The BEST Blue Ridge Parkway hikes near Asheville, NC: 19 epic trails

Hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway allows you to get epic views of Linville Gorge.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most iconic scenic drives. It winds 479 miles along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Along the way it passes waterfalls, the highest peaks in the East, and the most biodiverse areas in the U.S. You can take in the views from your car — but the best way to explore the region is on a few Blue Ridge Parkway hikes.

Asheville, NC makes the perfect base for exploring the Parkway. You can get to the best hikes within an hour. And when you return to town in the evening, you can check out the top foodie and brewery scene in Appalachia.

As an Asheville local, I go hiking on the Blue Ridge Parkway nearly every weekend. I know these trails like the back of my hand. In this post, I’ll help you narrow down which trails to visit.

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The best Blue Ridge Parkway hikes east of Asheville

The Parkway east of Asheville climbs steeply through the Craggy and Black Mountains before dropping alongside Linville Gorge. This area is home to the highest peaks in the East and some of the most fun trails in WNC. Most trails are well-developed and family-friendly, but a few are quite difficult.

1. Mount Mitchell, Mount Craig and the Black Mountain Crest

The Black Mountain Crest trail to Mount Craig
One of the best hiking trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway is the Black Mountain Crest.

Mount Mitchell is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. At nearly 6,700 feet, its summit is enveloped in high-elevation pine forest and often covered in fog. From the observation tower you can see the entire rim of Linville Gorge to the north all the way to the Great Balsam Mountains to the south.

You have a few different options for hiking Mount Mitchell from the Parkway. If all you want to do is see the summit, park in the large parking area and take the paved pathway to the top. It’s only a few hundred feet.

A popular option for families is the Balsam Nature Trail. It’s less than a mile and mostly flat. You won’t catch many views, but you’ll get to stroll through the most beautiful forest you’ve ever seen. In July and August the wild mushrooms are incredible.

If you’re feeling adventurous, the best hike in the area is the Black Mountain Crest trail. This is one of the most challenging hikes in North Carolina. But you don’t have to go very far to get the best views.

Starting from the parking area, head down to the picnic area and follow signs for Deep Gap. You’ll immediately drop down into a gap (not Deep Gap) with 180-degree views. From here, it’s a half-mile climb to the summit of Mount Craig — which has the best views in the entire region. Some light rock scrambling is required along this route. Return the way you came.

Experienced hikers could continue to climb some of the other 6k+ peaks (there are 8 in total). The trail beyond Mount Craig gets technical — you’ll use rope-assists in a few spots. Keep in mind that if you hike into Deep Gap, the climb back out is brutal. I did a 16-mile out-and-back all the way to Celo Knob, and it was incredible, but it took every minute of daylight in October and I ran 5 miles of it.

Hike details:

  • Length: Anywhere from a few hundred feet to 15+ miles
  • Elevation Gain: From the parking area to the summit is 91 feet. To Mount Craig and back is about 1,000 feet. My 16-miler was 4,000 feet.
  • Difficulty: Easy if you just go to the summit. The Black Mountain Crest trail is extremely difficult.
  • Driving time from Asheville: 45 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: Mount Mitchell is one of the first areas of the Parkway to close and last to open. It can be in the single-digits, with ice all over the trails, between September and May. It has snowed in July at the summit and it rarely gets above 70 degrees.

2. Green Knob Fire Tower

Green Knob Overlook, the start of one of the best Blue Ridge Parkway hikes near Asheville.
Just chillin’ at Green Knob Overlook.

Want panoramic views of the Black Mountains without the crowds at Mount Mitchell? Try hiking to Green Knob Fire Tower!

This hike begins from Green Knob Overlook, about an hour east of Asheville. You’ll need to road-walk about a tenth of a mile (take a right when leaving the overlook) to find the trailhead. It’s marked with a post in the ground.

The trail climbs 0.3 miles through the pine forest to the fire tower. It’s steep in sections, but well-maintained.

You won’t always be able to go into the fire tower — it’s often closed. But you can get great views of Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountain ridge from the stairs. Return the way you came.

For a longer hike, continue to Black Mountain Campground, 2.5 miles away. Or, go back to Green Knob Overlook and descend along the Snook’s Nose Trail to the namesake lookout. Due to the ridiculous number of rattlesnakes at Snook’s Nose, I’d only recommend hiking it in winter. It’s a very difficult trail.

When driving here, note that there are two Green Knobs in WNC. Check to make sure your GPS is directing you to Burnsville, not Waynesville/Canton.

Hike details:

  • Length: 0.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Driving time from Asheville: One hour
  • Seasonal considerations: When the Parkway closes, you can reach Green Knob Fire Tower on a long hike from Old Fort or Burnsville.

3. Lane Pinnacle

Views of the Parkway and Black Mountain, NC from Lane Pinnacle
Lane Pinnacle is a local favorite trail, but it’s often foggy.

Lane Pinnacle is one of the local favorite Blue Ridge Parkway hiking trails. It has a waterfall, great views of the Craggy Mountains, and some fun ladders to climb.

