Free Camping near Zion National Park in Utah

Free Camping Zion National Park

This is a complete blog and video guide to FREE camping on BLM land near Zion National Park in Utah. There are free camping opportunities to the east and to the west of the Park – this guide focus on the west side of the Park.

Hurricane Cliffs Free Camping
Hurricane Cliffs Free Camping on BLM land

In this guide, you will find maps with directions, updates on road conditions, locations of most campsites, and availability of amenities such as cell coverage, water, and toilets,

About Zion National Park and BLM land

Zion National Park is almost surrounded by BLM land and National Forests. The St George Field Office manages the BLM land west of Zion.

Zion Surrounds Map
Zion Area Map
BLM UTAH Districts
BLM UTAH Districts (source https://www.blm.gov/)

The BLM District office is in Cedar City – it manages four field stations including St George Field Office. St George Phone: (435) 688-3200

St. George BLM Field Office
St. George BLM Field Office (source https://www.blm.gov/)

Maps and Directions

I highly recommend the Avenza Maps App!

Unfortunately, at this time there are no Motor Vehicle Use Maps for the area west of Zion National Park. Google Maps and Google Earth are your best friends for this area!

For directions I suggest you download the Zion National Park map for Avenza.

There is very little information about the Zion area BLM camping online except for one document regarding Smithsonian Butte camping – https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/upload/blm_camping_south.pdf

To see the boundaries of the BLM land where you are camping, refer to the Interactive BLM Utah map

You can also use phone apps as described in another article

Camping inside or near Zion National Park

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is about 80 minutes from the South Entrance along the Kolob Terrace Road.

There are many private campgrounds in nearby towns.

Video footage of the FREE camping areas

I am working on a series of driving and drone videos to show what it’s like to camp for free near Zion NP!

Links will be posted as soon as these are available.

Recommended FREE Camping Areas on BLM land nearest to Zion NP

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14-day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period.

After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

As shown on the map below, there are five well-known FREE camping areas within an easy drive from Zion NP. Of these, Smithsonian Butte is now off-limits for the casual camper (reasons described below). The others are:

  • N Kolob Terrace Rd – many sites on both sides of the road near North Creek
  • Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) – East – thirteen designated campsites on the west side of Sheep Rd
  • Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) – South – twelve designated campsites on the west side of Sheep Rd but further away from Zion NP
  • Hurricane Cliffs (La Verkin Overlook Rd) – West – eight designated campsites close to Virgin Dam and nearby trails
Zion National Par - Free Camping Map
Zion National Park – Free Camping Map (west) – Click to enlarge

NOTE – What about the very popular Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway? It is close to Zion NP but you cannot camp within 1/2 mile on either side of the road! Read the Rules. This makes practical camping not feasible for Zion visits, especially with terrible road conditions and steepness.

Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway
Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway – note the steep climb in the distance

There are a few free camp spots to the east of Zion. Those will be covered in a future guide.

Free Camping in the N Kolob Terrace Rd area

If you plan to spend a lot of time in Zion and are looking for minimum dirt road driving, then you should consider this area. N Kolob Terrace Rd is tarmac.

N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping Zion
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping Zion – Click to enlarge

In the map above, you see three sets of campsites – the first batch is to the right after about a mile, then a few sites towards the mesa on the left after about 1.6 miles followed by the North Creek area camping just before 2 miles.

The dirt roads towards the mesa are very bad but short! You can find secluded spots there.

The creek area has many sites but the vegetation keeps them relatively private. On busy nights there are lots of RVs in there and you may have to deal with close neighbors and noise.

Having some shade in summer (with a cool stream) is certainly a plus for the creek area!

N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 2
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – at North Creek
North Creek Camping near Zion
North Creek Camping near Zion
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 3
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – Mesa (west) side
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 4
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – East side after 1 mile

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very spotty (if any) LTE service at these campsites.

Free water at Springdale Bus Stop
Free water at Springdale Bus Stop

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) East Area

To escape the crowds you can head south on Sheep Bridge Rd out of Virgin for 1.75 miles. The dirt road is washboard at times but very doable in all vehicles.

But be warned – on mountain bike event weekends the place gets crazy busy and dusty!

Hurricane Cliffs East Campsites Map
Hurricane Cliffs East Campsites Map – Click to enlarge

Do stop at the information board after a mile to read the rules and look at the camping maps.

