Wintertime is just about ready to arrive in North Carolina, and while leaf peeping season has ended, there are still plenty of reasons to visit the famed Blue Ridge Parkway.
About 250 miles of the parkway—from Cherokee to the Virginia border—is located in North Carolina, passing through the Highlands region, Pisgah National Forest, and ending in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
While October is a popular time for color tours along the parkway, getting out of your car to explore some of the magical forest trails is worth the trek.
We’ve compiled five walking trails that stretch along the North Carolina portion of the parkway—so bundle up and get your boots on.
Note: Winter weather sometimes leads the National Park Service to close certain stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway, so be sure to check their website before heading out on a day trip.
Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center Loop
Milepost 384 in Asheville
What better place to start your Blue Ridge adventure than at the official visitor center? Look for the stone arch—a replica of one of the parkway’s tunnels—near the large oak trees that mark the start of this 1.3-mile loop, one of the few loop trails located anywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some believe the trees once lined a driveway or surrounded a long lost homesite, but what remains is a lot of mixed forest with some unique features along the way, including a fern gulley that lets you know you’ve almost completed the loop.
Follow the orange markers (called blazes) to stay on the loop, or split off and make the 2.5-mile hike to the Folk Art Center if you’re feeling like you need a longer challenge. One safety note to keep in mind: This trail crosses the actual Blue Ridge Parkway at least once, and the National Park Service urges hikers to exercise extreme caution at these crossings, as cars will sometimes speed on the parkway.
Milepost 317 in Avery County
There are multiple ways to get to the three-tiered Linville Falls, known as the Blue Ridge Parkway’s most famous waterfall, and they include both moderate and strenuous hikes. There are four overlooks to hike to for the perfect Instagram shot of Linville Gorge, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians”—just remember that swimming is prohibited in the area (and seeing as how this is a list of winter hikes, it would also be ill-advised).
Also nearby is the Linville River Bridge, which is just a 500-foot hike (a leg-stretcher as regular Blue Ridge Parkway riders call them), and leads to a beautiful historic bridge that you may not even know you just drove over. Hop out at the Linville River Parking Area, located at milepost 316.5, to get to the bridge.
Rough Ridge Trail
Milepost 302.8 near Grandfather Mountain
Known as one of the quickest and most satisfying hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Rough Ridge features some of North Carolina’s most famous views. Climb 408 feet in elevation in under a mile, ending at the 4,773-foot summit. That’s where you’ll be able to check out spectacular mountain views of nearby Grandfather Mountain and Linn Cove Viaduct, with endless views of the Piedmont stretching beyond that.
The trail features several large boulders that serve as excellent picnic tables, or simply a seat to help you ponder the vastness of the Blue Ridge. There are all sorts of opportunities to expand your hike from this trail, as it is but one part of two larger trails: the 13-mile Tanawha Trail and the 935-mile Mountains to Sea Trail. Needless to say, the latter is not something to tackle during a day trip. Take note: Pets are prohibited on Rough Ridge Trail, as they would further endanger an already vulnerable plant population.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park
Milepost 294 in Blowing Rock
Having built his fortune on denim and other textiles, Moses H. Cone constructed his 23-room Colonial Revival mansion, Flat Top Manor, as a retreat from the rigors of running a business empire. With 25 miles of carriage roads built throughout the property, the estate serves as one of the most popular spots for hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Hikers can enjoy two man-made lakes, meadows that seem plucked off the set of The Sound of Music, the historic Cone Cemetery, or Rich Mountain—a quieter, longer alternative to the popular Flat Top Tower hike. For a bonus winter adventure, stop by Chetola Resort for a stroll around the Festival of Lights, which features captivating Christmas displays placed around Chetola Lake, running from Nov. 24, 2023 to Jan. 28, 2024.
Mileposts 238.5–241 in Laurel Springs
Known as one of the best places along the Blue Ridge Parkway to view white-tailed deer, raccoons, red and grey foxes, and bobcats, Doughton Park has no shortage of hiking trails—more than 30 miles of them cross forested slopes, streams and backcountry meadows in Basin Cove. Enjoy a short hike on Fodder Stack Trail or test yourself further on the strenuous 7.5-mile Bluff Mountain Trail.
There’s plenty of history to explore at Doughton Park, as well, whether you visit the Brinegar Cabin to see craft demonstrations or hike into Basin Cove to view the Caudill Family Homestead. You could also skip the hiking altogether and pull up to the Wildcat Rocks Overlook for great views without all that pesky exercise—but what’s the fun in that?
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