Tracing the ridges and hillsides of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway hosts millions of visitors every year, lured by the hum of tires on the road and the whisper of mountain winds through the trees. In just two weeks, you can drive the 716 miles from Washington DC to Knoxville via one of the greatest scenic roads in the nation. You can also easily reverse this route by beginning in Knoxville and ending in DC.
Day 1: Arrive in Washington DC
Settle in to your hotel, then spend the rest of the day at museums of your choice. The museums of the Smithsonian Institution, including the National Air and Space Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and National Museum of Natural History are fascinating, as are the International Spy Museum and Phillips Collection. Try dinner at We the Pizza or Hill Country Barbecue before taking in a concert at 9:30 Club or the Black Cat or taking a nighttime bicycle tour of the Mall.
Day 2: Explore Washington DC
Pay your respects at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, then cross the river to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, or Arlington National Cemetery, or both. For dinner, head to The Oceanaire Seafood Room, which will transform the way you look at fish.
Day 3: Washington DC to Shenandoah National Park
(70 miles; 1.5 hours)
Head to the National Mall, a grand grassy avenue lined with the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the most iconic monuments—Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial—and, of course, views of the United States Capitol and White House. Have lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a DC institution, or one of the many ethnic restaurants like Rasika, or hit the road and dine in Front Royal, at the entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. Along Skyline, 75 overlooks in the park give a sense of the vast wilderness that once blanketed the countryside. Hike to Dark Hollow Falls, and spend the night inside the park at Skyland or Big Meadows Lodge.
Day 4: Shenandoah National Park to Waynesboro and Charlottesville
(160 miles; 4.5 hours)
Head outside the park to the spectacular Luray Caverns, one of the best cave systems in the nation. When you’re finished, drive down to Waynesboro, near the end of Skyline Drive and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and check in at Iris Inn. Then take I-64 east for 24 miles to Charlottesville. Tour Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, only a few miles from downtown, then walk the grounds of the University of Virginia, which was founded by Jefferson and bears his architectural mark. If you have time, a wine tour will take you to some of the region’s best wineries. Try dinner at C&O Restaurant or Peter Chang China Grill, or eat at The Green Leaf Grill in Waynesboro and prepare for the Parkway on the morrow.
Day 5: Waynesboro to Roanoke
(132 miles; 4 hours)
Have breakfast at Iris Inn, then start your journey south along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Make your first stop the Humpback Rocks (MP 5.9) and take the one-mile trail to the namesake rocks. Stop at the James River Visitor Center (MP 63.6), the lowest point on the Parkway, and stretch your legs on one of the short walks that detail the history of the river or the diverse plant life here.
At Milepost 86, detour off the Parkway for lunch in Bedford. You can spend the afternoon in Bedford, taking a docent-led tour of the National D-Day Memorial followed by fruit-picking at a nearby apple orchard, or head to the Peaks of Otter (MP 85.9) for a quick but strenuous hike to the peak of Sharp Top (2.5-3 hours). Afterwards, continue south to Roanoke.
Enter the city via the Mill Mountain Parkway at Milepost 120 and pass by the famous Roanoke Star, then rest up at one of the B&Bs in town before heading to Lucky for dinner.
Day 6: Roanoke to Floyd
(56 miles; 1.5 hours)
It’s a short day today, so you have time to explore Roanoke. Have an egg sandwich at Texas Tavern, then wander over to the Market Square, where the farmers market will be in full swing any day of the week. Look in at the Taubman Museum of Art or shop at the downtown boutiques before heading for Floyd. Have lunch near Floyd at Chateau Morrisette, one of the oldest wineries in Virginia, before checking into Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast. Time your visit to coincide with Floyd’s weekly Friday Night Jamboree, and have dinner at quirky Oddfellas Cantina.
Day 7: Floyd to Stone Mountain State Park
(85 miles; 2.5 hours)
The drive from Floyd to the North Carolina state line is one of the most beautiful on the Parkway. Stop at Mabry Mill (MP 176.1) for legendary buckwheat pancakes and a look at a working waterwheel-powered gristmill and sawmill. At Groundhog Mountain (MP 188.1), enjoy spectacular views from the observation tower. Learn how country and bluegrass music originated in these very hills at the Blue Ridge Music Center at the state line. Camp at Stone Mountain State Park, and squeeze in a quick hike to the top of the namesake bald granite dome. Head into nearby Elkin for dinner and drinks (just be back before the park is locked for the night).
