A Colorful Adventure to the East - The Blue Ridge Parkway

Fall had arrived, and it was time for team member, Paige Davis and her husband to set out on their much anticipated adventure along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Paige is a member of The Backpacker's buying team, adventure lover and talented photographer. 

Paige shares a little about her experience and some insights on prepping for a trip like this one! 

Location of adventure:

  • The Blue Ridge Parkway, Grandfather Mountain State Park, Shenandoah National Park & New River Gorge National Park (North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia)

Q. Why did you choose this place?

A. I visited the Asheville area earlier this year and drove a small portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway and fell in love. I knew I had to come back in the fall to drive all 469 miles and see the fall foliage. Also, my husband and I are on a mission to visit all 63 National Parks so this trip allowed us to check off 2 more from our bucket list! We’ve been to 16/63 so far.

Q. Did you use a website or other resource to help you plan your trip?

A.

  • Roadtrippers app (for planning out our drive and making sure we were getting the most out of each day)
  • the Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner app (this app was super helpful when it came to planning out our stops along the parkway)
  • All Trails (this helped us find some great hikes along the parkway and in Shenandoah National Park)
  • Instagram (I always love searching the area we will be visiting to see other people’s photos. This is actually how I came across our favorite hike that we did!)

Q. What gear was on your checklist to bring with you?

A. day hiking pack, hiking essentials (headlamp, first aid kit, emergency blanket, bear bell, flashlight, etc.) trekking poles, hiking boots, wool hiking socks, plenty of layering pieces, comfy outfits for long travel days, my GoPro, water bottles, hammocks, trail maps

Q. Did anything about your adventure surprise you?

A. I was surprised at how much color there was. We definitely picked the perfect time to visit! I was also surprised by how many great hikes there are right off the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive in Shenandoah. There is a trail for every experience level and you don’t even have to leave the parkway to find the trailheads. 

Q. Was there a particular moment of excitement or danger that made this a true adventure?

A. Absolutely! We decided to head to Grandfather Mountain while we were in the Banner Elk area of North Carolina. We found this super cool looking hike on Instagram and All Trails to Macrae Peak/Attic Window that has several cables and ladders and requires some cliff scaling, so obviously we had to tackle it! It is considered a “very difficult” trail and is definitely not for the faint of heart. We had almost made it to the top and only had a few more ladders to go when we came across an extremely steep, long ladder on the edge of a cliff. I completely froze at the top of the ladder and had to talk myself through an anxiety attack so that I could finish climbing. I’ve never been afraid of heights in all my life, but I was definitely terrified at this moment! I didn’t realize just how dangerous this hike was going to be. But I overcame my fears and made it to the summit after some motivation from my husband and the group of ladies hiking behind us! It was totally worth it!

 Q. What was your favorite part of your adventure?

A. Honestly, making it to Macrae Peak after a hike that pushed me past my physical and mental limits was the highlight for me! A close second favorite would definitely be seeing so much color along the whole drive. I also just loved every second of being in the mountains! The mountains are 100% my happy place.

Q. What gear was absolutely essential to help you love your adventure?

A. Layers! The weather changed so much during our trip, especially when we were hiking in the mountains. One minute it was foggy and 45° and the next minute it was sunny and 65°. It was nice being able to add or remove layers so that I was always comfortable. I made sure to pack a quick dry shirt, a mid layer fleece, an insulated jacket and a rain/windbreaker on all of our hikes and I felt like I was prepared for anything! Sturdy hiking boots were a major plus as well!

Q. What gear do you wish you had brought?

A. Fitness or climbing gloves would have been great for the cables and ladders on the hike to Macrae Peak to have a better grip. The trail was pretty slippery at some points and having damp hands while gripping onto a cable for dear life was just a little scary, though we survived!

Q. Would you have done anything differently?

A. We stayed in 6 different towns during our 7 night/2500 mile road trip so we were constantly on the move. I would have loved to have at least 2 nights in each town so we could have hiked a bit more and gotten to explore the different areas. That would have left more time to relax too I guess. (Ha! Relax? What does that even mean on adventures?)

We actually drove the parkway backwards (South to North) but I wish we would have done it the right way (North to South). We started in Cherokee, NC at milepost 469 and ended at Skyline Drive in Shenandoah at milepost 0. I think the North Carolina portion was the best so it would have been nice to end on a high note (literally— the highest point of the parkway is in North Carolina). Virginia was beautiful too, but it isn’t as mountainous as North Carolina. 

Q. What would you tell a friend about your adventure before they do it themselves?

A. Choose at least 2 towns along the Blue Ridge Parkway to spend 2 nights at. We stayed 2 nights near Boone, NC and I wish we would have stayed 2 nights near Shenandoah so we would have had more time there.

Something to note is that the speed limit is only 45 MPH the entire drive, so what may be just a 2 hour drive according to Waze, may actually take you 4 or 5 hours on the parkway especially if you’re making stops. Allow yourself PLENTY of extra time each day to complete your drive. There are so many overlooks along the parkway with hundreds of trails. It’s so easy to spend hours in a small section of the parkway so prioritize which hikes you want to do ahead of time so that you’re not constantly in a rush to get to your next destination.

Shop our Camp and Hike collection for the Paige used on her recent adventure.