Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Section 4
From NC Hwy 80 (MP 344) to the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville (MP 384), this section of the Parkway has one of the highest average elevations, with much of it - from Mount Mitchell State Park to Craggy Gardens - remaining above the 5000 ft contour. It traverses the southern Black Mountains and the Great Craggy Mountains around the rim of the Asheville Watershed. Several excellent, popular hiking trails grace the mountains along this section.
Although this section of the Parkway closes frequently during the winter, during the summer it makes an excellent refuge from the heat of the valleys below. Temperatures here rarely climb above 75 degrees. You'll find high-elevation spruce-fir forests as well as northern hardwood forests on the surrounding trails. Being close to Asheville, this section is popular for short drives from the city to catch an after-dinner sunset from the mountains or a short hike for exercise after work.
This section also includes the short stretch which loops around the south side of Asheville, from US Hwy 70 to NC Hwy 191, is locally known as the "commuter section" of the Parkway. It connects with US Hwys. 74A and 25 as well. It not only provides a popular, stoplight-free commute between businesses and homes along these highways, but access to several nice trails and a stretch of road that is open in the winter more often than the rest of the Parkway is.
Much of the land along the Parkway on this stretch is publicly owned, meaning a variety of trails connect to those actually on the Parkway, and ensuring some great hiking opportunities.
You can follow the Green Knob trail to the historic fire tower at its peak, for a spectacular view of the Black Mountain range, which dominates the view along much of the southern part of this section.
The Mountains to Sea Trail follows the Parkway closely along this entire section and forms the backbone of the trail system. Popular destinations along the MST itself, and reachable via day hikes, include the fields below Potato Knob, Lunch Rock, the cliff-top views on Lane Pinnacle, and Rattlesnake Lodge.
Branching off from the MST are several great day hikes, such as an out-and-back hike to the knife ridge on the Big Butt Trail (yes, that's really the trail's name!). In the Craggies, there are the ever-popular Craggy Gardens and Craggy Pinnacle trails, some of the most popular in the region when they're open.
The lesser-used Snowball trail to Hawksbill Rock might be a good option if you'd like to beat the crowds a bit, and the Douglas Falls trail leads into the Big Ivy area of Pisgah National Forest. The Rattlesnake Lodge trail provides another, steeper, way of reaching the old lodge site that does not follow the Mountains to Sea Trail.
This is just an overview of the trails available along this section of the Parkway. For all the trail details, be sure to check out the Trails page, and for complete hike guides, several of the Best Hikes in WNC are along this section of the motor road as well!
Mount Mitchell State Park (MP 355)
The State Park is 2.5 miles N. of Parkway on NC 128. It is not actually a Parkway facility but the Parkway is the only access. Contains the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.
- Campground (9 tent sites, water, flush toilets, no showers, no hook-ups).
- Visitor Center/Restrooms
- Museum/Gift Shop
- Concession Stand
- Picnic Area
- Observation Tower
Craggy mountaintops and lush rhododendron gardens grace the tops of the Great Craggy Mountains. Spectacular views await along several hiking trails in the area. This is a popular retreat from the summer heat for those living in Asheville. Two Guided Hikes wind through the area.
- Picnic area with Water and Restrooms at MP 367.6
- Visitor Center/Museum/Bookshop (Water and Restrooms) at MP 364.6
Folk Art Center (MP 382)
This art museum and gift shop is open year-round, except during severe winter weather. The parking area marks a popular access point for the Mountains to Sea Trail.
- Art Museum
- Gift Shop/Book Store
Start - NC Hwy 80, MP 344
This section of the Parkway heads south from this point to MP 384 at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville.