Travel, Travel Plans

Road Trip: Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Featured Photo by Brandon Frie on Unsplash

As Covid threatens to screw up another summer of travel, a road trip focused on seeing the sights of Mother Nature can satisfy the desire to get away while avoiding planes and other modes of tight-space transportation.

If you live within practical driving distance, Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway make a practical Covid-safe vacation. This plan was written for a trip that I took in a pre-Covid year but with a little tweaking, it can work for the Covid conscience traveler today.

Driving the 105-mile Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park takes about 3 hours without stops. Add a hike or two and you can make a day of it. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles linking Shenadoah National Park and Skyline Drive, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. How long the drive takes depends on how often you stop and how long you stay. My 10-day plan allowed us to drive the entire route, stopping to see many sights at a leisurely pace.

Each season offers something different when road tripping along Skyline Drive and the Parkway. Rhododendron season is very popular. Fall colors also draw a crowd. Summer is peak tourist season offering a progression of changing views. In winter, the road often closes during times of bad weather.

My husband and I traveled in the spring, probably the least desirable time to travel as trees were bare of leaves and little was in bloom. We also found that some places were closed, operating only during the main tourist season. Despite all this, we had a wonderful time. There is plenty to see and do on this trip even if you must skip some things. On our spring trip, traffic was light. We had most viewpoints to ourselves. There were no long lines in gift shops, and rangers working visitor center counters had plenty of time to answer our questions and even share some interesting tales.

Pack a tent and sleep in campgrounds for a total outdoor experience. A nightly stay in a hotel should be fine too. Check in, head for your room, and avoid crowded common areas.

You will find restaurants along the way where you can buy a picnic lunch. Stop to eat at a park picnic area. I have found that even during peak travel season, National Park picnic grounds are lightly used and are often a nice place to sit quietly and alone in nature.

This plan begins at Harpers Ferry and ends at Big Bone Lick because those places were convenient for me. You may want to change your route to better suit your home location. 

Many tour guides will describe the Blue Ridge Parkway and often Skyline Drive as well, using mile posts markers. Having a guide allows you to easily locate sights along the road and gives you some history and other interesting facts. Be sure to purchase an updated edition for the most accurate information.

“Notes” are my own thoughts. “Traveler’s reviews” have been collected from various tourism websites and edited to provide me with the best information.

Stop and see any sights that interest you. Keeping your schedule close to the listed times will enable you to get through the entire trip in the allotted time but making adjustments is expected.

Before following this plan, read “Important Notes About My Travel Plans.” Be sure to confirm details that have likely changed since this plan was written.

Stay Covid safe. ~Maintain a social distance. Avoid others at viewpoints and roadside stops. ~Wear an N-95 mask when entering buildings or spaces where others are present. ~Choose restaurants that offer take-out or delivery. ~Wash hands frequently and keep hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes handy in the car. ~Remember that this is not a trip for meeting and mingling with others. It’s a trip for observing nature from the safety of your car.

Photo by Brandon Frie on Unsplash

Road Trip on Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway
MP = mile post

 Day #1
Travel to Harper’s Ferry, WV arriving around noon.

Lunch at one of these
Harpers Ferry Restaurants
The Anvil Restaurant
1290 W Washington St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425-6300;
+1 304-535-2582
A traveler’s review: “My favorite restaurant in West Virginia! Great menu, great atmosphere and outstanding service.”

Potomac Grille
186 High St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425-4102; +1 304-535-1900
A traveler’s review: “Potomac Grill is nice located at downtown Harpers Ferry with outdoor seating and a beautiful view. The food very good and service excellent.”

Afternoon visit to Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park
171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425; Daily; 9-5

Browse shops and historical sites in Harpers Ferry.

Drive 40 minutes to Winchester, VA
Buy picnic box chicken for tomorrow’s lunch at
KFC, 1042 Berryville Ave., Winchester, VA 22601
before driving to dinner and hotel area. Be sure your hotel room has a fridge.

La Quinta Inn & Suites Winchester
1055 Millwood Pike, Winchester, VA 22602-4311; (915) 888-3973
Reserve room in advance. Confirmation # _____________________________
Traveler’s review: “The hotel wonderful and quiet.  Great place, great staff.”
Dinner at one of these
Winchester Restaurants
Thai Win II
2166 S Pleasant Valley Rd, Winchester, VA 22601-7003; +1 540-535-2233
Traveler’s review: “In a strip mall. Service was quick. The food was fresh and fast – well presented – so much we took containers of leftovers home for dinner. “

1085 Millwood Pike, Winchester, VA 22602-4311; +1 540-662-0700
Traveler’s review: “You can get traditional Chinese or Sushi, Thai and Pho all in the same place. They only use organic food so you can taste the difference. Dine-in or pick-up. They have a weekly buffet which offers everything you could possibly want. The service is excellent and friendly.”

