Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive County Highpoints *1

*1content by Fred Lobdell


This guide is meant for those who are enjoying a drive on the BRP and/or Skyline Drive, and who would like some information on easily accessible county highpoints enroute.

Many of these short trails and bushwhacks start from paved parking areas but it is entirely legal to park anywhere along the Blue Ridge Parkway except where it is specifica11y prohibited or where you wou1d damage the roadside.

The Skyline Drive is the northern extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Shenandoah National Park. With increased fees, it is likely that there is a $10 per vehicle day use fee, except for holders of Golden Passport or Golden Access cards.

Counties are listed south-to-north. The abbreviation "MP" stands for "milepost"; both highways have mileposts every mile, making it easy to ascertain your location.

Addendum (2006)

This mini-guide was originally intended to be for county highpoints that were accessible on foot from the BRP. (Although, "Any place is within walking distance if you have enough time.")

For the North Carolina 2006 Highpointers Club convention, I have expanded it to include county highpoints which are near the BRP but for which you have to exit the parkway for a short distance. "Short distance" is, of course, entirely subjective but I tried to restrict the off-parkway travel to 10 minutes or less.

The one-way hiking distance for these county highpoints is generally one mile or less.


I did many of these hikes 8 to 10 years ago. I make no guarantee as to the current accuracy of the information.

The BRP is not an interstate highway. In the summertime especially, you may find yourself stuck behind a large RV that is taking the curves (and the parkway is largely composed of curves) at 20 mph.

North Carolina

Jackson County (Richland Balsam, 6,410 feet)

Park at the Haywood-Jackson parking area at MP 431 on the BRP. A self-guided nature trail begins at-the north end of the parking area. [Here the north end is also the southbound end; the "southbound" parkway trends generally north-northwest for severa1 miles.] Follow the nature trail over the summit, which is marked by a large sign. I was unable to find a bench mark. You may continue the loop trail back to the parking area, or return the way you came if you're in a hurry.

Total loop hike is 1.3 miles with about 400 feet elevation gain.

Transylvania County (Chestnut Knob, 6,025 feet)

Park at the overlook at MP 422.4 on the BRP. Follow the Devils Courthouse Trail for 0.3 miles to a trai1 intersection. At this point the Devils Courthouse Trail goes right; you should follow the unmarked spur trail to the left, over the parkway, to its junction in 0.1 mile with the white-blazed Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail (MST). Continue straight (right) and in another 0.2 mile there will be a junction with the yellow-blazed Little Sam Trail.

A large rock outcrop will be on your left and you can climb up onto this if you want an overview of your situation. Stay right on the MST and in about another 0.2 mile, shortly before attaining the trail crest, you should see some blue surveyor's ribbons tied to trees and shrubs on your right. [At least, the route was marked with ribbons as of November 1995.] These ribbons will lead you to the summit through some dense growth of spruce and blackberry bushes. The summit is rather overgrown and you will need to wander around on top to be sure you have gotten to the highest point. Return the same way.

Note: if you stay with the MST on your return trip rather than taking the unmarked spur trail to the Devils Courthouse Trai1, you will wind up going away from the parkway and your car, so you need to be alert to spot this junction and take the correct trail.

Total hiking distance is about 1.5 miles and elevation gain is about 560 feet.

Henderson County (Little Pisgah Mountain, 5,280+ feet)

The trailhead is located at MP 407.7 on the BRP, at the Mt. Pisgah parking area. Pull into the far extension of the parking area, passing over the parkway in the process. Follow the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail (blazed with white circles) south from the parking area. [The MST runs with the Shut-In Trail over this segment.]

After a relatively easy hike, reach a trail crest at about 0.5 mile. The ground- will be higher to your left; wander around there unti1 you're sure you've covered the highest point. Return the same way.

Elevation gain is about 360 feet.

McDowell County (Blue Ridge Pinnacle, 5,665 feet)

The trail begins at MP 354.8 on the south side of the highway. Walk up the gated jeep road about 150 feet or so, then take the trail up hill to your right. The trail follows the ridge line, which is also the county line between Yancey and Buncombe Counties.

For most of the hike there will be a fence on your right; this marks the edge of the Asheville watershed, on which hiking and camping are prohibited.

The summit is marked by a large rock outcrop, with views in all directions. Return the same way.

This is a hike of about 2 miles with 400 feet of elevation gain.

Buncombe County (Potato Knob, 6,400+ feet)

Park at Ridge Junction Overlook just "north" of the junction of the Mount Mitchell access road (NC 128) with the BRP. [Actually, the northbound parkway goes southeast here.] This is at BRP MP 355.3. Walk a few paces up the Mount Mitchell road until you see a trail ascending the grassy slope on your left. Follow this trail, overgrown in places, as it ascends, rather steeply at times, heading directly for Potato Knob.

