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The Blue Ridge Parkway, NC is one of the most scenic drives in the United States. From the Virginia state line to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Parkway stretches 469 miles along the mountaintops of western North Carolina. Families love short hiking trails to picturesque 360-degree views at places like Water Rock Knob and Grandfather Mountain.
The Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, NC offers waterfalls and swimming holes where families can play all day at Sliding Rock and Graveyard Fields. The mountaintop views, short hikes, and swimming holes make the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC my favorite drive for families east of the Mississippi.
Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Stops
1. Stroll Through the Forest to Cascade Falls (Milepost 272)
Cascade Falls is one of the easiest waterfalls to access along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina with kids. The Cascade Trail is a 30-minute loop trail only a short from Boone. It’s one of the first kid-friendly hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway as it enters North Carolina from Virginia. On the way out to the falls families can stop to admire viewpoints of the mountains, and on the way back to the car, kids can play in the creek.
Looking to continue your Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip into Virginia? Check out Trekaroo’s Guide to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway.
2. Enjoy the View at the Linn Cove Viaduct and Pick Up a Junior Ranger Booklet at the Visitor Center (Milepost 304)
The Linn Cove Viaduct is one of the most scenic points along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. This is the perfect place to stop along the Parkway to pick up a Junior Ranger Booklet at the Visitor Center. In the early fall, this is one of the first places where you’ll begin to see the colors changing.
3. Walk Across the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain (Milepost 305)
Grandfather Mountain is not located on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, but it does have some of the most spectacular mountain top views in the state. It is accessed via US-221. Fully exploring Grandfather Mountain takes at least half a day. It boasts a pedestrian Mile High Swinging Bridge, small zoo with animal habitats featuring local animals, and rocks to climb. Entrance to Grandfather Mountain is a bit pricey for those just planning to hike; however, if you have small children the animal habitats and nature center exhibits are worth the price.
4. Take a Short Hike to Linville Falls (Milepost 316)
There are two trail options at Linville Falls: hiking into the gorge to see the falls from the bottom and hiking along the edge of the gorge and viewing the falls from the top. While I originally wanted to take on the more strenuous adventure of hiking into the Linville Gorge, a ranger at visitor center advised me to enjoy the view from the top first. The view from the top frames the waterfalls quite nicely. There were even some rocks for my son to climb upon.
5. Drive Highway 128 to Climb Mount Mitchell and Hike among the Rhododendrons at Craggy Gardens (Milepost 355 and 364)
Driving a bit further south, you’ll find the popular Craggy Gardens hiking area. Craggy Gardens is known for its beautiful rhododendron bloom in the early summer and family-friendly hiking trails. Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the Appalachian Mountains, is also accessible from this section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Families can drive NC- 128 all the way to the summit of Mount Mitchell. From the parking area, it is a short, paved walk up to the observation deck for 360-degree panoramic views.
Unfortunately, on during the time of our visit to Asheville the section of Parkway between the Folk Art Center and Mount Mitchell was closed due to road maintenance and the clearing of trees. We learned our lesson: always check the National Park Service’s Blue Ridge Parkway webpage for road closures before setting out on a Parkway adventure or you might end up being disappointed (and wasting quite a bit of time).
6. Go Shopping at the Folk Art Center and Visit the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center (Mileposts 382 and 384)
Traveling south on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Asheville, you’ll find the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center and Folk Art Center within a mile or so of each other. The Folk Art Center is a unique place where artisans from all over Southern Appalachia are able to sell their crafts, from ceramics to wooden toys to knitted garments. Most days a couple of artisans are on hand to give demonstrations. In addition to the extensive shop – perfect for finding that unique Christmas gift – there is a permanent collection and temporary galleries featuring the crafting history of Appalachia.
7. Spend a Day in Asheville when Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Families can’t drive the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina without stopping for at least one meal in Asheville. Better yet, stop for a day and tour the historic Biltmore Estate. The historic early 20th century home to George Vanderbilt offers a variety of tours. There is even an audio guide narrated by the Vanderbilt dog, Cedric. Looking for some adventure? The Adventure Center of Asheville has plenty of the thrills for everyone in the family ages four and up from zip lines to a bicycle pump track.
