The “original” mountain day trip is our most hiked trail in the Blue Ridge. Whenever we need a mountain fix but can’t venture so far as to require an overnight stay, we drive to the Linn Cove Viaduct and Rough Ridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain. Both hikes are part of the Tanawha Trail which covers a total 13.5 miles, hugging the Blue Ridge Parkway the entire way, and the trailheads are only a mile apart.
From Raleigh, one of the closest access points to the Blue Ridge Parkway is 180 miles away at Deep Gap near Boone. It’s a straight shot west on I-40 with a course correction to Route 421 just west of Winston-Salem. This Deep Gap entrance joins the Parkway near milepost 276.
From Deep Gap, the drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Rough Ridge is another 27 miles near milepost 303. On any given weekend, the location is hard to miss because the Rough Ridge lot is often overflowing with cars parallel parked along the Parkway.
The boys are usually getting hungry by the time we arrive at Rough Ridge and since the first viewpoint is only three-tenths of a mile up the trail, we typically pack our lunch and eat on the viewpoint.
This section of the Tanawha Trail follows a steady rise with stairstep rocks, a stream crossing, and just enough minor trail obstacles to make the hike interesting for the boys. This is a very popular hike even among non-hikers and we never fail to see people wearing flip-flips on the trail, not that we recommend it!
The trail continues several hundred feet on a boardwalk above delicate vegetation. Here, there is an opening in the boardwalk railing to a large table top rock where the first 180-degree view can be enjoyed. We typically claim a space on the rock that’s out of the way from hikers arriving to enjoy the view and eat our packed lunch.
The Rough Ridge summit is another half mile up the trail past the boardwalk. Fewer hikers travel to the upper viewpoint and the trail is usually less crowded so it’s a great place to enjoy the view from an even higher vantage point with fewer people around. The total elevation gain from the parking lot to this upper viewpoint is nearly 500 feet.
The Linn Cove Viaduct viewed from the lower viewpoint at Rough Ridge (above) and the upper Rough Ridge viewpoint in the distance (below).
The Linn Cove Viaduct viewed from the upper viewpoint (above) and the lower Rough Ridge viewpoint in the distance (below).
Linn Cove Viaduct
The round-trip hike to the upper Rough Ridge viewpoint is about two miles so our boys usually have some juice left in their legs. We return to the car to travel just another mile south, over the Linn Cove Viaduct, to park at the viaduct visitor center. From here, we hike to The View.
You know The View. It’s the graceful S-curve of the viaduct that is the most iconic image of the Blue Ridge Parkway used in countless publications.
While everyone has seen this view of the viaduct, the trail to this location is fairly unknown by Parkway trail standards. It’s not labeled on maps and we’ve even passed other hikers on this section of the Tanawha Trail who have no idea the view is nearby.
The visitor center provides restrooms, a small gift shop, and mini museum with a continuously-running movie of the viaduct’s construction and a large model of the mountain and viaduct under construction.
After this brief hiking break, we head outside where the trailhead begins at the north end of the parking lot. The beginning of the trail is paved, allowing access to the underbelly of the viaduct itself. After passing underneath the viaduct, the pavement ends and the natural trail continues.
After rising above the viaduct, the trail begins to parallel the roadway, stepping in and around huge boulders and rock staircases. Our boys love this part! There are large crevices and trees growing right on top of boulders.
The trail eventually levels out again, crosses a trickling waterfall on a bridge, and the iconic viewpoint is off a spur in the trail. There no sign pointing to this spur, although there is a sign parallel to the trail for those returning FROM the spur indicating that the Tanawha Trail proceeds left and right, so look for this parallel sign. The spur leads just a few dozen feet down to the large rock on which the view can be enjoyed.
The total time required for these two hikes with our two little ones is about four hours. We have never hiked the Tanawha Trail between Rough Ridge and the viaduct but, now that our boys are older and can hike greater distances, that’s the plan for our next visit!