Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway  by Randy Johnson

Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway Guide Book

by Randy Johnson (Falcon Guides)
Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway  by Randy Johnson
There has never been a better time to explore the Blue Ridge Parkway! This updated edition of Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway is ideal for anyone who uses the Parkway as a portal to the Southern Appalachian experience. It includes the best trails in the national forests, state parks, and private preserves that line the 469-mile roadway—from the southern end of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina—making it a single-volume solution for the serious explorer, whether on foot or by car.

© 2017 Randy Johnson/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway" Guide Book
Displaying trails 20 of 45.

Displaying trails 1 to 20 of 45.

The Forest Service is justly proud of this waterfall circuit that features two scenic, well-maintained National Recreation Trails and spectacular Apple Orchard Falls. This figure- eight trail system explores a noteworthy north-facing watershed of old-growth forest below the highest peak in this part of the Blue Ridge. It’s a best-kept secret for backpackers and birders. Neotropical songbirds such as the ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, and scarlet tanager can be seen and heard here. (The rare Peaks of Otter salamander is also a resident.) In the early 1990s the Forest Service designated 1,825 acres as a Special Management Area; the trails were upgraded and the focus shifted away from potential timber harvesting to enhancing recreation and wildlife.
Buchanan, VA - Birding,Hiking - Trail Length: 1.5-7.6 miles
A short and popular leg-stretcher with spectacular views of Grandfather Mountain and its nearly vertical-mile drop to the Piedmont. By adding either short or long stretches of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, hikers can find solitude. This is one of the Parkway’s best leg-stretchers. The grades are gradual, the footing isn’t very difficult, and the views are outstanding. It’s a popular hike, but by adding either a short or longer stretch of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, hikers can easily outwit the crowds and picnic alone at scenic viewpoints.
Linville, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.7-4.8 miles
One of the Parkway’s newest facilities, the Blue Ridge Music Center is dedicated to the stirring fusion of Irish, English, Scots-Irish, and African music and instruments that came together early in US history to create the nation’s traditional music. Exhibits trace Appalachia’s early ballad- based music from the 1700s through the early twentieth century emergence of “hillbilly music,” then bluegrass, and on to commercial country music and the growing popularity of traditional mountain music. Two red-blazed trails explore the surrounding fields and forests. One offers an out- and- back walk through meadows and wetlands, the other a longer loop hike up to forested Fisher Peak (where there is a view). In 2013, the Piedmont Land Conservancy added an additional 550 acres to the center’s existing 1,700-acre natural area.
Galax, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.7-3.3 miles
This is a scenic trail with views of nearby summits and quarry. The paved trail rises out of the parking area and arcs up and left (eastward) over concrete water bars. The bluish-gray–blazed path stays to the left of the ridgeline, and the telltale red-tree blazes of a Forest Service property line appear just to the right of the trail.
Roanoke, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1
From a popular roadside viewpoint, a quiet path leads away to a nearby flat-topped knoll with a few good views. Before hiking the longer trail, take the short, steep descent on stone steps to Chestoa View, a clifftop semicircular rock outlook with a dramatic drop to the North Cove Valley. The square-topped crag of Table Rock on the horizon marks the crest of the Linville Gorge. Below, US 221 can be seen heading down to nearby Linville Caverns (North Carolina’s only commercial cavern—open year-round), Marion, North Carolina, and I-40.
Linville Falls, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.85
One of the South’s best waterfall walks also has barrier- free access. Various publications describe this falls as the “highest in Eastern America,” the “highest in Virginia,” and the “highest in the Virginia Blue Ridge.” Which of those claims to believe probably depends on a long list of qualifiers. Chances are they at least qualify for “highest in the Virginia Blue Ridge” status—and that’s being conservative. Suffice to say that this path follows Crabtree Creek’s 1,800 feet of descent to the Tye River. Along the way, five major waterfalls create a truly spectacular cascade.
Tyro, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.6-6 miles
Crabtree Falls Loop Trail is one of western North Carolina’s best waterfall hikes-especially on a sunny spring day after significant rain. You’ll also find a campground and picnic area. The area’s snack bar and gift shop have been closed in recent years. The former Crabtree Meadows Recreation Area was recently renamed as the meadows have become less prominent. Though only 253 acres, the spot now known as the Crabtree Falls Recreation Area is a small but compelling scenic enclave on the Parkway. The Crabtree Falls Loop Trail now starts near the closed concession building, so enter the woods and pass the amphitheater at 350 feet. As you near the campground loops, bear right on a wide gravel trail to cross the campground entrance road at the kiosk into the old trailhead (a restroom lies off to the left in the campground loop).
