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Looking to do a Blue Ridge Parkway road trip?
Ahh, the Blue Ridge Parkway in October. Only the best road trip in the USA. Ok, maybe not the best, but one of the best and certainly the best scenic drive for fall.
This last fall I managed to drive almost all of the Blue Ridge Parkway (we skipped the section between Roanoke and Fancy Gap and part of it was closed) and it was pretty awesome.
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.
I still think Burr Trail is my favorite scenic drive but this is a must-do for any road-trip lover and fall is the best time to do it.
There are some things you should know before you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in fall though, and I’m here to share those with you today after you add this to your southeast US bucket list.
Some of these can apply for driving the Blue Ridge Parkway anytime but most of them are fall specific.
And for this I’m not including Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive since it’s technically not part of it, just the 469 miles from the end of Skyline Drive to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But first…
What is the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway run by National Park Service and is one of the best scenic drives in America.
It is 469 miles of winding road through the Blue Ridge Mountains connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.
It passes through George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, Rocky Knob Recreation Area, Shining Rock Wilderness, and Pisgah National Forest.
Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip in fall
A fall Blue Ridge Parkway road trip is something that should be at the top of your bucket list. It’s one of the best road trips in the US and the Blue Ridge Parkway fall foliage is absolutely beautiful!
These tips will help you plan the best Blue Ridge Parkway fall road trip possible and with just a little planning you’ll be on your way.
Don’t drive the Blue Ridge Parkway on the weekends
Well, you can but it’s going to be B U S Y. The whole thing won’t be bumper to bumper (Tina Belcher, anyone?) but certain parts will be, especially around Boone and Asheville.
Part of the Parkway by Boone took us 2.5 hours to drive like, eight miles on a Saturday morning. The Linville Falls area is another section that is super busy.
I would say the Boone to Great Smoky Mountains was the busiest part of the whole thing but I also think that area is just the most popular to visit. But for good reason. I think that section and the beginning to Roanoke are the best parts.
If you do, leave super early in the morning or in the evening
For reals. On the Blue Ridge in fall, you need to leave at the crack of dawn, pick the trail you want to do and go there first thing. Then try and fit in whatever else you can after that.
You’ll want to plan more time for driving on the weekends, for sure. If you don’t want to get up super early, you could also go in the afternoon or evening.
I would say like, 9-3 is probably the busiest time. This also makes parking a lot harder to find and means you may not be able to do some hikes or stops unless you come back later.
The Linn Cove Viaduct was a good example of this. It was PACKED. Late afternoon is a good alternative if you don’t want to get up at ungodly hours.
Don’t park where it says no parking
Just don’t. They say no parking for a reason and that is probably safety or to protect the environment right there. But it’s most likely safety because the Blue Ridge Parkway in fall is so busy.
Also, don’t just park on or walk across bridges that look cool. They’re usually narrow and the road is pretty twisty so it can be hard to see people walking and I don’t want any of you to get run over or to run someone over.
Don’t try and drive too much of the Blue Ridge Parkway in one day
When I was planning, I had no concept of how much is too much driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway in one day. I think how much you drive in a day can depend on which part you’re doing.
I would plan to do the whole thing in 4-5 days. There are some sections I would spend more time in than others because some have more scenery and hiking than others.
Each of these sections should take 2-3 hours if you’re just driving but can take way more if you stop a lot. I would break down the drive like this (and maybe combine Roanoke to Blowing Rock):
- Shenandoah to Roanoke (tons of views and roadside hikes)
- Roanoke to Fancy Gap (part of this is closed as of May 2021)
- Fancy Gap to Blowing Rock (this drive is farmy, spend a few days in Blowing Rock if you have time)
- Blowing Rock to Asheville (spend a few days here too if you can to explore Pisgah National Forest)
- Asheville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (then spend some time here too)
There are a lot more hikes and stops in the part between Shenandoah and Roanoke than I thought
I loved this beginning section! It was so pretty and lush and gorgeous. The woods here are so much more dense than the area near Asheville but they’re both amazing in their own ways.
I would just make sure to plan a little more time up here than you think you need. Add a little time in this section and take more out of the Fancy Gap to Blowing Rock part.
The section between Fancy Gap and Boone (Blowing Rock) is pretty farm-y
I didn’t like this section that much. It’s not bad but the scenery just isn’t as good as the other sections. There aren’t really hiking opportunities here, just lots of farms.
It’s fine but I’d prioritize time in other areas. We did this section so fast, we didn’t even know what to do with our extra time.
If you miss a stop, don’t worry. There’s another one nearby
Like, ten more, actually. There are about 200 overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway which means there is an overlook every 2.3ish miles. And if the next one isn’t as good, you can always just turn around for the really great one.
If it’s foggy it can be pretty sketchy driving the Blue Ridge Parkway
Like, so sketchy. This fog was D E N S E. Sometimes it was harder to see than others but I would use a lot of caution if you’re driving this on a rainy day.
If you’re not comfortable driving in fog, I would highly advise stopping to let it pass or detouring the section you’re on.
