Top 5 Motorcycle Stops between Nashville and Washington, D.C. on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Jan 2, 2022


Motorcycles riding across the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway’s name is as picturesque as its scenery. Stretching 500 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, this route is the most scenic roadway between Nashville, Teneessee and Washington, D.C., which it lies between. The sheer beauty and ecological diversity of the region draw millions of visitors each year, while the parkway’s 45-mile speed limits and prohibition on commercial vehicles make riding through it a joy rather than a challenge.

With its dense fog, looping roads, and hilly terrain, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a dream for motorcycle riders looking to get in touch with nature. In the fall, whole swaths of untouched forests turn into seas of brilliant autumn colors like auburn, gold, and crimson. These same forests possess more biodiversity than the whole European continent, including over 50 species of birds, making it the envy of bird-watchers and nature-photographers the world over. But the appeal of this slice of Appalachia isn’t in the natural beauty alone. While the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks were designed for travelers with high Appalachian overlooks in mind, theme parks like Dollywood were built for pure entertainment.

We’ve outlined five outstanding locations for you to visit the next time you’re on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rent a motorcycle in Nashville or Washington, D.C. with Riders Share and get started. 

1. Dollywood — Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

The first stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway road trip is Dollywood Parks & Resorts, country singer and songwriter Dolly Parton’s very own theme park. Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains sits the biggest draw in Tennessee and “one of the world’s best theme parks.” The park itself boasts more than 50 rides and attractions and was inspired by Dolly Parton's childhood memories of growing up in the surrounding area. 

More specifically, the park is divided into a theme park, water park, resort, and series of cabins. The park features the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster, the country’s first wing coaster, and a county fair for kids. The water park, Splash Country, offers a combination of exciting water rides, mellow poolside relaxation, and live music, making it a definite highlight. Dolly Parton and country music fans will be delighted to discover that the park’s live music includes country as well as southern gospel, classical rock ‘n’ roll, and Appalachian music, including appearances by Dolly Parton and her family. Also on display are master craftsmen from the area, who frequently demonstrate arts like glassblowing and blacksmithing for attendees. Dollywood hosts five of the South’s largest festivals, including the Barbecue & Bluegrass Festival in the spring and the Harvest Festival with Great Pumpkin LumiNights in the fall. All in all, Dollywood is the only theme park with Southern charm and a can’t-miss on any Blue Ridge Parkway road trip!

You’ll find Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which is located near the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Cherokee. Once you’ve rented a motorcycle in Nashville, you have a 3.5-hour or 200-mile trip ahead of you. Don’t worry about amenities at this stop. In Dollywood, award-winning food and high-energy entertainment is in abundance. If you’re planning on staying in the park, Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and Spa offers a luxurious reprieve from roadside motels and forest-floor camping and a true example of Southern hospitality. If you still want an outdoor experience in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, stay in one of its many cabins.

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park — Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park contains such a wealth of natural beauty, it has to be seen to be believed, especially in the fall. Don’t take our word for it, see it for yourself.

This park is the most popular in the entire United States. For example, several millions more people visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year as compared to the Grand Canyon. Heavily logged until 1934, when it became a national park, this region’s forests have mostly grown back and now provide the adventurous visitor with an endless supply of hiking and sightseeing. 

Hike past waterfalls, camp under the stars, and enjoy fresh air within the park’s 500,000 acres. There are 850 miles of hiking trails in this park alone, including the famed Appalachian Trail. The park covers the towering crests of the Great Smoky Mountains, which were named for the fog that forms in the surrounding valleys. 

At 6,600 feet, Clingmans Dome dome is the highest point in the park. Take a short, steep trail up to a lookout tower to get panorama views of this world-famous park. On the north side of the crest, the Cove Hardwood Nature Trail covers about a mile of land covered in the park’s oldest, tallest, and most colorful trees.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ideally-situated for riders who’ve rented motorcycles in Knoxville, Atlanta, or Nashville because the park is located within two hours from these big cities. The main route through the park is Newfound Gap Road (US-441), which runs from Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to Cherokee, Tennessee, so you’ll have an easy time getting to the park from Dollywood. Maps and brochures can be obtained at the park’s south entrance at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center or the Sugarlands Visitor Center four miles south of Gatlinburg. (From Dollywood to the Sugarlands Visitor Center, it’s only a 30-minute drive.) If you’ve packed food, settle down at the popular Chimney Tops picnic area for a serene lunch.

3. Mount Pisgah — Canton, North Carolina

One of the most popular destinations on the Blue Ridge Parkway is Mount Pisgah, the “birthplace of forestry in America.” Although this 5,700-foot mountain is well-known for its spiderwebbed network of hiking trails, its campground, lodge, picnic area, and all-around astounding views have won it the special attention of travelers looking for a real mountain retreat. Wealthy industrialist George Washington Vanderbilt purchased the mountain and the thousands of acres surrounding it back in the late 1800s as a private hunting retreat for his friends and family, which he housed nearby at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. 

Get a taste of Vanderbilt’s original hunting trails by taking the 16-mile-long Shut-In Trail around Mount Pisgah. Hike to the mountain’s summit and watch the flora and fauna before picnicking at one of the campgrounds (restrooms are open seasonally). Other hiking trails include the Buck Spring, Mount Pisgah, Picnic Area Loop, and Frying Pan Mountain Trails. The Buck Spring Trail will lead you to a historic exhibit at the foundation stone and remains of the Vanderbilt hunting lodge.

