07 Nov Best Spots To Car Camp On The Blue Ridge Parkway
Over the last few years, my style of camping has definitely changed and I have embraced the luxury of having some more creature comforts when camping. I still do a lot of backpacking, but I really enjoy car camping more than ever. I think because I enjoy cooking and grilling outdoors, car camping just offers a different experience. I can pack more food, more cooking gear and prepare bigger dinners!
I’m not the only one who thinks this way, the rise in car camping has sky-rocketed over the last several years and with good reason. The gear is better and less expensive, it’s more readily available and we all thirst to get outside even if we are not super adventurous. hence, car camping is a great middle ground to enjoy the outdoor and still have a few comforts of home.
Just look at this fact, every year 1 million new families in the U.S. start camping, so you can see the rise not just in car camping, but all sorts of tent camping, backpacking, etc. is on a massive rise.
Do you need a few amazing car camping destinations?
I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen roads used as metaphors for life. It’s a bit of a cliché, I know, but there’s a truth to it I can’t seem to resist. Every road has a beginning and an end, just like life. And just like life, the experiences along the way are so much more important than the final destination.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of my favorite roads. It snakes through the heart of the Appalachian Mountains like a ribbon of asphalt, surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever had the pleasure of resting my eyes on.
It’s the sort of road you take when you’re not in a hurry, and the destination doesn’t matter a lick. Stretching 469 miles through 29 Virginia and North Carolina Counties, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a seemingly endless array of hiking trails, picnic areas, scenic overlooks and historic sites.
Take your time. Soak it all in. The speed limit on this thing is never higher than 45 mph, so you don’t really have much choice. You’ll want to stay the night at least a couple times along the way.
Six Of Our Favorite Spots To Car Camp Along The Blue Ridge Parkway:
These six campgrounds—listed here from north to south, for the sake of simplicity—are the best and most scenic spots to car camp along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Each of them has sites for tents as well as RVs (but no hookups, just so you’re aware) and they all have sites that are available both by reservation and on a first-come, first-served basis.
Nestled beneath a canopy of shade trees and surrounded by three of Virginia’s most picturesque mountains, Peaks of Otter Campground is easily one of the most beautiful campgrounds on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The area is steeped in history as well.
The Peaks of Otter once marked the northern margin of the Cherokee Nation, and its sweeping beauty made it a tourist destination by the late 1800s. Johnson Farm, the last remnant of the thriving community once located here, is within walking distance of the campground, and strolling through this living history farm feels like stepping back in time.
The campground itself sits in the bowl-like valley between the Peaks of Otter—Sharp Top Mountain, Flat Top Mountain and Harkening Hill—and the surrounding woods are honeycombed with hiking trails. The 3.5-mile Harkening Hill loop trail offers a particularly spectacular view. Abbott Lake is another major attraction at Peaks of Otter, and a short, easy hiking trail encircles the entire 24-acre lake. You’ll find 86 tent sites and 58 RV sites at Peaks of Otter Campground, each appointed with a picnic table, campfire ring and lantern pole. Flush toilets, potable water and a dump station are available on-site.
The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway surrounding Rocky Knob Campground is characterized by rolling mountain meadowlands and forests, giving it a remote, almost otherworldly atmosphere. It’s simply stunning on a foggy morning.
Choose among 81 tent sites and 28 RV sites, all with access to restrooms, a dumping station and a group campfire circle. Mabry Mill, an original sawmill and grist mill dating back to 1905, is just a short walk from the campground, and the National Park Service often hosts interpretive demonstrations and events here. While you’re staying at the Rocky Knob Campground, be sure to take in the view from Rock Castle Gorge Overlook, where on a clear day you can spot 15 distinct peaks of the Blue Ridge.
If you’re in the mood for more of an adventure, this is also a great place to hop on the Rock Castle Gorge Trail, a 10.5-mile loop that’s accessible from the overlook. The trail takes you on a rollercoaster of strenuous climbs and descents through densely wooded ridges and valleys. Keep an eye out for the old lean-to shelter along the trail; it was once used by Appalachian Trail hikers until the A.T. was rerouted in the 1950s.