Hurricane Cliffs Camping Info
Hurricane Cliffs Camping Info

The first camping area is to the right (after 1.75 miles) and you MUST camp in one of the 9 designated sites.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 39-48
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 39-48 – Click to enlarge

There are 4 more sites a short drive further south. These sites are larger and I often see more than one RV in each site – just be considerate and give your neighbors plenty of space or move along.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 36-38
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 36-38 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) South Area

Many will say this area is too far from Zion (4.25 miles to SR 9) and I agree but the sites are far apart and with easy access to SR 59 (0.65 miles) and the city of Hurricane.

Hurricane Cliffs South Campsites Map
Hurricane Cliffs South Campsites Map – Click to enlarge

The information board is at the entrance to Sheep Bridge Rd after the turn from SR 59. Please stop to read the rules and look at the camping maps.

Camping Hurricane Cliffs South Info
Camping Hurricane Cliffs South Info – Click to enlarge

After only 0.65 miles of washboard dirt road, turn left into the designated camping area.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 9 -12
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 9 -12 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 6 - 8
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 6 – 8 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 1 - 5
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 1 – 5 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (La Verkin Overlook Rd) Area

This area is perfect if you plan to explore Zion National Park and want to be closer to towns with affordable gas and supplies. The dirt roads are bad but short!

Please camp in designated campsites only – there’s a lot of illegal camping here which ruins the areas closed for regeneration.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-56
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-56 – Click to enlarge

Note the red ? in the upper left corner. I see RVs camped there all the time but the location is marginal and not a designated site! Basically on the BLM line so be careful.

Sites 50, 51 and 52 are large and shared by many RVs! Spacing and privacy can be an issue.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-54
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-54 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsite 53
Hurricane Cliffs Campsite 53 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 55-56
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 55-56 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Precise Campsite Locations and Recommendations

If you want GPS waypoints and my personal recommendations for free campsites, please consider becoming a Patron (Supporter) of my work for a small monthly contribution!

https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica

The reasons are:

Many travelers want dispersed camping to remain “secret”. In their opinion, these free locations will become overrun with campers if one discloses too much information.

I disagree! Let me explain.

I understand the visitation impact of COVID-19 on Public Lands. We are told to go outside and enjoy nature as a safer alternative to indoor activities. The result is obvious – there are more folks camping and there are more thrash and land damage to deal with.

Popular dispersed camping areas are near capacity on most nights – leading to frustration for full-timers who depend on free camping in order to travel on low budgets.

The truth is – information about dispersed campsites are freely available. There are phone apps showing locations, many websites do the same and Rangers will gladly share tips about where to camp for free in their Districts!

So the issue is not about sharing dispersed campsite locations with the public. It’s happening already.

In my opinion the REAL challenges are:

1. Education – how do we educate the general camping public about the importance of camping etiquette on Public Lands?

2. Spacing – how do we get folks to spread out and explore locations further away from the major access roads and crowds?

3. Amenities – how do we convince the Public Land authorities to provide more toilets, potable water, and trash bins?

My Contribution

I share general information about dispersed camping to the public because I believe it is educational (at the very least it helps to prevent illegal camping and it helps with spacing when folks know where more campsites are located).

To further assist with spacing, I do not share the locations of my favorite campsites or recommendations with the general public. I am trying to prevent people from rushing to the same few free campsites (the very best ones) around the country. This information is only available to my patrons.

Free Camping near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Dixie NF Free Camping Guide

This is a complete blog and video guide to FREE camping in Dixie National Forest near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Dixie NF Sign
Dixie NF Sign

In this guide, you will find maps with directions, updates on road conditions, locations of most campsites, and availability of amenities such as cell coverage, water, and toilets,

About Bryce Canyon National Park and Dixie National Forest

Bryce Canyon National Park is almost surrounded by the Powell Ranger District of Dixie National Forest.

Dixie National Forest Districts – Click to enlarge

Dixie National Forest is divided into four Ranger Districts as shown on the map above. Our focus is the Powell Ranger District with an office in Panguitch, Utah. Phone: (435) 676-9300

Powell Ranger District Office in Panguitch, UT – Click to enlarge

Maps and Directions

I highly recommend the Avenza Maps App!

Then download the free Dixie National Forest Powell Ranger District Motor Vehicle Use Map.

