▶ BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Trails Along The Parkway
From the rugged terrain of the Tanawha Trail to the sloping carriage trails along the meadow of Cone Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a diverse hiking experience for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a relaxing hike from an overlook or a lengthy, wilderness hike in the backcountry. The trail network along the Blue Ridge Parkway traverses by or through the “highlights” of the federal conservation land such as the Viaduct or Price Lake. Check out some the hikes below to plan your next adventure on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Cascades Trail is named for the waterfall to which it leads, but the trail itself is worth the visit. Part of the E.B. Jeffress Park, the Cascades Trail is a self-guided interpretive trail with twenty interpretive plaques labeling tree species of the Blue Ridge. From the parking lot, the trail turns from paved to gravel and then follows the crest of a cliff. The trail is a 1.2-mile loop, and Cascade Falls can be viewed from observation platforms located both above and below the falls. Moderate.
Moses Cone Manor
Named after the post Civil War textile entrepreneur, conservationist and philanthropist, Moses Cone, this Victorian mansion exemplifies the resort home tradition in the High Country. During summer months, the estate is open as an arts and crafts center. The network of trails that crisscross the 3,500-acre Moses Cone Park is open year round. All trails are easy grade and great for larger groups with children. Easy to moderate.
Boone Fork Trail
The Boone Fork Trail differs from most Parkway hikes in two ways. The first is that the majority of the trail is in the woods, where tumbling streams and rock outcroppings replace typically grand vistas. The second is its length. At 4.9 miles, the Boone Fork Trail is longer than most, and slightly arduous. But given adequate time to complete and a picnic lunch, it is one of the most beautiful hikes in the area, with several stream crossings, rhododendron tunnels and open grasslands. Strenuous.
Just one mile south from the Boone Fork Trail, Price Lake is ideal for larger groups or for those looking for something a little less strenuous. The 2.4-mile loop around Price Lake is suitable for hikers of any level. Views of Grandfather Mountain can be seen from several points along the trail, which runs primarily along the lakeshore. On summer days, visitors can also venture into the water by renting a rowboat or canoe from the boat dock. Easy to Moderate.
Daniel Boone Scout Trail
Ascending about 2,000 feet in 3 miles, the Daniel Boone Scout Trail runs from the Tanawha Trail to the summit of Calloway Peak, which, at 5,964 feet, stands as the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. Extraordinary views, including one of Price Park and one of the Linn Cove Viaduct, punctuate the trail, which intersects the Cragway Trail about halfway up, at Flat Rock View. In-place ladders and cables help hikers negotiate the steep sections right before Calloway Peak. A permit is required for this hike, and the closest permit outlet is the Grandfather Mountain Country Store (located at the junction of Highway 221 and the Holloway Mountain Road). Strenuous.
Wilson Creek Overlook
If you’re looking for grandiose, long-range views directly from the parkway, then this is the overlook. High above the waters of Wilson Creek, which originates on Grandfather Mountain, this overlook is perfect opportunity to witness firsthand why they call it The High Country. Look out beyond the surrounding mountains, where the lowlands unfold themselves into the piedmont of North Carolina. On perfectly clear days, visitors have reported sighting the Charlotte skyline.
Tanawha Trail to
Rough Ridge is one of the most easily accessed vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Tanawha Trail is actually more than 13 miles long, spanning from Price Park to Beacon Heights, but the section from the parkway to Rough Ridge is a short 1.5 miles, with great views as close as 0.6 miles from the Parkway. The trail follows a ridge crest and leads to boardwalks where 360-degree views give visitors a birds-eye view of The High Country. Moderate to strenuous.
Linn Cove Viaduct
Even if it’s your first visit to The High Country, you’re more than likely familiar with the Linn Cove Viaduct. As the final piece of the Parkway, the Viaduct was put in place in 1987. It is known as “the world’s only bridge built from the top down,” referencing the fact that it was airlifted into place using specialized construction helicopters to avoid defacing the mountain with heavy equipment. For no other reason than to marvel at this engineering feat, the Viaduct is a must-see stop along the Parkway.
Grandfather Trail to Calloway Peak
At 5,964 feet, Calloway Peak is the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is part of Grandfather Mountain, which has several other high altitude peaks, including MacRae Peak (5,939 ft.). Calloway can be accessed via multiple trails, but the Grandfather Mountain Trail, for its boulder formations and beautiful evergreen forests, remains a favorite. Additionally, the Grandfather Trail is only a short distance from the Parkway.
Directions: Travel south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Highway 221 intersection at milepost 305, then take 221 South for 1 mile to the entrance of Grandfather Mountain. The Grandfather Trail begins at the highest parking lot, opposite the Linville Peak Visitor Center. Strenuous.
