Any list of the best scenic drives in the US definitely has to include the Blue Ridge Parkway. At almost 470 miles (755 km) in length, it qualifies as the longest linear park in the US! Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is a thrilling experience. The picturesque views are quite often breathtaking and the elevation and direction changes will keep the driver engaged. There are several sections in North Carolina that I really enjoy driving for the scenery and stops as much as the drive itaself. For a more challenging drive, there are a few roads connecting to the Parkway that consistently reward a driver looking for a little bit more than just a scenic excursion.
From Blowing Rock, I like to take the Parkway south. Linville Falls is a great stop along the way and the parking lot off the Parkway makes for a very short walk to the falls. Past Linville, the Blue Ridge Parkway really perks up and there are a handful of sweeping turns that wrap completely around mountain peaks and offer breathtaking views to go along with the thrilling drive. You’ll get some stunning views and more sweeping curves with dips and climbs in elevaton as you soar all the way up past Mount Mitchell. The highest point on this stretch is about 5600 ft (1.7 km) for Graybeard Mountain overlook and Glassmine Falls overlook is about a mile (1.6 km) high. That’s over 1000 ft (305 m) higher than the spectacular Linn Cove viaduct by Grandfather Mountain. While you’re in the Asheville area there are some beautiful waterfalls you can hikes to directly from the Parkway or just a short drive away. A couple of my favorites are at Graveyard Fields and Looking Glass Falls, just a short drive away. The Blue Ridge Parkway is really a destination, vacation, road trip and event all in one.
Back to the driving. Heading back to Blowing Rock after a trip to Asheville, a favorite road of mine is NC 226A, The Diamondback, and I’ll find any excuse to drive it if I’m in the area. You can get to it either going back up the Parkway or via I-40 and US 221. The 12 mile (19 km) length of 226A features 194 turns. That’s over a hundred fewer than the infamous Tail of the Dragon but, quite frankly, I think it’s a better drive. The circuit from Little Switzerland via NC 226A to 226 and back to the Blue Ridge Parkway is about a 16 mile (26 km) loop and will take 25-30 minutes. But you’ll definitely find it hard not to do it again, or, better yet, in the reverse direction. This area is sparsely populated and, outside the summer months, you won’t encounter much traffic. It’s one of the main reasons it has far more appeal to me than US 129. If you’re up for it, a longer loop follows 226A down to 221 and NC 80 (Tom’s Creek Road) back up to the Parkway. That circuit is about 38 miles and will take just about an hour.
Next up is a section of NC 221 also called Yonahlossee Road or the old Yonahlossee Turnpike. This is an alternate route from Grandfather Mountain to Boone/Blowing Rock. By all means take this instead of NC 105. This is one of the best stretches in the high country for twisties and scenic driving. This route is especially recommended on weekends when the vacation delay on the Blue Ridge Parkway can reach unbearable levels. On this drive you will find sweeping uphill and downhill curves, switchbacks and mini waterfalls around almost every corner. Bear in mind that some stretches of this road pass through residential neighborhoods, so use due care to avoid the ire of the locals.
Driving from Blowing Rock to Banner Elk, the scenic option is Highway 194 through Valle Crucis. The drive is more scenic than challenging. But it’s scenic enough to rank as a must drive. This section of road is only about 7 miles (11 km) long. You can start this quick drive at the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis. Most of the drive is through a heavily wooded area. You’ll climb about 1500 ft (457m) to along the way and see some scenic farm views and distant mountain views. This trip is best done in the fall. End your trip at the Banner Elk Winery or the town of Banner Elk, which lies between 2 nearby ski resorts in Sugar Mountain and Beech Mountain.
There are also a few local roads that connect Boone to Blowing Rock that are worth a drive. Shulls Mill Road runs between US 221 at the Parkway junction for Blowing Rock and NC 105. This is a very scenic route with lots of blind turns. There’s also a fair amount of traffic during peak season in the fall. You can also take Poplar Grove Road along this route for some more scenic views. You can’t miss it as it’s the only stop sign along this route. Poplar Grove Road also gets you a bit closer to downtown Boone. There’s always so much to do around these towns and so many fantastic restaurants nearby. I just always like to find the most fun ways to get there!
Next up, Outer Banks, North Carolina.
Enjoy driving in North Carolina. Buckle up, drive safely and watch out for motorcycles.