You can start this hike from a couple places. The most popular is the dirt parking area on the left side of the road about a mile before Craggy Gardens Picnic Area. But if you have a low-clearance car or that lot is full, you’ll find better parking at the Snowball trailhead. Turn into Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, drive up the first little hill and park on the grass where the Mountains to Sea Trail crosses the road. Parking here adds a mostly-flat mile to the hike.

Regardless of where you start, you’ll be on the white-blazed, well-marked Mountains to Sea Trail the whole time. From the gravel parking area the trail climbs steeply for about two miles to the summit. You’ll encounter wooden ladders and dodgy, steep steps along the way. Keep an eye out on your left for glimpses of a distant waterfall.

At the top of the climb you’ll reach some large boulders, which you can scramble out on for panoramic views. This is one of the best spots to get an iconic photo of the Parkway cutting through the mountains below you. Return the way you came.

For a longer hike, continue as far as you like on the Mountains to Sea Trail. At the 5-mile mark you’ll reach Rattlesnake Lodge. You could also return to the Snowball trailhead and take that trail 2 miles to the Hawksbill Summit (it’s a tough climb).

Hike details:

  • Length: 4.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate-difficult
  • Driving time from Asheville: 30 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: Fog is common. Your best shot of clear views is after noon. In winter, reach the pinnacle on the 12-mile hike from Rattlesnake Lodge.

4. Douglas Falls

Douglas Falls, a pretty NC Blue Ridge Parkway hike.
Douglas Falls has a swimming hole where you can cool off before the long climb back to the road.

Douglas Falls is one of my favorite secret waterfalls near Asheville. This gorgeous cascade looks like it belongs in the jungles of Bali. The only ways to reach it are a difficult drive or a long hike, so it hardly sees any tourist traffic.

The hike begins from Craggy Gardens Picnic Area. Take the Mountains to Sea trail heading east (to the right). You’ll climb to the gazebo at the top of Craggy Gardens and descend the other side.

After about a mile, you’ll come to a poorly marked intersection with the Douglas Falls Trail. Take a left onto the overgrown, switchbacked path. You’ll descend another two miles, crossing the creek that feeds Douglas Falls a few times along the way. This trail can be very muddy and the thorns, nettles and poison ivy are bad — wear long pants and long sleeves.

You’ll finally reach the base of the falls, which you have a good chance of having to yourself even on peak summer weekends. The pool below the waterfall is a nice swimming spot. There’s a lovely campsite here. Return the way you came — it’s a steep climb back up to the Mountains to Sea.

You can also do this hike starting from Graybeard Mountain Overlook, on the opposite side of the Mountains to Sea. But it’s a less pretty section of trail involving a long stretch on logging roads. The only reason to do it this way is if you want to add miles to a Craggy Dome climb for the South Beyond 6,000. Casual visitors should not attempt Craggy Dome — it’s a tough bushwhack that left me with some nasty scars a year later.

Hike details:

  • Length: 6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate in terms of distance/elevation, but trail conditions make it difficult.
  • Driving time from Asheville: 30 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: The waterfall slows to a trickle in summer and autumn. The trail is overgrown, so in summer you’ll come out of it with some scratches. It’s inaccessible in winter.

5. Craggy Pinnacle

Sunset from Craggy Pinnacle Trail
Craggy Pinnacle Trail and Craggy Gardens Trail are both good sunset options.

Panoramic sunset views. Catawba rhododendrons all around. Craggy Pinnacle is one of the most beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway trails. In fact, it’s one of the best easy hikes near Asheville.

The hike begins from the Craggy Dome Overlook. It’s unlabeled, at milepost 364.1. The obvious trail begins from the upper level of the parking lot.

You’ll climb for about a mile through the rhodo trees, which bloom in late June, to a small stone lookout platform. Tempting as it may be, don’t climb out onto the rocks — it’s falcon nesting territory. There are also endangered plant species that hug the cliff faces in this area.

Craggy Pinnacle is a phenomenal sunset hike. Bring a headlamp and an extra layer — after dark, the temperature can drop 20 degrees in an hour or two. The parking lot is a great place for star-gazing if you want to stick around post-hike.

Hike details:

  • Length: 2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Driving time from Asheville: 45 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: This trail is inaccessible when the Parkway closes

6. Linville Falls

Linville Falls is the one easy hike in the Gorge.
Linville Falls from Erwin’s View, an easy 2-mile hike.

If there’s one place you can’t miss on your trip to Asheville, it’s Linville Gorge. This remote, rugged wilderness area is unlike anywhere else on the East Coast.

Linville Falls is the most accessible part of the Gorge. Park in the large parking area off the Blue Ridge Parkway. From here, you can do a short hike down to Plunge Basin for the best view of the cascade. Or, continue to Erwin’s View on the other side of the river. Short side trails lead to the Upper Falls and a few other viewpoints, from where you can see more of the Gorge. Visiting all the viewpoints involves a 2.5-mile hike.