You now have live access to the Forest Roads (FR) and other roads in the areas near Bryce Canyon National Park. In this guide, I reference the FR numbers often.

Another important resource is the National Forest website – Dixie National Forest

The MAP section of the Dixie National Forest is crucial to visit and read – Dixie National Forest Maps.

Camping inside or near Bryce Canyon National Park

There are two campgrounds inside Bryce Canyon NP and several commercial campgrounds near the Park.

Dixie National Forest offers three FEE-BASED campgrounds near Bryce Canyon NP. I will not discuss them in this guide:

  • Red Canyon Campground
  • Coyote Hollow Equestrian Campground
  • King Creek Campground (a bit too far down a washboard road for easy access to Bryce Canyon NP)

Video footage of the FREE camping areas

I am working on a series of driving and drone videos to show what it’s like to camp for free near Bryce Canyon NP!

Links will be posted as soon as these are available.

Recommended FREE Camping Areas in Dixie NF nearest to Bryce Canyon NP

You may camp in a dispersed area for up to 16 days. After 16 days, you must move at least 10 miles for camping in another dispersed area.

As shown on the map below, there are four popular FREE camping areas within an easy drive from Bryce Canyon NP. These are:

  • East Fork Road – many sites off forest roads from East Fork Road all the way down to the King Creek camping area
  • Dave’s Hollow – a few campsites very close to the Park but beware of camping restrictions
  • Tom’s Best Spring Road – many campsites in a large area with easy access
  • Corral Hollow – several campsites close to Red Canyon
Dixie NF Camping Travel Guide
Dixie NF Camping Areas closest to Bryce Canyon NP – Click to enlarge

NOTE – What about Johns Valley Rd to the north of Bryce Canyon? You can see the green NF land to the very top left of the map above.

I know some folks camped successfully on the west side of Johns Valley Rd near a cow pasture but that is private land on all the maps I studied. I do not recommend it at this time.

Across the road on the east side, a few opportunities exist along with FR 419 and FR 418 towards Henderson Pt. I plan to check it out in the future.

Free Camping in the Dave’s Hollow area

If you plan to spend a lot of time in Bryce Canyon then you can save travel time by camping in Dave’s Hollow. It is the closest free camping area.

Free Camping in the Dave’s Hollow area -RED is NO CAMPING) – click to enlarge

In the map above, you can see the campsites along with FR 103 and FR 088. There are probably a dozen or so sites depending on what you are looking for. Obviously, a travel van looking for a quick overnight has more options than a 40ft Toy Hauler hoping to stay two weeks.

There’s nothing special about these sites in terms of views, etc but they are secluded and private (close to the road though), somewhat level and close to the Park.

Dixie NF Campsite Daves Hollow
Dixie NF Campsite – Daves Hollow

Access is from either East Fork Road or the Bryce Canyon main road. Both roads are doable in 2WD vehicles with travel trailers (in most weather conditions).

IMPORTANT – if you enter from Bryce Canyon on FR 1173 you must drive west for 1.7 miles to the NO CAMPING sign before looking for campsites!

No Camping zone! – click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map I recommend the Bryce Canyon Shuttle Station in Bryce Canyon City. There is a water filling station in addition to toilets and with gas/groceries nearby.

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Bryce Canyon City Shuttle Station – water and toilets – Click to enlarge

Free Camping along East Fork Road

If you follow East Fork Road south past Dave’s Hollow there are several Forest Roads branching to the east.

On the map below (down East Fork Road south) you can see 3 sites along with FR 1164. These will do in a pinch but try elsewhere first. During my last stay, East Fork Road was very bumpy and unpleasant to drive.

Dixie-NF-Camping-Map-Daves-Hollow
Dixie-NF-Camping– look down south along East Fork road – Click to enlarge,

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Tom’s Best Spring Road Area

Many will say this is the best area to camp and I agree. There are countless campsites for every need and with easy access to Bryce Canyon NP and Red Canyon.

Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Rd
Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Rd

Note the Pit Toilets across the road when you turn onto Toms Best Spring Road! This makes camping here very convenient! There’s no water, however. The closest free water is at the Red Canyon Visitor Center.

Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Aerial
Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Aerial

There are many campsites and several access roads not shown on my maps. Basically, there are 5 loops to consider. Most folks prefer the first 3 loops closest to Byway 12.

