Drive the western half of the Blue Ridge Parkway and stop for a day hike along the way
The Blue Ridge Parkway is considered by many to be America’s most scenic drive. 469-miles in length, the country’s longest linear park connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. At times, the 1,200-mile Mountains to Sea Trail and the iconic 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail even follow the same corridor. Day hikes are a popular reason to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway around Asheville, and this guidebook showcases some of the best.
To the west, this guidebook begins with the Sam Knob/Black Balsam Loop. This figure-eight hike is often split in two, though a phenomenal day trip for anyone able to conquer all 10 miles. The hike starts along a paved Forest Service road off the Blue Ridge Parkway and offers incredible 360-degree views from high in the mountains. Just a short drive away, you can go for an easier day hike around Graveyard Fields and visit one (or both) of its pristine waterfalls.
Heading up the parkway, Fryingpan Mountain and Mount Pisgah are two shorter hikes that pair well as a day trip for many Asheville visitors. These high peaks along the crest of the Pisgah ridge offer stellar vistas of both Pink Beds Valley and Hominy Valley. Both hold deep roots in the ancient logging efforts of the first American settlers.
Heading northeast of Asheville, the Snowball Mountain Trail and Big Butt Trail both offer incredible ridgeline traverses with epic views from their high peaks. The Big Butt Trail also offers some of the best unadulterated views of the Black Mountains – especially Mount Mitchell to the east. The ridge of the Black Mountains also hosts one of the most challenging hikes in the east, the Black Mountain Crest Trail. Known a graduation level run to hikers and trail runners alike, this is an airy traverse that tests even the strongest of hikers. While many shuttle the route, shorter out-and-back hikes are popular as well.
If you find yourself near Grandfather Mountain, the Daniel Boone Scout Trail is one of the better ways to experience the diverse ecosystems atop Grandfather Mountain. While mostly following a ridge, the steeper sections are often navigated by switchbacks. Camping is abundant along the route and reservations can be made through the state park. Even better, this run offers the opportunity to drive the Linn Cove Viaduct – a engineering marvel that was the last section of the entire 469-mile roadway to be completed.
Furthest away from Asheville, the Boone Fork Trail Loop may just be the best hike on the entire list. Under 5 miles, the route reveals a high-country meadow, dark forests, and rugged singletrack that parallels a series of beautiful waterfalls. The nearby city of Boone is also home to phenomenal food, drinks, and plenty of activities – should you find the time.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without North Carolina’s premier thru-hiking trail, the Mountains to Sea Trail (MST). Connecting Clingmans Dome to the Outer Banks, the 1,200 mile-long trail follows the Blue Ridge Parkway through most of Western North Carolina and offers countless day hikes from many of its overlooks.