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There are lots of options to extend a hike from Linville Falls — but they’re only viable for experienced hikers with good navigation skills. Linville is the most challenging wilderness area in NC and the trails on either side of the falls are the hardest in Linville. Locals have a saying that ‘a mile in the Gorge is two miles anywhere else.’

If you want to attempt an extended hike, download the Avenza map. AllTrails is more or less useless in the Gorge. None of the trails are marked, few are maintained, and drops/climbs of 2,000 feet in a mile are not uncommon. Expect to spend a good amount of time pulling yourself up near-vertical slopes on all fours, grasping branches where the theoretical “trail” is a two-inch-wide eroded line on the side of a cliff, sliding down on your butt through dog hobble, and crawling over and under blowdowns. The Linville Gorge Trail (west of the falls) is far easier than the laughably rugged informal trail-system-that-barely-qualifies-as-trails in the Northeast Quadrant.

Your other option would be to drive from the Parkway to one of the easier trails on the rim of the Gorge. On the west side, that would be Hawksbill, Table Rock or the Chimneys. All are accessible on Gingercake Road — a gravel road that low-clearance cars could attempt in dry weather. On the East side, Wiseman’s View, Babel Tower, Rock Jock and Pinnacle are good bets, but they’re only accessible on Old NC 105, otherwise known as the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Highway. Let me tell you, this is not a highway — it’s the worst dirt road in the Carolina Mountains. I’ve seen 4×4’s get stuck. (I’ve driven all 20 miles of it in a tiny low-clearance hybrid and did not die or kill my car, but I can’t recommend that.)

In short, be honest with yourself about whether you have the skills and the car to explore the Gorge. If you’re even slightly doubtful, stick with Linville Falls.

Hike details:

  • Length: 2.5 miles if you go to all the overlooks
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: When the Parkway closes, park in the dirt lot on the west side of the Gorge instead. You can still access the trails. If driving to the rim of the Gorge, Gingercake Road closes January-March, and you’d have to be truly insane to take Old NC 105 if there’s even a tiny possibility of ice.

7. Rough Ridge

Looking for an awesome sunrise hike, or a place to see the best of the fall foliage in WNC? Look no further than the Rough Ridge Trail. This is one of the best hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone.

This hike starts from Milepost 302.8 on the Parkway. It’s a quick, easy climb on a boardwalk to the first overlook. From here, you can continue to the summit, but it gets steeper and rockier.

You can extend a hike to Rough Ridge on the Tanawha Trail all the way to Linn Cove Viaduct, one of the most photographed spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is about 8 miles round-trip and fairly strenuous.

If Linville Gorge seems like a bit much for you, Rough Ridge is a phenomenal alternative. The scenery is similar and you’ll get the same views of Grandfather Mountain. But the trails are much safer.

Additionally, Rough Ridge is a good pit stop on the way to or from Grandfather Mountain State Park. The park has trails ranging from a few hundred feet to a 12-mile ridgeline hike involving ladders and ropes.

Hike details:

  • Length: 1.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: Not accessible when the Parkway closes

8. Little Butt

The pine forest around Little Butt is all over 5,000 feet.
Look at all that green! Little Butt is insanely colorful.

As much as I love Mount Mitchell State Park, sometimes the crowds can be overwhelming. So when I want to escape the summer heat in Asheville without contending with a couple hundred selfie sticks, I head for Little Butt. The trail offers views of Mount Mitchell, impossibly green pine forest, and cool temperatures — it never drops below 5,000 feet.

The hike begins from Walker Knob Overlook. Parking is very limited, so aim to arrive before 10 am. Finding the trailhead can be a little confusing — there are multiple unsigned paths — but you’re looking for one on the side of the parking area closer to Asheville that heads to the left of the overlook.

The trail descends through mossy, mushroom-covered pine forest. You’ll encounter a few sets of steep stone stairs along the way — first going down, then climbing all the way up to the peak of Little Butt. This is a great spot for a snack break.

You can continue on this trail to a few other high peaks, including Big Butt. But you won’t get any more views. Hiking the entire thing is a 12-mile, strenuous trip.

Hike details:

  • Length: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult — several steep sections, and none of it is flat
  • Driving time from Asheville: 45 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: You can hike up from NC 197 when the Parkway closes. Prepare for frigid temperatures October-May.

The best hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway west of Asheville

If the east side of the Parkway is all about green pine forests, the west is all about grassy balds and rushing rivers. The road crosses through Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness Areas, and the Great and Plott Balsam Mountains. This is the Carolina mountain landscape you’ve been dreaming of.

Many of these hikes can be as long or short as you want them to be — there are tons of route-combining options. Pick up a good topographic map from Black Dome Sports and Kevin Adams’ waterfall book and plot your own routes.

1. Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain and Ivestor Gap Loop

Sunset from Black Balsam Knob, less than a mile from the Parkway.
It’s pretty hard to top Black Balsam Knob.

Yes, Black Balsam Knob is crowded. Yes, it’s a challenging hike. You absolutely should do it anyway. The 6,000-foot ridgeline you’ll cross offers the best views anywhere in the Carolina mountains.

