The Top Blue Ridge Parkway Summit Hikes
The mysterious Blue Ridge Mountains of Southern Appalachia run a 550 mile course, from Georgia to Pennsylvania. Along with the Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Mountain region is amongst the most popular vacation destinations in the Southeast, with the Blue Ridge Parkway alone seeing over 15 million tourists per year. The highest point in the Appalachian Range, Mt. Mitchell, resides in Western North Carolina. At 6684 feet, it also comes in as the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Covering almost the entirety of the Western North Carolina region, the mountains provide endless opportunity for adventure and nature exploration.
The Parkway is the best means of exploring the many beautiful hiking trails, overlooks, and waterfalls in the area. For a bird’s eye view of the dazzling mountains, a summit hike is your best bet. Featured below are a few great Parkway summit stunners where you can get in a heart pumping workout, while also taking in fabulous one-of-a-kind scenery. There is nothing more motivating than being rewarded with a spectacular view following an invigorating workout! All of these hikes are conveniently located no more than 1.5 hours from Asheville, and thus, a reasonable daytrip.
One of the top bang-for-your-buck mountain hikes on the Parkway is the short but very steep 1/2 mile trek up to the summit of Devil’s Courthouse, a towering 5270 foot rock formation with a sinister legend. The story goes that the Devil lives in a cave beneath the rock and holds court here. Whether or not you believe in superstition, the views here are possibly the best on the Parkway, and the sunsets are out of this world! Luckily, it’s never too crowded here so you can linger on as long as you like, enjoying the mountain scenery all to yourself. With incredible long range views, Devil’s Courthouse is definitely one that will take your breath away! From 5000+ feet up, you can see all the way into Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina!
While extremely hard to find parking (especially during peak leaf peeping), the short <1 mile hike to Rough Ridge is well worth the hassle. As one of the Parkway’s more popular trails, parking fills up fast. Despite being located on the lengthy Tanawha trail, the Rough Ridge overlook lies less than a mile into the trail. The first spectacular overlook is located less than a 1/2 mile into the trail, so you can make this a really short hike if you wish. It’s a bit further to the summit (4773 ft), but worth the hassle if you have the time and desire a more intense workout. From either viewpoint, the views are fabulous, even moreso when the mountains are covered with the bright golden, red, and yellow hues of the brilliant WNC autumn season.
Tourists flock to Craggy Gardens early each June to see the colorful rhododendrons in bloom. After enjoying the views at one of the most popular overlooks on the Parkway, you will want to embark on the short steep hike up to Craggy Pinnacle. At just 0.7 miles each way, this one requires minimal effort in exchange for a world-class view of the beautiful Craggy Mountains, named as so for their jagged like features. The summit sits at 5892 feet, so as you can imagine the views are quite spectacular, especially on a clear day. Even better, the temps are cool to cold here year-round, making this hike an enjoyable option on a hot summer day.
Black Balsam Knob via Art Loeb
A moderate 1.5 mile hike up to this treeless bald will lead you to an exhilarating overlook of the mountains. The Appalachian area is known for its’ unique abundance of treeless balds which feel more alpine in nature thanks to the unobstructed views of the mountains. At 6214 feet, looking out on the 2nd highest peak in the Great Balsam range, you will truly feel on top of the world. With jaw dropping mountain views in every direction, you may feel more like you are in a scene from the classic The Sound of Music, rather than in North Carolina. Black Balsam is easily one of the most exhilarating hiking experiences you will find in the state. Hike during the lush summer or colorful fall season for the most amazing views.
Mt Mitchell State Park is worth visiting, if only to say that you hiked to the highest summit east of the Mississippi. The full trail is an arduous 5+ mile adventure, however, you can opt for the much easier alternative of walking a short steep 280 yard paved road up to the observing deck. The air is fresh and cool at 6000+ feet, and the scenery and wildlife more consistent with that found in the North. At this high up, the view resembles the quiet beauty found throughout New England, with a gorgeous spruce-fir forest dramatically creating a picture-perfect backdrop. Mt. Mitchell is part of the Black Mountain range, which is home to 6 out of the 10 tallest peaks in the Eastern US. Visit on a clear day for a mesmerizing 85 mile range view.
One must-do along the Parkway is hiking up to the summit of Richard Balsam, the highest point on the Parkway at an altitude of 6410 feet. While this hike may not offer the grandiose views of others on this list, what it does offer you is the opportunity to enjoy a tranquil, tourist-free hiking experience. It’s rare to see anyone else hiking this trail, so you will get to enjoy a beautiful, rustic 1.5 mile moderate walk through the woods all to yourself. At 6000+ feet, the temps are usually 20 degrees cooler, so this hike makes for a refreshing nature experience on a hot summer ‘s day. Perhaps, best of all, the trail smells like Christmas year-round as the fresh scent of pine envelops the air.
An intense 499 step stair climb leads you up to a mesmerizing rock formation known as Chimney Rock. The incredible scenery easily justifies Chimney place as one of the most visited state parks in North Carolina. From the top of this 535 million year old, 2280 foot high monolith, you will enjoy a bird’s eye view of the entire region. From beautiful Lake Lure, to the Hickory Nut Gorge, the extraordinary views make this one of the state’s most iconic viewpoints. Avid hikers will love the challenging climb to the top. For everyone else, you can opt to take a leisurely elevator ride to the summit (with just 44 steps required). Somehow the views seem so much more grandiose when you complete the intense journey by foot!
Milepost 385 (Take Hwy 74a for 20 miles)
Hidden in between numerous popular tourist attractions like Grandfather Mountain and Blowing Rock, this short hike to a breathtaking summit of 4100 feet often gets forgotten. At just over a half mile round trip, Flat Rock offers one of the better bang-for-your-buck experiences on the Parkway. In exchange for no more than a light workout, you get rewarded with expansive views of the region, including a beautiful photo worthy shot of Grandfather Mountain and the Linville Valley. If you visit during leaf peeping season, the colors covering the mountains add a brilliant seasonal touch. This one is super quiet so a great place to relax, reflect, or enjoy a picnic.
A quick 0.3 mile uphill hike is all it takes to get to one of the more mesmerizing overlooks on the Parkway. The often overlooked Beacon Heights hike is short on the distance, but rewards with panoramic views of the mountains. The big open summit offers endless views including top notch vistas of notable mountains such as Grandfather and Table Rock. Fall is the best time to plan your visit as you can enjoy a little bit of leaf peeping to make the journey even more exciting. Because this one is so short, you may want to consider adding on a few hikes while in the vicinity. Flat Rock and Rough Ridge (2 more easy summit hikes) are just minutes away.