Five Guys
579 Adams Dr, Winchester, VA 22601-7013; +1 540-542-0072
Traveler’s review: “This is the place I go for a good burger…and amazing fries. Also serves gluten-free meals. “

Delivers to La Quinta
Jimmy John’s
2033 S Pleasant Valley Rd, Winchester, VA 22601-7001; +1 540-722-4091
Traveler’s review: “Food was good, but a bit pricey. The time it took from the phone call to delivery was amazingly fast.”

Delivers to La Quinta
Kings Pizza
2206 Wilson Blvd, Winchester, VA 22601-3636; 540-722-2209
Traveler’s review: “Happy I chose this pizzeria, quick delivery. The pizza was prepared like the old days and it tasted that way as well. My favorite is the sub Capicola and Ceese with no mayo. Awesome taste and bread was extremely fresh.”

Day #2: Wednesday

Leave by 8 AM. Drive 37 min (20.3 miles) via US-522 S to Front Royal, VA
Note: there are mile post markers all along this route. A number of guidebooks are available that will describe the drive using these mile markers.

9 AM – 2 PM: Drive 2 h 49 min (106 miles) on the Skyline Drive making stops as desired. Food available at Elk Wallow Wayside, Big Meadows Wayside and Loft Mountain Wayside. Sit down restaurants are inside Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge. Below are some possible stops.

MP 4.6 Dickey Ridge Visitor Center
Shows a 10 min. video
Fox Hollow Trail 1.2 mi. loop, rated easy

MP 9.2 Lands Run Falls Trail 1.2 mi out and back; rated easy

MP 10.4 Fort Windham Rocks Trail .8 out and back; rated easy

 MP 20.8 Hogback Mountain Overlook

MP 51 Big Meadows Wayside  Food, groceries, gas

MP 57.5 Lewis Mt. camp store; groceries

MP 79.5 Loft Mt. Wayside; groceries, snack counter

 MP 85.8 Blackrock Summit
1 mi. loop; rated easy

1:45 PM Leaving Skyline Drive, drive 35 min (31 miles) via I-64 E to Charlottesville, VA to:

2:30 – 4 PM: Visit James Monroe’s Highland
#4 of 83 things to do in Charlottesville 
2050 James Monroe Pkwy., Charlottesville, VA 22902-7546; +1 434-293-8000
9 AM – 6 PM; last tour 5 PM
Traveler’s review: “We visited Highland after Monticello. The grounds are beautiful and the place has great history. They have a lot of Monroe’s personal pieces. It doesn’t take long to see it, but if you enjoy history, you will like it.”

4:30 PM: 15 min. (7 mi.) to University of VA
Emmet Street, Charlottesville, VA;
+1 434-924-0311
Look around and see the campus.

La Quinta Inn & Suites Charlottesville – UVA Medical
1803 Emmet St N, Charlottesville, VA 22901-2812; (915) 888-3895
Confirmation # _____________________________
Dinner at a
Charlottesville Restaurant
The Ivy Inn Restaurant
2244 Old Ivy Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22903-4817; +1 434-977-1222
Traveler’s review: “Restaurant is in a restored historic house, a dining room downstairs and 2 smaller ones upstairs. Quiet atmosphere, nice music, professional service, delicious food. Excellent wine menu.”

Mellow Mushroom
Bar, Pizza, Vegetarian Friendly
1321 W Main St, Charlottesville, VA 22903-2825; +1 434-972-9366
Traveler’s review: Large selection of local beers on tap. The individual-size pizzas are large and could serve two, especially if you get a salad.

Sultan Kebab
Mediterranean, Turkish, Middle Eastern
333 2nd St SE, Suite 110, Charlottesville, VA 22902-5653; +1 434-981-0090
Traveler’s review: “Food was delicious – kebabs were moist and tasty, rice was perfectly cooked and bread appeared freshly baked. The salads were incredible – we had tomatoes that tasted like July, even though it was only April.

Mezeh Mediterranean Grill
Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Fast Food
2015 Bond St, Suite 180, Charlottesville, VA 22901-1699; +1 434-202-1446
Traveler’s review: “Found this treasure dishing up healthy Mediterranean fast food style in bowls, pitas, salads. We opted for bowls crammed with all kinds of toppings. The food was so good it reminded me of many meals enjoyed in the Middle East. Cool place, fun vibes, packed with people!!

317 E Main St, Charlottesville, VA 22902-5233
Traveler’s review: “Must stop gelato spot! The gelato was among the best I have had. Friendly folks working, and some great spaces to sit and enjoy your treat! A great find. on the Downtown Mall.

