5 Great Parks Along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Often touted as one of the greatest drives in America, the Blue Ridge Parkway majestically winds through 469 miles of some of the most stunning landscapes throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway, which offers pristine and unforgettable views of both spectacular mountains and sprawling pastures, took 52 years to complete and spans through 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina. It is a magnificent greenway, with over 200 overlooks and 26 tunnels, that connects two of the most popular national parks in the country, the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
With a plethora of hiking trails, scenic waterfalls, flowing streams, caverns and so much more, this incredible journey offers plenty of “natural” fun for all ages and ability levels. Listed here are 5 great parks for outdoor family fun along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
1. Grandfather Mountain – Mile Post 305
Upon entrance into the park you’ll be given an informational brochure as well as an interpretive CD that narrates your drive to the top and highlights the history of the area and mountain. Once there, you will find plenty of activities, including incredibly spectacular views, plenty of open areas to run around, two gigantic, millions-of-years-old viewing rocks called the Sphinx and Split. You can also walk across the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, which can be accessed from an elevator should the walk up be too difficult. Grandfather Mountain park also offers amenities like a museum, picnic areas, two gift shops, a restaurant, and a fudge shop.
The park’s 11 trails vary in difficulty from a gentle walk in the woods to a rigorous trek across rugged peaks. Grandfather Mountain park also has a number of paths that allow guests to get out in the woods, without a long and strenuous commitment, making this a perfect adventure for the entire family. Prices are $20 for those age 13-59, $18 for those 60+, $9 for children 4-12 and free for kids under 4.
2. Linville Falls – Mile Post 316.4
This location offers gorgeous waterfalls, hiking trails, and spectacular views of the falls and Linville Gorge. The moderate Erwin’s View walk is a mostly flat trail (not rocky) with a small but constant uphill climb. However, to reach the overlooks you may need to climb stairs or walk over rocks and roots. Though slightly strenuous (although relatively easy for most kids, adults and older folks too), this trail will provide some of the most spectacular views and amazing waterfalls. In addition to all of this natural outdoor adventure, Linville Falls is also an excellent location to enjoy a family picnic. The price is FREE, compliments of Mother Nature.
3. Mount Mitchell State Park – Mile Post 355
Comprised of almost 2,000 acres, this state park boasts the highest point east of the Mississippi: the summit of Mount Mitchell at elevation of 6,684 feet. Making it to the top of this mighty peak, via a not-too-strenuous paved path, will provide some breathtaking 360° views of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. You can also catch a glimpse of Tennessee (on clear days) and the grave site of Elisha Mitchell, the great scholar who spent over 30 years dedicated to gathering evidence to scientifically prove the elevation of the mountain.
In addition to the incredible scenery, you will also find multiple hiking paths for varying skill levels, restrooms, picnic areas, a concession stand, a gift shop and a small museum. Price is FREE, compliments of Mother Nature.
4. Chimney Rock – Mile Post 385
Chimney Rock is a very family-friendly option that offers the best of the mountains all in one place with spectacular 75-mile views, hiking trails for all ages, a 404-foot waterfall and more. Visitors can climb up almost 500 stairs to the top of Chimney Rock. At the top you will not only find incredible views of Lake Lure and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains but also an American flag proudly flapping in the wind, an ice cream shop and a small gift shop, too.
Enjoying the waterfall requires a leisurely 0.75-mile hike down the Hickory Nut Falls trail that’s lined with hardwood trees and abundant plant life, including rare and endangered wild flowers. The park also offers three additional hiking trails of various levels and the infamous Gneiss Cave, a 70-foot cave rumored to have once been used for moonshine production. Chimney Rock is a perfect fit for everyone from the young to the young-at-heart.
Prices are $13 for adults, $6 for children aged 5 to 15, and kids 4 and under are free. (Note: At time of writing Chimney Rock is offering reduced prices because the elevator is out of service.)
5. Sliding Rock – Mile Post 411.8
Sliding Rock is North Carolina’s most popular natural water slide and located within the Pisgah National Forest. The 60-foot natural waterfall rock slide offers the perfect slope for all ages, although those under age 7 must slide with a grown-up. The slide empties its riders into an 8-foot plunge pool at its base. This natural water slide is fueled by 11,000 gallons of water flowing down the rock each minute, creating an exhilarating, one-of-a-kind thrill. There are also several observation areas to watch the sliders for those who don’t want to get wet.
Life jackets are permitted, and the area does have restrooms available when the park is open. Prices are $2 per person and free for those 4 and under. The park is open from 9 am to 6 pm daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend and is staffed only on weekends through mid-October.
If you know of any other great places for outdoor family-friendly adventure that we should add to our Blue Ridge Parkway drive guide, let us know. We’d love to hear about them!
You may also enjoy:
- Best Zip Line in the Blue Ridge Mountains
- Spelunking in Worley’s Cave in Tennessee
- Family Adventure White Water Rafting in Tennessee
- Visiting the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, NC
- Consider Hilton Asheville Biltmore Park for comfy place to call home after all of your adventures along the Blue Ridge Parkway
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Belonging to the rare breed known as native Floridian, Mary Ellen is a wife, mother and freelance writer, currently living in Sarasota, on Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast….