The Blue Ridge Mountains are known for gorgeous scenery and excellent hiking along the Appalachian Trail, but they’re not quite thought of like a blockbuster outdoor destination when compared to the likes of the Rockies. However, there are some pretty epic adventures to be had here if you take the time to look. Next time you find yourself on the East Coast, here are a few of the most exhilarating escapades you can find along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Climb the Linville Gorge
The Linville Gorge is occasionally referred to as North Carolina’s Grand Canyon. That might be stretching it a bit, but the climbs here are certainly no joke. Multi-pitch trad routes abound in this beautiful chasm that becomes strikingly scenic when the leaves start to change in the fall. There are also numerous bouldering routes to choose from and great hiking trails throughout, so you’ll never get bored spending a week or two exploring. The area is pretty remote in some spots, so make sure you bring along a guidebook.
The Amphitheater and Table Rock hold some of the more moderate routes in the area, while Lower Hawksbill and Shortoff Mountain provide the real challenges.
Raft the Gorge
In addition to the excellent climbing in the Linville Gorge, it’s also home to one of the baddest rapids on the East Coast. The twenty-mile stretch of water from Linville Falls to Lake James boasts Class V rapids after a steady rainfall, offering up hundreds of torrents that are too technical for beginners and strong enough to capsize even the most experienced rafters. The water is a veritable minefield of sieves, undercut rocks and boulders that look to ruin your day and there are so many horizon lines that it’s nearly impossible to predict what’s coming next. It’s definitely one of the most exhilarating experiences.
Summit the Mighty Mitchell
Thousands of tourists drive their way up to the top of Mount Mitchell, the East Coast’s highest point, in North Carolina every year. The real treat is to hoof it to the top by foot. Getting to the top without wheels is no small feat, as the Black Mountain Crest Trail is a 12.5‑mile long traverse full of windy ridge lines and numerous trail ropes needed to get to the top. Trust us, the view from 6,684 feet up is definitely worth the hassle, and you’ll feel a lot more accomplished than all of those folks who are parking their vehicles.
Bike Virginia and North Carolina
If you’re tired of all the hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains offers, then strap on a helmet and hop on two wheels instead. Virginia’s Carvin’s Cove near Roanoke is a 13,000-acre municipal park, the second largest in the nation, that houses roughly forty miles of flowing singletrack for mountain biking enthusiasts. If that doesn’t strike your fancy then head over to Harrisonburg, VA which is listed as a Bronze-level IMBA ride center thanks to mile upon mile of difficult East Coast singletrack interspersed with routes even beginners can enjoy.4
Alternatively, head further south to DuPont State Recreational Forest for over 100 miles of granite slickrock and machine-built flow trails with some of the best views in all of the East Coast. The hills here are steep and guaranteed to make you short of breath and much of the area is a tad too technical for beginners. Just keep your wits about you, because the park is also home to a number of furry creatures like black bears.
SUP the French Broad River
The French Broad River outside Asheville provides some smooth stretches of water that’s suitable for beginners and experts alike. It’s already a popular area for canoeing and kayaking so there’s no reason not to add one more to the mix. There are a couple of outfitters setting up shop here if you want to go on a group excursion, but we think it’s best done on your own.