Christian’s Pizza
Pizza, Italian, Vegetarian Friendly
118 W Main St, Charlottesville, VA 22902-5032; +1 434-977-9688
A traveler’s review: “This restaurant is on the pedestrian mall, a shopping area created by closing off about 8 city blocks. The inside of the restaurant is clean and nicely decorated. The pizza was very good and the price reasonable.”

Asian, Thai, Vegetarian Friendly
104 14th St NW Ste 6   Charlottesville, VA 22903-2765; in a strip mall
A traveler’s review: “I love the drunken noodles, the soup, and the eggplant and tofu dishes. It’s pretty fast for a sit-down restaurant and reasonably priced. Of all the Thai restaurants I’ve been to it’s one of the best.”

Monsoon Siam
Asian, Thai, Vegetarian Friendly
113 W Market St, Charlottesville, VA 22902-5024; +1 434-971-1515
A traveler’s review: “Stopped in for lunch on a Sunday. We decided to eat outdoors. The place looks like a renovated house with a large porch. Atmosphere is very casual. Other than the usual pad Thai and entrees, they did have some we don’t usually see. I had a stir-fried cellophane noodle dish with seafood and my wife had green papaya salad. Thai iced tea lemonade drinks.”

Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint
$American, Bar, Pub
109 2nd St SE, Charlottesville, VA 22902-5270; +1 434-244-0073
Traveler’s review: The burger was delicious, nice and juicy served on a soft bun. The fries crisp to perfection and a nice dill pickle spear to round it out.

Day #3: Thursday

9 AM – 12 PM: Visit Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy, Charlottesville, VA 22902-7148; +1 434-984-9822
Traveler’s review: “A good audiovisual introduction was followed by a house tour.

12:30 PM: Lunch at The Ordinary at Michie Tavern
683 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy
Charlottesville, VA 22902-7145; +1 434-977-1234
Note: One of my all-time favorite lunch spots!
Traveler’s review: “Only open for lunch. It’s buffet and includes stewed tomatoes, mashed potatoes & gravy; black-eyed peas, cole slaw, green beans, beets, corn bread, and biscuits. They have pulled pork barbecue and baked chicken, but the star of the show is the fried chicken”.

2 – 4:30 PM:  Drive 34 min. to Blue Ridge Parkway North Entrance. Drive 1 h 49 min (73.2 miles) to

MP 34.4 Yankee Horse Ridge and Overlook Trail
.2 mi. loop; rated easy

4:30 – 6 PM: Drive to exit at MP 63.7

Natural Bridge Historic Hotel & Conference Center
15 Appledore Ln, Natural Bridge, VA 24578-3602; +1 855-285-8110
Confirmation # ______________________
Traveler’s review: “We spent one evening here and really enjoyed our stay. We had a sweet room with a balcony. The room was nice and clean and had an amazing view. The beds were very comfy and cozy. We took an evening shuttle to the Natural Bridge and our driver, Wilmer, was a cool dude. We had a tasty steak dinner in the Tavern that was nicely prepared and our breakfast in the restaurant was delicious too.”

Dine in the hotel restaurant.

Day #4: Friday

8:30 – 10 AM: Visit the Natural Bridge of Virginia
Us 11 & 130, 15 Appledore Lane, Natural Bridge, VA 24578; +1 540-291-1326
Traveler’s Review: “There is a shuttle to the bottom but if you can, do the hike because it is quite lovely. George Washington allegedly surveyed and Thomas Jefferson purchased for 20 shillings in 1774.”
Note: This was my favorite stop on the entire trip. We went early in the morning and practically had the place to ourselves.

Drive 45 min (40 miles) via BRP from Natural Bridge to MP 106 Roanoke.

11AM – 12:15 PM: Visit Black Dog Architectural Salvage & Antiques
902 13th St SW, Roanoke, VA 24016-3716; +1 540-343-6200; Daily 9-5
Traveler’s review: ‘We found a huge warehouse with lots of additional items all around on the grounds. They seemed to have every item from drawer knobs, to hinges, doors, sinks, stained glass windows, etc.. There were also booths with vintage items. My favorite part of the store was the inspiration items repurposed into new, chic decorator pieces – from furniture, to mirrors, to coffee tables and the list goes on and on! These items alone will leave your imagination whirling!”

12:30 AM – 1:30 PM: Lunch

 Roanoke Restaurants
Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint
American, Bar, Pub
210 Market St SE, Roanoke, VA 24011-1802; +1 540-433-5225
Traveler’s review: “Burgers are amazing. They are not huge like other burger places. They are the perfect size. Bun is soft and warm. Cooked how you like with practically any topping you can think of.”