Burnsville, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.5-3.1 miles
How can names like Craggy Gardens, Craggy Dome, and Craggy Pinnacle not be magnets for hikers? Visible from almost any corner of northwest North Carolina, these barren crests of the Craggy Mountains offer awesome views. The Craggies’ seemingly alpine, treeless environment is a one- of-a-kind ecosystem, and Craggy Gardens is one of the best places to experience the Southern balds. The balds come in two varieties—grassy and heath. Grassy balds may be best exemplified by the meadow- covered crest of Roan Mountain, on the North Carolina–Tennessee state line west of the Parkway There are grassy balds atop the Craggies, but you’ll also see heath balds—extensive crests covered in rhododendron, mountain laurel, blueberries, and other plants of the heath community. The mountaineers called them “slicks,” and “hells,” which you would readily understand if you ever tried to bushwhack through one.
Asheville, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.8-6.2 miles
Just below the Virginia–North Carolina line, a historical marker calls the Parkway “the first rural national parkway.” Less than a mile south, at Cumberland Knob, is the spot where construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway started on September 11, 1935. Cumberland Knob’s information building and an atmospheric picnic shelter atop the knob are among the Parkway’s earliest structures. At just about 2,860 feet, Cumberland Knob isn’t a spectacular peak, but the 1,000-acre watershed makes a great day hike. Cumberland Knob’s primary facilities are a large picnic area and an information/comfort station.
Lowgap, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 100 yards-2.5 miles
A short, steep climb to a spectacular viewpoint with devices for sighting distant peaks. This is a popular peregrine falcon viewing area. Before you hit the trail, look across the drop-off east of the parking area and up to the crag of Devil’s Courthouse at 5,720 feet. Chances are you can see a few tiny hikers enjoying the view. Though steep, this largely paved path is rewarding. The rock wall–encircled overlook atop the Courthouse offers great views. East is the plummet down into the Carolina Piedmont. West is the crest of the Shining Rock Wilderness, one of the loftiest, most alpine-appearing areas to abut the Parkway. Close in, you’re likely to see the high-speed “stoops,” or dives, of peregrine falcons or hawks.
Balsam Grove, NC - Birding,Hiking - Trail Length: 1
After the Parkway’s journey south over pastoral rolling scenery to the Virginia state line, North Carolina’s Doughton Park signals the road’s return to loftier country. Doughton Park rears to an abrupt escarpment of rocky cliffs and plunging coves. Across this crest—where the Parkway winds along the edge of prominent headlands—dramatic bluffs afford great views, hence the area’s originally being called the Bluffs. Doughton—roughly Mileposts 238.0 to 246.0—includes a dramatic drop into Basin Cove, a watershed more than 2,000 feet deep that plummets southeast from the roadside. This 6,000-acre area is one of only three places on the Parkway where overnight backpacking is permitted.
Laurel Springs, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.3-13 miles
One of the Parkway’s best self-guiding interpretive trails and evocative artifacts of human habitation make Jeffress Park a truly wonderful stop. In 1933 E. B. Jeffress, chairman of the North Carolina State Highway and Public Works Commission, was one of the North Carolinians working hard to see Tennessee excluded from the route of a mountaintop motorway between Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. He also left no doubt that he and then Governor J. C. B. Ehringhaus were set against permitting the Parkway to be a toll road—as was Skyline Drive, the scenic road that had just opened through Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park at the northern terminus of the future Parkway. The Skyline Drive still charges a user fee, and the Parkway is still free. Jeffress Park, one of the Parkway’s smallest roadside recreation areas (600 acres), between Mileposts 272 and 273, memorializes the man who helped make that “No fee” message clear to Parkway planners.
Purlear, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 1-1.2 miles
An educational trail with natural history interpretive signs as well as sighting devices to help identify noteworthy nearby summits; good distant views. Here’s a rare hike—one not to miss for serious hikers and more casual Parkway motorists alike. This is a quick walk to a good view or a wonderful hour plus stroll for a family that could include nature study or a picnic. Even the well-versed naturalist will find interesting insights in the twenty or so interpretive signs. This well-maintained popular trail ascends gradually then wanders northward along an outcrop with wonderful westward-facing views. Then it drops east back to the road. The trail passes through a Northern hardwood forest, with rhododendron and other more southerly species at an elevation of 4,000 feet.
Linville, NC - Cross-Country Skiing,Hiking - Trail Length: 0.7
