14 Incredible Scenic Drives Near Asheville, NC
One of the best and easiest things to do in Asheville is to pack or grab a picnic lunch and go for a drive to enjoy the beautiful, relaxing vistas the Asheville area is so famous for. The Blue Ridge Parkway is “America’s Favorite Drive” and one of the most beloved scenic drives near Asheville. But with so many scenic drives in the area, it’s not the only one!
The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s beautiful all year round. It offers all kinds of experiences and adventures, from watching the sunrise or sunset from an overlook or after a hike to spectacular fall foliage and mountain views. Did you know that the North Carolina section of the Blue Ridge Parkway has 25 very photogenic arched tunnels?
There is no admission fee to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway, and most things to do along the way are free. Things to remember: there are no gas stations on the parkway, dress in layers, always bring a headlamp if you’re doing a sunset hike, and restrooms and water are only available from May to October. Here are the maps of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Before you head out, grab a fancy picnic basket from The Rhu. Or, if you want to make your own picnic basket, get a sandwich and pastries at OWL Bakery or The West End and pick up a local beer or Buchi kombucha from the Buchi Bar in downtown Asheville. Other great places to get local snacks are the French Broad Coop or the North Asheville Farmer’s Market (open year-round).
Also, please check for road closures before you start your drive. Finally, while tackling the Blue Ridge Parkway or one of the other incredible scenic drives near Asheville, please follow the Leave No Trace Seven Principles while outdoors.
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The 14 Best Scenic Drives Near Asheville, NC
1. Take the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain and Stop at Craggy Gardens
Grandfather Mountain State Park is part of UNESCO’s Southern Appalachian Biosphere Preserve. This fascinating 300-million-year-old mountain – with 1.2 billion years of rock formations – is home to many rare, endangered, and threatened species and features more than a dozen ecological zones.
The state park offers 13 miles of hiking trails and many campgrounds. But there is also a privately owned park that the entire family will love visiting. Visitors can access Grandfather Mountain Nature Park for a fee and drive along the park to enjoy wildlife exhibits, a discovery center, hiking trails, educational activities for kids, and the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge that connects two peaks at one mile above sea level.
You’ll love driving the Linn Cove Viaduct, an engineering gem and the last section of the parkway to be completed. You can visit the museum and visitor center to learn more about it.
On the way back, stop at Craggy Gardens and hike the beautiful Craggy Gardens Pinnacle Trail for 20 minutes to enjoy 360-degree mountain views. This is one of the best sunset spots in Asheville, and the good news is that you can watch it from the parking lot (I promise it will still be beautiful!).
2. Be Left Speechless By the Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive
The 35-mile drive from Asheville to Mount Mitchell State Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway is beautiful, and you can drive almost to the summit of the highest point east of the Mississippi River (6,684 feet). The accessible observation deck provides terrific 360-degree mountain views, and the park offers many hiking trails and educational programs.
The Mount Mitchell Scenic Drive Byway is a 52-mile scenic drive that starts at the park’s main parking lot and ends in Burnsville. It follows NC Highway 128 first and then the Blue Ridge Parkway to descend into the Toe River Valley, an important cultural center home to artists of all kinds.
The route offers endless vistas of the peaks and valleys of Yancey and Madison counties, art studios along the way, and 50 quilt blocks. Once you get to Burnsville, explore downtown and the arts and crafts scene, or take one of the self-guided driving trails to discover quilt blocks. Finally, you can take I-26 to go back to Asheville.
3. Go from Asheville to Mount Pisgah to Watch the Sunset
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in North Carolina, offering excellent views all day long. But, if you’d like to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunset spots in Asheville, you can take the parkway south and head to Mount Pisgah.
The Mount Pisgah Trail (1.6 miles to the summit) is considered a moderate to strenuous hike, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. Don’t feel like hiking? Watch the sunset from the (first) parking lot, and you’ll still be amazed! There are other trails you can explore in this area, too.
On the way, stop at the Folk Art Center, a perfect spot to find traditional and contemporary Southern Appalachian crafts and get the best Asheville souvenirs.
The Pisgah Inn is open from April through October. It’s available for lunch for outside visitors, and its dining room offers spectacular views. The Grazing Deer Cafe is open daily and has numerous grab-and-go foods.
Other popular sites on this part of the parkway are Graveyard Fields, one of the most loved family-friendly hikes near Asheville (there are two waterfalls, as well as blueberry-picking in mid-August), and Black Balsam (an all-time favorite hike). You can also see the unique rock formation of Devil’s Courthouse from the parking lot.
4. Bring Your Picnic to One of These Overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway’s overlooks feature long, wide, and open vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the road. Some have picnic tables, or you can spread a blanket. Overlooks can be busy sometimes, especially during the fall and the summer, so be patient while you find your perfect picnic spot.
If you are a morning person, Mills River Overlook (milepost 404.5) is the perfect spot to watch the sunrise. But, because this overlook features views on both sides of the parkway, it’s also one of the best sunset spots in Asheville (35-40 minutes from downtown). In addition, there is access to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Cowee Mountain Overlook (430.7) sits 5,950 feet above sea level, featuring 180-degree views without obstructions. Another favorite sunset spot in Asheville! Then there’s the Waterrock Knob Overlook, which is located at 5,820 feet and offers spectacular sunrise and sunset long-range views. There are picnic tables and restrooms.
