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I bet most of us have an example of a vacation that didn’t go as planned. A road was closed, a parking lot was full, traffic slowed or halted your progress to your destination. It throws a wrench into your travel plans and can even derail your trip. So, what should you do to help prepare for the unexpected on your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip? Here are nine practical tips for planning.

1. Do your research. Use our online interactive map or Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner mobile app to locate museums, tours and other things to do along the Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina. Either of these tools will help you see where businesses are located in proximity to the Parkway itself.

Top visitor activities in the mountains include:

Touring historic sites
Hiking on the Parkway or off the Parkway
Visiting Waterfalls
Shopping (use the Shopping filter on our interactive map or look under Services on the app)
Enjoying recreation areas like the Parkway Points of Interest
Viewing wildlife or read this Story from the Road for further inspiration
Discovering local Arts & Crafts

Discovering local crafts at Banner Elk’s Art on the Greene. Photo Credit Todd Bush.

2. Plan food & lodging stops. Know where the exits are (use the Access Points filter on our interactive map) and where you plan to stop and stay the night. Estimate what you’d like to do during the day and how far you’d like to travel (plan for 35 miles an hour) so you can make advance lodging reservations. Our Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner offers lodging ideas organized in order from North to South; the interactive map and mobile app can filter by category of lodging, plus restaurants, and breweries, wineries and vineyards. It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks so no one gets cranky between meal stops.

3. Know where the restrooms are. You can see restroom locations on the map in our mobile app under Services (sample image below- click an icon or zoom in on the app map for more details about each facility) or by using the NPS Facilities filter on our online interactive map . Restrooms should be available at the visitor centers or nearby picnic areas along the Parkway, so a paper map showing those locations will also work.

Offline map of restroom locations on the Blue Ridge Parkway Travel Planner mobile app.

4. Prevent navigation problems. Have a paper map (or our mobile app with optional offline maps) so you can find your way even without cell service. If you’d like to receive paper materials via mail prior to your trip, request them months in advance so they arrive in plenty of time to plan. And remember to check for Blue Ridge Parkway closures and current detours on the NPS closure chart.

5. Seek guidance. Stop at a Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center near your entry point for a paper map and great local advice. To see visitor center locations on our interactive map, select the filter for the NPS Facilities, and on our mobile app, look for Visitor Centers under Services. Note that some visitor centers may not be open daily or year round; check the NPS website for the current operating schedule.

6. Bring your mask. Masking requirements will vary along the Parkway based on local conditions. In areas that the CDC identifies as having a high COVID-19 community level, masks are required for everyone in all NPS buildings regardless of vaccination status. In most low and medium COVID-19 community level areas, masks are optional, but visitors should follow signs and instructions from park staff and volunteers. Check the current mask guidance on the NPS website.

7. Timing matters. Plan to visit especially popular areas midweek or early in the morning. And allow extra time to hike, browse, or wait for a meal.

View of the parking lots at Bluffs Restaurant

Popular places like the Bluffs Restaurant at Doughton Park offer a better visitor experience during off-peak hours.

8. Be flexible. Have a full list of things you’d like to do (see 8 Tips for Planning Your Parkway Travels or 13 Free Things to do on (or near) the Blue Ridge Parkway for additional ideas) so if one activity is full or closed, you can move on to another item on your list.

9. Pack for weather: rain, sun, fog, even snow flurries. Be prepared with layered clothing. Also think about your activities in terms of weather. Do you really want to hike if there are snow flurries? Are Mt. Mitchell or Mt. Pisgah worth the trip if it’s foggy and you can’t see the view? What will you do if it rains during your afternoon family reunion picnic with no shelter?

With some advance planning and our handy tools, you will hopefully be prepared for any changes that come your way, but it’s always a good idea to pack your patience!