Start from the designated parallel parking where the Mountains to Sea Trail crosses the road. The trail winds up to the summit of Black Balsam Knob over the course of half a mile. At the top, social trails lead to campsites and picnic spots. It’s an epic place to watch the sunset or sunrise (sunset is more reliable, fog-wise).

After you’ve soaked in the views, continue along the Art Loeb Trail to Tennent Mountain. This rocky, wind-swept peak has a totally different character than its neighbor, but the views are every bit as good. There are a few campsites up here but they’re uncomfortably exposed.

Finally, descend Tennent Mountain to Ivestor Gap. This is a tough, rocky, root-y, eroded descent. Trekking poles help immensely. The trail often floods, so prepare to hike through ankle-deep water. But the views of Grassy Cove Top and Flower Knob in front of you make it all worth it. Once you reach the gap, pick up the gravel path to your left for a flat, easy walk on the Ivestor Gap Trail back to the parking area.

This hike is in Shining Rock Wilderness, and none of the trails are marked. It’s above the treeline where you can see exactly where you’re headed, so in clear weather you’re unlikely to get lost. But in foggy weather it’s very easy to get turned around. AllTrails Pro is essential. (Speaking from experience: I once looped around various social trails on Black Balsam for over two miles before I realized I was going in circles, despite knowing the area well.)

Hike details:

  • Length: 3.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 688 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult due to the rugged descent of Tennent Mountain
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: When the Parkway closes in winter, you can reach this hike via Sam Knob from Route 215. It’s long. Go in June for spectacular rhododendron blooms in Ivestor Gap.

2. Devil’s Courthouse and Sam Knob Loop

Sam Knob is a beautiful sunrise spot.
Sunrise from the southern summit of Sam Knob

If you’re looking for a longer hike or backpacking trip in Shining Rock, this 12-mile loop is a good option. It has everything that makes the wilderness area so special: waterfalls, panoramic views, 6,000-foot peaks, balsam forest, and a rushing river.

Start at the Devil’s Courthouse parking area and take the paved trail to the summit. You’ll get a view of Pisgah National Forest and have a good chance of spotting falcons, who nest on the cliffs.

From the summit, backtrack slightly — where the path turns to pavement — and take the barely-visible connector to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. You can go in either direction, but I recommend doing the loop clockwise, which means taking a left on the MST.

You’ll descend through balsam forest for two miles to a small stream. Shortly after, you’ll pop out onto Route 215 — take a right and road-walk a third of a mile to the Flat Laurel Creek trail.

Flat Laurel Creek passes two small waterfalls immediately and the lovely Wildcat Falls about half a mile in. Then the climb up to Sam Knob starts. You’ll get nice views of Green Knob and Mount Hardy to your left before coming to a shin-deep crossing of Flat Laurel Creek. There are lovely campsites here.

After crossing the creek, take a left to continue on the Sam Knob Trail. It’s a steep half-mile to the peak. Sam Knob has two summits — the trail runs to the northern one, but camping at the hard-to-find southern summit is really special.

Next, descend Sam Knob and continue onto the Ivestor Gap Trail. This connects with the Little Sam Knob Trail in the parking lot of Black Balsam Knob. It’s 2 miles back to the Mountains to Sea, which loops upward toward Devil’s Courthouse. There are a few unremarkable campsites and one shallow creek crossing (not possible to rock-hop) along the way.

Hike details:

  • Length: 12 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: You can do this loop from the parking areas along Route 215 in winter. Both Flat Laurel Creek and the Mountains-to-Sea have parking areas that hold 2-3 cars. They seem designed to wreck a low-clearance car though. After rains, the entire loop floods — I hiked through ankle-deep water almost the whole time.

3. Waterrock Knob and the Ghost Plane

Waterrock Knob in the Blue Ridge Mountains in winter
When the Blue Ridge Parkway closes in winter, you can reach Waterrock Knob by hiking 10 miles from Soco Gap

It’s hard to pick favorites among these Blue Ridge Parkway hikes, but Waterrock Knob is a contender. On one side you can see the entire Smoky Mountains ridgeline. On the other, you can see Graveyard Ridge, Mount Pisgah, and even the Black Mountains on a very clear day. Layers and layers of blue ridgelines in every direction.

Plus, there’s a ghost plane.

Start the hike from the Waterrock Knob picnic area. Climb the paved path to the Waterrock Knob summit. Inexperienced hikers should turn around here.

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The trail continues down the side of Waterrock. It’s highly technical, muddy, overgrown, and hard to follow. Your destination is Browning Knob — from where there’s no view. But you’re here for the clearly visible side trail to the left, which drops steeply down a slope where you’ll find a plane crash. It’s been there since 1983, when a drunk pilot got turned around on a foggy night. (Don’t drink and fly, y’all!)

