The 20 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes for NC Day Trips

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The Blue Ridge Parkway road trip is truly an American classic.

It’s possible to traverse the entire 469-mile route on rubber alone, stopping at some of the 200+ overlooks for those famously breathtaking mountain views, without ever breaking a sweat.

The list of the area’s natural attractions is so extensive, your Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary could easily last for several weeks.

And while it might be possible never to venture far from the car, it’s much more fun to grab a daypack and go on a plethora of outdoor adventures along the route.

Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains allows us to immerse ourselves in one of the most beautiful regions in the US, replete with sprawling vistas, cascading waterfalls, and colorful flora.

For travelers visiting North Carolina (or residents looking to get out and about), there are an array of fantastic Blue Ridge Parkway hikes available, from the southernmost reaches of the state to the northern border with Virginia.

Here’s a look at our picks for the 20 best hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hotels & Cabin Rentals in NC

Best Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes in NC Guide

  1. Oconaluftee River Trail (Mile Marker 462.9) 
  2. Richland Balsam Trail (Mile Marker 431)
  3. Devil’s Courthouse (Milepost 422.4)
  4. Graveyard Fields Loop (Milepost 418.8)
  5. Fryingpan Mountain Tower Trail (Mile Marker 409.6)
  6. Mt. Pisgah Trail  (Milepost 407.6)
  7. Craggy Pinnacle Trail  (Milepost 364.2)
  8. Crabtree Falls Loop Trail (Milepost 339.5)
  9. Erwins View Trail (Milepost 316.4)
  10. Linville Falls Trail (Mile Marker 316)
  11. Flat Rock Trail (Mile Marker 308.3)
  12. Tanawha Trail (Milepost 305.5)
  13. Price Lake Loop Trail (Milepost 297)
  14. Boone Fork Trail (Milepost 296.4)
  15. Green Knob Trail (Milepost 295.9)
  16. Bass Lake Loop via Cone Manor House (Milepost 294)
  17. Flat Top Road (Milepost 294)
  18. Cascades Trail (Milepost 271.9)
  19. Bluff Mountain Trail   (Milepost 244.7)
  20. Gully Creek Trail Loop (Milepost 217.5)

READ MORE: 20 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Overlooks in NC & VA

Oconaluftee Visitor Center and River Trail in Cherokee NC
Oconaluftee Visitor Center & River Trail, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

1. Oconaluftee River Trail (Mile Marker 462.9) 

Located around 6 miles from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the current Oconaluftee Visitor Center was built in 2011. It replaced the original building, which was built in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a ranger station.

Today the Visitor Center is a great place to learn more about the history of the national park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, serving as a gateway to both.  

It’s also home to the Mountain Farm Museum and its collection of historic log buildings from various places around the park. Collectively they depict a typical Appalachian farm, with gardens planted every spring and summer. 

After strolling through the living history museum, it’s worth hiking the Oconaluftee River Trail, an easy 3-mile round-trip trek (with a mere 70 feet of elevation gain) along the tranquil river. This is where the Cherokee village of Oconaluftee was once located, and it’s common to see members of the area’s growing Elk herd here today. 

The trail winds 1.5 miles through the forest by the riverside, with more than 40 species of NC wildflowers along the route in spring and gorgeous fall colors in autumn, before turning around at the national park boundary.

READ MORE: The Appalachian Culture & History of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Richard Balsam Overlook
Richard Balsam Overlook, photo via Canva

2. Richland Balsam Trail (Milepost 431)

The Richland Balsam Overlook (MP 431.4) is the highest spot on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, sitting at over 6,000 feet of elevation.

But the actual summit of the mountain is another 400 feet up, and is best accessed via another stop– the Haywood-Jackson Overlook– at BRP Milepost 431.

The Richland Balsam Trail loops in at just under 1.5 miles round-trip, taking hikers through the unique spruce-fir forests characteristic of such altitudes in the North Carolina Mountains.