Cuban Island
$ Caribbean, Latin, Cuban
3150 Williamson Rd NW, Roanoke, VA 24012-4316; +1 540-529-7762
Traveler’s review: Cuban Island serves the best. I read about this restaurant on a website listing best restaurants in Virginia. Since then, I have been to Cuban Island more than a half-dozen times. I try a different dish every time I go and the desserts, which I sometimes get, are also delicious. The owners are Cuban.”
1:30 – 3:30 PM: Rejoin Parkway. Drive approx. 2 hrs. (56 miles) from MP 120 Roanoke via Blue Ridge Pkwy to MP 176 Mabry Mill.

3:30 – 5 PM: 176.1 Mabry Mill
Blue Ridge Pkwy., mi 176, Meadows of Dan, VA;  +1 276-952-2947 
M-F 7:30 AM – 5 PM or 6 PM on weekends
Perhaps the most iconic structure on the Parkway. Live milling demonstrations, gristmill still grinds flour more than a century since its original construction! See Matthews Cabin, blacksmith shop and interpretive area. Here, National Park Service staff conducts demonstrations.  Country-style menu in restaurant.
Traveler’s review: “Awesome step into the past to see how things were done back in the day. Be advised the hours of operation are limited.”

Drive 1 hr. (40.5 miles) via Blue Ridge Pkwy from MP 176 Mabry Mill to MP 215 Hillsville.

Optional things to do today:
Carolyne’s Crafts & Gifts

8065 Fancy Gap Hwy, Fancy Gap, VA 24328-4005; +1 276-728-2730
Traveler’s review: “The owner was doing needlework. Her creations and other artists’ work are available for purchase. Prices are reasonable and selection is good. Just off the Parkway at Hwy 52. Don’t pass by. This place is charming and very tasteful.”

Peaceful Heart Alpacas
1563 Misty Trl, Mile Post 204 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Fancy Gap, VA 24328-2874;
+1 276-728-4950
Traveler’s review: “An Interesting store and good selection of alpaca yarns and finished apparel. The owners are happy to talk of the venture and the alpacas. The alpacas graze the scenic pastures behind the store. In sight of the parkway.”

199.5 Sidetrip to Mt. Airy to see
Mayberry Replica Courthouse
Points of Interest & Landmarks, Sights & Landmarks
625 S Main St, Mount Airy, NC 27030-3810; +1 336-786-6116
Traveler’s review: “This is outside the Main Street attractions. Drive right out of town, can’t miss it. You will also see Wally’s gas station and Emmett’s fix it shop and the Darlings old truck. This is also where the police cars are parked. You can ride in one. I think it was $35 for a group. They run you down through town with the siren going off.”

Restaurants in Mt. Airy
Barney’s Restaurant
206 N Main St, Mount Airy, NC 27030-3810; +1 336-786-8305
Traveler’s review: “Cute little. Food is great and reasonably priced. For $6.00 you can have the daily special or a meat and veggies and rolls. Chicken ‘n dumplings and  hamburger steak plate. Service and food were fantastic. Plus  memorabilia on walls.”

Walker’s Soda Fountain
175 N Main St, Mount Airy, NC 27030-3807; +1 336-786-4006
Traveler’s review: “The best burgers hotdogs and fries and shakes.”

Restaurants in Hillsville
Rio Grande
845 W Stuart Dr, Ste 10, Hillsville, VA 24343-1576; +1 276-730-0507
Traveler’s review: “Unfortunately we only get to eat at this restaurant twice a yea on our way to and from Florida. Always great food at a low price. My wife raves about a chicken dish cooked in a wine sauce with mushrooms. I ordered steak and chicken fajitas. They always start you off with a big bowl of salsa and chips. Ask for some of their homemade hot sauce. Not fast food but the food comes out hot and fresh.”

The Dutch Oven
118 Court St, Hillsville, VA 24343-1425; +1 276-728-0302
Traveler’s review: “Reuben sandwich is excellent. Pastries and sourdough bread selection packed for travel to enjoy later. We were heading out of town on a long trip and got sandwiches to go. The food quantity and quality were excellent. The Dutch Oven also sells deli meats and cheeses, along with various baked foods. I used to like eating Lebanon bologna sandwiches at my grandmother’s in Philadelphia, PA. Until visiting The Dutch Oven, I had not had Lebanon bologna sandwich in a long time.”

Pizza Perfect
#4 of 23 Restaurants in Hillsville
Main St, Hillsville, VA 24343; +1 276-728-7600
Traveler’s review: “A small town with not many places to eat dinner. The server was super friendly, she made you feel like an old friend. The pizza was delicious, just the right amount of sauce and toppings. Even the crust was good. We got desert to go, Tiramisu cake and Chocolate cake. They were both fresh and delicious.”

