The Blue Ridge Mountains are located in the United States, extending over 550 miles from Virginia, to North and South Carolina, even as far as Tennessee and Alabama. They are part of the Appalachian mountain range, which began forming over 400 million years ago.
After viewing so many cities in the last few years, we wanted to do something outdoor oriented and thought this would make a great adventure.
When we first started planning our road trip from Toronto to the Blue Ridge Parkway, an iconic scenic road that follows 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I felt incredibly overwhelmed.
When conducting a Google search, it was a bit daunting on how much information there was available. As helpful as that can be, it can also become a deterrent. So today I am going to keep this simple with my best tips if you are going to enjoy one of the top-rated drives in the United States.
From my last post you know we made a stop in Winchester, Virginia, before actually commencing our journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In total, we stopped for two nights at the beginning of our journey. One night in Pennsylvania, near our beloved Allegheny National Park and Forest, and then one night in Virginia.
This is not necessary as it is possible to reach the Blue Ridge Parkway in a day’s drive. However, we left Toronto later in the evening after a full workday and wanted to enjoy Virginia before setting off.
What To Do
The first thing I want to mention, that I felt is not properly explained in other articles, is that some of the attractions are not on the Blue Ridge Parkway itself, and can be several kilometers away.
The attractions are grouped together by mileposts, north to south. Our GPS often wanted us to leave the Parkway and take other roads as it would be a more direct route, so be prepared to ignore the GPS and use the road signs instead.
There are numerous activities in the mountains and unless you plan on spending weeks there, you cannot possibly make every stop. We spent a total of 3 days in the mountains and fit in a majority of our planned stops, but at times we were a bit rushed.
Here are my top 5 stops to consider when planning, somewhat in order from north to south:
Mabry Mill is located at milepost 176.2, near Floyd Country (another cool stop if you have the time, a tiny hippy-esque place which we were able to find a cool Mexican place to try for lunch). It is perhaps the most iconic photo you can get on your trip. The mill was built in 1903 first as a blacksmith shop. You can learn more about this by walking around the grounds and checking out all the historic remains and speaking with the park rangers.
Chateau Morrisette Winery was hands down one of the best American wine tastings we have ever done! The staff was friendly, they had great wine flights, and the view… well, it would have been impressive if we weren’t surrounded by so much fog. We actually got lost in the parking lot and couldn’t find the building or car for a bit, the fog was that intense. If you decide to stop and enjoy a tasting, you will get to sample 10 different wines, and have a little surprise at the end. We had originally wanted to also make a stop at Thistle Meadow Winery, but decided that was too ambitious as we were crunched for time. If you’ve been there let me know your thoughts!
Emerald Village was epic, and one of the best memories from this trip. There you can walk through the entrance of an old previous used mine, read more into the history of the mines, and my favorite part, pan for gold and gemstones! Such a fun activity to do rain or shine, with or without kids! I had a wonderful time getting excited every time I made a new gem discovery. For more on this awesome stop check out my video at Mellie Telly.
Blue Ridge Soap Shed is exactly what you think, soap made in a shed, though now the store has now moved into a house. The Soap Shed produces their own soap by hand, with local organic ingredients. They not only have perfume worthy soap, but remedy soaps as well. For bug bites, skin issues, sleep, you name it! If you love soap and supporting local small family-run businesses, make a stop to shop here!
Mount Mitchell is the highest peak on the east side of the Mississippi River, at 6,684 feet! You can drive almost to the very top with a quick and easy wheel chair friendly hike to the peak of the Appalachian mountain range. Surprise, surprise, it was another picturesque foggy day so we couldn’t see much, well no, we couldn’t see much past a car’s length away. We did get a touristy photo with the sign for bragging rights, a must for Insta.
If you are more the nature type, there are plenty of trails to hike, enjoyable lookouts, and numerous waterfalls. Graveyard Fields Loop Trail has a few options and a great waterfall that you can view from separate levels. Unfortunately, we never saw the end of the longest trail as it started to pour down so hard that it was deemed unsafe to continue as the trail eroded from flash floods and created sinkholes. If you rather just focus on falls, then check out Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock (a natural water slide) and Waterrock Knob. Be mindful to stick to the paths, don’t pick flowers, watch out for bears and always bring water with you!
Things to Know
Apart from knowing what stops you want to make, here are a few other tips we picked up along the way:
- There are a lot of lookouts, but not all of them have a view. Over the years some have become covered with trees. I still suggest stopping when you find good open patches, this view is an epic once in a lifetime experience.
- You will see it all on the Parkway; large RV’s, motorbikes, bicycles, you name it. Luckily no transport trucks are allowed. The road can get tight around some corners, especially the roads that are just off of the parkway, but don’t worry the speed limit is awfully low
- Rest stops are far and few between, so use them when you can. Some tourist offices and waterfall trails will have bathroom facilities or at least outhouses. Bring some hand sanitizer and TP to be safe!
- Check the weather ahead of time. We were there in the Spring and found we needed to pack everything from a T-Shirt and shorts to a heavy-duty rain-resistant jacket. It can get chillier when you are up exploring the mountains.
- You can take a risk and not pre-book your accommodations. Usually, by dinner time every night, we would search the closest motels and select the cheapest option to snuggle up for a good night’s rest.
If you are deciding where to go to your next road trip, I suggest the Blue Ridge Mountains.
They were incredibly gorgeous, and we had such a great time driving through the windy streets, under the many tunnels, and exploring the mountains both rain, fog and shine.