Developed Areas Along the Parkway

Virginia BRP Highlights Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway

Ridge Trail

Thunder Ridge Overlook,
Appalachian Trail



From a large parking area off the parkway at milepost 74.7, the Thunder Ridge Trail starts at the far right (northwest) side of the parking area.  A short trail leads from the parking area to one of the most impressive rock wall encircled vista spots along the whole parkway.  This overlook is actually along the famous 2180 mile Appalachian Trail. 

The views from the overlook include the Alleghenies in the distance, with Purgatory Mountain on the left. The dramatic views include Arnold Valley and the upper slopes of the 2450 acre Thunder Ridge Wilderness Area.  This overlook is missed by many visitors that are unaware of this classic Parkway leg stretcher.

The smallest of Virginia's Wildernesses, Thunder Ridge sits high on the northeastern slope of the Blue Ridge, separated from James River Face Wilderness by Forest Service Road 35. It's bordered on the south by the famous Blue Ridge Parkway ("America's most scenic drive"), which runs 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Elevations in this wilderness range from 1,320 feet on the northwest corner to 4,200 feet on Apple Orchard Mountain at the southern tip. Thunder Ridge dominates the center of the area, falling away sharply on the north slope and not as steep on the south. Up high, the vegetation is primarily mixed upland and cove hardwoods. In this wilderness you may see black bears and deer, squirrels and rabbits, raccoons and foxes, wild turkeys and grouse. The U.S. Forest Service says the area may harbor several endangered or threatened species.

The Appalachian Trail runs through the Wilderness for approximately six miles. It takes in Thunder Ridge Overlook and leaves the area briefly on the south to reenter the southern corner. A second trail, the 65 mile Glenwood Horse Trail, crosses a short piece of the northern section.

The trail starts at the farthest corner of the parking area and bears left past a picnic table.  Soon the white blazed Appalachian Trail comes in from the right to join the Thunder Ridge Trail.  Just beyond this junction, the stone wall encircled overlook offers spectacular views of Virginia's Great Valley.

An interpretive sign titled "SEEING IS BELIEVING" shows three photographs taken from this overlook that illustrates how air pollution is destroying the views.  From the view point you can either retrace your steps back to the parking area or finish the loop by following the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail through large boulders along the crest.  Just beyond the rocks, the Thunder Ridge Trail turns left along a hard to see trail.  This trail can easily be missed (from experience).

The trail takes you back to the parking area, first running along the drive and then ending at the southern end of the large parking area for a short 0.2 mile easy hike.  Another option is to start from Petites Gap, located at milepost 71, and hike south along the Appalachian Trail.  This will take you along the ridgeline of Thunder Ridge to the overlook after 3.3 miles of hiking.  This would be a 6.6 mile round trip hike.

Either way, don't miss this hidden gem and spectacular view while your exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This hike is featured in the hiking guide book Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway.


Thunder Ridge Overlook, located along the Appalachian Trail


Developed Areas Along the Parkway

Virginia BRP Highlights Blue Ridge Parkway

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