There are two or three places where the trail seems to fork, but keep on heading uphill and you won't become misplaced. After a mile or so emerge onto a rocky knob with excellent views.

You'll notice a second, wooded, knob a short distance north. Continue on the trail as it descends very steeply then abruptly becomes level for a short stretch before ascending to the second knob. The highest point on this knob seems to be on a rocky outcrop near where you ascend onto the knob but you should wander around to be sure of covering all the bases. This second knob appears to be the higher of the two.

Another route, involving much less elevation gain, is to park at the visitors' center and walk up the gated dirt road toward the ugly radio towers atop Clingmans Peak. Shortly before the fence there should be a trail going off to the right. Take this path to a cabin and go to your left front at the rear of the clearing behind the cabin. At intersections bear left and, after crossing a shallow swale, ascend to Potato Knob.

Yancey County (Mount Mitchel1, 6,684 feet)

From the junction of the BRP and NC 128 at MP 355.3 on the BRP, take route 128 for 4 miles to the parking area just below the summit. Follow the obvious path to the summit. Return the same way.

The walk from the parking area to the summit is about 0.1 mile with a gain of about 100 feet.

Burke County (Long Arm Mountain, 4,280+ feet)

Around MP 315, exit onto US 221. (If you're northbound, this will be a left exit.) Turn left at the foot of the ramp and take 221 south about a half mile into the hamlet of Linville Falls. Turn left onto NC 183 and take it 3 or 4 miles to its intersection with NC 181. Turn right on 181 and go 1. 9 miles to Ginger Cake Road (paved). Turn right and in less than 0.2 mile take the right fork (gravel) which is Joe Johnson Road. Go about 0.9 mile to the height of land and a patch of woods on the right (east) side between two houses.

Park here and bushwhack uphill into the woods for a couple of hundred yards or so, with about 50 feet of elevation gain. At the summit you should find a witness post and BM Jonas - dated 1933.

Wilkes County (Tompkins Knob, 4,080+ feet)

Park at MP 273.2 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are a couple of other parking areas that would work equally well, a little further south along the parkway. From MP 273.2, bushwhack just about due south for 0.3 mile, climbing gently until you emerge onto a fairly flat summit area.

You should find the benchmark Tompkins 2 set in a small concrete square. Return the same way.

Elevation gain is about 180 feet.

Surry County (Fisher Peak, 3,580+ feet)

As this is an almost twofer with Carroll County, Virginia and the access is from north of the state line, directions are found immediately below under Carroll County, Virginia.


Carroll County (on Fisher Peak, 3,560+ feet)

Driving northbound on the BRP, the first exit after crossing into Virginia will be VA 89. About 2.5 miles north of this exit is county 612. Turn right onto 612 and follow this road for a few hundred feet until you reach a gate. A sign reads, "Mt. Fisher Road". Given the number of vacation homes up this road, it is very unlikely that the gate will be closed in midsummer and none of us county highpointers has seen it closed.

Continue up Mt. Fisher Road. After about 3 miles there will be a poor road branching off to the left. This is a good place to park for a final stroll to the summit but it can be driven in a high-clearance vehicle.

The highest point seems to be near the radio and relay towers, and this is the highpoint of Surry County, North Carolina. In order to be able to claim the highpoint of Carroll County, walk due north from the summit for 100 feet or so, staying on the high ground. In so doing you should pass over the Carroll County highpoint. There is supposed to be some sort of marker here but no one has yet found it.

Floyd County (Buffalo Mountain, 3,971 feet)

At about MP 174, take county 799 left (west). In a bit less than a mile the road turns sharply right, and shortly thereafter two roads go off to the left (west). Take the second of these two roads {county 604) a little less than a mile to its junction with county 727.

Turn left (west) on 727 and follow it as it descends to cross a creek, then rises to a height of land about a mile from the previous junction. There is a road on the right that follows the ridge line to the summit of Buffalo Mountain. Take this road as far as you can drive it, then walk up the road to the open rocky summit.

There are two knobs at opposite ends of the summit area. The topo shows a BM on the western knob, although no one has yet found it. Personal observation suggests that the eastern knob may be a little higher. There are fine views in all directions from this open summit.

Patrick County (Rocky Knob, 3,572 feet)

Park at The Saddle parking area, about at BRP MP 168. Follow the green-blazed trail south from the parking area about a quarter mile to a rustic shelter. The highpoint lies just beyond this structure on the rocky outcrops on the left (east) side of the trail.

If desired, continue another few hundred feet to be satisfied that you have indeed attained the highest point. Return the same way.

The round trip is about 0.6 mile with an elevation gain of 190 feet.