If you’re a very experienced hiker and want to extend your trip, you can continue all the way to Plott Balsam, 3 miles further on. It involves two tough bushwhacks, challenging navigation, and steep, rocky trails. It took me 9 hours. The views from Lyn Lowry are worth it, and if you turn around there, you don’t have to do the hardest bushwhacks. There are no views past Lyn Lowry. Don’t attempt it without AllTrails Pro and a good paper map.

Hike details:

  • Length: 2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult – even though it’s short and the elevation gain is modest, the trail is very technical.
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: I highly recommend this hike on a foggy morning. If you hike to the ghost plane around 9 am, you’ll have it to yourself (and get awesome photos). By the time you get back to the parking area the fog will have cleared out. You can hike 10 miles up to Waterrock Knob from Soco Gap in winter.

4. Frying Pan Fire Tower

Views from Fryingpan Mountain Fire Tower
Frying Pan Fire Tower is one of the top Blue Ridge Parkway hikes near Asheville

Frying Pan Fire Tower is one of the tallest lookout towers in Western North Carolina. It’s also one of the most rickety. But the panoramic views make it all worthwhile.

The hike starts from a dirt parking area just past the Pisgah Inn. It climbs gradually up a gravel road to the base of the tower — where the real hard part begins. Only the bravest souls make it to the higher platforms of Frying Pan. Every gust of wind feels like the entire structure is about to crash down.

If you want to do a longer hike, park at Elk Pasture Gap and take the Mountains to Sea toward Pisgah Inn. It’s 12 miles round-trip, but you’ll get lots of views along the way and you’ll have a chance to explore the ruins of the Vanderbilt summer home. The trillium blooms on the slopes of Little Pisgah are gorgeous in May.

Hike details:

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Driving time from Asheville: 45 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: In winter, you can park at Elk Pasture Gap and do the 12-mile hike. This is one of my favorite winter hikes because there’s no traffic noise. Or park at Wagon Road Gap (the intersection with Rt 276) and walk 4 miles round-trip along the empty Parkway.

5. Mount Pisgah

Foggy views from the Mount Pisgah Trail
I hiked Mount Pisgah on a foggy Halloween morning, but the clouds parted for a brief moment.

Mount Pisgah towers over downtown Asheville. The near-perfect-triangle peak with a huge radio tower on top is identifiable from just about anywhere in the region. Locals and tourists alike love climbing to the summit on clear summer nights, where you can watch the sunset over the city.

Start this hike from the Mt. Pisgah picnic area. Even though it’s a large parking lot, it gets crowded — arrive by 9 am on weekends.

The trail climbs steeply all the way to the summit. Some of it is on stone steps. At the top, you’ll find a viewing platform, along with the enormous radio tower. Return the way you came.

You can extend your hike by continuing to Frying Pan Fire Tower, or in the other direction, climb Little Pisgah Mountain.

Hike details:

  • Length: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Driving time from Asheville: 45 minutes
  • Seasonal considerations: In winter, you can park at Elk Pasture Gap and hike about six miles round-trip to the summit. It’s a strenuous hike — the climb up Little Pisgah is one of the hardest Blue Ridge Parkway hikes.

6. Graveyard Fields

The waterfalls of Graveyard Fields are an excellent family-friendly hike.
Crossing the river at Graveyard Fields, with views of Black Balsam Knob.

Graveyard Fields is one of the most biodiverse places in the entire United States. The Southern highland ecosystem encompasses half a dozen microclimates within a couple miles. On this short trail you’ll encounter rainforest, grassy fields, and wind-blown slopes. And did I mention mountain laurels galore?

The hike starts from the Graveyard Fields Visitors Center. It gets extremely crowded in summer — arrive by 8 am on weekends or you may have to park on the road.

Descend along the set of stairs to your right. It’s about a quarter-mile stroll along a paved trail and series of boardwalks to the Lower Falls. This is a popular swimming area in summer.

Next, follow signs for the Graveyard Fields Loop. This takes you through the field below Black Balsam Knob, across the river where you’ll get a lovely view of the 6,000-foot peak, and up through the green tunnel back to the parking lot. It’s about one mile and family-friendly.

Alternatively, continue to the Upper Falls to add two more miles to your hike. This trek requires a river crossing — you can rock-hop when water levels are low, but don’t count on it. The final climb to the upper falls is a bit of a scramble, but it’s well worth it. The Upper Falls are far quieter than the Lower Falls. You’ll have to back-track from here to the loop trail.

There are tons and tons of options to create longer loop hikes from Graveyard Fields. They include trips to Skinny Dip Falls, Black Balsam Knob, Ivestor Gap, and even Big East Fork and up and over Graveyard Ridge (a very long 18 miles that is my #2 favorite hike in WNC). Pick up a paper map to plan your own route.

Hike details for both falls:

  • Length: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 305 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: You can reach Graveyard Fields in winter on a couple of very long hikes. One option is to park at Wagon Road Gap and road-walk to the trailhead. This is about 15 miles round-trip. Alternatively, park at Big East Fork for a very hard 18-mile out-and-back. The good news is if you can manage the distance, you’ll have the waterfalls completely to yourself.

