For a long time Jarrett wanted to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from one end to the other with our camper in tow. Our plan to visit the Smoky Mountains and then D.C. this summer provided the perfect opportunity to put that bucket list adventure into motion. But it’s not the kind of RV trip you want to make on a whim. Here are five things you MUST know before towing a camper on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
1. Parking at visitor centers and overlooks can be limited.
The first day of our Blue Ridge Parkway drive happened to fall on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Thus the parkway was busier than normal and parking lots were filled to the brim. While some of the visitor centers offer RV parking, we found they were frequently already occupied … with regular passenger cars. To avoid the congestion and snag a parking spot on our next two travel days, we found it was best to get to the visitor centers early in the morning. (Of course, not traveling over a holiday weekend would also have helped our cause tremendously. Lesson learned.)
If you are planning to stop at Mount Mitchell–which at an elevation of 6,684 feet is the highest peak east of the Mississippi–then we know that there are indeed three oversized parking spots at the top (probably intended for buses), as well as a circular turnaround loop. This was a quite a relief to discover after we began the ascent without realizing there were no pull offs along the way and we didn’t know whether there would be a place to park and then turn around for the descent. However, there are several places along the Blue Ridge Parkway that do not have RV parking, such as Flat Top Manor. One park official told us that if we couldn’t find parking in designated lots, we could park along the parkway as long as it was a safe location, so Jarrett was able to create a spot for us at the entrance.
The good news is that scenic overlooks dot the entire parkway, so there are lots of opportunities to pull off with the RV. Some overlooks are easier to pull in and out of (we tried to avoid any that were on a blind curve), and as long as there weren’t a lot of cars already present, the overlooks offered plenty of room to park.
2. Fueling up takes extra planning.
There are no gas stations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but there are many opportunities to exit the parkway in search of gas. It’s important to plan your refueling stops, though, since the location of the gas stations off the parkway will vary, and there are some stretches of the parkway that have fewer opportunities to exit for gas. The parkway offers detailed information about where motorists can refuel here.
3. Trees are not always trimmed back enough to clear tall RVs.
For the most part, trees and shrubbery along the parkway were trimmed back enough that RVs could travel along without incident. But there were occasional spots where a limb protruded out into the parkway or a tree hung low over the road. Usually Jarrett had enough time to maneuver out of the way, but sometimes if there was oncoming traffic or if we were coming around a bend there wasn’t much he could do to avoid it.
4. Not all RVs will fit through some of the tunnels.
At the southern end of the parkway, there are a few low-clearance tunnels that not all RVs will fit through. Before plotting your trip along the parkway, confirm the height of your RV and then compare it to the height of the tunnels along your route. The heights are noted here. To avoid those shorter tunnels, we chose to enter the parkway in Asheville.
5. You won’t be able to drive very fast.
The speed limit along most sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway is 45 mph. But don’t expect to actually go that fast all the time with a camper in tow: Jarrett tracked our speed on a GPS app and our average moving speed was 34 mph with the RV behind us. The mountainous terrain is winding, and with a camper in tow you will want to keep your speed down. Additionally, bicyclists frequent the parkway and if you happen to get stuck behind one (or several as we did), you may have to exercise a lot of patience before you reach a safe stretch to pass them. During particularly busy seasons, you may even find yourself behind a long line of cruising cars. But as long as you allow yourself plenty of time to get to your nightly destination, you can sit back and enjoy the leisurely pace.
A trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway is all about the Americana experience, and our family thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to step back in time as we learned about the history and culture of the region. One day Jarrett and I hope to return for a fall drive along the parkway—I’m sure the views would be epic!
If you are interested in planning your own journey along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stayed tuned for our upcoming trip itinerary post. And if you have any other tips to share about towing a camper on the Blue Ridge Parkway, please leave a comment below!