Much of the Richland Balsam trail is paved, with a small unpaved loop at the end of it creating a sort of lollipop shape. There are two especially noteworthy viewpoints along the way. 

This is a unique spot on the Parkway, and it warrants a stop for that alone. But this BRP hiking trail also breathtakingly beautiful and full of fresh forest aromas.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Western NC Small Towns To Visit (and Live In!)

Devil's Courthouse Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Devil’s Courthouse, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

3. Devil’s Courthouse Trail (Milepost 422.4)

Though it’s not a long trail, the Devil’s Courthouse Trail is considered one of the best hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina because it features one of the area’s best views.

The trail is only about a half-mile to the summit, half of which is paved. Nevertheless, it is considered moderately difficult due to the elevation gain.

The summit is 5,720 feet, and there are observation platforms along the way with informative viewing plaques that explain the landscape on the horizon.

The rocky cliffs below are home to delicate habitat, and even include nests of Peregrine Falcons (the fastest animals on the planet).

The Devil’s Courthouse also features prominently in folklore of the region, particularly within the Cherokee culture.

READ MORE:The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Best Pisgah Trails - Graveyard Fields
Graveyard Fields Sign

4. Graveyard Fields Loop (Milepost 418.8)

Spooky as it may sound, Graveyard Fields is anything but.

The name actually comes from the early 1900s, when wind-blown trees left a lot of stumps across the landscape, which were said to resemble tombstones.

A large wildfire in 1925 laid waste to the stumps. What remains today is a beautiful collection of wild blueberries, waterfalls, and wilderness that make this a killer Blue Ridge trail.

The Graveyard Fields Loop is a little over three miles long, veering between 4960 feet and 5320 feet above sea level. It features several natural pools fed by waterfalls (which are great for swimming), as well as well-maintained trails.

Word to the wise: This trail can get extremely busy on weekends, and even weekdays in peak season. So go early if you want to beat the crowds.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls in North Carolina

View of Mount Pisgah and Frying Pan Mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway
View of Mount Pisgah and Frying Pan Mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway, photo via Canva

5. Fryingpan Mountain Tower Trail (Milepost 409.6)

Most people opt to make the trek to the top of the famous Mt. Pisgah.

But others like to take the hiking trail that gives them a stellar view of Mt. Pisgah’s summit, as well as Looking Glass Rock and Cold Mountain.

The Fryingpan Mountain Tower Trail, which named after a communal frying pan that was once hung in a tree there, has a 70-foot-tall historical fire tower at its summit. From there, the scenic vistas are truly phenomenal.

The trail itself is totally doable: It’s just 1.5 miles round-trip, and only climbs about 350 feet from the trailhead at BRP Milepost 409.6.

This is also a great spot for taking in a morning sunrise over the Pisgah National Forest.

READ MORE: The Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest (Near Brevard NC)

View Behind Pisgah Inn in Peak Fall Colors
View behind Pisgah Inn, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

6. Mt. Pisgah Trail (Milepost 407.6)

When you’re admiring the rugged landscape that lies south of Asheville NC, few (if any) features are so recognizable as Mt. Pisgah.

Mt. Pisgah is the namesake of Pisgah National Forest. For that reason alone, it deserves the respect of any Blue Ridge Parkway hikers who want to summit it.

Luckily, the hike to the top of Mt. Pisgah from the BRP is barely over 1.5 miles (3 miles roundtrip), about half of which isn’t all that strenuous.

The Mt. Pisgah Trail starts from the Mount Pisgah Picnic Area and leads hikers to the 5,721-foot summit. There are also a few other great hiking trails emanating from the same spot.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Pisgah National Forest Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Craggy Pinnacle Trail
Craggy Pinnacle Trail, photo by BlueRidgeKitties via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

7. Craggy Pinnacle Trail (Milepost 364.2)

When you’re traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway, it becomes something of a cliché to claim a destination offers one of the best views. But it’s impossible not to do so here.

