Are you ready to explore two of the most popular attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina?
Whether you are road tripping the entire parkway or just taking a day trip from Boone (or the High-Country region), you’d be remiss if you did not dedicate the entire day to exploring Grandfather Mountain and Linville Falls!
Not only are these two attractions in the North Carolina mountains only a 30-minute drive from each other, but they also feature a variety of activities for all ages and fitness levels.
It’s worth getting up early to experience a full-day of the many beautiful viewpoints, hikes, and waterfalls.
We were staying in Boone over Thanksgiving week and chose the clearest day to do this day trip. Even though our winter views were devoid of color and tree life, they were still beautiful. We can’t wait to return in Spring or Summer for a more lush version.
Follow our itinerary below. This experience took a full-day and we returned to our Boone cabin just after sunset. It was enough time for a well-rounded Blue Ridge Parkway experience that included fantastic hikes (short and longer), time to absorb the views, a restful lunch, and a happy wine tasting cheers to the day.
We did not get time for any pullover viewpoints along the parkway, but we got plenty of views at both Rough Ridge Overlook and Grandfather Mountain.
There is so much more you could add to this one-day road trip along the parkway, but I think it would impact the experience. Less is often more.
- Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Hike the Rough Ridge Trail (Milepost 302.8)
- Marvel at the Linn Cove Viaduct (Milepost 304.4)
- Explore Grandfather Mountain (Milepost 305)
- Lunch: The Tin Trout
- Hike Linville Falls (Milepost 316)
- Wine Tasting at Linville Falls Winery
- Things to know about the Blue Ridge Parkway
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway, known as “America’s favorite drive,” is a spectacular road trip winding through the North Carolina mountains and Virginia. (For more top USA road trips and stunning drives in the United States, see here.)
The Blue Ridge Parkway starts at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and ends at Shenandoah National Park, running through the Blue Ridge Mountains alongside the Appalachian Trail.
The Parkway actually started in the NC High Country at Cumberland Knob in 1935 and the opening of the Linn Cove Viaduct in 1987 completed it.
The High Country has about 23 percent of its 469-mile length. Many people would say it’s even more beautiful through this section than it is in the other parts. It certainly has several of the most popular attractions on the Blue Ridge.
The views are great throughout, but there are some particularly stunning stops along this scenic drive which you should not miss!
We caught a beautiful sunset on our drive back to Boone on the Parkway.
Hike the Rough Ridge Trail (Milepost 302.8)
The Rough Ridge Trail is an easy 1.5-mile return hike with an elevation gain of 480 ft. It takes you to the most spectacular views of Grandfather Mountain, the parkway, and the Pisgah National Forest ridges below.
Just before the Linn Cove Viaduct, you’ll see the Rough Ridge Overlook parking lot on the right-hand side of the road.
Take the trail from here and veer left on the Tanawha Trail (which the Rough Ridge is part of). It will take you to a boardwalk where you can walk onto a rock for great photos and views of Grandfather Mountain and the Linn Cove Viaduct.
Keep walking a little further past the boardwalk and you’ll see this most famous rock where you can sit and dangle over the valley below.
The photo is deceiving as there is only a short drop below to a ledge. While you couldn’t hurt yourself too bad if you fell (you still could) it’s still a little unnerving dangling over space like that. But boy what beautiful views and a photo opportunity.
The trail ends a little further up to the Rough Ridge Summit (4,773 ft).
Go early to beat the crowds. We arrived around 9am. There was only one other person on the trail when we went. Sunset is meant to be stunning here but be prepared for crowds.
There will be less people in the colder months, but the view will be a little dull and brown (but still great).
Allow for about an hour on this hike, which will give you time for photos and to enjoy the view.
Marvel at the Linn Cove Viaduct (Milepost 304.4)
The Linn Cove Viaduct, between Rough Ridge and Grandfather Mountain, is an iconic stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This bridge-like structure jutting out of the side of the mountain is an engineering marvel. It was built to preserve the beautiful scenery of Grandfather Mountain while enabling highway traffic to continue along the parkway.
