The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s most beautiful drives. If you are planning a Blue Ridge Parkway road trip with your kids, take a break from driving and enjoy these family-friendly hikes. In fact, getting out of the car and hiking Blue Ridge Parkway will will exponentially improve your enjoyment of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We started driving the Blue Ridge Parkway at the north entrance where Skyline Drive ends and the Blue Ridge Parkway begins. After 90 minutes of very scenic driving we arrived at Fallingwater Cascades. This is a very well treed, short hiking trail (about 0.7 miles each way, 1.4 miles total) which takes you to a very nice cascading waterfall.
The first half of the hike is all downhill, via a combination of dirt trail and stone stairs. About halfway down the path meets up with a stream, where there is a small natural pool below a bridge where kids can splash around in. There appeared to be a steep drop off downstream, so adults need to stay close!
From this point, the path gets steeper downhill as it follows the river. You can hear the water rushing downhill, but you can’t quite see it. After a few switchbacks, you reach the bottom of the hike where you can stand close to the bottom of the waterfall. It’s a nice spot with lots of big fallen trees at the foot of the falls – good for plopping your kids onto for pictures in front of the cascading waterfall. This trail isn’t a loop, so you need to retrace your steps and climb back up the same 364 feet (111m) you just descended.
The Fallingwater Cascades hike was easy enough for both of our kids to walk the full way. There were lots of cool caterpillars, millipedes, daddy long legs, butterflies, etc. and stuff for the kids to look at with their bug viewer box, which kept them interested and motivated.
Gully Creek Trail
The Gully Creek Trail is found at mile 217.5 in the Cumberland Knob recreation area. If you feel capable of this hike as a family, we recommend it as this was one of our favorite Blue Ridge Parkway hikes.
Gully Creek Trail is a reasonably short 2 mile (3.2km) long hike, but it’s hard. If your kids are not great hikers, we’d recommend using a carrier to get them through some of the tougher spots.
The Gully Creek Trail is a loop and we hiked it clockwise. The hike immediately starts to descend through a very thick forest. The forest cover was so complete, it was 80F (27C) outside and we didn’t need any sunscreen. The trail keeps on going down and down for approximately 780 feet (240m) until you reach Gully Creek.
The forest gets even more lush the further down you go and by the time you get to Gully Creek it feels almost tropical. The trail gets a little muddy in places, so make sure you have good closed toe hiking boots on. Be prepared to take them off though, as the trail crosses the creek several times. I lost count, but I’d guess we crossed Gully Creek about 10 times. There was one actual wooden bridge, but the rest were crossing via stepping stones in the creek. We had to take our shoes off for the first crossing, but were able to keep them on after that. Our five year old daughter was able to do most of the crossings herself, with a little help for balance etc., while our 3 year old boy got carried across most times.
It was a lot of work managing the trail at the bottom of the gully with two small kids, but the kids had a ton of fun and we thought the scenic creek and little waterfalls running through the near tropical forest were so beautiful. As you follow the Gully Creek you continue descending, so by the time you leave the creek and start climbing back up, you have some work to do to get back to your car.
All told, it took us nearly 3 hours to do this hike with our kids. They both did great – our daughter hiked nearly the whole thing herself and was only picked up by Dad in the interest of time. Our son struggled on the creek crossings and the big climb back up, but he still hiked close to 75% of it himself. We were so proud of them today! Gully Creek Trail was one of the best hikes of our SE USA road trip so far!
There is an easy 2.2 mile (3.5km) walk around Price Lake, a “V” shaped lake right off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 297.
The majority of the walk is near the shoreline of the lake through a dense rhododendron forest. (Apparently they bloom in early July, so our August visit was too late for them, but I imagine it’d be a pretty incredible walk during this time.) Even when the flowers are not in bloom, the walk offers some nice views of the lake and the mountains beyond. The walk goes through a campground complete with bathrooms (good for small bladders) and an amphitheater with a stage (good for impromptu talent shows by the kids).
It’s a very flat walk, although there were points where you needed to balance over some logs to get over some muddy spots. It was easy enough that both our kids walked the full thing themselves. Factoring in the breaks we took at the amphitheater and looking for fish under bridges, etc., the walk took us 1h 45m.
Rough Ridge is a very popular hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 302.8) to an amazing viewpoint. It’s only 0.3 miles (0.5km) to the viewpoint, so it’s a pretty short, but steep hike. The path has lots of rocks and trees roots, so it’s not a walk in the park. Both of our kids were able to walk all the way up and down by themselves.
The viewpoint is along a long wooden boardwalk with many viewing platforms and benches. There is also a pathway leading to a large flat rock, which has a very long drop-off, so watch your little ones very closely! Our little guy gave us a heart attack as he bolted from us and ran out onto the rock!
The views from the Rough Ridge boardwalk are pretty spectacular, in fact our Airbnb host said they’d make us weep. We didn’t quite break into tears, but it was a truly amazing view of the mountains.