Roanoke City (Mill Mountain, 1,740+ feet)

This is an excellent highpoint for families with small children. There is a picnic area, bathrooms, and a zoo at this city park and the highpoint is almost a drive-up.

Exit the BRP at VA 116, take it northwest into Roanoke, and follow the signs for Mill Mountain Park.

Bedford and Botetourt Counties (Apple Orchard Mountain, 4,225 feet)

The Appalachian Trail crosses the BRP at MP 76.3. Park on the shoulder here. Hike south on the AT for 0.9 mile to the summit.

At the top is an FAA facility surrounded by a chain link fence. Just west of the fence is a jumble of boulders, the highest of which marks the mountain's summit. [The possibility exists that the summit has been "modified" for the towers, and that the boulders nave been pushed together by bulldozer.] There are nice views of other peaks in the region from the summit.

You can either return the same way or walk down the paved road and then left (north) on the parkway to return to your vehicle.

The elevation gain is 300 feet.

Rockbridge County (Rocky Mountain, 4,072 feet)

Exit the BRP at US 60 and go east on that highway about 4 miles to Coffeytown Road (county 634). Turn left (northeast) on 634 and follow it about 4 miles until it becomes Forest Road 63. Continue on FR 63 as it rises to Salt Gap in another 2 miles. Turn left here and go about a mile to an intersection. The road ahead becomes rougher but a high-clearance vehicle can be driven to the radio towers atop Rocky Mountain. In a low-slung vehicle, it might be wiser to find a spot to park and walk up the road.

Rocky Mountain may also be the highpoint of Amherst County but Pleasant Mountain, another possibility, is also over 4,040 feet in elevation - as is Bald Peak. I didn't count Amherst County until I'd climbed all three of these.

Albemarle County (Big Flat Mountain, 3,389 feet)

Park at the Doyles River Cabin parking area at MP 81.1 on the Skyline Drive. Hike north (actually southeast here) on the Appalachian Trail unti1 you reach a signed side trail leading to the Loft Mountain Campground. Once you're in the campground, keep heading uphill until you arrive at a chain link fence enclosing two large green tanks and a small brown shed.

The benchmark Big Flat is just east of the shed inside the fence but it does not appear to be quite at the highest point. The latter seems to be near the locked gate with the "Keep Out" sign, both inside and outside the fence. Return the way you came.

This is about a 3 mile round trip with an elevation gain of 400 feet.

I did this one in March 1996 and the campground was closed for the season. You can almost undoubtedly materially shorten this hike by driving into the campground and up to the chain link fence.

Greene County (on Hazeltop Mountain, 3,640 feet)

Park at the Bootens Gap parking area at MP 55.1 on the Skyline Drive. Hike north on the Appalachian Trail about 0.9 mile to the wooded summit of Hazeltop. Then count your paces as you backtrack about 0.3 mile; somewhere in here, on the ridgeline, is Greene County's highpoint.

Until this point is surveyed and determined with accuracy and signed, this is about as good as you're going to do. Return the way you came.

This hike gains about 570 feet to the summit of Hazeltop.

Madison and Page Counties (Hawksbill, 4,050 feet)

The Hawksbill Trail makes a loop. You can park at either the Hawksbill Gap parking area at Skyline Drive MP 45.6 or in the Upper Hawksbill Parking area at MP 46.7.

From Hawksbill Gap, ascend moderately to the shelter Byrds Nest #2, then turn right and shortly arrive at the summit. From Upper Hawksbill, ascend 0.6 mile to the junction with the service road, then turn right (north) and descend the same way. Return the way you came, unless you'd like to make a loop out of it, in which case you'll have 1.1 miles to walk along the Skyline Drive to get back to your car.

Note: In addition to-being a double county high point, Hawksbill is also the highest point in Shenandoah National Park.

This hike gains about 700 feet.

Rappahannock County (The Pinnacle, 3,730 feet)

Park at the Jewell Hollow Parking Overlook at MP 36.4 on the Skyline Drive. Hike east, then north, on the northbound Appalachian Trail. The trail passes to the right of the various summit knolls and crags.

According to the AT guidebook, the highest point is the high area to the left of the trail as the summit ridge is first attained. However, there are two or three other rocky points that seem about equally high. To be on the safe side, ascend all these points. Return the same way.

This hike is a 2 mile round trip with a 400-foot elevation gain.

Warren County (Hogback Mountain, 3,474 feet)

Park at the overlook at MP 21.1 on the Skyline Drive. Walk east along the Skyline Drive a couple of hundred feet until you get to the summit towers access road. Walk up this road to the summit.

There is a benchmark near a small shed. Return the same way.

The total hike is 1 mile with about 100 feet of elevation gain.

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