A pull-off on the left before you get there leads from the north with a little walking path on the other side of the guard rail to a lookout area with the perfect vantage point of the viaduct.
The path is wide enough for walking and the drop off not too high, but still be cautious and watch children. Do NOT walk on the road!
You can also stop in at the Visitor Center on the southern side to learn more about the viaduct.
Explore Grandfather Mountain (Milepost 305)
You’ve been staring at it all morning on your hike and viaduct adventures, now it’s time to flip the view from atop Grandfather Mountain.
Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountain ranges. It’s an iconic thing to do in North Carolina.
The 300-million-year-old peaks stand 6,000 feet above sea level, giving you stunning 360-degree views over the Appalachian Mountain ranges. It’s a pristine place for interacting with nature and soaking up some peace and serenity.
One-third of the mountain is a privately owned nonprofit nature preserve that operates as a paid scenic travel attraction. The other two thirds of the wild and undeveloped sections of Grandfather Mountain are owned by the state of North Carolina. The Grandfather Mountain state park has miles of backcountry hiking trails!
In November of 1992, the United Nations added Grandfather Mountain to its international network of Biosphere Reserves. Grandfather is unique because in less than 5,000 acres there is habitat for 16 distinct ecological communities and 72 rare or endangered species.
Grandfather Mountain Attractions + how long do you need
How much time you spend here is dependent on what you want to do and how much time you have? You could easily spend half to a full day here.
Take your pick from scenic overlooks, hikes, nature museums, and picnic areas. (Be sure to pack up a picnic lunch to take with you.)
As we wanted to fit in the Rough Ridge Trail and Linville Falls, we did the shortened Grandfather Mountain experience with just a couple of stops on the way to the top and then the Mile-High Swinging Bridge. We were here for just over an hour.
If you have more time, and are experienced hikers, Craig and I thoroughly recommend the 2.4-mile Grandfather Trail. We did it in 2005 and LOVED it. Expect rocky cliffs and scrambles with cables and ladders to spectacular views. It’s definitely strenuous, but loads of fun. Allow for at least half a day just for that hike!
Grandfather Mountain is a paid attraction. Tickets are only available through online reservations, usually 2-3 weeks in advance. Admission tickets include the Swinging Bridge, Nature Museum, hiking trails, wildlife habitats and more. See rates here.
Drive slowly up to the top while you listen to the CD/USB audio (given at the entrance) where you can learn more about Grandfather Mountain and the various stops along the winding road to the top.
I found the commentary excellent. I loved this unique way of learning more about Grandfather Mountain as you slowly drove up.
Overlooks include Half Moon Overlook, Cliffside Overlook and Sheer Bluff.
The Grandfather Mountain Nature Museum houses more than two dozen educational exhibits outlining the natural history of Grandfather Mountain and the surrounding region, including gems and minerals native to the region, stories of early explorers and local birdlife. (Currently closed for renovations)
Sphinx and Split Rocks
One of the first stops on the drive up to the peak are the Sphinx and Split Rocks right on the edge of the road. Both are thought to be over 640 million years old and Sphinx Rock weighs more than 4,000 tons.
Split Rock has a huge crack in it that grew to its current size after water seeped in through a small crack and split it. It’s a good place to snap a few family photos and portraits.
Cliffside Overlook: Forrest Gump Curve
A stop not to miss on the scenic drive up to Grandfather Mountain summit is the famous Forrest Gump Curve. This steep hairpin curve section is where he ran with several of his followers in the movie.
Pull over at the Cliffside parking lot on the map. From here you will get this great birds eye view of Forrest Gump Curve. We stopped here on the way back down. There is also a picnic area here.
Fun Fact: It was Tom Hanks’ brother who ran the scenes. He was used as his body double in most of the running scenes in the movie. Tom himself decided to come for the filming as he wanted to see Grandfather Mountain. Staff did not even realize they were talking to him!
