Blue Ridge Parkway: Opening for business

Good times around the campfire, such as this one last year at Price Park, will resume soon along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I’ve been spending a lot of time along the Blue Ridge Parkway of late, exploring the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I’d be spending even more time if the Parkway facilities, specifically the campgrounds, were open. Which they soon will be.

The National Park Service has announced 2012 opening dates for their seasonal facilities along the Parkway. I’m finding them useful for trip planning, figured you might, too. Here are some key locations for the pedestrian explorer, when they open and some thoughts for how these locations might play into your plans. For locations, go here for a Parkway map.

Campgrounds

Doughton Park, MP 240. May 11-Oct. 28. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs through Doughton Park as well, piggybacking on the Bluff Mountain Trail.

Hiking around Price Lake is good, so is paddling the mountain lake.

For the most part, this trail explores high mountain meadows offering great views. A spur trail to Wildcat Rock offers a great view way down into Basin Cove and a tiny, one-room cabin where the Caudill clan once lived. Four trails provide access to Basin Cove: Cedar Ridge, Bluff Mountain Primitive Trail (the shortest and steepest), Grassy Gap (the most mellow) and Flat Top Ridge. Several days of great hiking.

Julian Price Park, MP 297. May 11-Oct. 28. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail runs through the park. Take it south for hikes through mountain meadows past Holloway Mountain Road, go north for rugged hiking along (and in) Bee Creek and the larger Boone Fork. Also a nice loop trail around Price Lake and boat rentals weekends starting April 7 and 8, then daily May 1-Sept. 30, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Linville Falls, MP 316. Opens April 2, closes Oct. 28. Great base camp for exploring nearby Linville Gorge. Short trails out of the Linville Falls Visitor

The Mountains-to-Sea Trail, westbound from Mt. Pisgah.

Center (open April 27-Nov. 4) explore towering hemlock forests and the impressive Linville Falls, various trails off the Kistler Memorial Highway drop into the rugged gorge where you can hike the 13-mile Linville Gorge Trail and take the footbridge across the river to Table Mountain, The Chimney and Shortoff Mountain. This is a Wilderness Area; advanced wayfinding skills required.

Crabtree Meadows, MP 340. May 11-Oct. 28. The Crabtree Falls Trail is a nice hike, especially for a family (not too long at 2.5 miles and a great waterfall as a carrot). Plus, the campground is a 15-minute drive from Mountain Mitchell State Park and the Black Mountains. The crest of the Blacks, part of which is in the park, is the highest hiking on the East Coast with elevations generally above 6,000 feet, topping out at 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell. Hiking here is alpine and rocky, a much different experience than you’ll find elsewhere in the South.

After a day exploring Linville Gorge, it's a short drive to camp at the Linville Falls Campground.

Mt. Pisgah, MP 408. At nearly 5,000 feet, this is the highest campground along the Parkway. (Biggest benefit: Cool nights for sleeping are almost assured.) Again, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail comes through Pisgah and continues west along the Parkway, where you’ll find some of the best hiking in the state at Graveyard Fields and the Shining Rock and Middle Prong wildernesses. Also some of the most exposed hiking in the state.

Campsites are $16 a night, reservations can be made at RECREATION.gov or by calling 877.444.6777.

Note to cyclists: Note the spacing of Doughton Park, Julian Price, Linville Falls and Crabtree Meadows: respectively, they are 57, 19, and 24 miles apart. Their proximity could make for a good self-supported bike trip, especially for the newby. That first day, from Doughton Park to Julian Price Park, is long, but doesn’t have the climbing you’ll find farther south. Plus, if you’re of a mind you can supplement days two and three with side trips off the Parkway.

Other key facilities

These facilities can offer shelter, sustenance and diversion along the way.

Visitor centers

Linn Cove, MP 304. April 27-May 26, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m.; May 27-Nov. 4, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Linville Falls, MP 316. April 27-May 26, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m.; May 27-Nov. 4, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Gateway to Linville Gorge, with good selection of maps and guide books.

Craggy Gardens, MP 364.5. Weekends starting April 7 and 8, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; daily April 23-Nov. 4.

Folk Art Center, MP 382, open year-round. Featuring work from artisans and craftfolk from throughout the region. Plan to spend some time.

Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, MP 384. Open year-round.

Waterrock Knob, MP 451. April 27-Nov. 4, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Concessions

Northwest Trading Post Gift and Craft Shop, MP 258.8. May 1-Oct. 31, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Crabtree Falls, MP 339, May 1–Oct. 31, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Wifi!

Pisgah Inn, Restaurant, Gift Shop & Country Store, MP 408.6. Open through Nov. 4.

Note: The Bluffs Restaurant and Coffee Shop in Doughton Park is closed for 2012.

More info

For additional insight on exploring the areas and trails mentioned, check out “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina” and “Backpacking North Carolina.”

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