Everything you've ever heard about the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway is only made better with the turn of the seasons. October, with its cooler temperatures and lower humidity, ratchets up the vibrance of an already beautiful time of the year in western North Carolina.
Nestled comfortably between the towns of Blowing Rock and Linville, Julian Price Campground at milepost 297 cuddles up with Price Lake and makes for a great basecamp. Julian Price Memorial Park– 4,200 acres – was a gift to the National Parks Service (NPS) from the founder of the Jefferson Pilot Standard Life Insurance Company not long after his death in 1947. Combined with the adjacent Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, it encompasses the largest undeveloped area set aside for public exploration on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway.
O suns and skies and clouds of June, And flowers of June together, Ye cannot rival for one hour October’s bright blue weather; ~Helen Hunt Jackson
Maintained by the NPS, the Julian Price campground has 197 sites spread over 5 loops on both sides of the parkway. Loop A is on the 47-acre Price Lake and also contains 3 premier campsites – 9, 10 and 19. These three are lakefront with unobstructed views and lake access.
Hiking Trailheads from Julian Price Campground
Two excellent hikes trailhead within the Julian Price Campground boundaries. The easier of the two is the Price Lake loop which departs from loop A and continues 1.2 miles along a well-worn and mostly flat trail around the lake. The rolling Blue Ridge mountains and sparkling Price Lake are perfect backdrops for a relaxing picnic or sunset stroll.
Boone Fork Trail
Want to introduce your team to a longer trek? The Boone Fork Trail (BFT), a 5.5 mile loop starting in Julian Price Campground, would be an ideal candidate. The miles tick by surprisingly fast as the trail takes you through green tunnels of rhododendron, scrambles up and down house-sized boulders, and navigates a dozen or so water crossings – both big and small.
This moderate to strenuous trail is well-marked as it rambles through a variety of mountain ecosystems. Start the Boone Fork Trail clockwise from loop B which begins with a warm-you-up climb through tunnels of rhododendron before it hooks up with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for a ridge-line trace. Then start a long, slow descent through mountain laurels to the Boone Fork River. Keep a sharp eye out for snakes, and ears open for bear. While not required, a side arm of bear spray would not be a bad idea.
The gentle assent from the river bottom, accented by a few ladders, finishes in the swampy bog of an old lake bed before ending back at camp. If you leave around 8am, you'll easily finish in time for lunch either back at camp or at the streamside picnic area conveniently located near the finish line.
Blue Ridge Parkway Hikes
Linville Falls Trail
We're not sure any trip to the area would be complete without a hike to the impressive Linville Falls off the Blue Ridge Parkway, at MP 316, just ten pleasant mile markers away from the Julian Price Campground. If going on the weekend, be prepared for larger crowds and a full parking lot. Best advice is to go early to avoid both.
With an early arrival, get a map from the visitor center, and then take the moderate Erwins View Trail (1.6 mile RT) to the Upper Falls, stopping at four overlooks. The stunning views are worth the effort.
A little secret for a quieter, but more challenging hike is to look for the unassuming Linville Gorge Trailhead (1.5 mile RT) to the left of the visitor center. This steep, rocky trail will take you and your fellow hikers to the base of the gorgeous falls - Linville Gorge. For an additional viewpoint on your return hike, take the fork to the Plunge Basin Overlook (1 mile RT from visitor center).
Rough Ridge Trail
Summit hikes are always welcome and seem to satisfy our sense of accomplishment in a way that some other destinations fall a little short. At MP 302 .8, Rough Ridge - while not a tremendously long hike at <2 miles round trip – has all the features to give new and seasoned hikers alike a taste of the Blue Ridge at its best.
A small child friendly version of the climb is just a third of a mile up from the parking area and includes a bridge crossing, rhododendron tunnels and some scrambles before finishing at a beautifully decked overlook of the not so distant Linn Cove Viaduct. If you are clever with your angles, you can take some pretty impressive shots. But do mind the fragile ecosystem and stay on the trail.