And I would absolutely advise against driving this with fog at night. That would be terrifying.
It was scary enough while it was light out, dark would be so much worse. So definitely be prepared for heavy fog if you’re driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in fall.
The best parts are Shenandoah to Roanoke and Boone to Great Smoky Mountains
I’ve already mentioned this but I would plan a lot more time for these sections. I would also try to spend a few days each in Boone or Blowing Rock and Asheville.
That way you can hike and enjoy the Blue Ridge mountains in fall in places like Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, or Chimney Rock State Parks.
There are tons of great things to do near Blowing Rock and there are soooooo many amazing waterfalls in this area. And Asheville is just amazing. And the food is all so good. I just love it!
You can pull over pretty much anywhere unless there are signs saying you can’t
Which is really awesome! This means you can stop for that really great view that didn’t get a pullout for some reason.
Or for a picture of that cute little waterfall on the side of the road or those really great plants!
If you do pull over just on the side of the road, not in a pullout, just make sure not to mow down any plants or bushes. And actually pull off the road, not just the side of the road but still on it.
And don’t just stop in the middle of the road to take a picture. PULL OVER. I don’t know if we saw this on the parkway at all, but people do this in Utah allllllll the time and it’s not safe. At all. I’ve seen people stop in the road with a pullout 30 feet ahead of them. JUST PULL OVER.
The weather can change quickly and it can be cold in the morning and hot in the afternoon so you’ll want to bring layers, especially if you’re planning on doing any hiking along the way. The Blue Ridge Parkway in October is amazing but the weather is all over the place.
Peak foliage on the Blue Ridge Parkway depends on where you’re going
There is no exact time to see peak colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway but it will also depend on where you are.
The peak foliage in Virginia will be earlier in October than North Carolina which is usually at peak in the second or third week of October.
This is a big reason I would recommend driving the Blue Ridge Parkway in fall from Virginia to Tennessee and not the other way around.
If you’re visiting in another season it won’t matter as much. Higher elevations change earlier than lower elevations.
Notable stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Hebron Falls
- Looking Glass Falls
- Linn Cove Viaduct
- Crabtree Falls
- Grassy Creek Falls
- Natural Bridge
- Roanoke River Trail
- Roaring Fork Falls
- Rough Ridge
- Log Hollow Falls
- Cumberland Knob
- Cove Creek Falls
- Looking Glass Rock
- Daniel Ridge Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway FAQ
How long does it take to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway? It could be done in 2-3 but I think 4-5 is better.
How long is the Blue Ridge Parkway? 469 miles from start to finish!
When should I visit Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall? I would start in Virginia and end in Tennessee probably in the second week of October. Or maybe the third week. The first would be too early I think, especially for the south end of the drive.
Where does the Blue Ridge Parkway start and end? It starts at the end of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park and ends at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.
Can you see the Blue Ridge Parkway on a day trip? Not the whole thing but you can do parts of it as day trips, especially around Asheville, Boone, and Blowing Rock.
Is the Blue Ridge Parkway crowded in October? Absolutely, especially on weekends. Weekdays are much better.
Can you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway? Of course! It’s the best and really only way to see it.
What is the best time of year to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway? I would say fall or summer. Spring would probably be ok but I’m not sure how weather would be. And winter can be hit or miss. If it snows, the road will probably close as it’s not usually plowed.
Is there a fee to drive Blue Ridge Parkway? Nope! There is for Shenandoah but not the actual Blue Ridge Parkway.
Is the Blue Ridge Parkway safe to drive? Yup! As long as you take your normal driving precautions. Though you should know it can get very foggy on the Blue Ridge Parkway which can make driving much less safe.
What is the best part of the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive? Personally, I think Blowing Rock to Great Smoky Mountains National Park but I also loved Shenandoah to Roanoke.
Blue Ridge Parkway visitor centers
There are quite a few visitor centers on the Blue Ridge Parkway both in Virginia and North Carolina. Opening hours will vary.
- Humpback Rocks Visitor Center – Milepost 5.8
- James River Visitor Center – Milepost 63.6
- Peaks of Otter Visitor Center – Milepost 85.9
- Doughton Park Visitor Center – Milepost 241.1
- Moses Cone Manor House and Visitor Center – Milepost 294
- Linn Cove Visitor Center – Milepost 304.4
- Linville Falls Visitor Center – Milepost 316.4
- Craggy Gardens Visitor Center – Milepost 364.5
- Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center – Milepost 384.5
- Waterrock Knob Visitor Center – Milepost 451.2
There are some other parks and museums along the way, too, and those are listed here. Opening hours will vary.
- Explore Park – Milepost 115
- Rocky Knob Contact Center (open weekends) – Milepost 169
- Blue Ridge Music Center – Milepost 213
- Museum of North Carolina Minerals – Milepost 331
- Folk Art Center – Milepost 382
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Have you driven the Blue Ridge Parkway? Did you do the whole thing or just part? What are your favorite things to do along the way?