A slow-paced day trip from Afton Mountain and Rockfish Gap (Milepost 0) to the Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86) will highlight the ridgetop driving experience of the Ridge region with magnificent views of the flora and fauna of Appalachian hardwood forests and sweeping vistas of the Great Valley of Virginia.
Arrive at the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center (Milepost 5.8) and spend an hour or so exploring exhibits about pioneer life in the mountains. Choose a guidebook or literature from the information desk or gift shop before strolling through the outdoor farm museum where, during warmer months, costumed interpreters explain the generalized lifestyle of subsistence farmers. From the Visitor Center, head south to Greenstone Overlook (Milepost 8.8) for a spectacular view and brief introduction to some geology of the Blue Ridge region. Another quick stop at Yankee Horse Ridge (Milepost 34.4) reveals the remnants of an old logging railroad and a beautiful stream and waterfall, all within sight of the parking area.
Arrive at James River Visitor Center (Milepost 63.8) by noon and enjoy a picnic lunch on the river bank. A quick stroll (.2 miles) on the pedestrian walkway under the James River Bridge leads to a restored canal lock on the other side of the river, a reminder of the Parkway’s proximity to many unique stories of cultural and natural history. Continue south on the Parkway while gaining nearly 3,300 feet in elevation in just 12 miles. At Thunder Ridge (Milepost 74.7) a short leg-stretcher trail (.1 mile) rewards you with sweeping views of Arnold’s Valley and Thunder Ridge Wilderness areas as well as a distant view of the Allegheny Mountains. The overlook also gives you the right to say you have been on the Appalachian Trail, the 2,000-mile hiking trail from Georgia to Maine!
Late Afternoon – Early Evening
Arrive at the Peaks of Otter (Milepost 86) with time to enjoy the Nature Center and the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center with exhibits on the “lure of the mountains” through the centuries. Camping or lodging at the Peaks of Otter Lodge is available for the evening. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, especially on weekends and during peak leaf season in October