  • Loop 1 (FR646-FR3625) branches to the left (west) of Toms Best Rd.
  • Loop 2 (FR3626) goes to the right
  • Loop 3 (FR3627) is also on the right a bit further down Toms Best Rd.

There are two more loops further away (you can see the campsites on the map) but let’s focus on the closest 3 in this guide.

Larger RVs tend to prefer Loops 2 and 3. The roads are dusty but easy to navigate. Loop 1 offers excellent views and is perfect for Vans and 4WD vehicles. The roads are rougher but 2WD vehicles should be OK in most weather conditions.

Dixie NF Campsite Toms Best
Dixie NF Campsite – Toms Best Spring Rd

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping along Corral Hollow Rd

This area is perfect if you plan to explore both Bryce Canyon NP and Red Canyon.

Dixie NF Camping Map Corral Hollow Rd
Dixie NF Camping Map Corral Hollow Rd – Click to enlarge

There are at least 10 or so campsites along Corral Hollow Rd (doable in most vehicle types).

The campsites begin after 0.5 miles. There is a campsite to the right, 3 campsites straight ahead (on a slope, however) and the rest is to the west as you continue the drive.

Dixie NF Campsite Corral Hollow Rd
Dixie NF Campsite – Corral Hollow Rd

Closest free water and toilets are at the Red Canyon Visitor Center.

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Precise Campsite Locations and Recommendations

If you want GPS waypoints and my personal recommendations for free campsites, please consider becoming a Patron (Supporter) of my work for a small monthly contribution!

https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica

The reasons are:

Many travelers want dispersed camping to remain “secret”. In their opinion, these free locations will become overrun with campers if one discloses too much information.

I disagree! Let me explain.

I understand the visitation impact of COVID-19 on Public Lands. We are told to go outside and enjoy nature as a safer alternative to indoor activities. The result is obvious – there are more folks camping and there are more thrash and land damage to deal with.

Popular dispersed camping areas are near capacity on most nights – leading to frustration for full-timers who depend on free camping in order to travel on low budgets.

The truth is – information about dispersed campsites are freely available. There are phone apps showing locations, many websites do the same and Rangers will gladly share tips about where to camp for free in their Districts!

So the issue is not about sharing dispersed campsite locations with the public. It’s happening already.

In my opinion the REAL challenges are:

1. Education – how do we educate the general camping public about the importance of camping etiquette on Public Lands?

2. Spacing – how do we get folks to spread out and explore locations further away from the major access roads and crowds?

3. Amenities – how do we convince the Public Land authorities to provide more toilets, potable water, and trash bins?

My Contribution

I share general information about dispersed camping to the public because I believe it is educational (at the very least it helps to prevent illegal camping and it helps with spacing when folks know where more campsites are located).

To further assist with spacing, I do not share the locations of my favorite campsites or recommendations with the general public. I am trying to prevent people from rushing to the same few free campsites (the very best ones) around the country. This information is only available to my patrons.

Blue Ridge Parkway – Asheville to Cherokee

Blue Ridge Parkway - Devils Courthouse
Blue Ridge Parkway – Asheville to Cherokee

In this section we drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Ashville NC to Cherokee.

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6. Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to View Asheville to Cherokee in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/

Blue Ridge Parkway – James River to Roanoke

Blue Ridge Parkway - Apple Orchard Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway – James River to Roanoke

In this section we drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from the James River Visitor Center to Downtown Roanoke!

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6.  Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to View BRP-James River to Roanoke in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/

Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

Blue Ridge Parkway

This Blue Ridge Parkway Guide is a concise mile-by-mile timeline for experiencing the best of the 469-mile Parkway for motorists, hikers, and bikers.

I have driven many of the world’s scenic roads including the Fjords of Norway, the Great Ocean Road in Australia, the Swiss and Italian Alps, the Garden Route in South Africa, the narrow mountain roads of the Andes in Argentina, the coastal roads of Cornwall in the UK and the Beartooth Highway in Montana.  These are all spectacular drives and wonderful places to visit. 

But for me, the Blue Ridge Parkway experience is special because it offers a unique combination of distance, attractions, scenery, history, seasonal changes, adventure, hiking, seclusion, and year-round fun – all within an easy 4-hour drive from Washington, the Capitol of the United States!