One of the largest and most popular campgrounds on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Doughton Park Campground is known for its expansive scenery, with broad mountain meadows and abundant wildlife. Doughton Park is also a particularly great stop for anyone interested in doing some serious hiking.
More than 30 miles of trails crisscross the area surrounding the campground. Hit the Fodder Stack Trail if you’re looking for a short, easy hike, or tackle the more challenging 7.5-mile Bluff Mountain Trail to get your heart rate up and catch some grand mountain views. The campground offers 110 tent sites, 25 RV sites, restrooms and a campfire circle.
There’s a lot of history here, too. Doughton Park was the first designated campground to be built along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and many of its buildings and amenities were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps at the tail-end of the 1930s. Nearby Basin Cove is also a popular spot for fly-fishing and backcountry camping. The best seasons to visit are late spring, when the meadows around Doughton Park Campground burst to life in blooming wildflowers, and mid-fall, when the changing leaves paint the mountains a brilliant shade of orange.
With dense forests, rolling mountains, tumbling waterfalls and picturesque mountain streams, Julian Price Memorial Park is essentially a 4,200-acre outdoor playground. The park is also home to Price Lake, a popular spot for fishing and kayaking.
The campground at Julian Price Memorial Park has 119 tent sites and 78 RV sites—more than any other Blue Ridge Parkway campground—with modern restroom facilities. For anyone looking for something more remote, primitive backcountry camping is permitted at Johns River Road, and you can get a free backcountry permit at the Julian Price Campground office.
There is no shortage of hiking opportunities in the area. Julian Price Park is nestled at the foot of Grandfather Mountain, whose rugged 5,946-foot summit is the tallest on the eastern escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 13.5-mile Tanawha Trail, one of the most beautiful footpaths along the Parkway, snakes over the mountain’s shoulder through dense hemlock, white pine, and oak forests. To reach the summit, take the 5.9-mile Grandfather Trail in neighboring Grandfather Mountain State Park.
Linville Falls is a special place. Tumbling over a rocky escarpment into a deep gorge, it could very well be the most photographed waterfall in North Carolina. The Linville River starts as a mere trickle on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain before reaching the tumultuous falls.
And from there it cascades through the spectacular Linville Gorge—I’ve heard it called the “Grand Canyon of the East”—which was also our nation’s very first officially-designated wilderness area. Rare virgin stands of hemlock and oak overlook the falls and line the hiking trail that leads to it from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
All of this is just footsteps from the Linville Falls Campground, a true gem along the Parkway. It’s not the largest campground (50 campsites for tents, 20 for RVs) but it is one of the more developed. There are hot showers, a camp store with laundry facilities, and a Visitors Center with all the information you need to start exploring the area. Try to plan your visit in May or early June if you can; the campground is surrounded by thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron, and you might just catch them in full bloom.
Mount Pisgah Campground is the southernmost campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and also the highest. Perched right around 5,000 feet, the campground is shaded by mature hardwoods and offers a welcome mountain respite for weary travelers.
You can take your pick among 64 tent sites and 62 RV sites, all of them spacious and furnished with picnic tables and campfire rings. There’s a great camp store here that sells all the basics. If you’ve driven the whole parkway, you’ll probably jump at the opportunity to have a good meal at the Mount Pisgah Inn and Restaurant, just up the road from the campground.
Once you get this far south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the scenery begins to change. The vistas seem grander and mountains grow taller as you head toward the parkway’s southern terminus in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the difference between the Blue Ridge and the Smokies is largely a colloquial one; I don’t have time to get into it here). In any event, there are some really spectacular hikes near the Mount Pisgah Campground, particularly the Frying Pan Trail, which takes you on a 1.7-mile ascent to the fire tower atop Frying Pan Mountain. If you’re looking for a longer hike, try the 16.3-mile Shut-In Trail.
The Editorial Staff at Tech Writer EDC is a team of outdoor and adventure enthusiasts led by Blair Witkowski. This passionate and dynamic group is made up of several folks who strive to bring awesome stories and gear reviews to life. They bring forth a love of writing, combined with the desire to enjoy the outdoors.