Next we drove 90 minutes south to Mount Mitchell State Park at milepost 349.9. At 6,684 feet above sea level, Mount Mitchell is the highest point in the USA east of the Mississippi River. What is pretty amazing is that you can drive all the way to the summit. What’s even more amazing is that you can park halfway up the road to the summit and enjoy a hard, but very rewarding hike to the summit.
There are a series of different trails leading up and around the mountain top. There are good signs around the mountain, but we did find it useful to use our AllTrails app to make sure we were on the right trails. Our hike was along a series of different trails:
We began behind the Visitor Center on Commissary Trail, which is so wide it felt like it was a country road. This trail is actually a bit downhill at the start and had hundreds of butterflies along it, so our kids literally raced the first 1.3 miles (2km) as they chased every single butterfly they could see. The flowers were very pretty and the occasional views of the mountains below were pretty great too. Enjoy these views as most of the hike beyond this point is through a beautiful, but thick forest which doesn’t offer many mountain views.
When the Commissary Trail reached a creek, we turned left and started to follow the Camp Alice Trailhead. This trail is much narrower, steeper and harder to walk on. We let the kids try this trail for a while, but all the rocks and tree roots were a little too hard on them, so we threw them on our backs in their carriers and this improved our pace significantly. After about 0.5 miles (0.8km), the Camp Alice Trail turns right onto the Old Mitchell Trail which takes you to the summit.
At the summit, there is a paved trail leading to a viewing platform at the top. This is where you will meet up with the other 99% of the people who simply drove to the top. The day started off with clear, blue sky but unfortunately a lot of clouds formed as we were hiking up, so the views weren’t all that amazing. But we could see some views in a few directions, so we were happy with what we got.
We began our descent through the Balsam Nature Trail. This is a short, flat section of the trail designed for families. There are lots of interpretive signs along this short path. Before long, the trail forks – the easy nature trail leads to the left (which goes back to the summit) or you can take the Mt. Mitchell Trail, which is a different trail back down the mountain.
The Mount Mitchell trail isn’t overly steep, but it has lots of rocks (some are wet and a bit slippery) and the ever-present hordes of tree roots. We let the kids hike it for a while, but we eventually put them in their carriers.
Once the steady downhill is done, you meet up with the Commissary Trail once more. This part of the trail seems to be along an ATV trail with lots of flowers and berry bushes on the sides. The views of the mountains below reappear at this stage. Before long, you meet up with the creek from the first section of this trail.This time you have to cross it via stepping stones. Then you walk back up the section of the Commissary Trail that you did at the very beginning.
The advertised length of this trail was 5.2 miles (8.4km), but our GPS clocked it at 6.2 miles (10km). It took us exactly 4 hours to complete the loop, with our kids walking about 60-70% of the total distance (mostly the flat and/or downhill sections). It isn’t an easy hike and if you have small kids, you will likely need to carry them at some point. The footing isn’t always the best, so good shoes are a must. There were bear warnings posted for the area, so be bear aware and make lots of noise while on the trails.
It’s hard to find a moderate hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Most trails are super short and easy, or they are super long and hard. If you are looking for a fun, scenic and rewarding moderate hike, this one is for you.
The popular, family-friendly Graveyard Fields hiking area is near the popular resort town of Asheville near milepost 418. Graveyard Fields boasts several modest waterfalls and a nice hike through a river valley. There are several trails in the area which give a variety of options for lengths and difficulty.
We chose to hike to the Upper Falls and back for a total of 3.2 miles (5.2km). It’s a reasonably flat hike, with the exception of the initial descent from the parking lot which is on a steep paved trail. The trails are in good condition and easy to walk on until you get to the second half of the hike towards the Upper Falls.
At this stage we had to cross several small creeks and dodge mud puddles, while the dry parts of the trail were rocky with lots of tree roots. Our kid’s pace slowed way down in this part as the footing on the hiking trail was much more challenging for them. The Upper Falls were nice, and I’m glad we went, but they won’t change your life either. If you are pressed for time, you won’t miss much by skipping them.
The hike to the Upper Falls was a nice enough in its own right, but what made this hike special was the ripe wild berries! We had read that in late August, massive amounts of wild blueberries and blackberries start to ripen along the trail. We visited Graveyard Fields on August 19th and the berries were just starting to get ripe. Normally when we are in bear country, we respect the bears need for food and leave the wild berries alone, but the information sign in the parking lot made it clear that personal consumption was OK.
The kids had so much fun looking for ripe berries (although our little guy just liked picking anything off the tree). Although most of the berries were not ripe yet, we still found plenty to fill our tummies! Our pace was pretty slow given the many stops to pick and eat berries, but we managed to get the hike done in 3h 20m.
Blue Ridge Parkway Resources
Kids in Parks (Kid friendly brochures for hiking trails from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation)
Have you enjoyed a family-friendly hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway? If so, please share it with all of us below!
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