If you are up for the challenge, then continue up another 1/2- mile to the Rough Ridge Summit which sits at a respectable 4,775 ft. The 180-degree views from the huge boulders at the top are worth the effort.
Like so many popular hikes, you'd be doing yourself a favor to arrive before 10am for parking. Only a dozen or so spaces accommodate this popular hike. Take extra care if the trail is wet as a number of scrambles take you over slick rocks.
Please: No pets allowed on this trail due to the critical and fragile plant community.
Hikes Near Blue Ridge Parkway
Crab Orchard Falls
With an unusual start behind the Valle Crucis Conference Center and Episcopal Church, this fun 1-mile round trip hike has as its midpoint the multi-tiered Crab Orchard Falls. Cooling off in the swimming hole and bouldering are good past times at this location.
A gentle climb from the limited space parking lot gradually gives way to a short but calf-stretching pitch before again descending to the base of the falls. A few benches are thankfully positioned at the center peak to rest after the climbs in and out.
Pull into the Valle Crucis Conference Center and stay left to park in designated waterfall parking spots. No rest rooms available here. Remember "Leave No Trace" and pack your trash out.
Otter Falls Trail
If you find yourselves near Banner Elk, head on over to the Otter Falls Trail for a quick but beautiful one mile hike. Rated by most as moderate in difficulty, the Otter Falls Trail begins as a mild-mannered dip into a small hollow then finishes at an Instagram inspiring falls and swimming hole. The brave and agile ones will find their way in behind the cascading waterfalls or boulder up and down this enchanting stop. The timid can still enjoy the view on a generous observation deck down a few flights of well-maintained stairs.
Be careful not to get too complacent on the hike in and out. While a good bit of the hike is well worn due to its popularity (especially on weekends), there are a number of uneven rocky areas and exposed roots that could easily make for a less than pleasant hike out. While you might not easily get lost in the woods, it might be a good idea to take a snapshot of the map at the trailhead as the way is not well marked.
Leashed dogs welcome. No restroom. Pack your trash out.
Blue Ridge Parkway Attractions
The Historic Orchard at Alta Pass
You could easily blaze by milepost 328 on Blue Ridge Parkway, but you'd be sad if you missed the Historic Orchard at Alta Pass. Rich in history, this locally owned-and-operated apple orchard is one part museum, one part music venue, and just a little touristy. Don't be scared off by the locals who frequent the Saturday live music and dancing. They are a welcoming bunch who can teach you a thing or two about cutting a rug.
If your party is large enough, arrange a story-telling hayride with The Historic Orchard at Alta Pass co-founder Bill Carson. Along the 45-minute tractor pull, he'll tell you some of the history of the place and how it fit into a key Revolutionary War battle.
Moses Cone Memorial Park
If you are a fan of turn-of-the-century tycoon estates, then put Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 294 and theMoses Cone Memorial Parkon your short list -- the summer manor house of textile entrepreneur, philanthropist, and conservationist Moses H. Cone. Now run by the National Parks Service, the 14,000 sq ft 'Flat Top Manor' has seasonal ranger-led programs and self-guided tours accented by friendly and knowledgeable docents.
Twenty-five miles of hiking and bridle paths also wind themselves along the 3,500 hillside acreage.
Valle Crucis Mast General Store
A little off the beaten path, but well-worth the effort is a visit to the Mast General Store Annex in Valle Crucis. An old-fashioned candy shop, there is an entire room on the first floor with baskets full of all sorts of confectionary goodness and walls lined with a whole manner of tchotchke, knick-knacks, and curiosities. Give your kids (and yourself) a bucket and a weight limit, and let them go to town.
Bears frequent the area. Do not leave out food or hang trash from lantern posts; lock car doors. Loop A located on Price Lake. Loop C has old bathrooms - dingy and small. No handsoap. Need lantern or headlamps at night. Brand-new bathrooms in Loop D + hot showers.
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