Tips for Driving an RV on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Ever consider taking a drive through the entire Blue Ridge Parkway?
Well, that’s exactly what my friend Dan and I did. Except he biked the entire Parkway. And I drove the RV in support.
Yes, it is possible to drive an RV on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At least, most of it.
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Driving an RV on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway the longest linear National Park, linking the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south to the Shenandoah National Park in the north. The Blue Ridge Parkway covers 469 miles of beautiful mountain road in North Carolina and Virginia.
But with those mountains, comes typical mountain roads.
We are talking steep climbs and descents, curves and switchbacks, and tunnels.
You can definitely drive your RV on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but there are some special concerns that you must consider.
I drove a 37 foot Class A gas RV from Asheville, around milepost 393 to Waynesboro, Virginia at milepost 0. Find out below why I started in Asheville instead of Cherokee, North Carolina.
Speed Kills on the Parkway
For much of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the speed limit is just 45 miles per hour. In many places, it drops to 35 mph.
And you’ll probably average somewhere around 30 mph if you drive a big rig through the Parkway.
There are so many climbs that will push your RV to the limits. And steep descents that you’ll have to slow down on.
Overlooks also present a unique danger. People are often slowing down to enter an overlook or pulling out from one. Entering and exiting overlooks can also present problems, as they are often in the middle of, right before, or right after a curve (which pretty much sums up the entire Parkway). You’ll need to slow down to avoid dangers around overlooks.
You’ll also have to be on the close lookout for animals crossing your path. Dan saw lots of deer as well as two bears during his bicycling portion of the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any bears, but plenty of deer.
See Also: RV Driving Safety Tips to Keep You Safe on the Road
Don’t Burn Up Your Brakes on Descents
We’ve all experienced how RVs and well, any vehicles, will speed up when coming down a big hill or mountain. But with potential obstacles and curves during those descents, it is often advisable to maintain a speed less than the speed limit.
Maintaining a suitable speed means applying brakes as you come down the mountainside. However, our RVs are large behemoths and are hard to stop. “Riding the brakes” will end up burning up your brakes and creating a very unsafe situation where your brakes won’t work.
First, before you begin your descent, slow down as much as possible. You don’t want to be speeding as your crest the hill and begin your descent.
Then, in order to maintain your RV speed on descents, you will need to employ the engine to provide the braking by switching to a lower gear.
Your RPMs will go up, way up. But you will keep the RV in safe speeds for your descent.
After long descents, it is also advisable to pull off onto one of the next overlooks so that you can check everything out. And give your engine, brakes, and tires a little time to cool off.
Use Tow/Haul Mode on Your RV
Do you know what the tow/haul mode is on your RV? The tow/haul mode changes how a vehicle shifts the transmission when it is pulling a heavy load, particularly up or down mountain roads.
Ultimately, it is used to reduce shift cycles by keeping you in lower gears longer. Tow/haul mode may also boost torque and help with engine braking when you are coming down hills.
On my Ford V10 engine, the tow/haul mode is activated by pressing the button at the end of the gear shifter. A light comes on just above the odometer to indicate that tow/haul mode is on. You’ll need to activate it each time you turn the RV engine on.
Many people use tow/haul mode all the time, not just when they are towing a car behind them. After all the RV engine sure is hauling a lot all the time. It is definitely beneficial on the mountain roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Descending Radius Curve
Ever hear of a descending radius curve?
They are also called spiral curves.
In a descending radius curve, the radius of the curve will change as you go through the curve. This means that the curve will tighten as you go through the curve. These are often on descents, meaning your RV will pick up speed through the curve.
As you drive through these curves, you will need to pay close attention to the curve to make sure that you stay on the roadway. Decreasing your speed will help as well.
Overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway
One of the themes you’ll see a lot is to “Enjoy the View, Watch the Road.” The best way to enjoy the view is from one of the many overlooks that dot the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Most overlooks will have ample space for you to pull your RV into.
Some, however, may not be suitable for large RVs or trailers. These are generally marked with a “No Trailers” sign below the overlook sign. There are some additional overlooks that are really not suitable for big rigs but they aren’t marked.
Definitely be on the lookout for space to turn around before you pull into an overlook. You may have to skip some due to heavy use and lack of parking.
Many visitor centers also have RV specific parking. Note that the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park does not have space for RV parking and it is not permitted there.
See Also: Tips for Renting an RV
Tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway
There are 26 tunnels along the Blue Ridge Parkway. 25 of the 26 tunnels are in the North Carolina section of the Parkway.
Many of these tunnels have a minimum clearance under 12 feet, especially those on the very southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A list of the tunnels, with their clearances are available from Virtual Blue Ridge.
For example, the Big Witch Tunnel, pictured to the left, has a minimum clearance of 11 feet, 3 inches and a maximum clearance of 18 feet, 1 inch.
That’s going to be a problem for those of you driving a Big Rig, even including some fifth wheels.
While the maximum clearance may be more than enough to get even the biggest of Big Rigs through, it is the minimum clearance that you have to be worried about, especially in times of high traffic during peak Parkway seasons.