Walk the Mile High Swinging Bridge on Grandfather Mountain
The most popular thing to do on Grandfather Mountain, especially if short on time, is the Mile High Swinging Bridge, which connects two peaks at one mile above sea level.
Even though it’s a mile up, this 228-foot suspension bridge actually only spans an 80-foot chasm.
As it is now made of galvanized steel and reinforced with cables and springs, it doesn’t swing like it used to, instead tends to sing with the whistling wind. It has railings on the sides to ensure safety!
It’s worth it, even if you are afraid of heights.
The 360 degree views from here are incredible. Once across the bridge, continue out on the rock cliffs for spectacular views atop Linville Peak, elevation 5,305 feet. It can get busy here so go slow and watch for sharp drop offs.
From the top parking area, take a few flights of steps or ride the elevator to a short path. I didn’t realize until it was too late, but you can park in the bottom parking lot (Black Rock Parking Area), and take a trail from there up to the SwingingBridge which is about half a mile one way. We would have time for that and I know I would have enjoyed it.
Lunch: The Tin Trout
As it was colder, a picnic lunch was not as enticing for us. We’re also terrible at planning these things in advance.
So if you don’t pack a picnic to enjoy at Grandfather Mountain, you’ll have to detour off the Blue Ridge Parkway to find a place to eat. Otherwise you can drive straight down to Linville Fall.
Linville is the nearest town to Grandfather Mountain (3 miles) so you’ll find a few options there.
We randomly stumbled upon the Tin Trout, located a little past Linville, and still on the way to Linville Falls. We discovered a cozy homestyle environment with warm Southern service and seasonal creative farm to table meals.
As you can imagine, trout is the star feature of the menu in dishes such as smoked trout dip, salad, platter, or carbonara. We took our grilled trout with a side of delicious mash and brussel sprouts!
You’ll also find other southern dishes like chicken and waffles, Shrimp Po Boy, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, cornbread and burgers.
Hike Linville Falls (Milepost 316)
Now, let’s follow the Linville River from its beginning point high on Grandfather Mountain as it flows two thousand feet down to form a two-tiered cascading falls at Linville Falls, before dropping 90 feet into the beautiful, forested Linville Gorge, (the Grand Canyon of the Appalachians) before ending at Lake James and the Catawba River.
You can see why it’s known as “Eeseeoh” or River of Cliffs in Cherokee and is one of the star attractions of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Since we’ve seen some stunning waterfalls in the US (and the world i.e., Victoria Falls), it’s hard for us to be wowed by them, but we loved Linville Falls and agree it’s one of North Carolina’s best.
I’d especially love to return in the summer to see it surrounded by the lush forest landscape. Linville Falls is part of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, a popular area of hikers and rock climbers.
Linville Falls Hikes
The Linville Falls overlooks can be reached along two trails that lead from the Linville Falls Visitors Center.
Linville Falls is more than just a “snap your I was here” photo, which I liked about it. There are two trails that lead from the Linville Falls Visitors Center that go to five different overlooks.
Its a lovely hike through the virgin hemlock forest mixed with other trees such as such as white pine, oaks, hickory, and birch.
The main trail is a 1.6-mile round-trip walk taking you to four of the overlooks. Each offers a unique perspective of the Falls, and all worth experiencing.
The first overlook is Upper Falls Overlook, which offers a unique perspective of the Upper Falls flowing through the narrow canyon where it disappears and plunges forty-five feet over the lower falls. You can see it in our Reel here.
The next overlook is Chimney View, which was probably my favorite as got take in both the lower and upper falls up closer than the other viewpoints. The overlook is named for the chimney-like outcroppings located to the right of the waterfall.
Continuing on you’ll reach Erwins View overlooks at the trail end. From here, you’ll get a distant view of the upper and lower falls. Even though I think Chimney View is better, it’s still worth walking the extra bit up here. It’s not that much further.
