.
If you want to see the most popular places for this, here is a list of great Blue Ridge Mountains cabin rentals worth checking out (there’s only 5 on that list but in reality there are way more).
9) Explore Grandfather Mountain State Park:
Grandfather Mountain State Park is easily a top 5 place you have to explore when you travel through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s located in North Carolina and really close to the Linn Cove Viaduct bridge I mentioned earlier.
Not only is this an amazing park, but there are amazing peaks to explore the most popular being Grandfather Mountain.
Now on that mountain there is also a very iconic overlook called Rough Ridge Overlook which is where this picture is from and it provides one of the top views of the Blue Ridge Mountains in my opinion.
10) Bonus: How to find incredible Blue Ridge Mountains hiking trails (and waterfalls).
While most people drive through the 400+ miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains (Parkway) and stop at little towns throughout, you will come across many different trailheads that can lead to incredible views, waterfalls and adventures.
The question however is how to do you sort out where the best hikes and waterfalls are at? There’s 2 solutions I have for you:
1) One of the best options in my opinion is to use the strategies I talk about in my how to find easy hiking trails near me post here. You will be able to easily find tons of trailheads and know what to expect from the hike or hikes before you even start it and will be able to choose which one or ones you wish to do.
2) Just as well, if you are looking for waterfall hikes along the Blue Ridge Mountains, know there are plenty of those as well and some are located on the same hiking trails you’ll come across, but for specifics I also have an article on how to find waterfalls near me here.
Note: A lot of the strategies in those 2 articles involve using GPS and a lot of the areas in the Blue Ridge Mountains have horrible reception, so before you start your trip, plan ahead with which hikes or waterfalls you want to see, and plot them so they are on the Blue Ridge Parkway road you’re traveling on.
By combining these 2 things and on top of that driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains area, you’ll be able to truly get the most out of your trip here.
Other questions about the Blue Ridge Mountains you may see or have:
The Blue Ridge Mountains are in the eastern United States and officially span from Georgia up to Pennsylvania.
Which state has better Blue Ridge Mountains?
The best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are around the Georgia and South Carolina areas.
Are the Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains the same?
Yes, the Smoky Mountains are part of the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
What is Blue Ridge Mountain known for?
The Blue Ridge Mountains are mostly known for having amazing mountain views and the blue hue in the distance of them.
What is the best time to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains?
In my opinion, mid April (better for spring colors and less crowds) or late September (to see the autumn colors) is the best time to visit and explore the Blue Ridge Mountains.
What to wear when exploring the Blue Ridge Mountain hikes:
Anyway, if you’ve had the pleasure of traveling through the Blue Ridge Mountains like we did, be sure to let us all know what you thought about it and if you enjoyed it like we did!
And again, when I did this trip, I didn’t document all the other areas we saw in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but in this road trip through the Appalachian Mountains post, I included many more spots we found.
And with this same friend that I did this trip with, we also did other another road trip through Eastern Canada a few months after, but this time to more eastern areas of the Appalachian mountains, all the way into eastern Canada, and we visited places like Nova Scotia and New Foundland!
And thus, that trip basically helped us complete just about the entire Appalachian Mountain range!