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 Shenandoah National Park this past summer provided the perfect opportunity to put that bucket list adventure into motion. In the time since we took the trip, we’ve heard from other RVers who have thought about making a similar journey but had questions on how to plot the itinerary. To make it a little easier to plan, we’ve put together a nine-day trip-tic that you can modify to fit your RV plans.
This nine-day itinerary does assume a few things, which may or may not be true for your personal situation, thus you may need to make modifications to fit your specific needs:
—The first assumption is that you are able to get to the starting point in the Smoky Mountains within a day’s drive of home. It also assumes that you are able to return home from Shenandoah within a day’s drive upon the conclusion of the trip. If this is not the case, you will need to either add drive days to your itinerary, or if you do not have extra vacation days to add on, you will need to reduce the amount of time you spend within the parks.
—This itinerary also assumes that your RV is taller than 11 feet, and thus we have not included the southernmost portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway due to a few low-clearance tunnels that can not accommodate taller RVs. We recommend that you consult the park’s listing of tunnels to verify that your camper will be able to pass under with no issues. If your RV is shorter than the low-clearance tunnels, you could consider beginning your journey where the Blue Ridge Parkway starts near the Smoky Mountains. However, this will add to your drive time on Day 4.
—This itinerary assumes that you are going to tow your camper no more than 150 miles a day along the Blue Ridge Parkway. That’s partly because the speed is only 45 mph, but you will not be going even that fast due to slower moving traffic and the occasional bicyclist that you will have to wait patiently to pass. Jarrett tracked our speed on a GPS app and our average moving speed was 34 mph with the RV.
—This itinerary also assumes that you are ok with a pretty packed schedule for this trip. For our longer three-week trips, we like to incorporate a couple “off” days to do grocery shopping, laundry, relaxing, etc. But for shorter touring trips we usually try to pack enough clothes that we don’t have to do laundry, and I try to plan out our menu enough that we only have to pop into grocery stores for a quick resupply of perishables.
Ok, now that we have all those caveats out of the way, on to the trip planning!
Day 1: Drive to the campground of your choice in the Cherokee, N.C., area of the Great Smoky Mountains.
We stayed at River Valley Campground in Cherokee—you can read our full review of it here. It is a private campground on the Cherokee Reservation; although some parts of the campground were quite crowded, the campground features river-side sites that offer a beautiful ambiance. On-site Wi-Fi and a laundry room are other added perks. It was also conveniently located about 10 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains’ Oconaluftee Visitors Center.
Day 2: Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Day 3: Explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Day 4: Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 384 to Milepost 316
You will want to enter the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Asheville Visitor Center just off of Interstate 40 at Milepost 384. There was adequate parking for RVers early in the morning—although the parking lot may be full at peak times and later in the day. If your kids would like to do the Junior Ranger badge program for the Blue Ridge Parkway, pick up packets at this location. As of our 2019 visit, the parkway offered a tiered Junior Ranger program: Children who complete the folder activities and one milepost sheet receive the traditional Junior Ranger badge. Those children who complete the folder and four milepost sheets also receive a patch. As a special incentive, children who complete all 10 sheets along the Blue Ridge Parkway will receive a special pin. Since we did not start driving the Blue Ridge Parkway at the southernmost end, we missed the first sheet, but the Asheville park rangers had copies that they gave our kids. So if you also miss the first sheet, you can hopefully request it at the Asheville site.
After leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitors Center in Asheville, there are a few more places you may want to visit as you drive that day. These stops are just suggestions depending on how much time you have and if parking is available for your RV. Possibilities include the Folk Art Center at Milepost 382, Craggy Gardens at Milepost 364, Mount Mitchell near Milepost 355, and the Museum of North Carolina Minerals at Milepost 331.
That night camp at Linville Falls NPS at Milepost 316. There are no electric, water, or sewer hookups at this NPS campground; there are also no shower facilities, just bathrooms. The campground has potable water and a dump station. If you require hook ups and showers, you will need to research private campgrounds off the Blue Ridge Parkway near this milepost. (If you are able to drive a bit further on Day 4, you could consider staying at Julian Price at Milepost 297: This campground has showers, but still no electric hook ups.)
Day 5: Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 316 to Milepost 167.
As able and if parking is available stop at the Linn Cove Viaduct at Milepost 304, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park at Milepost 294, and the Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213. Please note: There is NO RV parking at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. We had to park along the side of the parkway near the entrance to the park (see picture below). We highly recommend a stop at the Blue Ridge Music Center: Try to time your visit so you are there when musicians are playing together from noon to 4 each afternoon late May through October.
That night camp at Rocky Knob NPS at Milepost 167. There are no electric, water, or sewer hookups at this NPS campground; there are also no shower facilities, just bathrooms. The campground has potable water and a dump station. If you require hookups and showers, you will need to research private campgrounds off the Blue Ridge Parkway near this milepost.
Day 6: Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Milepost 167 to Milepost 13.
Stop at Peaks of Otter at Milepost 85.6 as able and if parking is available. If you have time, consider driving past Milepost 13 to Humpback Rocks at Milepost 5.8. There is an intense but amazing hike to the top of Humpback Rocks that our whole family loved!
That night camp at Sherando Lake Recreation Area. (Our full review coming soon!) This U.S. Forest Service site has electric hookups as well as shower houses.
Day 7: Complete the Blue Ridge Parkway drive to Skyline Drive, which enters Shenandoah National Park.
Explore Shenandoah National Park. The first official visitors center is located about the middle of the park at Big Meadows (milepost 51). The speed limit is 35 mph along Skyline Drive, so it took us a lot longer than we expected to get from the southern entrance (Rockfish Gap) to Big Meadows.
That night camp at either a Shenandoah NPS campground or a private campground of your choice. According to the Shenandoah NPS website:
Mathews Arm, Big Meadows and Loft Mountain campgrounds all have pull-through and deep back-in sites, which most of the time can even handle an RV with a tow vehicle. Although we do not offer hookups, the campgrounds do have potable water and all but Lewis have dump stations.https://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm
We decided to base camp out of Sherando because we were also exploring other regional things in addition to Shenandoah, and it didn’t work for us to camp any further north.
Day 8: Explore Shenandoah
Day 9: Drive home
For more tips related to planning an RV adventure along the Blue Ridge Parkway, see our other post: “5 Things You Must Know Before Towing a Camper on the Blue Ridge Parkway.”
Please note: The content of TheTouringCamper.com is intended for entertainment and information use only and is not to be construed as providing professional advice. Extra precautions, additional expert input, and additional research are always advised.