It is approx. 30 minutes from Mt. Airy to Hillsville

Quality Inn Hillsville
#8 of 8 Hotels in Hillsville
85 Airport Rd, Hillsville, VA 24343-3652
Confirmation # _____________________
Traveler’s review: The beds were comfortable, the hotel was quiet, and we slept well. The hotel is easy to access from the highway and the breakfast is decent- eggs, biscuits and gravy, various bread products. The staff interactions were good.”
Day #5: Saturday

***Leave by 9:30 AM. To visit Music Center or leave early AM and drive directly to Doughton Park for wildlife viewing.

Drive 23 min (12.7 miles) via Blue Ridge Pkwy to

10 -11:30 AM: MP 213 Blue Ridge Music Center or skip and do sites to follow.
700 Foothills Rd, Galax, VA 24333-4887;
+1 276-236-5309; 10 – 5 daily; $10
Traveler’s review: “This is a must visit on the parkway. There is live music each day. I could spend a day or least a half a day here. The museum is a history of the music in the blue ridge mountains. It starts from place of origin to the migration to the area. A great store is in the building that focuses on the music.”

Galax Restaurants
Galax Smokehouse
101 N Main St, Galax, VA 24333-2976
Traveler’s review.” I went for the smoked, white meat chicken. The side of mashed potatoes was tasty with a melted cheese top and a splash of paprika. Green beans are tender and delish. On past visits I have enjoyed the beef brisket and pulled pork. They cook up great fresh, fried potatoes. Don’t forget the banana pudding dessert. One con is food is served on styrofoam plates with plastic utensils.”

***from here it is 3 hr. drive (119 mi) to Little Switzerland. (To visit Emerald Village you will need to limit stops if you have visited the Music Center).

MP 232.5 is the Stone Mountain Overlook
Best view of Stone Mountain is at this overlook.

 An early AM stop: MP 238.5 Doughton Park; Fodder Stack Trail 1 mi out and back
                Excellent place for wildlife viewing

12:30 – 1:30 PM: Lunch available at MP 258.6 Sally Mae’s on the Parkway
               An old-time general store.

MP 264.4 The Lump viewpoint

MP 272 E. B. Jeffress Park; Cascade Falls Trail 1 mi loop
Accessible from the Jeffress Park picnic ground
Traveler’s review: “I did this hike with my five-year-old son on a rainy day. It was a great length for him – long enough to be satisfying but not too tiring. The payoff was huge as this waterfall is quite impressive. It was also fun to cross the bridges and go down the rock staircases. We hiked down from the nearby parking area and it was about 45 minutes at a comfortable exploratory pace.”

MP 272 Tompkins Knob Trail 1.2 mi out and back; rated easy (p. 176 BRP) Trail at picnic area.

2:30 – 3 PM: MP 316.3 – 317.8: Linville Falls Visitor Center and Park Store
Rte. 1, Spruce Pine, NC; +1 828-765-1045
Trails near the Visitor Center lead to the breathtaking three-tiered Linville Falls over the Linville Gorge via both strenuous and moderate hikes. The steep-walled Gorge is known as the “Grand Canyon of the Southern Appalachians.”
Traveler’s Review: The Visitor’s Center is at Mile Marker 316 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This has a quick walk on handicap accessible trails to an overlook, a hard day hike into the gorge or an overnight backpack trip.”

3:30 – 5 PM: MP 334 to Emerald Village Mining Museum
331 McKinney Mine Rd., (near Blue Ridge Parkway), Little Switzerland, NC 28749;
+1 828-765-6463; Closes at 5 PM
Traveler’s review: Stopped off here and were really glad that we did. Lots to see on both sides of the road. Although obviously abandoned some time ago you almost feel the place was alive only yesterday as all the equipment is still just lying about ready to be restarted.”

Night and Dinner:
Skyline Village Inn
12255 NC Hwy. 226A, Milepost 331, Between Little Switzerland and Spruce Pine, Little Switzerland, NC 28777;
(828) 457-8034 
Confirmation # _________________________________
Note: This was our favorite lodging stay of the entire trip.
Traveler’s review: “The hotel is very homey and comfortable and they welcomed us and treated us like kings. The rooms were comfortable and relaxing, and the views, were just storybook. And the food! We stuffed ourselves at dinner each night, the best ribeye we have ever had. Woke up to coffee, pancakes, eggs and bacon in the morning – delicious! Nothing fancy here but super clean and friendly.”
Gas stations along the Blue Ridge Parkway
Virginia Exits for Gas

