The Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is a beautiful route to cycle. The BRP begins at the end of Skyline Drive-Shenandoah NP in Afton, VA and ends in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee, NC. Although it is not typical for cyclists to ride the entire route we have listed on this page all of the CAT 4 and above climbs on the route and those which end at the BRP.
Special PJAMM summary by John Summerson (The Ultimate Guide to Climbing (by Bike) 2nd Ed. + many more US climbing books), the authority on climbing by bike in the United States:
“It has been called the ultimate bicycling road and there may not be a route more ideal for two-wheel riding. The Blue Ridge Parkway carries you through a large portion of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, from Afton in northern Virginia to Cherokee in southwest North Carolina. A cycling environment with mostly smooth pavement without commercial vehicles and through scenic, mountain landscapes sounds like a dream.
However, be careful what you wish for as the way is certainly not easy. At 469 miles, cycling its full length is essentially equivalent to riding four major tour big mountain stages over consecutive days. The route is almost constantly either uphill or down and you will work to get through it. It is also a fairly narrow, two lane road so keep this in mind if you set out to ride all of it or just a portion.
At such a long distance, many other roads intersect its length. As the Parkway is also located at altitude (for the eastern seaboard), either on top of or high on the ridgeline, most of these lanes have to climb significant amounts to reach it. Of course, this creates just what climbers desire, a steady supply of challenging ascents along the way.”
A little bit about the Blue Ridge Parkway:
- 469 miles
- Gain 52,542’ on the ride.
- High point - 6,047’ at Richland Balsam Overlook (mile 433)
- Low point - 649’ at the James River (mile 70)
- Steepest extended segment is 13 miles at 4.8% ending at Apple Orchard Mountain Overlook at mile 77.
- 15 visitor centers.
- Over 200 viewpoints/overlooks;
- Highest and longest continuous road in the Appalachian Mountains.
- First rural parkway to be conceived, designed and constructed for a leisure-type driving experience. Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation.
- Tourism on the Parkway brings nearly a billion dollars annually to the 29 counties through which it passes.
- 369 miles of hiking trails (NPS.gov)
- Hike parts of the Appalachian Trail and Mountain to Sea Trail in and around BRP.
Helpful tools for you trip:
We have not ridden the entire route, but have ridden and documented most of the significant climbs on it. Additionally, we have created a Trip Guide for anyone who is interested in riding any part of this gorgeous roadway.
HARDEST CLIMB ON THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Cycling Mt. Mitchell -- a bike climb in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains
Ride 24 miles to elevation 6,684’, gaining 6,409’ at 4% average grade.
Highest paved road in North Carolina
Highest point in the eastern United States.
We have ridden this extremely popular, challenging and scenic route twice. Beware of traffic on Route 80 for the first 8 miles before turning onto BRP - the road is fun and scenic, but it does not have a shoulder and is windy towards the end of the segment.
We are on BRP 11.5 miles and NC Scenic Byway the last 4.6 miles.
Be sure to hike to the 100 yards to the observation tower at the finish.
FUNNEST AND HIGHEST CLIMB ON THE PARKWAY
RICHLAND BALSAM (BRP ONLY; FUNNEST ROUTE)
Cycling Richland Balsam, the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Ride 15.6 miles gaining 3,457’ at 3.9% average grade to elevation 6,053’.
As with all Blue Ridge Parkway climbs, this one is very scenic, particularly during fall colors. This BRP climb has the added advantage of ending at the highest point on the Parkway.
“Richland Balsam is a nice climb up to the highest elevation on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a dark tunnel along the way so be prepared but at least the grade eases after the tunnel. The remainder of the ascent is rolling and the climb ends at an unmarked top with great views.” [Note, we stop our climb at Richland Balsam Overlook and start it further down the hill.] (This quote presented with authority from John Summerson’s The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) in the Southeast, pg. 97.)
Pass through town of Balsam at mile 3
Photo bottom middle: Knight’s Store, abandoned since 1979.
MOST SCENIC CLIMB ON THE PARKWAY
HWY 151 TO MT. PISGAH
Cycling Mount Pisgah from Pisgah Highway to Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Ride 5.9 miles gaining 2,166’ at 7% average grade.
This is a two-fer -- you get two OUTSTANDING climbs in one. We cannot praise this route enough. The first 3.8 miles are on a very fun and scenic, narrow, and steep road through thick forest to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The last two miles are on the incomparable Blue Ridge Parkway. It just doesn’t get any better than this. 👍👍
“151 is a great and scenic climb along a steep grade through thick trees up to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, NC. Most of its route is very twisty (3.8 miles at 8%). At the Parkway turn right and climb for another 2.3 solid miles through 2 short tunnels to the Mt. Pisgah parking area.” (This quote provided with the approval of John Summerson from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike) in the Southeast, pg. 93.)
Although 151 is narrow with no shoulder, we felt safe on this climb.