Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway: Tips and Must-See Stops Near Roanoke

Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke scenic view

The Blue Ridge Parkway connects visitors to fascinating locations in Virginia’s Blue Ridge, just a 10-minute drive from Downtown Roanoke. With eight different entry points, this world-famous road offers a variety of experiences, from the iconic Mabry Mill to the adventurous Explore Park and the scenic Peaks of Otter. Whether you’re seeking man-made marvels or natural wonders, the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke promises ample adventure. Keep reading to discover the top sights and tips for exploring this beautiful region.

Key Takeaways

  • The Blue Ridge Parkway is only a 10-minute drive from Downtown Roanoke and offers eight different entry points in the region.
  • Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed spots on the Parkway and a must-see icon.
  • Explore Park offers 1,100 acres of woods, bike paths, hiking trails, and water activities on the Roanoke River.
  • The Roanoke River Overlook provides stunning views of the Niagara Dam and is great for photography and wildlife spotting.
  • Give yourself at least two to three days to fully explore Roanoke and the surrounding towns and villages.

Discovering the Charm of Explore Park

Explore Park is a nature lover’s playground with 1,200 acres of pristine beauty to check out. The park has over 14 miles of dual-use hiking and biking trails, with nine of those built for biking. Among the park’s other attractions are historical buildings, a brewery and restaurant, river frontage, canoeing, and overnight stays in cabins, yurts, or primitive campsites. Additionally, for ages four and up, there’s Treetop Quest, an aerial obstacle course with zip lines, Tarzan swings, and other challenges. Like many of the natural attractions in the area, Explore Park is one you can return to again and again and experience something new every time.

Captivating Views at Roanoke River Overlook

The Roanoke River Overlook, near milepost 114, is among the lower elevation overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Still, you wouldn’t know it with its irresistible views of the Niagara Dam and Roanoke River. The dam, constructed in 1906, still supplies the city of Roanoke with power.

Mabry Mill: A Photographic Gem

Mabry Mill, located at milepost 176.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a must-stop location for visitors. Built between 1903 and 1914 by Ed and Lizzy Mabry, this historic grist mill, sawmill, and blacksmith shop operated until 1935. The mill is surrounded by a short, flat trail that offers picturesque views and a glimpse into the past. Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it’s easy to see why.

During the summer and fall months, Mabry Mill comes alive with demonstrations of old crafting skills. Visitors can watch blacksmithing, milling, and other traditional crafts being performed, providing a unique and educational experience. The site also features a restaurant and gift shop where you can enjoy country-style fare and purchase handmade crafts from local artisans.

For those looking to explore the area further, there are several nearby hiking trails. The .5-mile Mabry Mill Trail is wheelchair accessible and offers a scenic walk through the historic complex. Additionally, the surrounding area provides ample opportunities for more extensive hikes, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Peaks of Otter: A Natural Wonderland

Hiking Sharp Top Mountain

The Peaks of Otter stand as a timeless testament to the region’s natural beauty. These three prominent peaks—Sharp Top, Flat Top, and Harkening Hill—grace the landscape, offering visitors an unparalleled experience along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hiking Sharp Top Mountain is a must-do activity, providing breathtaking views and a rewarding challenge for outdoor enthusiasts. The trail is well-marked and offers a variety of scenic spots perfect for a couples getaway with a great mountain view.

Exploring Abbott Lake

Nestled between the Peaks of Otter mountains, Abbott Lake is a serene spot ideal for fishing, picnicking, or simply enjoying the tranquil surroundings. The Peaks of Otter Lodge, located on the edge of the lake, offers quick access to miles of hiking trails and a good restaurant that serves three hot meals a day. Whether you’re staying at the lodge or just visiting for the day, Abbott Lake is a highlight you won’t want to miss.

Visiting Johnson Farm

A visit to Johnson Farm offers a glimpse into the agricultural history of the region. This historic farmstead, located near the Peaks of Otter, features original buildings and artifacts that tell the story of early mountain life. It’s a great educational stop for families and history buffs alike. The farm is easily accessible and provides a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the charm of rural Appalachian life.

Rocky Knob Recreation Area Adventures

The Rocky Knob Recreation Area spans 4,500 enchanting acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With 15 miles of hiking trails, camping sites, RV sites, and an abundance of picnic sites, this Blue Ridge Parkway attraction is a great place to spend a few hours or days. Plenty of spots within provide jaw-dropping views, and the area is home to the 3,500-acre Rock Castle Gorge.