•             US 501 – MP 63.7, less than 2 miles south
•             VA 43 – MP 90.9, less than 5 miles north
•             US 460 – MP 106, less than 4 miles west
•             VA 24 – MP 112.2, less than 2 miles east or west
•             US 220 – MP 121.4, less than 5 miles north
•             US 58 – MP 177.7, less than 1 mile east
•             US 52 – MP 199.4, less than 1 mile north
•             VA 89 – MP 215.8, less than 8 miles north
North Carolina Exits for Gas
•             US 21 – MP 229.7, less than 8 miles west
•             NC 18 – MP 248.1, less than 3 miles west
•             NC 16 – MP 261.2, less than 12 miles west
•             US 321 – MP 291.8, less than 2 miles north or south
•             NC 181 – MP 312, less than 3 miles north
•             NC 226 – MP 330.9, less than 3 miles north
•             US 70 – MP 382.5, less than 2 miles east or west
•             US 74A – MP 384.7, less than 3 miles south
•             US 25 – MP 388.8, less than 1 mile south, less than 3 miles north
•             NC 191 – MP 393.6, less than 3 miles north
•             US 276 – MP 411.8, less than 10 miles north
•             US 74/23 – MP 443.1, less than 3 miles east
•             US 19 – MP 455.7, less than 3 miles east

Day #6: Sunday

Leave the hotel and the parkway by 8:30 AM and drive approx. 1½ hrs from MP 334 Little Switzerland to Chimney Rock, NC. Be prepared. This is a very long and winding road.

10 AM – 12 PM: Chimney Rock State Park
431 Main St., Chimney Rock, NC 28720; +1 800-277-9611
 Hiked two of the trails. Decided to do the Hickory Nut Falls trail first, since we knew that we would be tired after going up to see Chimney Rock. The Falls trail is a relatively easy and beautiful. Apparently, the quantity of water varies with the time of year and whether it rained a couple of days before. You have the option of going into the pools at the base of the waterfall — we didn’t since the water was very cold. The walk up chimney rock (the admission was discounted at the front gate since the elevator was broken) is tiring, but very much worth it. Beautiful view.”

12:30 PM: Lunch

Chimney Rock Gemstone Mine
397 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720-9700;
+1 828-625-5524
Traveler’s review: “Our family of 4 purchased the Family Bucket for $30. It was a fun experience and we left with two bags of beautiful stones and an Amethyst Druzie. We stop at these tourist traps once or twice a year. This one is a slightly more expensive than others but its outside by a stream which I appreciate. (Another reviewer bought a $9 bucket and said it wasn’t expensive). The most compelling reason for my review is the quality and quantity of the “rocks” vs any of the other gem mines we’ve stopped at. Completely amazed at the treasure we received here. Highly recommend.”
Browse Chimney Rock Shops
Traveler’s review: “I love this town! From amazing shops to beautiful scenery, it has it all. The whole town is a must see stop. It offers tons of outdoor activities, a wonderful state park, a river to play in. Whether you are a family with kids or a couple looking for a romantic getaway, this place has something to offer everyone.”

Fibber MaGee’s Mini Golf
339 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720-9700; +1 828-625-8870
Traveler’s review: “This little mini golf attraction runs along the river in the downtown area and is a rather simple course which should appeal to all ages. This is pure family fun, and a nice way to round out a day of hiking or shopping. One suggestion – bring your bug spray. We got eaten alive, especially during the evening.”

Rocky Broad Riverwalk
Main St., Chimney Rock, NC 28720-
Traveler’s review: “They are continuing to improve on the River walk- they have information boards, a lovely trail, gardens and the river is refreshing! Stairs and walks to go to an island- many go boulder hopping. Summer~ you’ll find plenty of people swimming.”

The Hickory Nut
215 Main St, Lake Lure, NC 28720; +1 828-625-2211
Traveler’s review: “We’ve stopped at Hickory Nut at least four times when visiting Chimney Rock. Always find something a little different from the last time and the wife gets all kinds of ideas on each visit. An interesting place!”

***Buy ice and a take-out picnic lunch for tomorrow.

Chimney Rock Restaurants
Medina’s Village Bistro
American, Soups, Vegetarian Friendly
430 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720; +1 828-989-4529
Traveler’s review: “All of us enjoyed our choices. But my hubby, who loves a good French Dip sandwich said this was THE BEST he has ever had in his whole life! The weather was nice – 65 degrees – so we ate outside with a direct view to Chimney Rock which was our next stop. Awesome!!!

Old Rock Cafe
American, Cafe, Vegetarian Friendly
431 Main Street, Chimney Rock, NC 28720; +1 828-625-2329
Traveler’s review: ” This was a perfect lunch spot for us after we had hiked all morning. A wide variety of options for any type of eater. I have a BLT with a side salad. A BLT isn’t anything fancy to make, but theirs was phenomenal! They did not skimp on the bacon :). My husband raved about their ham and cheese with fries. Really great meal with friendly service!”

