A winding two-laner of a road that hugs the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most enjoyable, scenic routes this nation has to offer.
That being said, it can also be quite the workout on your brakes and cooling system, as you roll up and down countless mountains, should you be looking to traverse the entire 469 miles the parkway has to offer. Even if your brakes hold out and your engine purrs along nicely, note that the road has more than a few hairpin turns. In addition, the pullouts for the many scenic vistas aren’t always accommodating to bigger rigs, especially during busier times of the year.
Lucky for you though, the parkway has plenty of camping not only directly on the road itself, but in a plethora of adorable little southern towns all along the way.
Eight Days Down the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are eight official campgrounds on the parkway itself, and dozens upon dozens of private RV parks, state parks, national forest campgrounds and dispersed camping just off the route itself. As we’re touring south from Shenandoah National Park to the Smokies, what better way to see the sights than to use the two national parks and those eight campgrounds as our guide?
Though not officially the same road as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive can be considered your primer for what to expect. A narrow road along a mountain ridge, bend after bend of endless Virginia farmland, hills and distant cityscapes. There are a handful of campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park itself, and what better place to begin our journey? So, find your spot in Shenandoah, and get an early start. The open road is calling!
Otter Creek Campground
From the start of the parkway, it’s 60.8 miles to Otter Creek Campground. You’ll note as you make your way along this leisurely drive that everything is marked in relation to how far south along the parkway you’ve traveled, a.k.a. the mile posts. Luckily, 60.8 miles is just about a perfect day’s drive. Much of the parkway is around 35mph, sometimes less, so you’re not going to get anywhere fast. You’ll also have plenty of opportunity for all of those scenic pullouts along the way.
Otter Creek Campground itself offers amenities like creekside campsites, a fire circle, restrooms and four hiking trails (one of which can be accessed directly from the campground).
Can’t get into the campground, or just not feeling overly rustic? Just east of Otter Creek is the Lynchburg NW-Blue Ridge Parkway KOA, where you can get all of your full hookup, laundry service, KOA convenience store comforts and be back on the parkway before the sun rises over the tree tops if you’d like.
Head west of the parkway to give Natural Bridge National Monument a gander. It’s 215 foot high, 90 foot long (you guessed it) natural bridge surrounded by hiking trails and historical information to boot. Just outside of the national monument you can camp at Yogi Bears Jellystone Park, which if you’ve never been and you happen to have kids, is an RV resort where KOA meets Disneyland. Jellystone is full of games, activities and the hustle and bustle of a small city’s worth of exuberant campers.
Or skip the hubbub of Yogi and his crew and delve into nearby George Washington National Forest to find a little peace and quiet alongside Cave Mountain Lake.
Peaks of Otter Campground
One of the shorter drives along our tour down the Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter Campground is just under 25 miles south at mile post 85.6. This trek will leave you ample time to explore the visitor center, hike the short loop around the lake and maybe even cast your line after a bass or two.
Get to know the wildlife of the parkway, take a trip to the edge of the historic boundaries of the Cherokee Nation, and snag one of 53 sites suitable for RVs at Peaks of Otter Campground.
Looking for hookups? It’s a 35 minute drive to Middle Creek Campground, but they’ll have everything from a dump station to electric service waiting for you when you arrive, just don’t bank on the tranquility you’ve been used to all day while driving the parkway.
Should neither option work out, it’s another 75.5 miles to the next official parkway campground, and the first of many beautifully small towns along the route.
Along the way you’ll pass through the small city of Roanoke, Virginia (not to be confused with the “Lost Colony” of the same name), where you’ll have ample opportunity to stock up on groceries and other supplies that may have been lacking in the previous smaller towns along our route.
Rocky Knob Campground
While the area surrounding Rocky Knob continues to bring the big views and hiking trails like its fellow Blue Ridge Parkway campgrounds, the real draw to this part of the parkway is nearby Floyd. Floyd is a truly small town with a handful of local stores serving up everything from craft beer to locally roasted coffee to good chocolate and all of the farmland goodness one can shake a bail of hay at.
The town is famous for its music festivals, but is still a sight to see and enjoy a slow, short walk through any time of year.
Should you be more interested in visiting Floyd than the somewhat dated parkway campground, Chantilly Farm offers more of an RV park vibe closer to town, or you might give the colorfully named Daddy Rabbits Campground a try in nearby Willis, Virginia.
Not interested in diverting from your Blue Ridge Parkway route? A few miles south lives a town by the name of Meadows of Dan, which offers additional private RV parks.