Beacon Heights via Tanawha Trail
Beacon Heights is a popular Parkway destination for its spectacular views of Grandfather Mountain and minimal distance. A mere 0.7 miles roundtrip, this leg-stretcher leads to a south-facing exfoliated dome, from which Mt. Mitchell and the Linville Gorge are visible.
Directions: From the parking lot, walk across SR 1513, which parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway. Enter the woods where the sign says “Tanawha Trail Beacon Heights 0.2.” The path climbs to a junction point for the Tanawha and Mountains-to-Sea trails; from there, follow signs marked “Beacon Heights Trail” to the right. By adding in sections of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, hikers can easily avoid the large crowds often found at Beacon Heights, and still gain gorgeous views. Moderate.
Flatrock Self-guiding Loop Trail
Like the Cascades Trail, the Flatrock Trail is a self-guided tour of local tree species and rock names. Twenty interpretive signs point out specific examples of natural occurrences, like a yellow birch that grew around a fallen log and now appears to be standing on its roots. There is also a virgin remnant of a northern red oak, a sign that we were once similar to northern New England states. The trail is only a short distance to Flatrock, where views on a clear day are extensive. Moderate.
Stretching 13.5 miles from Julian Price Park to Beacon Heights, parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina.
Tanawha, the Cherokee word for fabulous hawk or eagle, is an appropriate name for this trail that offers hikers spectacular views of distant mountains. Completed in 1993, the Tanawha Trail, like the final section of the parkway it mirrors, is unique in construction. The trail traverses a fragile and ancient ecosystem and leads hikers through a surprising range of biological and geological terrains. Some sections tunnel through thickets of laurel and rhododendron. Others dip down into remote hardwood coves and then ascend into evergreen glens. Boulder fields and cascading streams punctuate the landscape.
Sections above the Viaduct and along Rough Ridge are strenuous, but overall the trail is an easy to moderate walk. The many accesses from the Parkway let hikers choose as long a section as they like. To preserve this delicate area, stay on designated paths, bridges, and boardwalks.
Trail Highlights: From the access point below the Linn Cove Viaduct, the Tanawha Trail passes underneath the Viaduct and ascends steeply up stone steps past an enormous boulder wall. The trail levels off and enters a shady glen thick with birch and beech trees. Beyond the cascading water of Wilson Creek, the trail crosses a clearing filled with huge rock formations the trail here, accented with flat rocks, is like a flagstone path.
The trail then climbs sharply to Rough Ridge and over a 200-foot long boardwalk. Here the spectacular view into the piedmont is unobstructed because of the unusual low-growing and fragile mountain-heather ecosystems. It also offers an outstanding glimpse of the Linn Cove Viaduct and several mountains—Grandmother mountain, Hawksbill, and Table Mountain.
The trail continues on through a stately spruce and hemlock forest into a wooded glen reminiscent of New England. Its rocky landscape is filled with poplars, yellow birch, and oak.
Past Raven Rock, the trail tunnels through mountain laurel and rhododendron. This sheltered section then gives way to a more open area with a rock garden—large ferns cascade out of immense boulders.
More thickets of rhododendron lead to the junction of the Daniel Boone Trail, one of many trails on Grandfather Mountain, a private, commercial enterprise. Hiking or camping on Grandfather Mountain requires a permit and fee.
The Tanawha Trail passes several small cascades and crosses Boone Fork Creek. The trail winds in and out of rhododendron and laurel thickets, joins with an old logging road, and passes through a hard wood forest.
In the last sections leading to Price Park Picnic Area, the trial breaks out of the woods into open fields. Here it parallels and crosses Holloway Mountain Road, passes apple orchards, an old grave site, and pasture land, which in spring is blanketed with numerous wildflowers. Finally the trail joins Boone Fork Road for a short walk in the campground.
Cone Park Carriage Trails
The 3,516 acres of the estate included Flat Top Mountain and Rich Mountain. Situated on top of a hill, the luxurious 20-room house looked down across acres of apple orchards leading to Bass Lake. In order to see the mountain vistas, Cone had a lookout tower constructed on the top of Flat Top Manor.
Perhaps the aspect of the estate most appreciated by visitors today is the 25 miles of beautiful carriage roads. They remain an enduring example of the Cones’ appreciation of the natural beauty around them.
The 25 miles of gently sloping carriage roads in Cone Park offer many opportunities for leisurely hiking. Visit the Cone Cemetery en route to Flat Top Tower, which offers a grand panorama of distant mountains. Wander through what remains of the apple orchards. Stroll around Bass Lake, investigate the Maze and apple barn. Most of the trails are multi-purpose; along the way you may meet horseback riders, joggers, or in winter, cross-country skiers.
The magnificent Flat Top Manor now houses the Parkway Craft Center and a National Park Service information desk, open daily from April or May to November. During the summer, artisans demonstrate their skills on the front porch.