From a tourism point of view, the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is a well-known and sentimental destination for US travelers, especially its east coast residents. Buoyed by the most visited National Park in the USA – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – statistics show about 15 million visitors drove sections of the Parkway in 2016! The BRP in North Carolina receives about twice as many visitors as Virginia; the Pisgah area near Asheville is the most popular.

October (foliage month) is the busiest on the Parkway while January (winter) is understandably rather quiet!

Surprisingly, the Blue Ridge Parkway is not promoted as a highlight by international tour operators and it is not represented as an entity at travel shows and events. In travel books, the Parkway is often relegated to a brief secondary sightseeing option when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains or the popular city of Asheville where the Biltmore Estate is (justifiably) billed as its main attraction. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s best-kept secrets as far as international visitors are concerned. In terms of popularity, it ranks far below internationally known East Coast destinations such as New England, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, New York, and Washington DC.

I aim to change that!

Despite the marketing challenges the Blue Ridge Parkway remains a national treasure and it is a highly recommended destination for anyone yearning to hit the open road and explore America’s most historic 469-mile landscaped garden. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is a remarkably authentic opportunity to travel at a slow pace through the historic land that was once used by Native American Indians as their fall hunting grounds.

It is very unlikely to encounter convoys of tour buses on the Parkway and there are no unsightly t-shirt and souvenir shops along the entry/exit roads. Even fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s are noticeably absent for most of the way. Parkway rangers and NPS volunteers are some of the friendliest folk you will ever meet and, despite being understaffed, will enthusiastically take their time to share their knowledge and answer questions. 

Unfortunately, as I alluded to earlier, the Blue Ridge Parkway is not marketed as a complete destination entity. Instead, all its surrounding counties, cities, and towns have their own tourism budgets and their isolated publicity efforts are creating tourism islands, often with the Parkway as a mere afterthought. Understandably these places are competing for tourism dollars in tough economic times and they all want to be the main focus for extended stays. Visitors are often advised and enticed to stay in one city for a week or more while exploring the Parkway and nearby attractions, instead of driving along the Parkway for a week while exploring different cities and attractions along the way.

This online guide (not affiliated with the NPS) is aimed at a new generation of travelers who are internet savvy and very capable of using search engines and review sites to plan their vacations. 

But still, to research a viable itinerary when planning to drive all 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you literally have to contact every tourism office or website from Charlottesville in the north to Cherokee in the south with everything in-between!  The end result is an overwhelming stack of brochures, maps, and recommendations with no easy way to compile it all in a single, sensible touring plan.   This guide takes care of the planning headaches!

Map of the whole parkway!

About the Guide

In this guide, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the centerpiece for traveling between Virginia’s Charlottesville and Staunton in the north, and North Carolina’s Cherokee and Smoky Mountains in the south, or vice versa.  

Starting from either mile 0 or 469, it guides the reader to the most awe-inspiring vista overlooks, the coolest waterfalls, the most exciting hikes, the most historic downtowns, the highest-rated restaurants, and favorite lodging options – from campgrounds to 5-star hotels.

Based on an average speed of 35 mph it will take about 15 hours to drive the whole 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’ve been there, done that, and wondered why!

To enjoy and truly experience the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway takes much longer.

Eight fabulous itineraries are presented for a 14-day, 7-day, 5-day, and 3-day driving tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway – starting at either mile marker 0 in Virginia or 469 in North Carolina. There is also a section about the four most interesting sections of the Parkway – perfect for those who want to experience the best of the parkway in the shortest time.

Directions are provided using the Parkway mile markers whenever possible which are easy to locate and read. A GPS is recommended when exploring areas away from the parkway.

If you have a choice, I suggest you start in Virginia at mile marker 0 and travel south to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway is more dramatic in North Carolina and it is a bit more fun to leave some of the highlights for last.

You need at least 2 weeks to drive the length of the Parkway, stop at the most scenic overlooks, explore the nearby cities and towns, and hike its most interesting trails. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic area within reach of the Parkway and do not have the time for a two-week trip, you can easily split the drive into multi-day excursions until you have completed the whole drive.

If you have no interest in hiking, the 7-day itinerary is a good starting point. But keep in mind there are many easy walks along the Parkway that should not be missed. Just take your time and your efforts will be rewarded with stunning waterfalls, scenic overlooks and interesting sights. Challenging trails are clearly marked in this book and are easy to avoid.

