9 Things to do in The Blue Ridge Mountains For a First Visit

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.

Here are the 9 things to do on your first Blue Ridge Mountains road trip:

blue ridge mountains road trip new 01

  1. Drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  2. Stop in one or more of the scenic stops off the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy the views.
  3. Check out Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
  4. Stop at the town of Gatlinburg, right near Great Smoky Mountain Park.
  5. Check out the many waterfalls across the Blue Ridge Mountains.
  6. Explore the Linn Cove Viaduct bridge.
  7. Make sure to stop at Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia.
  8. Stay in one of the countless cabins in Blue Ridge.
  9. 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 and where are the Blue Ridge Mountains located? 

appalachian mountains map

The Blue Ridge Mountains are basically a very long mountain range that is the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains.

I have included a map to show you the overall Appalachian Mountain range, and which section of it is considered the Blue Ridge Mountains. To be clear, they are listed as separate, but all part of the same mountain range.

In terms of where the Blue Ridge Mountains are located, it’s basically between Georgia (southern end) and Virginia State (northern end) and with the other states in between these 2, altogether there are 8 in which the Blue Ridge Mountains are located.

Within this region, there are tons of popular things people and aside from the list I’ll be covering today, here’s a basic overview of why this place is so popular:

  1. There are many cabins, hikes and parks to see.
  2. There is the famous Blue Ridge Parkway drive to check out.
  3. The Appalachian Trail goes through the entire region (and further north).
  4. And more.

Blue Ridge Mountains map:

blue ridge mountains map

Overall, the Blue Ridge Mountains span for almost 500 miles and the same road and Appalachian Trail which goes through it are about that long too.

Aside from the Blue Ridge Mountains being part of the Appalachian Mountain range, in the US it officially ends in Maine but it just so happens that the same mountain range also goes all that way into New Foundland and Labrador (provinces in Eastern Canada). It’s just not called the Appalachian Mountain range there too.

But segueing back to the article, at least 30% of the Appalachian Mountain Trail (not road) goes through the Blue Ridge Mountains.


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.

The 9 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 sign to scenic drive 04

Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most famous scenic roads in the US that basically runs through the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The best way to explain why this road is so famous is that it’s basically a VIP look into the most popular parts of this whole Blue Ridge 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 in this region, start by entering it through this road, because this is where you’ll find the most overlooks and basically all the iconic spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains overall.

2) The many scenic stops on the Blue Ridge Parkway road:

blue ridge overlook of Appalachian mountains 07

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:

great smoky mountains national park in the blue ridge mountains 04

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:

town of Gatlinburg near blue ridge mountains

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:

falling spring falls in the blue ridge mountains 04

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 too, but there are also many day hikes available off the main Blue Ridge Parkway Road.

As for waterfalls, there’s also many worth exploring. Some require parking off the road and following short trails to reach them.

The one you see in this part is called Falling Spring Falls, where you don’t just get to see this amazing waterfall, but there is also an overlook trail as well as another trail to it’s base where you can find swimming holes.

If you’re worried about missing these amazing waterfalls during your drive, don’t be. Usually you will see signs for the most popular waterfalls while driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but if you want to make sure you don’t miss the best ones, check out my how to find waterfalls near me post.

It’ll help you find and plot points of the best waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

6) Drive over Linn Cove Viaduct (the famous Blue Ridge Mountains bridge):

blue ridge mountains north carolina famous bridge linn cove viaduct

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 virginia blue ridge mountains

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:

blue ridge mountains road trip renting a log cabin

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.

For example:

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 blue ridge viewpoint 01

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:

blue ridge mountains hiking new 01

The good news is that many spots I’ve already listed here already have hiking trails nearby to explore (like Grandfather Mountain State Park). All you really have to do is check these places out and you’ll usually have a trailhead or map with trails available nearby.

However, some trails might not be for you but which is why if you’re looking to find specific trails to explore, 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.

Note: A lot of the strategies I share on finding these trails 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.

Alltrails will also have lists of the best Blue Ridge Mountains hiking trails to check out.

Other questions about the Blue Ridge Mountains you may see or have:

plan a trip to the blue ridge mountains new 03Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains?

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.

Finishing up:

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 to be honest the ones listed above are a great list to use when you travel through there and I would love to hear your personal thoughts on these places if you get a chance to see them!

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