Rocky Knob is the last campground directly on the parkway in Virginia, though additional private parks such as Fancy Gap-Blue Ridge Parkway KOA are still to be had before we cross the border into North Carolina. Once in the Tar Heel State, the parkway begins to shine even more brightly, with considerably more national forest, winding bends full of endless purple mountain’s majesty, and small town goodness off nearly every exit.
Doughton Park Campground
Now onto North Carolina, and our biggest drive from campground to campground along the tour, where we’ll end up at Doughton Park.
Doughton Park is a rather sad example of what the parkway once was, and what it was intended to be, in comparison to today. A bustling (if small) lodge and coffee shop once served travelers touring the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today, the campground is still open, and you can head toward the now empty lodge for a grand overlook.
All is not lost, of course, as a couple of hiking trails, plenty of scenic views, and a couple of historic buildings still exist in the area. To the east, Stone Mountain State Park introduces you to the first of Western North Carolina’s many gems. The state park’s campground has water and electric, and while reports on cell service vary, the rock formation that gives this state park its name is worth firing up your phone’s camera and popping off a few shots for a latergram.
Other options for camping in the area include New River State Park and a handful of private parks in the area should you decide to descend the mountains. Raccoon Holler Campground is the closest private campground to the parkway itself; you’ll run across this little site just shy of 16 miles east of Doughton Park.
Julian Price Park Campground
Another day, another 57.7 miles. You’re now approaching some of the best scenery and side trips the parkway has to offer thus far.
Julian Price Park is one of the most popular campgrounds on the route, likely due to its proximity to so many other attractions.
Boone, North Carolina is a maze of a little mountain town full of hip coffee shops and breweries. You’ll also find some of the most prominent peaks in the Eastern United States, like towering Grandfather Mountain, the immense cliffs of Blowing Rock, and the overlook of Johns River Gorge here.
When daybreak comes, you’ll be well on your way to one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s most famous sites.
Linville Falls Campground
As your journey takes you from Julian Price to the Linville Falls Campground, less than a twenty mile drive, you’ll likely once again count down the many mile markers that dot the edge of where the Blue Ridge Parkway and the sky coalesce. Keep your eyes peeled as you approach mile post 304.4, where you’ll approach the Linn Cove Viaduct.
What can take just a minute or two to traverse by car took engineers fifty two years to complete. The parkway’s construction began in 1935 and this remarkable “bridge” that hangs off the side of Grandfather Mountain (thus relieving the need for the road’s planners to cut into the fabled almost-6000-footer) is worth stopping for a photo and a long stare all on its own.
The Tanawha Hiking Trail runs parallel to the parkway and right near the viaduct. Grandfather Mountain State Park (hike-in backcountry camping only) boasts gnarly gorgeous rock outcroppings and a plethora of animals, particularly in slower times of the year.
Linville Falls Campground is another twelve miles of down the parkway from the viaduct.
Crabtree Falls Campground
Continuing our theme of worshipping falling water on our journey from Linnville Falls to Crabtree Falls, we head into the Black Mountains and approach the tallest peak in the Eastern United States, Mount Mitchell.
There’s a whole story behind the epic discovery of this 6,684′ behemoth that makes most of this side of the Mississippi look level. Locals will tell you of two purveyors of geographical height in a heated battle over which mountain was taller. A man named Clingman claimed his mountain, Smoky Dome, to be the most well postured while Mitchell claimed his Black Dome to be. Mitchell eventually won out, and both peaks were renamed for the men who elevated their elevation to historical heights. All the while New Hampshire’s Mount Washington sent reports claiming it would ignore such silliness, how could any mountain be taller than their own? Mitchell eventually fell to his death while verifying the height, a state park was established around the officially highest peak in the east, and Clingman’s Dome (the new name for Smoky Dome) was forced to live out the rest of its days in the shadow of not only Mt. Mitchell, but eventually nearby Mt. Craig as well.
Should you choose to end today’s journey at Crabtree Falls Campground, the official one belonging to the parkway, you’ll fall a few miles short of exploring Mount Mitchell State Park. But, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see the triumphant tower as you continue your drive come morning.
Mount Pisgah Campground
The final official Blue Ridge Parkway campground on our tour will take us another 69.1 miles down the parkway, and leave us around 60 miles shy of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It’s also possibly the most majestic of the entire route, and certainly packed with the most cool towns to visit if such a thing is on your to do list while weaving through these Blue Ridge Mountains.
First, there’s Asheville. If you’re the type who dreams of traveling the west, but just can’t get out there often enough, or find yourself eastbound for the season, Asheville is the closest thing to the general vibe you find in places like Oregon and California.
