Photo courtesy of Houck Medford and the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation
Groundhog Meadow overlook in Virginia.
The sheer number of Parkway overlooks is staggering: 260 in 469 miles. Many were built into the design at the outset, luring drivers to depart from their cars and bask in the vistas. Some were a case of sheer necessity as a repository for extra dirt scooped from the mountainside during cut-and-fill construction.
Culling through images of all the overlooks, Smoky Mountain Living has picked out 20 of the best overlooks on the entire Parkway. Some were chosen for their uniqueness or floral beauty, others for their unforgettable mountain and valley vistas. While critics may argue for other sites not listed here (and we’d love to hear those comments through emails, Facebook postings, or letters to the editor), these 20 sites offer some of most spectacular views you’ll find in all of America.
Rockfish Valley (MP 2) It doesn’t take long to catch a stunning view after starting along on the northern end of the Parkway. Though only 2,148 feet in elevation, this overlook provides a vast view of the valley lands where Tuscarora Indians once lived along the Rockfish River in the early 1700s.
Ravens Roost (MP 11) Looking over the rock wall ledge is an amazing bird’s eye view of Torrey Ridge and the Shenandoah Valley. The cliff is also used for rock-climbing and hang-gliding.
Big Spy Mountain (MP 26) Take in 360-degree views from the top of a grassy knoll known as War Fields because of the many arrowheads found here.
Irish Creek Valley (MP 43) Imagine the rolling hills and mountains of Northern Virginia the way Irish and Scottish immigrants might have seen it in the mid-1700s as they settled along the backs of this creek.
James River Visitor Center (MP 64) The lowest elevation point on the Blue Ridge Parkway (649 feet) is also one of the most beautiful as visitors may walk across a footbridge to look over a restored canal lock on the James River, an historic waterway through Virginia.
Peaks of Otter (MP 86) Three majestic peaks—Sharp Top Mountain (3,875 ft), Flat Top Mountain (4,001 ft) and Harkening Hill (3,372 ft)—surround a tranquil lake for one of Virginia’s loveliest scenes.
Sunset Field Overlook (MP 79) This wide-open grassy field and parking area is a spacious site to soak up some rays, start off on a hike, indulge in a picnic, or take in a romantic sunset.
N&W Railroad Overlook (MP 107) Enjoy rolling green pastures, farm houses, a gently sloping Blue Ridge backdrop, and the first railroad line that came through this region, stretching from Lynchburg, Va., to Bristol, Tenn.
Mabry Mill (MP 176.2) One of the most popular attractions on the Parkway, this picturesque farmstead was owned and operated by the Mabry family for five generations. The restored gristmill and sawmill offer insights and exhibits on mountain industries such as milling, blacksmithing, tanning and furniture making.
Groundhog Meadow (MP 189) Climb the observation tower (which resembles an old tobacco barn), and you’ll find long-distance panoramic views. Or stroll the grassy field with its split-rail fence and have a relaxing picnic.
Bluff Mountain (MP 244) A pleasant overlook with a moderate 7.5 trail, this wind-carved bluff shows off a nearly unobstructed view of Flat Rock Ridge.
Julian Price Lake Overlook (296.7) Named after the former president of Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company, this scenic lake was dedicated as a public recreation area included in the 4,200-acre Julian Price Memorial Park.
Linn Cove Viaduct (MP 304.6) One of the great engineering marvels of its day, this 1,243-foot-long structure (completed in 1983) rides into the sky while skirting around a rocky shoulder of Grandfather Mountain. While you don’t get to park along the viaduct, you can stop at a nearby visitor center and hike in for an up-close view.
Chestoa (320.7) Named after the Cherokee word for “rabbit,” this overlook from a rock wall ledge provides a magnificent view of Table Rock, a popular mountain-climbing destination on the eastern side of Linville Gorge.
Mt. Mitchell (MP 350) View the tallest peak of the Appalachians (6,684 ft.) and the highest in the U.S. east of Mississippi River. Nearby is Mt. Mitchell State Park, which includes trails, a museum, campground and restaurant.
Craggy Dome (MP 364) Arguably the most beautiful location along the Parkway, Craggy Gardens is noted for its splendid showcase of Catawba rhododendron, which are best found blooming in June and July. You’ll also see a variety of other flora including azaleas, Turk’s cap lily, and mountain laurel.
Graveyard Fields (MP 418.8) Named after the tombstone-looking stumps of trees that were left after a terrible windstorm, the area was also devastated by a large forest fire in 1925. Today, you can enjoy its cool climes, nearby waterfalls and looping trails, abundant blueberry bushes, bald eagles, and lovely colors of wildflowers and bushes spring through fall.
Cowee Mountains Overlook (MP 430) With its impressive, unobstructed views of the Cowee Mountains, this is one of the best spots on the Parkway to get a family photo with a wide backdrop of mountain scenery.
Richland Balsam (MP 431) Situated at the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway (6,053 ft.), you’ll get spectacular views of the Cowee, Nantahala and Plott Balsam mountain ranges.
Waterrock Knob (MP 451) One of the best parking areas on the Parkway—and a great spot for viewing meteor showers, starry skies and sunsets—this overlook, with nearly 360-degree views of surrounding mountains and a trail leading to an even higher elevation, is a fine stop for a picnic. A bookstore/gift shop is also on site.