This route is brought to you by Molly Cobbs, one of our 2022 Route Ambassadors and gravel enthusiast from Sharpsburg, MD
Photo Credits: Molly Cobbs
Enjoy a fast, curvy, and scenic descent off of the highest point of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia!
There are gorgeous views all along Petites Gap and Parker's Gap roads. Expect to see roadside springs, waterfalls, and clear bubbling creeks, lush mossy crevices and rock overhangs, lichen-covered trees that glow in the sunlight, and a variety of seeps and ferns along roadcuts. (Rhododendron thickets bloom in late June!)
Parker's Gap gravel is dreamy!! The road is packed, smooth, and fairly consistent (no major potholes, ruts, etc.). The climb up this road is challenging and rewards you with a sense of accomplishment and amazing views.
Restrooms and potable water are available SEASONALLY at the US Forest Service-managed Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area which is 15 miles into the route ($2 entry fee).
There are no other amenities or services available on this route, so plan to carry all the food and water you will need.
(There are perennial streams and natural springs for filtering water along much of Petites Gap and Parker's Gap roads.)
You'll need to stay alert to traffic and drivers distracted by scenic views while on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Do this ride if you want iconic Blue Ridge Mountains scenery with a challenging, but rewarding, climb to the finish!
You can park at the Apple Orchard Falls Trailhead area, where there is a small parking lot. There are no bathrooms here.
The National Park Service operates a small visitor center and country store with restrooms 7.5 miles "south" of the start of the ride at the intersection of VA Route 43 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. NOTE: This visitor's center is rarely open and bathrooms are often locked. Restrooms may be available at the nearby Sharp Top Mountain Trailhead.
From the recommended parking area, the route starts on a gravel road paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a particularly cool way to start - you're above the parkway in a stunning grove of the gnarled, lichen-covered red oaks that give the mountain its "Apple Orchard" name. This road is open to the public on foot/bikes/horses, expect to ride around one gate marked "no motorized vehicles." The first section of gravel ends at an intersection with a closed road, turn right onto the tarmac towards the Blue Ridge Parkway. (The closed road leads to an historic Cold War-era early warning station. It looks like a giant white golf ball on top of the mountain. The site is now managed by the Federal Aviation Administration as a long-range radar site for tracking commercial aircraft. Read more here.)
Petites Gap road is a mix of packed gravel and exposed bedrock. Watch for some washboarded sections as well as traffic on corners - this road accesses many popular trailheads.
The well-signed "Thunder Ridge Parking Area" is worth a short detour (0.2 mile roundtrip) and a two-minute walk to enjoy stunning views, including a glimpse of the road you'll soon be climbing!
I highly recommend riding this route in early spring (March-April), and late fall (October-November). With no foliage on the trees, the views are spectacular for most of the ride! Although temperatures are noticeably cooler along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the summer months, fully leafed-out trees block much of the fabulous views. However, the rhododendron thickets along Petites Gap and Parker's Gap roads are impressive and will be stunning in bloom in late June.
If you are looking for pre/post ride food, check out The Peaks of Otter Lodge and Restaurant. It is s 7.3 miles "south" of the start of the ride (towards Roanoke, VA). The restaurant is only open seasonally, so call ahead.
Molly grew up in central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and started mountain biking in high school. In college, she fell in love with endurance sports, outdoor adventure, and the American west. Ultimately, a lifestyle of adventure and endurance pursuits defined her 15+ years of living all over the west and in Alaska.
In 2018, Molly moved back east to be closer to her family and her roots. Exploring mid-Atlantic gravel has been essential to cultivating her “sense of place” on the East Coast and rekindling the adventurous spirit of her wild western days.
Her coolest adventure?
An 8-day ski traverse of Denali National Park supported by dogsled team.
Her proudest accomplishment?
Finishing the Coeur d’Alene Ironman (her first Ironman) in well under 14 hours.
Her next goal?
Finishing strong at the 2022 Gravel Race up Spruce Knob in West Virginia.
Her day job?
U.S. Forest Service - Molly has worked in Federal land management for more than 20 years.
Ice cream, puppies, naps, and funky “free!” finds on the side of the road.