Blue Ridge Parkway | BIKING

Biking on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Biking on the Blue Ridge Parkway (photo by Paul Goodman)

Bicycles are allowed only on paved roads and parking lot surfaces within the Blue Ridge Parkway boundaries. They are not allowed on trails or gravel paths within the park. There is only one trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Whetstone Trail, that allows off-road biking. It is located at the Whetstone Ridge District Office at Mile Post 29. The trail runs a quarter mile on National Park Service property before coming to U. S. Forest Service property. Technically, you must push your bike the quarter mile until you get to the Forest Service portion of the trail, but I’m sure that once out of site of park Rangers that most people hop on and ride.

Many people ride their bikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway without incident (i.e. getting hit by a car). I will never be one of them until they make a bike that comes out the winner in a bicycle-automobile collision. I like biking, but I mainly ride on trails and multi-purpose paved paths, though I am not adverse to riding on very lightly traveled roads with low speed limits. In my opinion, riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway is asking to be put in your grave, and I’m not just some anti-road bike nut spouting off. When the National Park Service hashed out its 2013 management plan, the idea of banning cycling on the Parkway came up. It’s not going to happen, but be aware that there are many people who have a say in the Parkway management who feel this way. The National Park Service’s website urges bikers to use extreme caution.

There are a number of reasons why I suggest avoiding the Blue Ridge Parkway when it comes to biking. First off, there are no bike lanes and no road shoulders. In many cases, if you go off the road, you will be heading into a gully or down a cliff. Second, while the speed limit on the Parkway is 45 MPH, most people are driving 50-55 MPH. You are basically riding on a two-lane highway with no shoulders. And third, there are people who drive while text messaging, eating, looking at GPS maps, gazing at the scenic views, and even watching TV. If your life is not worth more than a bike ride, then have at it.

If you do decide to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway, here are a few other things to consider, particularly if you are riding long distances. When you get to higher elevations you may hit dense fog, even on days when the weather is nice elsewhere. As a driver in this fog I can tell you that visual distance is limited. As a biker, you would be foolish to continue on your journey. You may have to wait for hours until the fog clears. Also, as I driver I have gone around corners and suddenly had the sun shine directly in my face, completely blinding me for short stretches of the road. I could not slow down fast enough, and I always thought to myself, “I hope there are no bikers in front of me because they are as good as dead.” If you ride your bike around the corner and are blinded by the sun, keep in mind that the cars coming behind you will be experiencing the same problem.

If you still insist on biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, here are a few rules and tips.

  • Unlike the guys in the above photo, you must ride single file and to the right of the road as much as possible. The Blue Ridge Parkway was designed for cars, not bikes, and thus the biker mentality of “I’ll ride down the center of the road and cars can go around me” does not apply here and will quickly put you in your grave. This is not something I made up, it is a Parkway cycling regulation.
  • Helmets are required for everyone 16-years-old and under in North Carolina. Laws in Virginia vary by county.
  • Bikers must follow the same road rules as automobiles and motorcycles.
  • Bikes must have a white light or reflector visible at least 500 feet to the front and a red light or reflector visible at least 200 feet to the rear during periods of low visibility, between the hours of sunset and sunrise, or while traveling through a tunnel.
  • If you plan on biking the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, keep in mind that park campgrounds are often too far apart to get to in one day, so be sure you have made plans to stay at private campgrounds along the way.
  • Plan your trips for when the Blue Ridge Parkway will have less traffic. The busiest time is May through October, with the peak culminating in July, and of course weekends will be busier than weekdays. If you travel in the off-season keep in mind that many hotels, campgrounds, and restaurants along the Parkway are closed for the winter months.

Three forms of action were proposed in the 2013 Management Plan for the Blue Ridge Parkway: a “do nothing new” proposal, a mid-level proposal, and a deluxe proposal. If the deluxe version is approved, there are plans for paved bike paths to be installed along the Parkway in the high population areas of Waynesboro, Roanoke, Boone and Blowing Rock, and Asheville. The paths would range from 11 to 15 miles in length—they will not run for the entire 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, most likely the mid-level proposal will be approved, so don’t get your hopes up for the bike paths. If the Blue Ridge Parkway were built today, bike lanes would surely be a part of the construction, but back in 1935 the idea of accommodating cyclists was unheard of.

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Last updated on November 7, 2023
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