Discover the best things to do in Asheville with kids.
8. Explore The Kid-Friendly North Carolina Arboretum (Mile 393)
Driving south out of Asheville, the North Carolina Arboretum is located right at one of the entrances to the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC making it the perfect place to explore before or after a day of driving the nation’s most popular scenic road. With short manageable trails, lovely manicured gardens, and educational children’s programs, the arboretum is the perfect place to let the little ones explore.
9. Hike to the Top of Mount Pisgah (Milepost 408.6)
I will never forget hiking to the top of Mount Pisgah with my son near sunset, and finding our way back to the car as the sun set. Knowing that our minutes of daylight were short, we raced each other the .8 mile up 700 feet of elevation gain to the top of the mountain. Words cannot describe how proud I was that we made it in time to see the bright orange sky with the sun just about to fall over the ridge line. I have to imagine that view is one of the best around at any time of day.
10. Slide down a Waterslide at Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls Located off Highway 276 (Milepost 412)
I told my son about the Sliding Rock waterfall before our trip; after that, he was not about to let me leave Asheville without sliding down a waterfall. Every time we saw a river, a stream or waterfall, he asked if this was the one that he could slide down. Once we finally arrived at Sliding Rock on our second evening in Asheville, the excitement did not wear off. He slid down over a dozen times until I saw him shivering a bit and we had to go. Did I go down? Yes, and my son even took a video to prove it!
There are plenty of waterfalls to visit not far from Sliding Rock, including Looking Glass Falls just off the road and Moore Cove Falls – which we would have hiked to based on the name alone if we had another hour of daylight.
11. Take a Swim at Skinny Dip Falls (Milepost 417)
One of the local’s favorite swimming holes can be found at mile 417 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC. The unmarked trail to Skinny Dip Falls is located across the parkway from the viewpoint at mile 417. It is actually part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail that traverses North Carolina from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks. Hiking down to the falls takes about 20 minutes. Families will find several swimming areas at the popular falls. My son and I enjoyed climbing around beneath the top tier of the falls. Then we explored further downstream so that my son could throw rocks into the water.
Looking for more hidden swimming holes and family fun in the mountains of Western North Carolina? Check out Trekaroo’s NC Mountain Vacations: Relax at Lake Junaluska.
12. Take a Short Hike to a Waterfall at Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418.8)
Out of all the dozens stops that we have made along the Parkway, Graveyard Fields, located about an hour outside of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is the place to which I would most like to return. Don’t make the same mistake that we did; allow at least a few hours to hike this trail! We simply didn’t have enough time to explore; we spent an hour hopping from rock to rock in the stream bed both above and below the Lower Falls; the waterfall glistened beautifully in the afternoon light. However, I’m still disappointed that we missed out on the Upper Falls about a mile upstream.
13. Stop at Richland Balsam Overlook for a Photo (Milepost 431.4)
The Richland Balsam Overlook is the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a sign so that families can stop for the ultimate Parkway family photo-op.
14. Enjoy the View and Climb to the Top of Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2)
Waterrock Knob is only 18 miles from the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a Visitor Center where families can pick up Junior Ranger booklets if they are driving the Parkway south to north. While the view from the Visitor Center is spectacular, it only gets better as one hikes the steep trail up from the parking lot to the top of Waterrock Knob. It is .6 miles from the parking lot to the top of Waterrock Knob, and locals say it is one of their favorite short hikes in the area. My son and I only made it a quarter of a mile up the paved part of the trail to the first overlook. Just the short climb was totally worth it for the view.
Discover more of the state with theTop 10 Things to do in North Carolina with kids.
Where to Stay on the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC near Asheville, North Carolina
We stayed one night at the Omni Grove Park Inn overlooking the city of Asheville before driving north on the Blue Ridge Parkway. When staying at the Omni Grove Park, you’ll want to park your car, sit back, relax and enjoy the resort’s amenities. There are pools, hiking trails, golf, outdoor adventure concessionaires, stores, and restaurants on property. I loved our spacious room with inviting brown leather chairs positioned right by the window, perfect for reading a book and enjoying a view of the mountains all around.
Disclosure: The Omni Grove Park Inn provided complimentary or media rate experiences and lodging for my family. All opinions are my own.