The Craggy Pinnacle Trail is definitely in the running for the best Blue Ridge viewpoints, so naturally it has to feature among the best hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Stretching less than a mile long, the Craggy Pinnacle Trail climbs from the Craggy Dome Overlook up to the summit of a mountain, yielding a powerful 360º panorama of the world below.

Along the way, the flora is a flowery mix of wildflowers such as rhododendron, blueberries, and mountain laurel.

READ MORE: Exploring Craggy Gardens, NC (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 344.1)

How to Get to Crabtree Falls - Sisters at Crabtree Falls
Photo by Emma Gallagher

8. Crabtree Falls Loop Trail (MM 339.5)

If you love hiking to waterfalls, Crabtree Falls (near Little Switzerland NC) is an ideal place for a day-hike and picnic.

At just under 4 miles, the totally doable loop trail spins by a 70-foot waterfall, then winds its way up for an overview.

At the base you’ll find lots of rocks perfect for sitting, relaxing and appreciating the stunning falls.

The in-and-out trip to the falls is a quicker version of this, with slightly less incline. But the loop’s topside follows along streams and small tributaries, with lovely bridges to cross them.

The descent to, and ascent from, the base of the falls give this Blue Ridge Parkway hike a strenuous rating. But the Crabtree Falls Loop Trail trail is smooth and easy for the most part.

READ MORE:  How to Get to Crabtree Falls Near Little Switzerland NC

Linville Falls in Linville Gorge Wilderness
Upper Linville Falls photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

9. Erwins View Trail (Milepost 316.4)

While there are two main trails to Linville Falls, the Erwins View Trail takes the gold because it provides access to some very different perspectives, including the twin Upper Falls, Chimney View, and Erwin’s View.

Plus, the journey takes you through an incredible old growth hemlock and white pine forest.

Under 2 miles in and out, the trail includes a bridge across the river, an amazing viewing platform at Upper Falls, as well as plenty of benches for resting along the way.

The viewpoints are accessed by short side trails, which do technically make the adventure a little longer. But trust us, they are totally worth the effort!

READ MORE: Things to Do at the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area (Near Linville Falls NC)

Upper Linville Falls
Lower Linville Falls, photo via Canva

10. Linville Falls Trail (Milepost 316)

If waterfalls and hiking are your ideal combination for a fun afternoon, then Linville Falls has simply got to be on your Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary.

The trail to Linville Falls, which has a viewing area that seems to float between the upper falls and lower falls, is relatively flat and short.

It includes rock formations that are millions of years old, a bridge over the Elk River, and views from the base of upper Linville Falls and down into lower Linville Falls.

For those seeking more hiking distance, there are some great additions to this main hike that provide loftier views of the lower falls, as well as a Linville Gorge hike to take you down to the base of the lower falls.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Western North Carolina Waterfalls for Hiking

Blue Ridge Parkway - Day Hikes
Flat Rock Trail, photo by pmuellr is licensed under CC BY 2.0

11. Flat Rock Trail (Milepost 308.3)

Not far from the Linville Falls area, the Flat Rock Trail is also worth a quick stop.

The trailhead starts at the Flat Rock Overlook, which has a large parking area, and makes a little 3/4-mile loop.

Though it can get a bit root-riddled and rocky at times, this trail has a mild ascent and even easier descent, so it is agreeable for most hikers.

The Flat Rock Trail offers pretty flowering trees along the way, such as the Catawba rhododendron, and there are notable views of Grandfather Mountain and the Roan Highlands at the summit.

This trail is about 3 miles from a similar one at Beacon Heights, which make for a couple of nice, speedy walks while cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway.

READ MORE: 15 Highlights of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Western North Carolina

Rough Ridge Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC
Rough Ridge, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

12. Tanawha Trail (Milepost 305.5)

For those seeking a hiking trail that will fill the day with amazing vistas, ancient geology, and thickets of understory trees, the Tanawha (Cherokee for “fabulous hawk/eagle”) Trail is a great choice.