Check out other larger picnic areas on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
5. Take the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway through Pisgah National Forest
The Forest Heritage Scenic Byway is a 76-mile loop that takes you through Pisgah National Forest, passing waterfalls, hiking trails, and beautiful landscapes. It starts in Brevard (check out its cool downtown!), but you can start anywhere.
Looking Glass Falls is visible from the parking area or by a short walk that will bring you closer to the water. You can wade or swim in the warmer months or enjoy the magical ice formations in the winter.
Sliding Rock is a 60-foot natural waterslide that ends in an 8-foot-deep pool. Does it sound fun? It is! This is one of the favorite recreational areas for locals and visitors, and it gets busy between noon and 4:00 pm, so please plan accordingly. The restrooms are open seasonally.
Picnicking is not allowed in Sliding Rock, but you can go to the Pink Beds Picnic Area. The accessible Pink Beds Loop Trail is one of the most popular kid-friendly hikes near Asheville because of its wildflowers in the warmer months and the many opportunities to play by the water.
Take some time to visit the Cradle of Forestry, considered the first forestry school in the USA, and enjoy its trails and educational opportunities.
6. Drive the French Broad Overview Byway and Stop at Weaverville and Marshall
This 16.3-mile scenic drive near Asheville goes from Weaverville (north of Asheville) to Marshall and follows the French Broad River (NC 251). You can expect many views of one of the four oldest rivers in the world. It’s beautiful all year round, but you’ll love the fall colors and the recreational water opportunities in the summer (canoeing, rafting, tubing – you name it!).
Weaverville is a charming, vibrant little town. Take a walk around the streets of downtown and discover the active and diverse artistic community and the many locally-owned shops. Eat at The Glass Onion, Blue Mountain Pizza, Well-Bred Bakery & Café, or go to the legendary Stoney Knob Cafe (Greek and international food, one of the best off-the-beaten-path brunch spots near Asheville).
Marshall is another lovely town just 20 miles from downtown Asheville. Its downtown is filled with art studios and fun shops. Don’t miss the 100-year-old courthouse and the artist studios located on an 8-acre island in the middle of the river! Eat at Star Diner, one of the best places to eat Sunday brunch around Asheville. Also, Marshall hosts the Mermaid Parade every June, one of the many fun festivals near Asheville.
7. Visit the Waterfalls and Lovely Towns Along the Waterfall Byway
The 98-mile Waterfall Byway is a portion of US Highway 64 and is one of the most scenic drives in North Carolina. It starts in Rosman and ends in Murphy. This scenic road near Asheville will take you through Transylvania County, the “Land of Waterfalls.”
On the way, you’ll see the top of Toxaway Falls from the bridge over the Toxaway Dam, or you can hike 1.5 miles (each way) to Rainbow Falls (on sunny days, you’ll see a rainbow in the mist) and an additional 1-mile round-trip to Turtleback Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls cascades over the road, and there is a pull-off beyond the falls, 20 feet from the road! Dry Falls can be seen from the parking area, or visitors can follow a short trail that allows you to walk behind the waterfall and remain dry (hence the name).
You’ll love the Cullasaja River and stopping in Highland. At an elevation of 4,118 feet, this is one of the highest towns east of the Mississippi. Another worthy stop is Franklin, the “Gem Capital of the World,” with many active mines).
8. Take the Black Mountain Rag Byway to Chimney Rock and End Where ‘Dirty Dancing’ was Filmed
Have you ever listened to the old fiddle tune “The Black Mountain Rag?” This scenic 30.9-mile road near Asheville takes its name from it and honors the song with its syncopated rhythm of curves that won’t allow any dull moment during your ride.
The Black Mountain Rag Byway starts in Black Mountain and ends in Lake Lure, following NC 9 and then US 64. You can visit Bat Cave’s little shops and stop at the 186-acre Bat Cave Preserve, the longest-known granite fissure cave in the world, home to the endangered Indiana bat.
You can’t miss Chimney Rock State Park and its 535-million-year-old monolith, accessed by an elevator or the 500-step Outcroppings Trail. At the top, you’ll enjoy 75-mile panoramic views of the Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.
The 0.7-mile Hickory Nut Falls Trail leads to the base of the 404-foot-tall waterfall, the highest waterfall in any North Carolina State Park (featured in The Last of the Mohicans film). The park entry fee varies seasonally, so please call before you go.
Are you a fan of Dirty Dancing? Then visit Lake Lure, the artificial yet beautiful community around the lake where it was filmed! Or plan your visit to make it to the annual Dirty Dancing Festival to have “the time of your life.”
9. Enjoy Time-Traveling on the Appalachian Medley Byway and End Your Adventure Soaking In Hot Springs
You’ve probably heard about the cinematographic bridges of Madison County in Iowa, but what do you know about the barns of Madison County in North Carolina? The Appalachian Medley Byway borders the beautiful Pisgah National Forest and takes you through the historic barns of Madison County in one of the most relaxing scenic drives near Asheville.
