The Linn Cove Viaduct is one of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s most recognizable features. A short (less than one mile!) loop hike lets you see the viaduct from all angles, while enjoying a lovely walk through the woods.
We recently spent a few days in western North Carolina along the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a spectacular area! On our first full day, we did a trio of short, ‘leg-stretcher’ hikes in the vicinity of Linn Cove – the Viaduct Trail, Rough Ridge and Beacon Heights. In retrospect, we think we should have covered all three of these hikes as one long out-and-back (or shuttle) along the Tanawha Trail, but you live and learn when you visit a new place.
Our first mini-hike of the day was a short loop that passed underneath and then alongside the famous Linn Cove Viaduct. The viaduct is a feature I had been wanting photograph for years, and to be able to visit at the peak of fall color was a real treat. The serpentine curve of the viaduct hugging the shoulder of Grandfather Mountain is a classic scene – probably one of the Parkway’s most iconic.
Our hike started out from the Linn Cove Visitor Center. The paved trail begins at the far end of the parking area. For almost a quarter mile, the trail passes underneath the viaduct. Cars rumble across the span overhead, while underneath walkers can marvel at the engineering it took to put the viaduct in place. At the end of the paved section, a set of stairs climbs up a hillside and the trail begins to run through the woods, parallel to the viaduct. If you continue uphill, you’ll find yourself on the Tanawha trail. A trail lower on the hillside follows the road more closely and crosses a couple small bridges. It really doesn’t matter which trail you follow, both will lead to the same place – a great vista just above the viaduct.
The trail to the vista is just a small, well-worn footpath through the woods. Be careful you don’t miss it! If you continue on, you’ll be following the Tanawha Trail for quite a while. The best clue that you’ve reached the side trail is that you’ll be able to see the north-end of the viaduct through the woods. Follow the trail until it reaches a jumble of rocks just off the side of the road. Climb the rocks, and you’ll be able to enjoy a beautiful view of the viaduct curving off around the side of the mountain, with the rolling valley beyond. It’s GORGEOUS, especially in early morning light!
After you’ve enjoyed the view, take the footpath up to the main trail and return the way you came.
Normally, if I were to hear someone suggest that I take a short hike with the highlight being a view of a paved road, I would think they don’t know what a nice hike is. However, I would be wrong in this case. It is impressive to think about how this feature was built and the bend in the road leads to some gorgeous views off the side. And when you hit this on a beautiful fall day, you have quite a scene.
I would recommend a trip inside the visitor center to learn more about the construction of this feature. I was impressed to learn that the viaduct was created with the purpose of not impacting the surrounding environment. Many times when roads are being constructed, they will cut into the mountain to build the road. The Linn Cove Viaduct was actually built by putting seven foundations below and then having 153 segments lowered down onto seven piers. This kept construction vehicles from having to build a temporary road to haul heavy construction vehicles and equipment on to the mountain, minimizing the stress on the nearby environment. For more information on how this feat was accomplished by the Figg & Muller Engineering Group, check out the NPCA’s website for details.
On our way down to North Carolina, we had extreme heavy fog and light drizzle. Visibility was at times only allowing us to see about 20 feet in front of the car. We had driven over the viaduct and didn’t even really know what we were missing. Pedestrians aren’t allowed on to the viaduct. To get the classic photo you see above, there was a side trail once you reach the other side of the viaduct that leads to a boulder for the birds-eye view.
This was a great start for a few days of hiking along this area of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The foliage near the peak of fall color made us excited to take in as many autumn views as we could.
- Distance – About one mile
- Elevation Change – negligible
- Difficulty – 1. This is an easy hike, part of it is even accessible and follows a paved path.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is in excellent condition.
- Views – 4. The best views are from the small, rocky outcropping just above the road. You’ll also get some glimpses of the valley through the trees.
- Waterfalls/streams – 1. There is one small waterfall cascading under the viaduct. You’ll pass over it on one of the small footbridges.
- Wildlife – 0. This area is well-populated by people, so it’s unlikely you’ll see wildlife.
- Ease to Navigate –3. We aren’t really sure what part of the hike was the Tanawha trail and what part was the interpretive trail for the Viaduct, but it really didn’t matter since the area is so small and close to the road.
- Solitude –1. While we saw almost nobody on our visit, I think it was the exception. This area is typically very popular and heavily trafficked. When we passed the same area later in the day, it was swarming with people.
Directions to trailhead: Follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile marker 304. Park at the Linn Cove Visitor Center.