Exploring the Town of Floyd

Local Art and Music Scene

The Floyd Country Store is a must-visit for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Appalachian culture. This authentic general store has been a gathering place since 1910 and offers live music on Friday nights. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy some traditional bluegrass and old-time music while savoring delicious home-cooked meals. The town also boasts a variety of local breweries, wineries, and distilleries, such as Buffalo Mountain Brewery, known for its traditional German lagers.

Farmers’ Markets and Local Cuisine

Floyd’s farmers’ markets are a great way to experience the local flavors of the region. You’ll find fresh produce, homemade goods, and unique crafts. The town’s culinary scene is equally impressive, with a range of dining options that highlight locally-sourced ingredients. Whether you’re in the mood for a casual meal or a fine dining experience, Floyd has something to offer.

Annual Festivals and Events

Floyd is home to several annual festivals and events that celebrate the town’s rich cultural heritage. From music festivals to craft fairs, there’s always something happening in this vibrant community. Be sure to check the local event calendar to plan your visit around one of these exciting events.

Floyd is a small town with a big heart, offering a unique blend of culture, history, and natural beauty. Whether you’re a music lover, a foodie, or an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this charming Appalachian town.

Immerse Yourself in Appalachian History

The Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center is a treasure trove of information about the Appalachian Trail and the surrounding areas. Here, you can explore interactive exhibits that delve into the natural and cultural history of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Don’t miss the film that provides an overview of the parkway’s history and significance.

As you travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll encounter numerous historic sites that offer a glimpse into the past. From old homesteads to historic mills, each site tells a story of the people who settled in the region. One notable stop is the Mabry Mill, where you can see demonstrations of traditional crafts and skills.

Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the Appalachian region by participating in local events and workshops. These events often feature traditional music, dance, and crafts, providing a hands-on experience of the area’s traditions. Check the local listings for events happening during your visit to make the most of your trip.

Tasting Local Flavors: Vineyards and Wineries

Top Vineyards to Visit

Exploring the region’s vineyards and wineries is so much fun! Virginia and North Carolina are both world-class wine producers, and there are many unique vineyards and wineries close to the Blue Ridge Parkway worth exploring. One of the best wineries in Virginia is King Family Vineyards, a family-owned and operated winery nestled in the gorgeous foothills of the Blue Ridge.

Wine Tasting Tips

When visiting a vineyard, it’s essential to pace yourself and savor each sip. Bold flavors can be overwhelming, so start with lighter wines and gradually move to the more robust ones. Don’t forget to cleanse your palate between tastings with some water or a neutral snack.

Seasonal Wine Events

Many vineyards host seasonal events that are perfect for wine enthusiasts. From harvest festivals to winter wine tastings, there’s always something happening. Check the local vineyard’s event calendar to plan your visit around these exciting activities.

Visiting a local vineyard or winery along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a delightful experience that combines scenic beauty with the joy of discovering new wines.

Small Mountain Towns Worth Visiting

scenic view of Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke with small mountain towns

Charming Shops and Cafes

Exploring the small mountain towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a delightful experience. These towns are filled with charming shops and cafes that offer unique local products and delicious treats. Whether you’re looking for a cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or a quaint shop to find a special souvenir, these towns have something for everyone.

Local Art Galleries

Art enthusiasts will love visiting the local art galleries in these mountain towns. The galleries showcase a variety of artworks, from traditional Appalachian crafts to contemporary pieces. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and perhaps even take home a piece of the Blue Ridge to remember your trip by.

Historic Landmarks

Many of these towns are rich in history, with numerous historic landmarks to explore. From old mills to historic homes, each landmark tells a story of the past. Don’t miss the chance to visit these sites and learn about the area’s heritage. For a deeper dive into the past, check out the [historic Roanoke: a journey through time](pathname: /historic-roanoke-a-journey-through-time/).

Travel Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Journey

Embarking on a journey along the Blue Ridge Parkway is an adventure filled with breathtaking views and memorable experiences. To ensure your trip is both safe and enjoyable, here are some essential tips to keep in mind.

Motorcycle Safety Guidelines

Riding a motorcycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway can be exhilarating, but it’s important to prioritize safety. Always wear a helmet and protective gear. Be mindful of the weather conditions, as the parkway can be foggy and wet, making the roads slippery. Keep an eye out for wildlife and other vehicles, especially around curves and bends.

Best Times to Travel

The Blue Ridge Parkway is beautiful year-round, but certain times are better for travel. Spring and fall offer mild temperatures and stunning scenery. Fall, in particular, is popular for its vibrant foliage. To avoid crowds, consider traveling during weekdays and early mornings. This 469-mile byway connects two major national parks and is packed with some of the best hikes and views in the Appalachian Mountains.

