The freezing temps that linger in the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway keep this National treasure closed to car traffic for most of the winter season. The 469-mile drive is not closed, however, to foot traffic. In fact, the Blue Ridge Parkway in winter is an entirely different and magical experience of winter wonder.
If you’re wondering why the Parkway closes to wheeled explorers, the winter weather can impact the Parkway in a variety of ways including freezing on the route’s north-facing slopes, tunnels, high elevations, and limited sight distances. The Parkway’s natural resource protection priorities limit the use of ice-melting chemicals so the paved road is often icy even when snow is not seen down in the valleys. You can always monitor the BRP real-time road closures here.
SAFETY FIRST: Always bring layers. Not only is the BRP high in elevation thus much colder, but it can also get pretty windy. Puffy jackets, ski coats, long johns/thermal layers, and gloves will help keep you warm. Make sure you’ve got proper footwear not to slip in icy conditions and to keep your feet protected and warm. Plan ahead so that you give yourself ample time to return before dark. Bring snacks or meals and plenty of water.
Where to start your BRP Winter Hikes
You will need to park on the side of the entrance road, and do not block the gate. From the Waynesville entrance, you can hike a 1/2 mi up to the fork where you can hike left towards Asheville or right towards Maggie Valley.
The first overlook if you head RIGHT is at 1 mile, Orchards Overlook (2 mi round trip). Continuing up the Parkway another mile will get you to Mt Lynn Lowry Overlook for a 4 mile out and back hike. This overlook offers views of Woodfin Cascades. Furthering your trip up to Woodfin Valley Overlook for another mile creates a nice 6-mile day hike.
If you head LEFT instead, the first overlook with an actual view, Standing Rock Overlook, is about 2 miles from the fork (totaling a 5 mile out and back trip). You can extend your hike up to Pinnacle Ridge Tunnel, which takes 4.1 miles to reach the tunnel, for an 8-mile day hike.
There are two entrances off of Soco road. If you want to hike towards Waynesville/Asheville then turn left onto the Parkway entrance coming from Maggie Valley. If you’d rather head towards the Great Smoky Mountains National Park/Cherokee turn right onto the Parkway entrance. For both make sure you are parked on the side of the road and not blocking the entrance gates or roadways.
On the Parkway, if you head RIGHT towards Asheville you can hike 1.3 miles up the Thunderstruck Ridge Overlook which will reward you with wide open long-range views (2.6 mi round trip). For a long hike, you can hike a full 3.3 miles up to Woolyback Overlook for a 6 mile out and back hike. If you love a good long hike, head all the way up to Waterrock Knob at 4.75 miles for a 9.5 out and back day hike.
The first overlook with a view if you head LEFT on the Parkway towards the GSMNP will be Plott Balsam Overlook at exactly 2 miles (4 mi round trip). Heinatooga Road is another .35 mi up and at 2.8 mi you will reach the first tunnel, Lickstone Ridge Tunnel for a 5.6 mi round trip. If longer hikes are your thing, keep going up to Bunches Bald Tunnel at 3.5 miles, the Bunches Bald Overlook is just on the other side of the tunnel for a 7.2 mile out and back hike.
Highway 215 is a GIFT to us all in the wintery months as there are many trails and waterfalls hidden along its winding path such as Sunburst Falls and Flat Laurel Creek Trail. The Canton entrance to the Parkway, Beech Gap, can be icy, especially after fresh snow, so be careful parking in the snow if your car does not have four-wheel drive – you likely will get stuck. As always, do not block the road or entrance gates to the Parkway.
Head RIGHT towards GSMNP if you’d like a super short hike that is kid-friendly. Just .15 mi from the entrance will land you at Courthouse Valley Overlook which is a beautiful sunset destination as well. For a longer trot, 3 miles from the entrance lies Wolf Mountain Overlook with plenty of open views of the neighboring ranges along the Parkway (6 mi round trip). Rough Butt Bald Overlook is 3.7 miles from the entrance (7.4 mi round trip).
Head LEFT towards Asheville to hike up to The Devil’s Courthouse Overlook at .9 miles. Hiking to the top of the rocky Devil’s Courthouse is just 1.2 miles from Beech Gap but the hike is steep (2.4 mi round trip). For day hike extraordinaires, it will take you 3 miles to reach the entrance of the Black Balsam Knob Rd and another .8 mi up Black Balsam Knob Rd to reach the Art Loeb Trail. Taking the Art Loeb Trail on your right up the Black Balsam Knob will reach a total of 4.6 miles from the BRP entrance and a 9.2 mile out and back trip.
Wagon Rd Gap is another great place to start your Parkway winter adventures, just don’t miss the turn off US-276 as it can sneak up on you around the corner.
Head RIGHT towards Asheville .75 miles to reach The Cradle of Forestry Overlook. Pink Beds Overlook is at 1.45 miles (2.9 mi round trip) and you reach a tunnel at 1.65 miles. Continue up to Funnel Top Overlook at 2.2 mi to find the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower trail – the top of the tower is closed but views from the stairs are still incredible. The Fryingpan Tower trail is about .75 mi to the top. To the Fryingpan Tower and back is an almost 6-mile out-and-back adventure.
Head LEFT on the Parkway towards Waynesville to hike 1.4 miles to Pounding Mill Overlook which features a wonderful view of Looking Glass Rock and many layers of mountains (2.8 mi round trip). The next overlook, Cherry Cove, is pretty far from this one at 3.8 miles but feel free to extend your hike as much as you like!