Getting the Most from this Guide

Do consider this approach:

  1. Northbound or Southbound? Either way, just find the corresponding chapter with north-bound or southbound itineraries.
  2. How many days do you have available? Select the appropriate itinerary for your travel window. You can easily adapt each itinerary to suit your needs.
  3. Book your lodging well in advance for peak travel dates especially in October and during holidays or weekends. Be careful of special events such as NASCAR at Bristol or Floydfest (Virginia) weekends.
  4. Plan your activities such as hiking or sightseeing tours. Use my photos, maps, and GPS tracks to guide you.
  5. Once on the road, follow my itinerary timelines to ensure you manage each day effectively. Avoid a slow start and a rushed ending!
  6. When you stop at overlooks use the descriptions and photos in the Overlooks & Sights chapters to orient yourself and for more information. 

Scattered throughout the guide you will find references to Sweet Spots! While not necessarily a part of my suggested itineraries, these are interesting places to visit or experience if you have time.

Important – the timings presented in the itineraries are just guidelines and your trip may work out differently!

About the Author

Eben Schoeman drove every mile of the itinerary presented in the guide; hiked every trail, dined in every recommended restaurant and parked at every overlook numerous times to get the best photos. While he does not claim to have slept in every bed of the overnight suggestions, he visited all the properties and read every available online review!

The Blue Ridge Parkway in 6 sections

To help with the planning of your drive, this guide divides the Blue Ridge Parkway into 6 sections:

  1. 64 to James River, 
  2. James River to Roanoke, 
  3. Roanoke to VA/NC state line, 
  4. VA/NC state line to Linville, 
  5. Linville to Asheville,
  6. Asheville to Cherokee. 

  In each of the 6 sections you will:

  • See photos of every overlook, viewpoint, and interesting attraction along the Parkway
  • Study the hiking trails recommended in the book by looking at the trail photos
  • Find popular lodging, restaurants, and attractions
  • Plan your daily mileage and overnight stays
  • Read about Parkway updates, closures, etc

How to use this guide

a) Simply click on each section below then study the maps to see the main roads, side roads, lodgings, campgrounds, services such as fuel, viewpoints, day hikes, and other points of interest. 

b) The itinerary sections describe the best ways to see the Blue Ridge Parkway if you have 14 days, 7 days, or 3 days!

  1. 64 to James River
  2. James River to Roanoke 
  3. Roanoke to VA/NC state line 
  4. VA/NC state line to Linville
  5. Linville to Asheville
  6. Asheville to Cherokee

Blue Ridge Parkway – I-64 to the James River

Rock Point Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway – Interstate 64 to the James River

In this section we approach the Blue Ridge Parkway from Interstate 64 in Virginia and drive south to the James River Visitor Center.

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6.  Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to View BRP-Interstate 64 to James River in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/

Blue Ridge Parkway – Virginia to Linville, NC

Blue Ridge Parkway - Tanawha Trail
Blue Ridge Parkway – Virginia to Linville

In this section we drive from the Virginia State Line along the Blue Ridge Parkway to Linville, NC.

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6. Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to View Virginia to Linville in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/

Blue Ridge Parkway – Linville to Asheville

Blue Ridge Parkway - Graybeard Mtn Viewpoint
Blue Ridge Parkway – Linville to Asheville

In this section we drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Linville NC to Asheville.

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6. Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to view Linville to Asheville in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/

Free Camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land

BLM Land Camping

Understanding your options for free camping on BLM land is a key requirement for budget-minded and secluded travel across the Western States of America.

Unlike National Forests (another popular free camping option), BLM boundaries can be much more challenging to figure out! It is not uncommon to find “private – no entry” signs on land that appears to be public (depending on the map you’re looking at). There are even internet reports of harassment from local landowners when campers are clearly on BLM land!

It is really up to each camper to thoroughly research each BLM District in question. When in doubt, please visit or call the nearest BLM District office for clarification.

COVID-19 Challenges – Policies are different in every state. Please the BLM website for updated information. https://www.blm.gov/locations

In this article, I offer tips and ideas to help you navigate the basics of free camping on BLM lands!

What is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)?

Simply put, it is an Agency within the Department of the Interior responsible for administering public lands as shown in the diagram below.

The diagram also shows the States where BLM operates (including all the Eastern States) as well as two websites – one for information and one for booking.

BLM Organization
BLM Organization

Where does BLM operate?