At over 13 miles, this trail is not a “quickie,” by any means. And there are some strenuous sections (near the Linn Cove Viaduct and along Rough Ridge) to the otherwise easy-to-moderate route.

But the effort pays dividends with sweeping views of the North Carolina Piedmont, lookouts to surrounding mountain peaks (Grandmother, Hawksbill, Table, etc.), and a phenomenal view of the Linn Cove Viaduct from Rough Ridge.

Hiking the Tanawha Trail requires some advance planning, as it goes from Price Lake to Beacon Heights. In other words, having two cars would be helpful.

READ MORE: Fall in North Carolina: The Best Places to See Fall Colors in Western NC

Lake Price in Julian Price Memorial Park, North Carolina
Lake Price in Julian Price Memorial Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

13. Price Lake Loop Trail (Milepost 297)

Price Lake is one of a few stunning mountain lakes located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

It’s located in Julian Price Memorial Park and has lots of noteworthy hiking trails stemming from it, but the Price Lake Loop is the easiest of them all.

Clocking in at just over 2 miles, this picturesque trail circles the lake, keeping the water in view throughout the trek.

Price Lake is surrounded by lush foliage, especially rhododendron, and the trail remains flat as it rings it (though the path does get especially muddy after rains).

This trail is a great leg-stretcher after driving the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while. It’s shady, and not so strenuous as to make hikers sweaty when they get back in the car.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in the North Carolina Mountains to Visit

Hebron Falls
Hebron Falls on the Boone Fork Trail, photo by Dawson Tozier

14. Boone Fork Trail (Milepost 296.4)

The Boone Fork Trail also starts off at the lovely Julian Price Park, with its quintessential mountain lake.

It’s great for those hardy hikers who are up for a little more time and effort on the trail.

The full loop is nearly 5 miles, with several stream crossings and steep stairs along the way. But the wonderful payoff when it arrives at Hebron Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls near Boone, makes it worth the effort.

Experienced hikers advise taking the loop in a clockwise direction, so that the end of the trail rewards you with the falls and rapids.

They also advise getting there early, because this is a very popular Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trail and often becomes crowded around mid-morning.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Boone NC (BRP MP 291.8)

Green Knob Trail
Green Knob Trail under the BRP, photo by Dawson Tozier

15. Green Knob Trail (Milepost 295.9)

Another part of the Julian Price Park trail system, Green Knob Trail warrants exploration as well. It offers an easier option for those who are not up for tackling the Boone Fork Trail.

The trail is accessed via the US-321 Blue Ridge Parkway entrance, which is located between Boone and Blowing Rock.

The Green Knob Trail features lovely pathways along Sims Creek, beginning with a bridge across Sims Pond.

In addition to that centerpiece, the Green Knob Trail is surrounded by hardwood forests and provides views of the regionally renowned Grandfather Mountain.

Additionally, the trail encompasses beautiful cascades, wildflower fields, and a wonderful bottoms-up view of the Sims Creek Viaduct.

READ MORE: The Top 20 Blue Ridge Mountain Towns in NC & GA

Flat Top Estate in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, Boone NC
Flat Top Estate in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, Boone NC via CC 1.0

16. Bass Lake Loop via the Cone Manor House (Milepost 294)

Moses Cone Memorial Park is a recreational area and historical site along the Blue Ridge Parkway, not far from Boone NC. The trails there are open to horseback riders and even carriages, but they’re great for hiking, too.

There are several ways to make a loop hike from the Cone Manor House to Bass Lake, so the following suggestion can be modified.

But it’s a nice 5-mile jaunt (the shortest possible) that takes about three hours and includes a relaxing stroll around a beautiful mountain lake.

The Bass Lake Loop is a 1-mile trail around the lake, but it’s getting there that adds most of the distance to this hike. Simply take Duncan Road down from the manor, circle Bass Lake, and take Deer Park Road back up.