Riverwatch Bar & Grill
American, Bar, Pub
379 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720-9700; +1 828-625-1030
Traveler’s review: ”Nice people, great burgers. Like over 70 different ones. Nice stop near Chimney rock park. Good burgers. The onion rings were so good we had to order a second batch. I would also recommend the Rueben sandwich.”

Nachitos’s Mexican Restaurant
Mexican, Latin, Spanish
447 B Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720; +1 828-436-7001
Traveler’s review: ”We almost decided not to eat here because it looked so unassuming, but we opted to stay since they had a table on the back patio by the river. The host told us upfront that it may take some time to serve us because it was just he and another guy working the tables and kitchen. We appreciated the heads up and we were in no hurry. The setting was wonderful on the deck with a relaxing river view. They kept us filled with chips and salsa. The margarita was good. All of the food was excellent. Some had quesadillas, others had the sopes and tostada. The server, Victor, was fast, capable and friendly.”

Evening Shade River Lodge & Cabins
745 Main Street, Chimney Rock, NC 28720
Confirmation #________________________________
Traveler’s review “All the conveniences of home right in mountains with  beautiful river views from my deck. Stayed here years ago and it was like walking back in time. Rustic type cabins and amenities but really clean and everything operated just fine. Cozy place just few steps from river with really nice amenities for guests – fire pit on river with free wood, chairs and benches. So nice sit on these big boulders and just listen to the water and look up at chimney rock mountain. Really can’t say enough about this place and owners were very nice. Entrance to CRP literally 30 second drive down street and great little eateries and kitschy shops in town. A fun throwback to how “rustic” lodging used to be in America.”
Day #7: Monday

Drive 45 minutes to Asheville, NC to rejoin Blue Ridge Parkway.

Drive Blue Ridge Parkway approx. 4 hrs. to Smoky Mountain National Park.
Drive Balsam Mountain Rd at MP 458, turn off the parkway and follow Heintooga Ridge Rd. to the overlook and picnic area. The road turns to gravel and will take 1.5 hrs. to travel. Great place for spring wildflowers. Ends in Cherokee.

Museum of the Cherokee Indian
Highway 441 and Drama Road, Cherokee, NC 28719; +1 828-497-3481
Traveler’s review: “The museum is very clean and it takes about 45 minutes to walk through. At the end, there are several Native Americans that have booths set up where they make goods for purchase. We really enjoyed stopping here.”

Cherokee Restaurants
Sassy Sunflowers Bakery & Cafe
1655 Acquoni Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719-9413; +1 828-497-2539
Traveler’s review: “The food was delicious, the cheesecake was divine. I had a prime rib wrap that was really good. My wife had a grilled chicken wrap, she really enjoyed but the big winner was my son who got the Turkey Reuben, it was amazing. We all had the pasta salad for a side, great choice it’s simple but delicious.”

Granny’s Kitchen Restaurant
1098 Painttown Road, Us 19n, Cherokee, NC 28719; +1 828-497-5010
Traveler’s review: “Service friendly. The food is homemade. My husband said the fried chicken tasted like his mother’s. I enjoyed the veggie soup and a salad along with sliced ham and green beans. Best apple pie I have had in years. Good variety.”

Econo Lodge Cherokee
20 River Rd, US Hwy 19, Cherokee, NC 28719-9771
Confirmation #_______________________
Traveler’s review: “I was plenty surprised. The pictures on the Choice Hotels website doesn’t do the rooms justice. Those are old pictures and the rooms have been remodeled. The staff at the front desk was extremely friendly. You couldn’t ask for better service.”

Day #8: Tuesday

Enter Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Stop at Mountain Farm Museum (p. 283 BRP).

Drive the 33 mi. Newfound Gap Gatlinburg stopping at overlooks.

From Gatlinburg, turn onto Historic Nature Trail – Airport Rd. at traffic light #8 in Gatlinburg.  See Thousand Drips Falls right off the road.
Note: This was not the easiest place to find but we drove it very early in the a.m. and it was spectacular. We were alone with no other cars and even watched a mother black bear with her two cubs.
***Leave by 1:30 PM to visit CGNHP today or spend additional time in the National Park and visit in the morning.

Drive 2 h (98.3 miles) via Hwy 25E N to:

Visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
91 Bartlett Park Rd, Middlesboro, KY 40965-5011;
+1 606-248-2817; daily 8-5
Traveler’s review: “It is full of history, provides educational films and an exhibit, as well as easy and beautiful hikes (we liked the tri-state one the most), and a breathtaking overlook just a short drive away from which all three states can be appreciated. Be sure to stop at the museum and take your time. Don’t miss the guided tour bus ride and tour up to the settlement. We were also thrilled with the Cumberland Falls. Absolutely beautiful!”