Grandfather Mountain’s public image has evolved over the years. Once almost exclusively seen as a tourist attraction, Grandfather has become synonymous with its spectacular backcountry. The Mile-High Swinging Bridge is still a popular attraction reached by car, but there have been plenty of changes since owner Hugh Morton passed away in 2006. Morton’s heirs sold the backcountry as a North Carolina state park in 2009, and tourist development transitioned to a nonprofit stewardship foundation. The mountain’s now publicly owned highest peaks are laced with a wonderful network of trails that tower over the attraction. The once-ignored backcountry hiking network experienced a renaissance in the late 1970s, when a fee-based hiking program reclaimed deteriorating trails that had been closed after a hiker died of hypothermia. Over the years, the pay-for-use trail system became an innovative example of wilderness management, and hiking grew as a part of the Grandfather Mountain experience.
Linville, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.8-7 miles
A loop that reaches two waterfalls and explores a high, alpine-like valley. A second circuit involves a new portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Hikes on the well-maintained but heavily traveled Graveyard Fields Loop can range from a short out-and-back hike to a full-length streamside loop, with or without scenic waterfalls. Though this lofty area—the trailhead is at 5,100 feet and the high point 5,400 feet—never gets very warm, the pool below the lower falls is a great summer spot to cool off.
Canton, NC - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.4-2.3 miles
Take this twenty- minute self-guiding loop trail to learn about the geology of the northern Blue Ridge and see how mountaineers used their most abundant resource- rock—to wrest a living from harsh surroundings.
Lyndhurst, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.2
Just 5 miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s first milepost, the Humpback Rocks Recreation Area provides a perfect introduction to the cultural and natural riches of this linear park. An interpretive trail through a hardscrabble farm explores the rustic life led by mountaineers up to the turn of the twentieth century. Don’t miss the “1850–1950 Life along the Blue Ridge” exhibit at the small visitor center (where water and restrooms are available). The fascinating display emphasizes how the nearby Howardsville Turnpike and more distant canal on the James River (see that entry) created surprisingly diverse occupations and access to urban consumer goods for mountain residents in this area. Just across the road, a short, steep trail lifts hikers to Humpback Rocks and truly awe-inspiring vistas that stretch north and south along the Blue Ridge, east to the Piedmont, and west into the Shenandoah Valley. There’s also a small picnic area.
Lyndhurst, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.5-10 miles
Parents with children will like the hands-on experience that Indian Rocks gives to young mountain climbers. Take the stone- paved pathway toward the north and pass a picnic table. An old grade comes in from the right, and the trail follows it through a gully. The trail bears right off the grade to a ridgetop with a small peak off in the woods to the left. Amid standing dead timber that’s popular with woodpeckers, the trail turns right and wanders through mountain laurel to Indian Rocks.
Amherst, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.3
The 9,000-acre James River Face Wilderness is a rugged and scenic area that clings to the cliffs where the mighty James River breaks through the Blue Ridge. Designated in 1975, Virginia’s first wilderness area lies north of Petites Gap, a major trail access point at Milepost 71 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thunder Ridge, added in 1984, is a 2,450-acre wilderness just south of Petites Gap. That tract is essentially just the sloping western side of the Blue Ridge below the Parkway, though that description doesn’t do justice to the unique plants that grow there. Together, the James River Face and Thunder Ridge make up a wilderness tract that rises from the deceptive calm of the James River (about 650 feet) to the lofty altitude of Highcock Knob (3,073 feet) and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Big Island, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.8-12.6 miles
For all the might of the mountains, the sight of Virginia’s biggest river flowing placidly through the breach is sure to impress. Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the James River Face Wilderness provide an impressive experience of the titanic natural forces at work in this water gap. The Parkway’s two riverside paths are advertised as thirty-minute interpretive walks. Each, in turn, features interpretive signs about the human and natural history of the James River Water Gap. Both begin beside a visitor center that in season offers a variety of other exhibits about the canal and the river. Be sure to consider the picnic area beside the visitor center. Twelve or so tables and grills dot a split-rail fence–flanked meadow beside the James. You can picnic in the open or just inside the edge of the woods. The Otter Creek Trail starts here near the visitor center, but a path also leads along the first part of the stream from the picnic sites. It’s a wonderful chance to leave the placid silence where Otter Creek merges with the massive James and walk into the woods to see—and hear—the creek come noisily to life as a tumbling mountain stream.
Monroe, VA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.4