Essential Packing List

Packing the right items can make your trip more comfortable and safe. Here’s a list of essentials:

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Snacks and a picnic blanket
  • First aid kit
  • Maps and a GPS device
  • Camera or smartphone for photos

Remember, preparation is key to a successful trip. By planning ahead and packing wisely, you’ll be ready to enjoy all the Blue Ridge Parkway has to offer.

Camping Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Top Campgrounds

Camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway presents an exciting outdoor adventure in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. These campgrounds in our region are located within close proximity of the Parkway:

  • Explore Park Camping & Cabins – Milepost 114
  • Chantilly Farm Campground – Milepost 150
  • Peaks of Otter Campground – Milepost 86
  • Rocky Knob Campground – Milepost 167

There are nine public Blue Ridge Parkway Campgrounds with more than 1,000 campsites available for both tents and RVs. At $20 per night, this is a way more affordable option than hotels, Airbnbs, or even private campgrounds, and it’s a great way to explore the region, as many hiking trails, waterfalls, photo ops, and other features can be accessed from the campgrounds.

Camping Tips for Beginners

  • Reserve your site up to six months in advance.
  • Only heat-treated firewood is permitted in the campgrounds, and you can buy firewood onsite.
  • Each site has a fireplace and a picnic table.
  • Showers are not available, except at Julian Price and Mt. Pisgah campgrounds.

Pro Tip: Sites are $20 per night, making it an affordable option for exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Leave No Trace Principles

When camping, it’s essential to follow the Leave No Trace principles to preserve the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impact.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

By adhering to these principles, you help ensure that the Parkway remains pristine for future generations to enjoy.

Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains

Popular Hiking Trails

The Blue Ridge Mountains offer a plethora of hiking trails that cater to all levels of hikers. From the scenic Buck Mountain Trail to the challenging Three Ridges Hike, there’s something for everyone. Some popular trails include:

  • Buck Mountain Trail
  • Mill Mountain Park
  • Peaks of Otter
  • Rock Castle Gorge
  • Explore Park

For those seeking waterfalls, the Upper and Lower Shamokin Falls and Crabtree Falls Trail are must-visits.

Safety Tips for Hikers

When hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, safety should be your top priority. Always carry a map and compass, and make sure to inform someone about your hiking plans. Here are some essential safety tips:

  1. Stay on marked trails.
  2. Carry enough water and snacks.
  3. Wear appropriate footwear.
  4. Be aware of wildlife and keep a safe distance.
  5. Check the weather forecast before heading out.

Remember, the weather in the mountains can change rapidly, so be prepared for all conditions.

Guided Hiking Tours

If you’re new to hiking or want to learn more about the area’s natural history, consider joining a guided hiking tour. These tours are led by experienced guides who can provide valuable insights and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Many local organizations and parks offer guided hikes, ranging from short nature walks to full-day adventures.


Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke offers an unforgettable journey through some of the most picturesque landscapes and charming towns in Virginia. Whether you’re captivated by the historic Mabry Mill, the adventurous trails of Explore Park, or the serene beauty of the Peaks of Otter, there’s something for everyone. Don’t forget to take your time and immerse yourself in the local culture, perhaps with a visit to a local vineyard or a stroll through Roanoke’s vibrant downtown. With so many entry points and attractions, the Blue Ridge Parkway is more than just a drive—it’s an experience. So pack your bags, plan your stops, and get ready for an adventure that you’ll cherish for years to come!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

The best time to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway is during the fall when the foliage is at its peak. Spring is also a great time to visit due to the blooming wildflowers.

How many entry points are there to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke?

There are eight different entry points to the Blue Ridge Parkway throughout the Roanoke region.

What are some must-see stops near Roanoke on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Some must-see stops include Mabry Mill, Explore Park, Peaks of Otter, and the Roanoke River Overlook.

Is there an entry fee for traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

No, traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway is free.

Are dogs allowed on the Blue Ridge Parkway trails and campgrounds?

Yes, dogs are permitted on all Blue Ridge Parkway trails and in campgrounds, but they must be kept on a leash.

What safety tips should I follow when traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Always obey the speed limit, familiarize yourself with motorcycle safety guidelines, and be cautious of wildlife on the road.

Can I visit local vineyards and wineries along the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Yes, there are several vineyards and wineries along the Blue Ridge Parkway where you can enjoy wine tasting and tours.

How long should I plan to stay in Roanoke and the surrounding areas?

It’s recommended to spend at least two or three days exploring Roanoke and the surrounding towns and villages to fully experience what the region has to offer.

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