Night: ***not reserved because we can’t be sure we will get this far.
Holiday Inn Express Middlesboro
1252 N 12th St, Middlesboro, KY 40965-1826; +1 877-859-5095
Traveler’s review: “The hotel gave us a nice, clean room with a comfortable bed. They served a very good breakfast with a large selection of food. Everyone on staff was very pleasant and helpful. The hotel is highly recommended.”

OR Sleep Inn Middlesboro
Sleep Inn & Suites Middlesboro
1260 N 12th St, Middlesboro, KY 40965-1826
Traveler’s review: “Staff friendly and efficient. Hotel clean. Room really nice. Bed comfortable. Breakfast was excellent. Location can be tricky to find, but just head towards Cracker Barrell and take a right US 60 – MP 45.6, less than 5 miles west.”

Or River’s Edge Motel

1026 Tsali Blvd, Cherokee, NC 28719-9217

Day #9: Wednesday

If not visited on Tuesday:

Visit Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
#1 of 8 things to do in Middlesboro
91 Bartlett Park Rd, Middlesboro, KY 40965-5011; +1 606-248-2817; daily 8-5
Traveler’s review: “It is full of history, provides educational films and an exhibit, as well as easy and beautiful hikes (we liked the tri-state one the most), and a breathtaking overlook just a short drive away from which all three states can be appreciated. Be sure to stop at the museum and take your time. Don’t miss the guided tour bus ride and tour up to the settlement. We were also thrilled with the Cumberland Falls. Absolutely beautiful!”

Drive 3 h 11 min (197 miles) via I-75 N to

Big Bone Lick State Historic Site
3380 Beaver Rd, Union, KY 41091-8433; +1 859-384-3522
Traveler’s review: “Our stay at the campground was an overnight stop on our way back from North Carolina. We were pleasantly surprised by the other things to do such as the museum and trails to the salt spring. The bison herd was neat to see also. The history of the area was highlighted in the museum and outside placards.”

Restaurants on the way to Big Bone Lick
El Toro Bravo Mexican Restaurant
625 Chestnut Dr, Walton, KY 41094-7845; +1 859-493-0222
Traveler’s review: “Love El Toro!!! Owners are great and service is always good!! Atmosphere feels like you are far away!!”

Jane’s Saddlebag
American, Grill
13989 Ryle Rd, Union, KY 41091-8456; +1 859-384-6617
Traveler’s review: “This is a great destination to go for a weekend drive or cycling trip. The owners are very pleasant. Its just nice to sit on the back patio, talk with strangers, and get back to a time where you can just soak it up not connected. Their events and festivals are fun too, but expect to see a lot of people at the popular spot. The yard art will give you something to talk about. Hit Bg Bone Lick park on the drive in.”

Restaurants Near La Quinta
Mai Thai Restaurant
Sushi, Asian, Thai
7710 US Highway 42, Florence, KY 41042-1912; +1 859-282-1888
Traveler’s review: “Great little Asian restaurant stop! All the food was very flavorful, fresh and came out fairly quickly. The Spring rolls, Teriyaki Chicken, and Pad Thai were really good. So was the salmon sushi roll we had, although it had more spicy mayo than it needed. Service was friendly, and attentive. Would recommend!

Mad Mike’s Burgers and Fries
American, Fast Food
6420 Dixie Hwy, Florence, KY 41042-2102; +1 859-647-6444
Traveler’s review: “The food is always fresh and cooked to order. There many specialty burgers and they do not disappoint. They also have chicken burger and they do not lack flavor. To go orders are fresh too and the fries are not cooked until you arrive to keep them hot on the ride home! Family friend and clean. They also have beer on tap for the beer fans!”

Delivers to La Quinta:
Tom’s Papa Dino’s Pizza
$$ – $$$Pizza, Italian, American
288 Main St, Florence, KY 41042-2031; +1 859-371-5567
Pizza, spaghetti, burgers, sandwiches, salads, desserts. See menu on tripadviser.
Traveler’s review: “We ordered a pizza and salads to our hotel. Was delivered in a timely manner. Pizza was great. Side salads nothing special. We would order from this place again.”

Night: ***not reserved
La Quinta Inn & Suites Cincinnati Airport Florence
350 Meijer Dr, Florence, KY 41042-4899; (915) 888-3456
Traveler’s review: “We stayed here to go to the Ark Encounter/Creation Museum it was very conveniently located and in an area of a Mall so lots of food choices. Seemed to be a safe area. The rooms were nice and clean. There was a large group staying there also so they ran out of hot water the first night we were there, but it was hot by morning. Was not an problem for us.”

Day #10: Thursday

Drive  to home.

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