8. Blackrock Mountain

Views of the Plott Balsams from Blackrock Mountain
Blackrock Mountain is one of the hardest Blue Ridge Parkway hkes.

Blackrock Mountain is and always will be my favorite hike in the world. Hardly anyone makes it up here, largely because it is so damn hard. But the 360-degree views of the Smokies and Plott Balsams are worth it. In three out of four directions, you can hardly see a sign of human civilization.

The hike starts from Waterrock Knob overlook. Walk back out to the Parkway from the parking lot and cross the road. You’ll see a barely noticeable, nominally marked trail heading up toward Yellowface Mountain. Take it.

There is a theoretical trail up Yellowface, but in practice, it’s more of a bushwhack. There are places where you’ll need all four limbs to haul yourself up rock faces. It’s steep the whole time and completely unmarked.

Once you reach the summit of Yellowface, continue another mile to Blackrock Mountain. If the segment to Yellowface can be loosely called a trail, this next section is even worse. You’ll climb and drop a few times before the final push to the peak, which is laughably steep. The summit isn’t immediately obvious from the trail. You’ll have to scramble up onto the boulders to get the views I was referring to.

If you want a very long and hard day, you could continue down the other side of Blackrock Mountain to an old logging road. Take a left and walk about two mostly-flat miles to the turnoff to Pinnacle. It’s two miles to another epic view of the Plott ridgeline. The climb up Blackrock on the way back will sap you of any remaining energy you have.

Hike details:

  • Length: 5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Very difficult
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: It’s not realistic to tack this hike onto the climb up from Soco Gap in winter. I tried and managed to get to Yellowface, but if I’d continued to Blackrock I would’ve had to come down very icy slopes in the dark. Your better bet is to approach Blackrock from Pinnacle Park in Sylva. This is actually the better hike, and you can bushwhack to two atmospheric waterfalls along the way, but it is probably the hardest day-hike in North Carolina.

9. Richland Balsam

Morning in the pine forest on the way up to Reinhardt Knob
The high-elevation pine forests around Richland Balsam are stunning.

Many of the best Blue Ridge Parkway hikes are crowded. But the section of Parkway that runs through Middle Prong Wilderness sees a fraction of the tourist traffic. The overlooks here offer the best views of the Smokies, and the trail cuts through untouched balsam forest.

Richland Balsam is the highest peak immediately on the Parkway and the only 6k-er in this area with a trail to the summit. The summit is tree-covered but still incredibly beautiful.

Start from the Haywood Jackson Overlook and follow the clear signs to the summit. You’ll climb gradually through pine forest and balsams. A few benches along the way offer good snack spots. Once you reach the top, continue along the loop. The descent is a little steeper and rockier.

If you’re an experienced off-trail hiker, you can extend your hike to Reinhardt Knob. This is a very difficult bushwack — you’ll be off-trail for about 1.5 miles total — and you’ll have to road-walk about a mile on the Parkway as well. But it’s a great way to see more of Middle Prong Wilderness.

Hike details:

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: This part of the Parkway is inaccessible in winter, unless you want to road-walk 18 miles.

10. Skinny Dip Falls

The waterfall at Skinny Dip Falls is only part of the point. This hike also features a guardian “dragon” (aka tree) and the best swimming hole on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The trail starts from a gravel overlook at Milepost 417. It can be impossible to find parking here on warm summer days. Follow the Mountains to Sea down 3/4 of a mile to the base of the falls. The famous tree-dragon is immediately before you reach the river, on your left.

There are a few swimming pools around here, and lots of lovely places to relax by the river. Parents, don’t worry — no one actually skinny dips at Skinny Dip Falls.

For a longer hike, you can continue on the Mountains-to-Sea up to Graveyard Fields. It’s a steep climb. Or, take the Bridges Camp Gap trail to connect with Big East Fork, from where you can cross the river to reach Graveyard Ridge for a very long day.

Hike details:

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 187 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: Your only option in winter is to park at Big East Fork and hike in. It’s 11 miles round-trip. Luckily it’s flat.
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11. Shining Rock Summit via the Art Loeb Trail

Shining Rock summit on the Art Loeb Trail
You’ll have to scramble to reach the summit of Shining Rock Mountain.

For hikers who want a long, hard day from the Blue Ridge Parkway, you can’t beat the Art Loeb to Shining Rock. This trail takes you across five 6,000-foot peaks and nearly 10 miles of exposed ridge.

Start at the parking area for Black Balsam Knob and follow the directions for the Black Balsam and Tennent Mountain Loop until you reach Ivestor Gap. From here, the trail gets more rugged — you’ll need a paper map and compass. Instead of turning left onto the Ivestor Gap Trail, continue straight to climb Grassy Cove Top. (If you get turned around here, note that Grassy Cove Top looks exactly how it sounds — the peak is covered with grass.)

The Art Loeb skirts the summit of Grassy Cove, but the trail network on the mountain is extremely confusing and you will probably end up at the peak accidentally anyway. Follow your paper map back onto the Art Loeb continuing on to Flower Knob.