The 45-mile drive follows NC Highway 209 from Lake Junaluska (a religious retreat center) to Hot Springs. You’ll love the bucolic hills, the peaceful valley views, and the 10,000 Appalachian barns that tell the stories you can’t get from a book. The Appalachian Barn Alliance is a non-profit that works to preserve the barns. They offer guided tours, as well.
The drive ends in the charming town of Hot Springs, by the French Broad River and part of the Appalachian Trail. Of course, the town’s highlight is the Hot Springs Resort and Spa, featuring the only hot springs in North Carolina.
Hiking the Lover’s Leap Loop Trail will give you fabulous views. Other fun places near Hot Springs are the Laurel River Trail (a great family-friendly hike) and Max Patch (one of the best sunset spots in Asheville).
10. Take in Stunning Mountain Views from the Interstate 26 Scenic Highway
The Interstate 26 Scenic Highway in Madison County is one of the most scenic drives near Asheville (and one of the few scenic highways in the country). It begins in Mars Hill, follows I-26 to the west, and has two scenic overlooks.
The first overlook offers views of Madison County. A stop at the mountain farmstead-style North Carolina Welcome Center will introduce you to the local natural and cultural life. The center has a second scenic overlook where you can see Mount Mitchell, Black Mountain, Grandfather Mountain, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
After that, the highway reaches its highest point, Buckner Gap, at 5,000 feet, the highest elevation on any interstate in North Carolina. At mile marker three, the highway crosses the Laurel River near the Wolf Laurel community, home of a winter ski resort.
11. Drive Along the Beautiful Nantahala National Forest on This Scenic Byway
The 43-mile Nantahala Scenic Byway‘s heart is the Nantahala Gorge, a world-class whitewater destination ideal for canoeing, kayaking, and rafting, often called “America’s favorite whitewater playground.”
The byway starts in Bryson City and ends in Marble, following US 74 and offering beautiful views, picnicking spots, and many river adventures along the way. The Cherokee word “Nantahala” means “land of the noonday sun” because the gorge is so deep that the sun only reaches the valley floor at midday.
You will love stopping at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a super fun spot for the entire family. You can go for the day and enjoy zip-lining, biking, or doing a fun whitewater experience. They also have lodging options, from campgrounds and cabins to deluxe accommodations and a motel. In addition, there are three restaurants on-site.
Also, did you know that you can take the Nantahala Gorge Excursion, a 44-mile train ride that follows the Nantahala Gorge back and forth from Bryson?
12. Visit Carl Sandburg’s Home on the Historic Flat Rock Scenic Byway
The Historic Flat Rock Scenic Byway consists of a series of roads in the quiet, historical village of Flat Rock in Henderson County. The town is built around an outcrop of granite, probably a gathering site for Cherokee people. The main rock is mostly flat and remains exposed on the grounds of the Flat Rock Playhouse, hence the name Flat Rock.
Flat Rock’s highlight is Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s Home and a National Historic Site. This 279-acre farm features five miles of hiking trails, ponds, the rounded summit of Glassy Mountain, and rare rock formations called Southern Appalachian low-elevation granitic domes, unique to the region and home of exceptional flora.
After the death of the three-time Pulitzer-awarded writer, also called “the People’s Poet,” the property was sold to the National Park Service, so visitors today can see the house as it was back then. The access is free, and there are also complimentary tours, but you’ll need to make reservations.
The best part? If you go during the spring, you’ll get to see baby goats! Sandburg’s wife loved goats, and she raised award-winning ones. Outdoor access to the goats is available daily.
Also, plan to attend a play at the Flat Rock Play House.
13. Drive through the Fog of Great Smoky Moutain National Park and Take Tons of Photos of Elk
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is located in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Asheville is within an hour and a half drive of five entrances to the park (there is no entry fee).
Newfound Gap Road (US Highway 441) connects Cherokee, NC, to Gatlinburg, TN. This 33-mile scenic drive near Asheville goes through the national park and features incredible views, including the overlook of Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies (6,643 feet).
The reintroduction of elk into Great Smoky Mountains National Park began in 2001. The best place to see elk is in the Cataloochee area in the southeastern section of the park. During the rut in fall, the male elk bugle to attract females to challenge other bulls.
The park offers many opportunities to learn about the history and the cultural heritage of this part of the world, as well as camping spots, hiking trails, and many outdoor adventures.
14. Finally, Enjoy a Short Scenic Drive Very Close to Downtown Asheville
Do you have some time to kill before your dinner reservation and would like to take a scenic drive near Asheville to catch a sunset or decompress? Go to Town Mountain and Elk Mountain.
Drive up NC Highway 694 (Town Mountain Road) from College Street. You’ll get to the Blue Ridge Parkway after a 6.3-mile drive. Turn left on the Parkway (North) and take the first road on the left (sign for Weaverville).
Turn left on Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. Drive down the mountain ridge and then take a right on Beaverdam Road and a left on Merrimon Avenue to return to downtown. Enjoy your dinner!