Sunsets: Chasing the Sun in the Blue Ridge Mountains

“Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

There is nothing more satisfying than ending the day with a beautiful sunset. The Blue Ridge Mountains, with its bounty of vistas and scenic overlooks, is the perfect place to find that perfect vantage point.

In the middle of it all, following some of the highest ridge lines, the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles through the mountains. There are hundreds of scenic overlooks and trails, but some of those are better than others. There are probably a dozen or more special spots along the parkway’s high ridges and peaks that should not be missed.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the country’s most popular and visited scenic drives. It is often very crowded on warm weekends and most of the summer, but most people head into town in the afternoon to seek out dinner or their hotel. Other visitors prefer to be off the winding road before darkness sets in, therefore most people are gone before sunset, thus leaving the overlooks nearly empty.

Some of the best opportunities to see a sunset are at one of the many pullouts along the endlessly curving Parkway. These scenic overlooks provide a spot to safely stop and enjoy the panoramic mountain and valley views. The overlooks are often signed with a name corresponding with the view, as well as, the elevation that your currently parked. These areas are often groomed and devoid of trees, therefore providing wide open long range vistas.

Along the Parkway at around mile 342 you’ll find one of these beautiful pullouts. The Black Mountains Overlook is a large area with panoramic sweeping views of the black mountain range.

Continuing on along the narrow meandering roadway, you’ll eventually come to one of the more popular spots along the parkway at around mile 364. The Craggy Gardens area, complete with visitors center, provides amazing views right from your car. Not content with sitting in the car, try hiking the Craggy Pinnacle trail to a high vantage point with seemingly endless views of the surrounding valleys.

Looking for a steep climb to earn your prize, consider stopping at the Devils Courthouse overlook at mile 422. A short, but strenuous climb takes you up to a viewpoint of 5720 feet. Here you’ll have nearly 360° panoramic views of the surrounding states of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

Continuing along the parkway to around mile 430 you will come across Cowee Mountain Overlook. A very large parking area with little to no trees, offering unparalleled 270° views of the surrounding mountains with the Smoky Mountains on the horizon.

At around mile marker 451 you’ll find one of the most popular and most visited overlooks on the parkway. Waterrock Knob has a visitor center and restrooms making this a popular tailgating spot for parking lot sunsets. For an even better view, hike the trail to the top of Waterrock Knob and get and even better vantage point of the Black Balsam mountain range. Bring a flashlight, it’s a rocky hike back down to the parking area.

Seeking a more adventurous outing or wishing to incorporate a hike into your evening finale, consider one of the many trails the area has to offer. Fryingpan Mountain offers a short hike at just under a mile to a mountain top complete with an old steel lookout tower. Feeling brave, climb the steep stairs to get an amazing view of the surrounding mountains and the Parkway below.

Pack a picnic lunch and hike up to the wide open fields of Bearwallow Mountain and maybe even share your sunset with some grazing cows. The hike up is mild steady climb along a gravel service road to the large open grassy mountain top. Here you’ll have panoramic views of the Black Mountains to the north, Asheville to the west and views down into South Carolina. Bring a flashlight or headlamp to help guide you back down.

If a scenic drive is more your style, consider a ride up to Wayah Bald or Mount Mitchell for high elevation sunset views with easy access. Mount Mitchell is one of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi and offers great views. You’ll find an old stone fire tower at the top of Wayah Bald.

Still seeking additional hikes that yield amazing vistas for your sunset celebration, consider some of these other amazing hikes throughout the Blue Ridge region:

•Sam Knob •Tenant Mountain • Richland Balsam Overlook •Mount Pisgah •

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