As one Park Ranger told me, they really “discourage you driving down the middle of the Parkway” through the tunnel. And that would be the only way to take advantage of the maximum clearance listed in their charts.
And due to repaving projects and other pavement fluctuations, clearances can vary by 1 to 6 inches. In other words, subtract six inches from whatever they tell you is the minimum clearance. Can your RV make it through the tunnel without losing an air conditioner or more?
And this is why I began the RV portion of the trip in Asheville, North Carolina going north. To avoid the short tunnels at the south end of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
For more information, check out How Tall Is Your RV? RV Clearance Tips
Other than tunnels, you might have some other height issues on your RV trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Many trees have low, overhanging branches that will inevitably scratch up your RV. Craggy Gardens in North Carolina was especially brutal on my RV paint.
On the trip in late September-early October 2019, I did not encounter any low hanging big branches that would take off an air conditioner. But I did encounter plenty that left scratches on the RV. And lots that left me cringing, hoping I didn’t lose an air conditioner, satellite, or antenna.
There are sections where I came to an almost crawl to make sure that I didn’t do any damage. It was still early enough in the fall that most of the trees still had a vast majority of their leaves, meaning I couldn’t see the size of many of the branches.
Fog and Adverse Weather on the Parkway
There was really only one day that we had to deal with bad weather, but what a doozy it was.
There were thunderstorm warnings for the area, so I met up with Dan to wait it out. But, of course, we didn’t see any rain where we were, just lots of thunder.
The problem was after that, when the fog came in.
The fog was patchy, meaning that some areas you had great visibility while in others your visibility was limited to just feet in front of you. Since this hit as the evening was rolling in, it made it even harder to travel.
We definitely learned why there are signs all over the Parkway urging you to avoid the Parkway when there was ice, snow, or fog.
This was a section of the Parkway that we had to call off before our planned end point. The problem then became where to meet. We weren’t far from each other at that point, since we were aware of the thunderstorms and were trying to keep pretty close just in case we needed to meet.
But when we made the decision to end because of the fog, there wasn’t a good place to pull over for the RV. I finally found an overlook that I could stop at, but that still meant that Dan needed to go through a long portion of the fog, in an area with a pretty big descent, to meet me.
Cellphones and GPS on the Parkway
Parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway are in cellphone dead zones, meaning limited or no access to mobile or WiFi reception. You cannot rely on Google Maps or other app and cellphone data based GPS systems.
Fortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway is pretty easy to navigate – just stay on course and go north or south. There aren’t turns that you need to make.
Except when you need to make stops. This is where you’ll want a good GPS system, so you can find gas in particular.
The Parkway doesn’t allow commercial vehicles on it. My Garmin GPS unit thought this meant that no RVs were allowed either. But despite what the GPS was telling me, RVs are definitely allowed on the Parkway.
But the cellphone dead zones can be a problem when you are trying to coordinate with a bicyclist or others along for the trip. We’d stop at overlooks for lunch, but couldn’t get cellphone coverage to look at maps to choose an afternoon spot to meet up at for a snack break and water refill stop.
Or when weather changes and you need to coordinate a pickup. The limited cellphone reception definitely became a problem then.
I highly recommend that you pickup one of the maps of the Parkway and a visitors guide at one of the first visitors centers on your route. They are worth their weight in gold (several times over) in areas with limited cellphone data reception.
Detours and Road Closures
Some times, the National Parks System has to close sections of the Parkway. This is often due to weather issues, like snow or ice. Or other temporary things like fallen rocks or tree limbs.
They also have to close roads for things like road construction and maintenance, which often happens in the summer.
On our trip in 2019, there was only one section closed – a six mile section near Roanoke, Virginia (milepost 106 to 112).
At visitors centers and other locations throughout the Parkway, there were signs with information on the closure and the detour that took you through Roanoke.
Current information about road closures is available on Real Time Road Closure Map.
When there are road closures, it is pretty obvious. There are barricades at the turnoffs that will be used to prevent you from continuing on. The biggest thing will be to find a suitable detour, as some of the closures could be in areas less urban than Roanoke which means curvy mountain roads to get off the Parkway.
Can You Drive an RV on the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Blue Ridge Parkway will put your skills as an RV driver to the test.
You’ve got mountain curves, climbs, and descents, combined with road hazards to contend with. Can you do it?
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More on traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway in an RV:
Cycling The Blue Ridge Parkway with RV Sag
I feel so sexist!! I read this entire account in a man’s voice!! Guess I wasn’t paying attention. Great info!! I’ve been on the tiniest little piece of the Pkwy, but I want to do the whole thing. We’ve got a Jeep Gladiator w/max tow pkg and a mini camper. I’d love to spend a whole trip’s worth of days exploring it.
All good. But it was most definitely a woman (me!) driving on that trip! My friend Dan was bicycling, but I was driving the RV. I definitely recommend the trip. It’s beautiful and with the speed limit plus all the stops, it’ll make you slow down and enjoy the trip. Enjoy!
Great description Kimberly. I have toured the parkway dozens of times but always on a motorcycle. As a new class A owner I had never considered the overhead clearance issues as it had never effected me. Thanks for the heads up