Finally, you’ll drop back below the tree line and into the pine forest. It’s another mile to the base of Shining Rock. You’ll reach a confusing four-way intersection where you need to hop off the Art Loeb and take one of the unmarked trails to the right, which lead to the summit of Shining Rock Mountain. It’s a steep scramble up the quartz boulders to the view.

This is already a very long day hike. But if you’re backpacking, there are tons of options to expand your route. You could hike the entire Art Loeb. You could loop down the Old Butt Knob trail or the Shining Creek Trail to Big East Fork, cross the river, and go up toward Graveyard Fields. Or, you could circle around Grassy Cove Top and connect to Big East Fork from there. You could climb down Little East Fork or continue all the way to Cold Mountain. You could loop around Ivestor Gap. The possibilities are extensive if you have a topographic map.

Hike details:

  • Length: 10 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult, with some rock scrambling required
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: This part of the Parkway is inaccessible in winter. Hike up to Shining Rock from the Big East Fork trailhead or Camp Daniel Boone (microspikes needed) instead. If hiking up from Big East Fork, it’s far easier to ascend Shining Creek and descend Old Butt.

12. Exploring Middle Prong Wilderness

Finding a hidden waterfall in Middle Prong Wilderness
This waterfall was hiding just off-trail on the Mountains to Sea in Middle Prong Wilderness.

Finally, the last amazing Blue Ridge Parkway hike is a choose-your-own-adventure in Middle Prong Wilderness. If you’re an experienced hiker with good navigation skills and a desire to get far, far from the crowds, you’ll love this option.

There are any number of trail possibilities in the Middle Prong, and you’ll need a paper map to decide on your exact route. But the key arteries are the Mountains to Sea (going east-west), the Green Knob/Sunburst Trail (north-south along the ridge), and Haywood Gap (north-south along the river). There are unmaintained connectors and overgrown logging roads providing access to the Parkway from those three main trails. Tons of social trails and bushwhacks take you to 6,000-foot peaks and waterfalls.

If you decide to explore Middle Prong, be forewarned that it can be extremely dangerous. In particular, many of the waterfalls require swift creek walks or bushwhacks where one wrong move could send you straight into a risky part of river to tumble into. This is not an area to venture if you don’t really know what you’re doing. Additionally, the Sunburst Trail is comically steep. Nothing is marked in the wilderness area and if you end up at the Mount Hardy/Green Knob/MST intersection, you will inevitably get lost. AllTrails is horribly inaccurate. I’ll say it again: you need a paper map.

My recommended route for first-time visitors would be to park at Devil’s Courthouse and take the Mountains to Sea down to Route 215. Continue on the MTS up to the intersection with the Green Knob Trail. It’s an atmospheric climb up to the summit of Green Knob, which is a slightly overgrown bald. You can see the hard-to-access waterfalls of Flat Laurel Creek to the east. Return the way you came or bushwhack to Mount Hardy on your way back, if you can find the route. The whole thing is about 17 miles and the last two miles back to Devil’s Courthouse are straight up.

Hike details:

  • Length: Choose your own adventure!
  • Elevation Gain: Choose your own adventure, but pretty much everything is going to require 2,000+ feet of climbing.
  • Difficulty: Extremely difficult – most trails are unmaintained when trails exist at all. The logging roads in Middle Prong are harder than the hardest hikes in the Smokies.
  • Driving time from Asheville: 1 hour
  • Seasonal considerations: In winter, you can access Middle Prong from Route 215.

Blue Ridge Parkway hikes FAQ

 

What time of year should you drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Western North Carolina is a year-round vacation destination. However, if your priority is hiking and driving the Parkway, you’ll want to avoid winter when the road closes.

Road closures can be unpredictable. The Park Service shuts down the road whenever there’s a risk of snow and ice in the tunnels. That could be as early as October and as late as May. But you can bet on being able to access these hiking trails between mid-April and mid-November. You can check road closures here.

If the Parkway is closed when you visit, you can still reach a few of the hikes in this post. You’ll just need to drive up Route 276, Route 215, or Route 151 and park at the closed gates. The hikes will be longer since you’ll need to road walk or use connector trails, but on the plus side, they’ll be much less crowded!

Peak tourist season in WNC is July-August and October. At these times, traffic on the Parkway can be ridiculous. Go early, go late, or go on a weekday if visiting in summer or peak leaf season.

What facilities are available on the Parkway?

Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC goes through national forest, national park, and wilderness area. This is one of the few places on the East Coast where you can get panoramic views in which there’s no evidence of human development. All of that is to say — you need to come prepared!

There are a few restrooms along the Parkway — namely at Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, Mount Mitchell, Graveyard Fields and the Pisgah Inn. All picnic areas and a handful of overlooks have bear-safe trash cans.

There are no gas stations on the Blue Ridge Parkway in WNC. You’ll have to drive into Asheville, Burnsville, Canton, Balsam or Brevard to fill up. There are some stretches where you’d need to drive 50+ miles to reach the nearest gas station (namely the section through Middle Prong Wilderness), so make sure you have at least half a tank before getting on the Parkway!

