We drove Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway from Roanoke Mountain/Mill Mountain to Peaks of Otter where we hiked to Fallingwater Cascades on a Sunday afternoon. Then on Monday morning we drove from Buena Vista into Shenandoah National Park.
There are not many entrances to the Blue Ridge Parkway - which makes having a map very important. We were advised that for those people that typically use their cell phone for directions there is a downloadable app available (since cell service can be spotty). We didn't try it while on the road, but it is worth looking into if you prefer an app to a paper map.
It is not always easy to find a restroom on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They are not marked on the map.
Roanoke Mountain to Peaks of Otter
There were some parts of this drive that were very beautiful and other parts that were not quite as inspiring. Generally, the drive between Virginia's Explore Park until we reached the Jefferson National Forest featured more farmland. Conversely, the section of the parkway in Jefferson National Forest had the most interesting viewpoints.
We got out of our car at the Montvale viewpoint - which looks to be near the Blackhorse Gap on the map given out at the visitor centers along the parkway. The Appalachian Trail runs directly to the east of the parkway in this area. If we had had more time, we could have eaten lunch at one of the cement picnic tables or taken a short walk on the Appalachian Trail.
The Peaks of Otter is also a beautiful area. That's where we eventually ended up getting lunch before hiking to the Fallingwater Cascades.
Northern End of Blue Ridge Parkway to Buena Vista
I personally did not find this section of the parkway to be as interesting as Shenandoah National Park immediately to the north. It was a nice drive. But, even on a nice day, I wasn't inspired to stop my car more than once or twice.
The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park (Skyline Drive) to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway, starting at Rockfish Gap
near Waynesboro, Virginia, where Skyline Drive ends, continues to Cherokee, North Carolina, at mile 469.
For almost 470 miles from the southern end of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway straddles
mountain peaks and dips into scenic valleys, twisting by overlooks and dappled hillsides. Because of the lower speed limits, drivers sometimes alternate between the
Blue Ridge Parkway and I-81, which runs parallel to it and also traverses scenic areas.
For a complete list of the trails and their difficulty levels, as well as attractions, obtain the Blue Ridge Parkway Information Guide from the visitor center. Although the
parkway is open all year, winter may bring icy conditions that temporarily close the roads, so call ahead.
Like Skyline Drive, this toll-free, 469-mile-long, non-commercialized mountain route offers a great scenic drive. With a speed limit of 45 mph on meandering mountain roads, the drive is slow; many cars stop at the scenic overlooks to gaze out across the valleys.
Allow plenty of time. The most popular and crowded times are spring through summer and fall. The road also offers a number of hiking trails, some of them easy enough for young children.
You can find lodging, gas stations, and restaurants along the parkway. There are several visitor centers (www.nps.gov) along the parkway in Virginia, each providing information on activities and facilities in the area as well as general information about the parkway.
Rockfish Gap Tourist Information (milepost 0), U.S. Highway 250 at the parkway’s access; (540) 943-5187. Gather information here and get oriented to the parkway at this information center.
Humpback Rocks (mile 5.8) has a small museum with an exhibit on late nineteenth and early-twentieth-century life. A U.S. Forest Service campground is located 4 miles south of the center off the parkway, and a ninety-one-site picnic area is located at mile 8.5. The center maintains a reconstructed pioneer mountain farmstead accessible via an easy, quarter-mile, self-guided trail. During the summer, costumed rangers demonstrate mountain crafts and skills.
James River (mile 63.7) has picnic tables located downhill from the center. Otter Creek (mile 60.8) has a campground with sites for forty-two tents and twenty-six
trailers and a restaurant. From the center, hike the half-mile Trail of Trees and the easy James River Trail that leads to the restored Kanawha Canal Lock. In the summer there are guided lock tours, as well as the James River Batteau Festival. This area is not wheelchair accessible.
Peaks of Otter (mileposts 84–87) is famed for its scenic view of mountains ringing a valley. The visitor center is open May through October. The Fallingwater Cascades trail, a 1.6-mile loop, rewards you with a view of a waterfall. Nearby is the sixty-two-room Peaks of Otter Lodge (540-586-1081) and restaurant, open year-round.
Also nearby is the Johnson Farm, a living-history farm where kids can play period games and help work the garden.
Virginia’s Explore Park (mile 115.1).
Roanoke Mountain (mile 120.4) is a 4-mile, one-way loop road (no trailers allowed) that affords beautiful views of Roanoke Valley and Mill Mountain and is adjacent to a campground (mile 120.4) with sites for seventy-four tents and thirty-one trailers. (Three sites are wheelchair accessible.) There are evening country music programs during the summer.
Rocky Knob (milepost 167), with 4,800 acres, features 15 miles of hiking trails, including the Rock Castle Gorge National Recreational Trail. It has a campground with sites for eighty-one tents and twenty-eight trailers, with a 150-capacity campfire circle where interpretive programs are given on summer weekends.
There are also demonstrations of crafts, blacksmithing, spinning, and weaving. There are a variety of programs for your family to enjoy here on weekends from June through October. Campfire talks, history demonstrations, music
programs, nature walks, and other presentations are given by rangers and volunteers. Schedules are posted at visitor centers, campground entrances, and parkway concessions.
Mabry Mill (mile 176.1), a picturesque early-twentieth-century mill, is the parkway’s most photographed site. When the mill and nearby blacksmith shop and Matthews Cabin are open (May through October), interpreters, on certain days, demonstrate nineteenth-century skills. On Sunday afternoons in summer and fall, come for the old-time and bluegrass music concerts. Check with parkway information for the schedule of events.