Categories: CampingDestinations

An Unforgettable Blue Ridge Parkway Camping Road Trip Itinerary

Curling through two states, two national parks, and the Appalachian Mountains, America’s original national parkway is packed with knockout views and spectacular hiking trails. 

For the classic Blue Ridge Parkway road trip, drive the entire 469-mile route from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina and Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hopping out to admire forest-clad vistas, hike to hidden waterfalls, and explore historic log cabins along the way. 

Taking between 3 to 5 days to drive, it’s an ideal choice for an RV road trip, with smooth bends and high-clearance tunnels providing full access for big rigs. Whether you prefer a backdrop of blazing spring wildflowers or smoldering fall foliage, great views are guaranteed through all four seasons—although snowfall can sometimes lead to road closures in winter. 

To help you plan your trip and snag the most sought-after camping spots, this Blue Ridge Parkway itinerary has you covered. 

Planning a stress-free Blue Ridge Parkway road trip

More than 15 million people tackle the Blue Ridge Parkway scenic drive each year, and the secret to road trip success is all in the planning. Plot your chosen route in advance, secure campsite reservations early, and plan extra time to account for traffic and impromptu photo stops. 

The traditional way to drive the route is north to south, from Afton (milepost 0) to Cherokee (milepost 469), but you can also drive south to north or access the road in Roanoke, Virginia; Blowing Rock, North Carolina; or Asheville, North Carolina. 

You’ll need a minimum of 3 days, averaging about 4 hours of drive time per day, but our advice is to slow down and savor the scenery. There’s a maximum speed limit of 45 miles per hour throughout, and the serpentine and often steep two-lane roads lend themselves to a leisurely pace. 

The most popular time to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway is from April through October, and it’s busiest from June through August and October (peak fall foliage season). Outside of this season, most visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas will be closed, although the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center and Folk Art Center near Asheville both stay open year-round. If you do come in winter, keep an eye on the weather, as road conditions can change quickly and closures are possible.

There are eight NPS campgrounds along the Blue Ridge Parkway, with a mix of reservable (up to 6 months in advance) and first-come, first-served campsites, none of which have hookups. Alternatively, you’ll find a variety of other places to camp on the Blue Ridge Parkway, from secluded tent sites to cozy glampsites. 

Tip: You can use the National Scenic Byways map layer when searching for Hipcamps to easily find convenient locations along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Start: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Swathes of emerald-green forest blanket the Blue Ridge Mountains at Shenandoah National Park, creating a 200,000-acre playground for outdoor adventures. Along with hiking a scenic stretch of the Appalachian Trail, you can picnic by waterfalls, go rock climbing, or pitch your tent in the backcountry. 

The park’s 105-mile Skyline Drive connects directly with milepost 0 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it a popular addition to any road trip. For the most dazzling colors, visit in the fall.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Robert Trumble at Watercress Inn at Landon Farm

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Shenandoah National Park

Stop 1: Natural Bridge State Park, Virginia 

Named for the 215-foot-high natural arch that towers over Cedar Creek, Natural Bridge State Park also has 10 miles of hiking trails to explore. Stretch your legs along the about 2-mile Cedar Creek Trail, which affords views of the Natural Bridge, as well as Lace Falls and Saltpeter Cave. 

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Natural Bridge

Stop 2: Peaks of Otter, Virginia

About an hour northeast of Roanoke, Peaks of Otter is one of the most popular spots for camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and has plenty of room for RVs. Even if you don’t camp, you can make the most of the spacious picnic area, enjoy lunch at the Lake View Restaurant, and hit the trails. 

More lake views await on the 1-mile Abbott Lake Loop, but if you fancy a challenge, climb the steep 1.5-mile trail to the summit of Sharp Top Mountain.

Photo by Hipcamp Host Rick Stowe at Blue Ridge Overland Gear Camp

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Peaks of Otter

Stop 3: Rocky Knob, Virginia

The wooded mountain ridges at Rocky Knob bloom with vibrant rhododendrons and other wildflowers through spring, and the rugged Rock Castle Gorge Trail is one of the region’s most rewarding half-day hikes. There’s a campground, cabins, and visitor center (open on weekends only) at Rocky Knob, or you can continue a few miles south to Mabry Mill at milepost 176. 

The historic watermill is one of the most popular places to visit on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and you can peek inside the 19th-century mill and watch traditional handicraft and artisan demonstrations.

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Rocky Knob

Stop 4: Grandfather Mountain State Park, North Carolina

Crossing into North Carolina, Grandfather Mountain State Park sits just south of the mountain towns of Boone and Blowing Rock. Swing by the latter first to snap a photo of the eponymous Blowing Rock, which juts out over John’s River Gorge, then continue to Grandfather Mountain to walk the Mile High Swinging Bridge—the highest of its kind in America. There’s also a series of environmental habitats where you can safely spot cougars, black bears, and bald eagles in their natural surroundings.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Nelson Stegall at Dragon Hollow Nature Sanctuary

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain

Stop 5: Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina

Before arriving in Asheville, stop at Mount Mitchell State Park, where the namesake peak is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi River. It’s a strenuous hike to the summit if you’re up for the challenge; otherwise, drive up, then hike the final 10 minutes to the viewpoint. Backpackers can also enjoy backcountry camping in the surrounding Pisgah National Forest. 

South of Mount Mitchell, a short hike to the mountaintop Craggy Gardens (milepost 364) will reward you with magnificent views, especially in June when the summit is blanketed with rhododendrons.

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Mitchell

Stop 6: Mount Pisgah, North Carolina

At the southern tip of the parkway, the forested peak of Mount Pisgah overlooks the lively mountain town of the same name. Here, you’ll find a lodge, campground, picnic areas, and restaurant, all with sweeping views over the lush landscapes. Several hiking trails set out from town, but you can’t beat the about 2-mile wildflower-speckled trail to the summit. 

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Mount Pisgah

End: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

While the last stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway brings you to Cherokee, North Carolina, the grand finale is the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which stretches all the way over the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Hike to wildflower-filled valleys, hidden waterfalls, and misty mountaintops along more than 800 miles of trails, or camp out beneath the stars at backcountry campsites. 

The park’s nine developed campgrounds can book up months in advance, so plan ahead and snag a spot at a nearby Hipcamp instead. Or, set up Hipcamp’s availability alerts and get a notification when a site opens up for your dates.

Photo by Hipcamper Michael Bean at Appalachian Pond Campground

Top campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Great Smoky Mountains

Roadtrip Routes from Subaru and Hipcamp

Hipcamp and Subaru teamed up to create 10 epic American road trips for campers to explore this summer. No matter your camping style or vehicle, Hipcamp’s search options allow road-trippers to find the best site for your needs—search with the EV charging stations map to view charging stations along your route, filter for pet-friendly campsites if you’re bringing Fido, and even find Hipcamps that fit your rig’s dimensions.

Zoë is a British freelance writer, editor, and copywriter who has lived, worked, and travelled over six continents, and is currently based in France. As a travel writer, she specializes in budget travel, backpacking, the outdoors, adventure, and French life and culture, but she also has a keen interest in ecotourism, equestrian, and the digital nomad lifestyle.

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