Nationwide as shown above but in terms of camping, most of the opportunities are west of the Mississippi River.

The image below illustrates the distribution of BLM land quite clearly.

Bureau of Land Management Map
Bureau of Land Management Map (Source – Department of the Interior)

How to find BLM Campgrounds and sites?

There are mainly three styles of camping on BLM land –

  1. Campgrounds – developed camping areas with amenities of some kind! Most are fee-based. Many (most?) are first-come-first-serve, meaning you choose an available campsite and pay a nightly fee. Some sites can be pre-booked online (link below).
  2. Dispersed – Mostly free and without amenities. You scout the BLM land and set up camp away from developed campgrounds. BUT, dispersed camping does not mean you can set up camp anywhere you want. There are basic rules for each particular land (you can generally stay free for 14 days per month).
  3. Managed Dispersed – In popular locations, the rangers may mark or number the dispersed sites in order to manage crowds and land erosion. You can only camp in those marked sites.

To find developed campgrounds, you have two options:

  1. Use the search box on the BLM website. Go Here to Search for BLM Camping.
  2. Use a third-party website (See my list of recommended sites for FREE camping.
BLM Camping Search
BLM Website Camping Search

To book a reservable site in a developed campground, Go Here to Book Using Recreation.gov

Recreationgov Booking
Recreation.gov Booking website

Experienced campers often go straight to Recreation.gov because they know what they are looking for and how to navigate this useful site! I will write a future article to share tips and tricks!

To find dispersed campsites you have several options:

1. Third-party websites (mentioned above) are your best friends. The dispersed campsites listed on their maps often have fire rings and you can expect those sites to comply with local rules (such as distance from water sources, etc). Unfortunately, when sites are easy to find and listed everywhere they tend to get busy!

Two notes of caution:

a) third-party websites are often inaccurate because they depend on input from the public. This works great in most cases but sometimes folks camp illegally (knowingly or not) and then share the locations! Or they mess up the GPS waypoints!

b) directions and road conditions may change! Study your GPS, know the off-road capabilities of your vehicle, and do not overestimate your driving skills.

Many full-time road warriors use free dispersed camping and their Youtube videos are fun and informative if you’re interested. I provide detailed information on this website and on my Youtube channel – Lets-See-America

2. To avoid the crowds, experienced gypsies do their own research using Google Maps and Google Earth to scout for new dispersed camp spots in advance. To avoid getting into trouble with rangers, they educate themselves with land boundaries and local rules. If you want to do the same, please adhere to “Leave-no-Trace” principles and do not unintentionally “develop” new campsites.

3. Visit or call local BLM District Offices and talk to the Rangers! They will explain the local rules and direct you to approved dispersed camping areas.

Arriving on BLM lands

Many areas have signs next to the highway indicating the start or end of Public Lands. Look for this signage:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo

Recreation areas may have information boards indicating allowed activities and camping rules.

BLM Information booth at Hurricane Cliffs in Utah

Here is what I do after arrival:

  1. I do my best to arrive before 4 pm in a new area. Searching for a site after dark is no fun.
  2. I study my paper and/or online maps to ensure I stay within the BLM boundaries.
  3. I look for information boards (see image above). Those are really helpful but rare!
  4. I pick an unoccupied site using basic common sense (away from other campers for example)
  5. I clean the site – broken glass, trash, etc. You do not want to ruin your tires or cut yourself during your stay.
  6. I walk the neighborhood just to see who is near and what escapes routes I have in case of emergencies or danger. I generally park my vehicle pointing towards the road for a faster getaway!

Finally, read or watch my BLM camping posts and become a Patreon!

I stay mostly on free Public Lands and write often about my experiences! These articles are sorted by State.

I provide clear directions with accurate GPS coordinates and post photos, video, and drone (aerial) video of each location.

If you want my personal tips and opinions, please become of Patreon of my work! For a small monthly contribution you help fund my research expenses and you gain access to exclusive information about travel destinations such as the best (or worst) sites in a particular BLM area!

Patreon Page – Lets-See-America

Blue Ridge Parkway – Roanoke to the North Carolina State Line

Blue Ridge Parkway - Mabry Mill
Blue Ridge Parkway – Roanoke to the North Carolina State Line

In this section we drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Roanoke to the North Carolina State Line.

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6. Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to View Roanoke to North Carolina State Line in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/