Additionally, you’ll need to bring all of your food for these hikes. The one restaurant on this stretch of road is at the Pisgah Inn, where you’ll also find a general store with snacks.

The picnic area at Mount Mitchell is the best lunch stop east of Asheville — the views over the Black Mountains are insane. On the western stretch, Waterrock Knob is my go-to pit stop. (The views from the picnic area are better than the views from the summit.)

Driving safely on the Parkway (without driving the locals insane)

The Blue Ridge Parkway sees an alarming number of road fatalities every year. It’s not surprising, really — motorcyclists, cyclists, wildlife, cars, and RV’s all have to share the winding mountain road where steep turns can appear from out of nowhere.

The speed limit on the Parkway is 45 mph. That drops to 20 mph in a few sections in the vicinity of picnic areas. Follow the speed limit — it is truly unsafe to even go 5 mph over. And when you see the warnings for curves, heed them!

On the flipside, driving super slowly can be reckless if you force people to pass you. If you want to take in the views, pull into the overlooks. Don’t try to admire the scenery while you’re driving. If you’re in an RV and traffic is building up behind you, pull into an overlook to let folks pass every once in awhile.

The NC section of the Parkway has about a dozen tunnels. There are no lights inside and a few of them have blind curves. Turn on your headlights in the tunnels and if you feel unsafe, slow down (but really you don’t need to drop to 15 mph either).

Cyclists and wildlife are the two biggest dangers on the Parkway. Never try to pass a cyclist around a blind curve. I prefer to avoid driving at dawn and dusk when bears, coyotes, deer, and groundhogs clog the road.

Trail markings, dispersed camping, and other hiking practicalities

The Blue Ridge Parkway itself is managed by the National Park Service. But much of the surrounding land is Forest Service-managed. You’ll also cross a few state parks. Each land management agency has different rules and regulations.

Many popular Blue Ridge Parkway hikes are well-marked, with signs at the trailhead and clear blazes along the way. But others aren’t marked at all. Hikes in Shining Rock, Middle Prong and Linville wilderness areas are completely unmarked, and many of the trails in the Plott Balsams (around Waterrock Knob) are practically bushwhacks. Always carry a map and compass (that you know how to use) when hiking in these areas.

Dispersed camping is not allowed on most NPS land. You will come across campsites within NPS boundaries — but you could be fined for staying at them. Car camping at overlooks with rooftop tents or in an RV is also a no-no.

The good news is, NPS land doesn’t extend very far beyond the Parkway — often only a few feet. So it’s easy to find a campsite in a legal area. The exception is Mount Mitchell State Park, which heavily regulates camping (only at Deep Gap and Commissary Ridge, both 5+ mile hikes from the parking area).

Finally, it’s super important to know your skill level when hiking in the Carolina mountains. Many people underestimate the trails off the Parkway. These hikes are often remote, rugged, difficult, and hard to follow when the fog rolls in. Wear proper hiking clothing and good shoes. Bring more water than you need. If you’re not 100% sure you can complete a hike, turn back.

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Planning a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina, USA? Discover the best hikes near Asheville on the Parkway. Includes waterfall hikes, mountain views, and more. These hiking trails range from easy to difficult. Some are family friendly. You can day-hike them all. #NC #hiking #travel

 

Read more about Western North Carolina here

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Krista
1 year ago

That is definitely a good selection of hikes to choose from! I would probably pick one that had a waterfall in it since I love those. I like how much detail you included about each hiking trail!

Deb
Deb
1 year ago

We love getting outdoors and these hikes look incredible! Definitely adding onto our hiking destination list — thanks for putting it on our radar!

Megan
1 year ago

Wow you have really covered some great hikes! I love anywhere that takes me to a waterfall, so I’d love to hike Linville.

Josy A
1 year ago

Carrie, this post is epic! I am so impressed (and I will totally come back and annoy you if/when we make plans to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway!

I love that the list of possible hikes is so varied, but I have to admit I am drawn to Blackrock Mountain. It may be hard, but it looks soooo fun!

Jacqueline Le
1 year ago

I love hiking! Have yet to make it to this side of the country, but it’s exciting to get a preview of the natural beauty that’s over there. Would love to spend a few days in this region exploring some day!

Julie
Julie
1 year ago

This is a great guide – so thorough! The one time we were in Asheville they closed down part of the Blue Ridge Parkway due to ice, so we didn’t get much chance to explore. I can’t wait to go back and try our some of your hikes!

Natalie
1 year ago

Such gorgeous mountains! I’m hoping to visit this summer!

Elena Pappalardo
1 year ago

This was such an informative guide.I love how you also included the section on driving safety!

Katy
Katy
1 year ago

What a great post! I love exploring new hiking trails. I haven’t been to the area before but I’m definitely hanging onto this article for when I visit. I’m currently in Eugene, Oregon and there is a Mount Pisgah here too!

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