Mount Pisgah is located at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 408.6, 15 miles southwest of Asheville. If traveling from Gatlinburg, set aside a little more than an hour and a half for the 80-mile ride to Mount Pisgah. 

If you’re looking for amazing views of the Pisgah National Forest and Blue Ridge Mountains, consider staying at and the Pisgah Inn, which dates back as far back as 1919. At this modern facility, you’ll find a 180-degree observation deck, three-meal service, and a county store to boot, with loads of local crafts, souvenirs, and maps of the area. For a more rustic experience, try the Mount Pisgah Campground, which features 70 tent and 70 RV sites with shower facilities. The campground is located on the most secluded section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Flat Laurel Gap.

4. Emerald Village — Little Switzerland, North Carolina

Mine abound in the mineral-rich Appalachian Mountains. Gold was first discovered in the hills of North Carolina, and the state was the biggest producer of gold in the United States until the California Gold Rush, so it’s no surprise that places like Emerald Village continue to exist into the modern age. Emerald Village is billed as “North Carolina’s No. 1 mining attraction,” and for good reason. 

This little gem-mining and gold-panning complex was built to showcase the state’s mining heritage and has been featured on the Travel and National Geographic Channels. It’s fun for all ages, including the road-weary traveler looking to brush up on local history and pass the time like the prospectors of old. If you park your motorcycle rental in town, get ready to take away sizeable nuggets of knowledge from one of the village’s many museums and 12 authentic mines. There’s the Antique Music Museum, the Homestead Museum, and the North Carolina Mining Museum. The North Carolina Mining Museum is visited by thousands every year and let'sd travelers take a tour of the local mines, study informative exhibits, and pass by the Bon Ami Waterfall. 

Head aboveground and you’ll find a recreated Company Store from the old mining days. Visit Discovery Mill for more old mining equipment and displays before heading over to the highlight of your trip, the Gemstone Mine. This is a real gemstone mine that sets Emerald Village apart from other mines in the area. Here you can act like a real prospector and mine for over 25 different kinds of minerals, including emeralds, amethysts, rubies, topazes, and gold. The staff helps identify, cut, polish, and mount stones on jewelry. The more adventurous are advised to try out the nighttime blacklight tours of the mines at the Crabtree Emerald Mine.

Emerald Village is located in Little Switzerland, itself only three miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Spruce Pine. More specifically, Emerald Village is located at the midway point between Asheville and Blowing Rock, North Carolina. If you’ve rented a motorcycle in Asheville or thereabouts, expect an hour’s drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you’re coming in from Mount Pisgah, expect a little over two hours of riding. If you happen to need amenities, you can shop directly in Emerald Village. Most exhibits in Emerald Village are free, although adult admission to the Mining Museum will cost you $8. The blacklight tour will cost you $15.

5. Shenandoah National Park — Front Royal, Virgina

Just over an hour’s ride from Washington, D.C. sits the Shenandoah National Park. This park boasts 300 square miles of forest and over 500 miles of hiking trails through the Virginian wilderness. This northern portion of the Great Smoky Mountains was heavily logged and farmed until the 1920s, when depleted soil forced families to head west during the Great Depression. 

In the intervening decades, the Shenandoah National Park has seen its hardwood forests grow back to nearly pre-logging levels—it’s now a haven for hikers and nature-lovers. Travel the trails to get access to the park’s natural riches, from protected waterfalls to wildflower meadows and everything in between. For example, you could take the trails at Big Meadows to Dark Hollow Falls, a 70-foot waterfall flowing around green volcanic stone. Or you could take US-211 to get to Luray Caverns, the largest cavern network in the eastern United States. Explore 64 acres of caverns and play on the “World’s Only Stalacpipe Organ.”

Head aboveground for the Luray Valley Museum, which features a car museum, garden maze, and zoo. After a day of intense hiking, give your feet a rest and go fishing, camping, bird watching, or horseback riding in the park. If that’s not enough for you, you can always take your motorcycle rental and cruise along Skyline Drive, which intersects the park. The road lives up to its name: you’ll travel along the crest of the Shenandoah Valley, where breathtaking views are to be found throughout. Maps and brochures can be found at the visitors centers at either end of Skyline Drive.

Travelers coming in from Washington, D.C. can get into Shenandoah National Park from the park entrance in Front Royal, Virginia. In total, it’s an hour and 20 minutes from D.C. to Front Royal. Shenandoah National Park is well-developed and never short on amenities. Gas stations and restaurants are scattered throughout the park, as are lodges, cabins, and campgrounds. Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland (located at the highest point on Skyland Drive) both feature full-service restaurants. 

Don’t worry about the number of visitors in the fall—the park’s big enough to allow for peace and quiet with a short hike into the forest. Make sure you bring $25 for the parking fee or buy an annual pass to get year-round parking. Admission to Luray Caverns will cost adults $27, while admission to the maze and zoo will cost $9 and $12, respectively.

And so ends our survey of Blue Ridge Parkway motorcycle destinations. If you’re looking to do some riding around Nashville or Washington, D.C., read the 5 Legendary Motorcycle Routes Near Nashville article and Top 5 Motorcycle Routes Near Washington, D.C. articles. There are plenty of exciting roads outside of the parkway.

When it comes to renting a motorcycle, you can’t do better than Riders Share. Rent online and arrange the pickup, without having to walk indoors or worrying about a limited inventory. With your new rental, you’ll be able to explore all the Appalachian Mountains have to offer in the way of art, crafts, and culture.