Laid back people with a slant towards things like hiking and craft beer, kayaking and eclectic culinary delights, the city is one of the most walkable, enjoyable places in the east and serves as sort of a shining gateway to all things Western North Carolina.
As camping goes, the options near Asheville aren’t spectacular, but they’re nothing to shake a fir branch at either. Wilson’s Riverfront RV Park will get you full hookups in a rather small spot along a couple of busy freeways, but put you within a quick Uber ride to hipster West Asheville or downtown proper. If you dig kayaking or have kiddos who love a massive playground, both are but steps (or paddles) away, too.
Just a click or two east along the freeway, or a stop-and-go drive via US-70, you’ll find the bustling small-town of Black Mountain and the quieter, stone laden hiker’s paradise of Montreat. Camping options remain limited near Black Mountain, but there is a KOA and the beloved Mama Gertie’s just one town over in Swannanoa.
The next town worth exploring along the way is Brevard, and though it’s a hop, skip and maybe two or three jumps from the parkway itself, this section of Pisgah National Forest has plenty of camping (often dispersed). Feel free to ask a ranger for what might be open during any given time of year.
A more official campground between the parkway and Brevard can be found in Davidson River Campground, which will afford you the benefits of camping in the national forest, but being only a short drive from all of Brevard’s charm.
Alternatively, head down the northern banks of the mountain towards Waynesville for a bit more hustle, bustle and plenty of southern fried kitsch for sale. RV parks abound around this small town, and will set you up for a shortcut to the Smokies if you’ve had enough of the slow go of the parkway by now.
The small towns and endless bends refuse to quit for the remainder of the brake burning way to the Great Smoky Mountains. Your reward for all of these Blue Ridge Parkway escapades? The Smokies are America’s most visited national park (though the parkway itself has been the most visited national park unit in general, with few exceptions, since 1946).
What’s the difference between a national park and a national park unit? We’ve got the whole spiel covered in our article on national park camping.
Learning about the history behind the village of Cherokee, taking a train ride in Bryson City, or just seeing the spectacle that is Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (though the former suffered a seriously devastating fire in late 2016) on the other side of the Smokies is all worthwhile, given that you’ve made it this far!
Bonus Content: More to Know and Love About the Blue Ridge Parkway
Some important things to note about the Blue Ridge Parkway: while the hairpin turns and steep cliffs are part of the nature of what makes it such an amazing drive, it can also be dangerous.
Large RVs or anyone who’s concerned about the state of their brakes should think twice before attempting any sections of the parkway. Also, due to elevation and the inclination of weather (and construction) to be unpredictable, note that parts of the parkway may be closed even within the general May through October guidelines the parks signs declare. Call ahead and save yourself some gas! Even if a part of the parkway is closed, you can always find a detour to bypass the inaccessible sections and get back on the road a little farther down.
There is also limited cell service throughout the parkway, so bring a map and have a backup plan ready in case of flat tires, natural disasters or Facebook withdrawal.
More Information: Visitor Centers
There are a number of visitor centers along the parkway, though not all of them are always open, and some are only open on the weekends.
If you’re coming from Shenandoah, Humpback Rocks is your first chance. At mile post 5.8, you can get info on what to expect and explore the history of the region and parkway itself. They even have live music in the summer!
Peaks of Otter is your next big opportunity for the full-on national park visitor center experience, replete with a nature center, hiking trails and access to the campground listed above by the same name.
On the North Carolina side of things near Asheville, the Folk Art Center plays home to a gift shop and occasional performances. The nearby (and possibly presumptuously named) Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center is perhaps the largest and most informative of them all along the parkway.
Farther west, the Linn Cove Viaduct Visitor Center is another stop worth making for information and to see the man-made spectacle up close from various overlooks and hiking trails.
When to Come?
While most of the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed in the winter (it’s a long season that stretches from November through April), spring promises wildflowers galore (they write songs about flowers in the Smokies you know?). Few places in the US boast as vivid an autumn as Western North Carolina with its multitude of elevations and temperatures.
Ah, A Purveyor of Fine Libations, Are You?
Virginia and North Carolina are producing some of the best wines in the country, despite being a continent away from Napa Valley. As many tours are as available as you are willing to tip your glass back (and shell out cash). Taking a wine tour while traveling the parkway is about as common as taking a photo of the rolling mountains.
When it comes to breweries, nowhere in the Eastern US boasts as much quality craft beer being produced than in Western North Carolina (Sierra Nevada and New Belgium both opened their eastern brewery locations in Asheville). The big guys may be calling this neck of the woods home, but it’s the small, local breweries that are worth visiting. One could easily take a week (or a month) exploring the ridiculous number of beers available in the area.