Day 8: Stone Mountain To Blowing Rock
(75 miles; 2.5 hours)
North Carolina’s High Country is no joke. The mountains are steep, and the road grows aggressively curvy, making for unworldly views as you round corners with nothing but space and the Blue Ridge Mountains in front of you. Stretch your legs on the 30 miles of trails in Doughton Park (MP 238.5), which also has a picnic area, or hike the Cascade Falls Trail at E. B. Jeffress Park (MP 272). Stop at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (MP 294.1) for a look at a turn-of-the-century manor house that’s home to the gift shop of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Blowing Rock is just a few miles away, and so are your accommodations as well as dinner at Bistro Roca.
Day 9: Blowing Rock to Asheville
(93 miles; 3 hours)
Before heading to Asheville, check out the Blowing Rock, where you’ll have sweeping views of peaks, including Grandfather Mountain. Back on the Parkway, prepare yourself for one of the road’s most striking stretches: the Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304.4). Just past the viaduct, drive to the top of Grandfather Mountain and take the Mile High Swinging Bridge to one of its lower peaks for 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge. Have lunch here, then continue down the road. Just off the Parkway at Milepost 316.3 is the entrance to Linville Falls. This waterfall requires a short hike to see and a slightly longer one for postcard views, but it’s worth the effort. At Milepost 364.6, stop at Craggy Gardens to take in the summertime blooms of rhododendrons and flame azaleas, then continue to the Folk Art Center (MP 382), just outside Asheville.
In Asheville, spend the night in the mountains at the Sourwood Inn or downtown at the swank Aloft Asheville Downtown hotel. Dinner can be fancy or affordable; there’s no shortage of places to eat in this town. Spend a late night downtown checking out the breweries and bars and listening to a little music.
Day 10: Explore Asheville
Start the day in Asheville with breakfast at the Early Girl Eatery downtown, then head over to the Biltmore Estate. Tour the home, walk the gardens, take lunch in the former stable, then head to the estate’s winery and wine-tasting room (it’s the most visited one in the nation). Sample some wine and head back to your accommodations to freshen up before hitting town again for excellent food at The Admiral and interesting beers at the Thirsty Monk.
Day 11: Asheville to Cherokee
(137 miles; 4 hours)
The winding section of the Parkway between Asheville and the southern terminus in Cherokee is quite beautiful. Before you hit the road, down a giant biscuit at Biscuit Head. Continue down the Parkway and take in the view of Mount Pisgah (MP 408.6) and hike to Devil’s Courthouse (MP 422.4)—a short hike that’s not as fearsome as it sounds and has a view you won’t want to leave. Richland Balsam Overlook (MP 431.4) is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so stop here and mark your trip with a selfie. Stop at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center (MP 451.2) for a four-state view and panorama of the Great Smoky Mountains. At Milepost 461.9, you’ll reach Big Witch Overlook, the last overlook before the Parkway terminates at milepost 469.1. Take one last long look before heading into Cherokee for the night. Spend the night at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, where you can gamble, visit the spa, and grab a bite in one of the casino’s restaurants.
Day 12: Cherokee to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
(43 miles; 1.5 hours)
Today you’ll drive Newfound Gap Road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Before you start your drive, visit the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in Cherokee. Stop at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for a park map and to check out Mountain Farm Museum. The twisting Newfound Gap Road is popular for motorcyclists and is stunning in fall; along the way you’ll likely see black bears and white-tailed deer. Stop along the way at any of the overlooks—in a landscape this stunning, there are no bad views. Before you leave the park, drive out to Cades Cove, a onetime mountain community, where you might spy bears lounging in the remnants of an apple orchard. Check into a hotel in Gatlinburg, then take a walk down the main drag of this tourist haven. Grab some moonshine at Sugarlands Distilling Company and dinner at Smoky Mountain Trout House.
Day 13: Gatlinburg to Knoxville
(30 miles; 45 minutes)
Head straight from your Gatlinburg hotel to Dollywood, where mountain music, mountain crafts, mountain food, and mountain folks are interspersed with roller coasters. Spend half the day here, then head to Knoxville (45 minutes away) for lunch at Dead End BBQ before checking in to your downtown hotel. Walk the World’s Fair Park and climb to the top of the Sunsphere for the best view in town. Then, take in a concert at the historic Tennessee Theatre or stop in at the Knoxville Museum of Art and the East Tennessee History Center. Dinner at Stock & Barrel will put you in the heart of downtown, where you can explore to your heart’s content.
Day 14: Knoxville Back to Washington DC
(487 miles; 7 hours)
You’ll definitely want to make better travel time on the return drive to Washington DC. Take I-81 north through Tennessee and Virginia to I-66 east, which will carry you right into DC. This route is doable in a day, rather than two or three at Parkway speeds.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip.