Pull Up a Tent: Camp on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Fall camping on Price Lake Blue Ridge Parkway, Blowing Rock, NC.Misty day on Price Lake, near shoreline campsites.

Price Park Campground, the Parkway's largest, is memorable in autumn for rustling, colorful views, and in summertime, for misty silences broken by the call of waterfowl. The lakeshore A Loop, shown in the top photo, and on the right in the bottom shot, is the quintessential place to enjoy it. Photos by Randy Johnson.

Camping is one of the great national park adventures. That goes double for visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I count myself fortunate to live near the high road, and recently, I rediscovered why camping is a not-to-be-missed part of a Blue Ridge Parkway vacation. I live in the High Country near Boone and Blowing Rock, NC—in part because the area is my favorite part of the Parkway! One weekend last fall, I set up a tent at Price Park Campground, and slipped into an unseen part of the Parkway experience.

At least it can be unseen for folks who live near the Parkway. We can hop on and off the beautiful road as we zip between work and wherever. Eventually, some see the Parkway as part of "our area," integrated with the restaurants and resorts, shops and supermarkets, communities and colleges that flank the Parkway for some of its 469 miles.

My Chance to Hit the "Reset Button"

But pull into a Parkway campground, and you step out of "your area" and into a very separate and satisfying experience. Last fall when I set up my tent, I somehow lost my local ties. I became part of an informal community of travelers flowing by on a mountain crest with only their cohorts for company. It's difficult to explain because, living near the Parkway—or any national park one might reside near—makes it "yours" in a way that is well worth breaking out of!

When I stepped out of my tent the next morning, my new neighbors were the people walking by from nearby campsites, smiling in the wood-smoke scented air. This was no longer "my park," it was ours. I confess, I felt a twinge of guilt. The previous evening, I'd had the nerve to wish for an emptier campground, to wonder, "who are all these people and why are they here?" By the time I was cooking breakfast, I knew why they were here and I was glad of it. These were my fellow Americans, all us sharing a special place and a rare sense of community.

Most importantly—Price Park Campground had morphed into a single spot in a region that was again mysterious to me. If only briefly, I was back in a vast range of storied summits that erased my everyday understanding of what lay just off the road.

The experience was magical. It reminded me of long ago when I knew nothing about the people and places just beyond the misty forests. Back then, and luckily, even now, the Parkway is an insulated, isolated ribbon through the Appalachian region. It's a definite step outside the everyday reality of most Americans. Thanks to the Parkway's campgrounds, a trip on this long linear park can go on every day—for days and days on end.

Ready When You Are

On average, the Parkway’s nine campgrounds offer a chance to set up a tent or park your RV every 43 miles. The great thing is, if you hike and explore, you really could camp at all nine locations.

The Parkway's 712 tent sites and 337 RV sites range from “lowish” elevations (800 feet at Otter Creek in Virginia), to cool and lofty (five are between 3000 and 4000 feet), to downright way up there (at 5000 feet, Mount Pisgah is just shy of a mile high).

Parkway campgrounds have no electrical hook-ups for RVs—but they’re otherwise comfortable and provide water, restrooms, firewood for sale, and trailer dumping stations. Each site has a fireplace and picnic table. Most campgrounds offer interpretive talks by rangers at campground amphitheaters and a camp store is available at Peaks of Otter, Doughton Park, Crabtree Meadows, and Mount Pisgah. Seven offer picnic areas, four have a visitor center. Each campground has a handicapped accessible site.

Here's a longtime Parkway traveler's look at the campgrounds that line the long and winding way, from Shenandoah National Park in the north, to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. There are facts and figures below, but I also hope you find insights that recommend these camping grounds to adventurers looking for the best of the Blue Ridge.

Otter Creek Campground (Milepost 60.8)

If you’re cold natured, camping at the Parkway’s lowest elevation campground—777 feet—may be for you. Otter Creek has 42 tent and 26 trailer sites, and a nearby restaurant. Perhaps best of all, a number of sites flank rippling Otter Creek.

Peaks of Otter Campground (Milepost 85.9)

Tucked onto the slopes of Sharp Top, this campground has 90 tent and 53 trailer sites and a camp store at 2,875 feet. Peaks of Otter Lodge and restaurant aren’t far away—nicely walkable on the campgrounds "transportation" trails.

Roanoke Mountain Campground (Milepost 120.4)

Located on the Mill Mountain Spur Road, Roanoke Mountain’s 74 tent sites and 31 trailer sites include some designed for barrier free accessibility. There’s a 200-person capacity campfire circle and absurdly easy access to downtown Roanoke for dining and fun. This Parkway campground is woodsy—but you can be eating sushi in the city in 10 minutes. Perhaps sadly, a proposal in the new management plan process for the Parkway would turn this campground into a day use area—so camp here while you can! It's the most lightly used campground on the Parkway, in part because it and Roanoke are well below 2,000 feet, hence warmer in summer.

Rocky Knob Campground (Milepost 169)

With 81 tent sites and 28 trailer sites, this campground also features a 150-person capacity campfire circle.

Doughton Park Campground (Milepost 239.2)

There are 110 campsites west of the Parkway, 25 trailer sites to the east, restrooms, a 250-person capacity campfire circle, and camp store. Nearby is Bluffs Lodge and Doughton Park’s restaurant (but neither will be open this summer).

Price Park Campground (Milepost 296.9)

The Parkway’s largest campground offers 129 tent sites, some directly on the shore of Price Lake. This is a perfect “golden pond” camping experience if you can get a shoreline site. There are also 68 RV sites and an amphitheater.

Linville Falls Campground (Milepost 316.4)

This is the Parkway’s only campground that offers group camping. There are 55 tent and small R/V sites; 15 large R/V sites, and a 150-person capacity campfire circle.

Crabtree Meadows Campground (Milepost 339.5)

This campground’s 71 tent and small RV sites and 22 large RV sites are not far from the Crabtree Meadows Snack Bar and camp store. There’s also a 300-person capacity amphitheater. The trail to Crabtree Falls, one of the Parkway's best cascades, starts in the campground.

Mount Mitchell (Milepost 355.3)

Mount Mitchell, the East's highest peak, is not on the Parkway but it's auto-accessible tent campground is only reachable from the Parkway. Mount Mitchell State Park has the East's loftiest campground at 6,400 feet—so bring warm clothes!

Mount Pisgah Campground (Milepost 408.8)

Nearly a mile high, Mount Pisgah’s 70 tent sites and 70 trailer sites offer some of the coolest summer campsites on the Parkway. This is also the only Parkway campground with showers (go figure!) Inquire at check-in for that loop. There’s a 100-person capacity amphitheater, camp store, plus the Mount Pisgah Inn and restaurant just across the road. This is the best restaurant located in a Parkway facility.

The Nuts and Bolts

All Parkway campsites are available on a first come, first served basis—except at Doughton Park, Julian Price, Linville Falls, and Mount Pisgah, where you can reserve a site in advance on the Internet or by phone: 877-444 6777. Reserved sites are $19 versus the $16 usually charged.

Fires are permitted only in designated fireplaces at campgrounds and picnic areas using firewood purchased from the campstore, dead and down wood gathered within 100 yards of campgrounds and picnic areas, or your own charcoal. Regulations ban bringing your own firewood from some states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and New York—to limit the possibility of insect infestations. Gas stoves and grills are permitted.

Miscellaneous campground strictures include the prohibition of all skateboards, roller skates, and other “coasting devices,” the requirment to remove tow vehicle side mirrors when not towing, restriction of campsites to six people in one family or group, and maintaining quiet times between 10 pm and 6 am. See the Parkway Web site for more specifics.

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