We suggest carrying a picnic down, which makes for a memorable lunch stop!

READ MORE: Things to Do at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park Near Blowing Rock NC

Flat Top Road in Moses Cone Memorial Park
Flat Top Road in Moses Cone Memorial Park

17. Flat Top Road (Milepost 294)

Another trail stemming from Moses Cone Memorial Park, Flat Top Road rewards hikers with a soul-stirring panoramic view from an historic lookout tower.

This is a great hike when you’re out more for a lengthy stroll with friends, family, and significant others. Though the trip is about five miles, it is fairly flat, and the pathway is wide enough to walk side-by-side.

The trail starts near Cone Manor House, behind the restrooms and Carriage House. It tunnels beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway and summits Flat Top Mountain (4,558 feet).

During the summer, the wildflowers in the meadow along the route are stunning and add yet another special something to the already lovely walk.

READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Banner Elk NC

Cascades Trail
Cascades Waterfall, Photo by Dawson Tozier

18. Cascades Trail (Milepost 271.9)

When tackled in conjunction with the Tompkins Knob Trail, this trail can provide Blue Ridge hikers with a solid afternoon of trekking.

The Cascades Trail is a short loop, requiring only about 30 minutes in total. But as its name would seem to indicate, it has an interesting waterfall that slides down a rock face.

Adding the Tompkins Knob Trail makes this hike substantial enough to warrant a Blue Ridge Parkway day trip. It tacks on an additional 1.2 miles of hiking, which includes visiting an historic log springhouse.

Start at the Tompkins Knob Trail (BRP Milepost 272.5), walk through the Cascades Picnic Area, take the Cascades loop, then backtrack to the Tompkins Knob trailhead.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Boone NC Hiking Trails to Explore

Blue Ridge Parkway Trails - Brinegar Cabin at Doughton Park
Brinegar Cabin at Doughton Park, photo by twbuckner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

19. Bluff Mountain Trail (Milepost 244.7)

Doughton Park is the largest recreation area along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. The park is home to two 19th century cabins, 30 miles of trails, and two campgrounds.

It’s a great spot to stop for a picnic, offers gorgeous views overlooking the North Carolina Piedmont, and puts on some amazing flower displays in spring.

For nearly 8 miles, its ridge-top walking route– the Bluff Mountain Trail– leads hikers through dense forests, emerging at the park’s premiere scenic overlooks.

Though long, the Bluff Mountain Trail is fairly flat and hugs tightly to the parkway, yet somehow feels remote.

Families or friends traveling in two cars may want to park one at the far end of the trail in order to save the hike back.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Treehouse Rentals in the North Carolina Mountains

20. Gully Creek Trail Loop (Milepost 217.5)

Hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway often involve a mountain stream, a thicket of rhododendron, and a series of stunning waterfalls.

The Gully Creek Trail Loop in Cumberland Knob thoroughly meets that standard. And it’s interesting to note that Cumberland Knob was the site of the first recreational development on the BRP, way back in 1937.

The looping trail is a modest 2 miles long, but is nonetheless classified as strenuous. It has a small waterfall, several cascades, two bridges, and a lot of vegetation to enjoy along the way.

At this point, our Blue Ridge Parkway road trip is about to enter Virginia’s Blue Ridge region.

So this is either your last chance to see the glory that is Western North Carolina, or a welcome to its majesty, if you’re heading south along the parkway into NC.  –Jonathon Engels, lead photo via Canva

 

After visiting the Western North Carolina for the first time, Jonathon Engels and his wife Emma spent two years looking for a few acres of property there to establish a permaculture homestead. During that search, he explored the Blue Ridge Parkway, surrounding towns, and parks. He has taught at both Blue Ridge Community College and Surry Community College, is a member of a long-established land conservation community near the town of Dobson, volunteers at the Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention, and continues to explore the Blue Ridge, a place he now lovingly calls home.