Near here is also the panoramic Linville Gorge View. Be prepared for bright sunlight if you go in the afternoon which made it hard to see
Don’t miss the Plunge Basin overlook which gives you a magnificent view of the lower falls and chimney view above.
The Plunge Basin trail is to the left of the restroom block in the bottom car park. You’ll see some stone stairs hiding in the forest. Follow it through the forest until you come to the viewpoint. It branches off in one part to go further down the river. We did not take that trail.
Surprisingly, no one else was on this trail, whereas the other one was quite busy. A steep flight of stairs will take you to rock-walled perch above the falls. The viewpoint from here was close to the lower falls and beautiful. You also got a great view up to Chimney View outcroppings.
In this area is also the Linville Gorge Trail which you can turn down from the Plunge Basin View junction, which takes you down to the river.
There is also a gravel parking lot halfway up to the Falls – not far from the Lower Falls Campground. GPS took us here. From here we hiked up to the Erwin’s View Overlooks, then back down to the other overlooks, ending at Plunge Basin and then walked back up to the car.
Check out these other Grand Canyons of the USA:
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in Yellowstone National Park
Wine Tasting at Linville Falls Winery
What a surprise Linville Falls Winery was! We only learned about it when we drove past a crowd of people sitting in the sun with gorgeous valley and mountain views.
We decided we’d return after our Linville Falls hike. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day spent exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway.
This family owned and operated 40-acre vineyard, winery, and farm sits in a fertile valley between hills in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains.
Cool nights, low humidity, and an elevation of 3,200-3,400 ft allows the grapevines to thrive and ripen slowly into fresh vibrant flavors. Varieties include Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Noiret, Marquette, Petit Verdot, Marechal Foch, and their flagship grape, Riesling.
North Carolina is not typically known for wine, but it’s wineries like this that is starting to give it a label of “Place to watch for quality wines”
It’s family-friendly (and pet-friendly) with a beautiful outdoor seating area overlooking the vines and the Christmas tree farm (which was a hive of activity.) There is a small pond with Adirondack chairs as well.
We each chose a wine tasting flight and grabbed some cheese and crackers from the fridge. You are welcome to bring your own snacks and they sometimes have food trucks. (And live music in the warmer months)
Flights are $12 for your choice of four wines, 2oz. of each. I loved the Riesling and Chardonnay and I found their Brandy Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon to be outstanding and very similar to one of my favorite Double Barrel Jacob’s Creek wines back in Australia (which you can get at Harris Teeter!)
Our next trip to Boone, we want to visit the Grandfather Mountain winery. (It was closed for Thanksgiving!) Here are some of our suggestions for Boone, including places to eat in Boone.
Plan your Trip
1. Boone Hotel Recommendation: Courtyard by Marriott in Boone
2. Book vacation rentals on VRBO and Booking.com
3. Book your rental car
Things to know about the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Fill your car with fuel before starting, just to be sure.
- For this trip, it might be best to pack a picnic lunch as restaurants are few and far between. Plus, if its busy you may not get in or have a long wait.
- The Parkway is windy with a speed limit of 45mp, sometimes going as low as 25mph in busy areas. Leave enough time and drive slowly.
- There are many overlooks which make pulling off the road easier. There are also a few passing zones.
- Parking is available at trailheads and overlooks and you can park on the grassy shoulder of the road as long as you are off the road and on firm ground.
- It’s always cooler on the parkway (up to 10 degrees) so dress accordingly and throw in a raincoat just in case.
- The weather can be unpredictable in transitional seasons and winter snows can last for weeks. Always do your research.
More Blue Ridge Content
- A Summer family road trip to the Shenandoah National Park
- 22 Fun things to do in Roanoke, VA
- A Spring Mountain Getaway to Virginia’s Blue Ridge
- A mountains and music road trip (NC – TN)
- Most Unique things to do in Asheville, NC (2 day stay)
- Bryson City Thanksgiving Vacation (includes Polar Express)