7 beginner-friendly hikes on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America's iconic roads. It's a high-elevation scenic drive that stretches more than 400 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, traveling through the beautiful mountainous terrain of the southern Appalachians.

But a true Blue Ridge Parkway experience is much more than just a scenic drive. Great trails depart from the parkway, offering day hikes through some beautiful landscapes. Many trails are a just short distance to score gorgeous waterfall and mountain views, so they make great hikes for beginners.

Plan a weekend road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway: fill the tank, pack your boots and get ready for a scenery-packed adventure. It's a three hour drive from Atlanta to the nearest Blue Ridge Parkway access, just north of Balsam Grove, NC. From there, the Parkway winds northeast past Asheville, driving through fresh pine scented air and passing these great beginner-friendly hikes:

ExploreDevils Courthouse

Hike the Devils Courthouse Trail to the top of this jagged rock outcrop, traveling through a beautiful forest. It's a moderate half-mile climb to the summit, where you'll enjoy panoramic vistas. On a clear day, you'll see four states.

ExploreBlack Balsam Knob

Climb through a grove of balsam fir trees to Black Balsam Knob, a breezy bald ridge covered with tall grasses, wildflowers and wild berry bushes. The views from the summit are outstanding, extending in every direction.

ExploreSkinny Dip Falls

Catch beautiful views of nearby Looking Glass Rock from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then hike to Skinny Dip Falls, where multiple waterfall tiers cascade into deep, clear pools of water bordered by colorful rock. It's a great, short hike to a picture worthy waterfall, and in summer, the pools are popular swimming holes.

ExploreCraggy Pinnacle Trail at Craggy Gardens

Craggy Gardens is known for its dense forest of rhododendron trees that bloom in early summer. The rocky landscape is beautiful year round, though, and in late summer, the mountains are abundant with wildflowers and wild blackberries. Hike the Craggy Pinnacle Trail through the rhododendron to some of the best Craggy Gardens views.

ExploreFryingpan Mountain Tower

Hike the Fryingpan Mountain Tower Trail from the parkway, climbing to a historical steel fire tower on the peak of a mountain. The views from the tower are beautiful, stretching north to Mount Pisgah and west to Cold Mountain.

Linvillle Falls

Hike the Linville Falls Trail to views of some of North Carolina's most popular waterfalls. The trail leads to a series of waterfalls on the Linville River and provides excellent views into the steep walled, 12-mile-long Linville Gorge.

Mount Mitchell

Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River. From the summit on a clear day, you'll see panoramas of the surrounding mountains. Hike the Mount Mitchell Summit Trail to the summit, and then explore a mile-high forest filled with fir trees and rare, high-elevation plants on the Balsam Nature Trail.

Spending the night in Asheville? Check out some of the city's top attractions, shopping and dining options to make the most of your trip. On the way home, consider taking the scenic route back to Atlanta through the upscale mountain cities of Highlands and Cashiers. If you do, be sure to visit Rainbow Falls at Gorges State Park near Cashiers, one of the south's most beautiful waterfalls.

Eric Champlin is an outdoor enthusiast, and the editor of AtlantaTrails.com and AshevilleTrails.com, online magazines that highlight the south's best outdoor adventures.