SEP 28 2023    
Camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway During Fall Leaf Season
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Camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway During Fall Leaf Season

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The Blue Ridge Mountains have one of the world's longest and most colorful fall seasons. The mountains are gorgeous any time of year, but when the rolling terrain turns into an explosion of fall colors in October, they are absolutely jaw-dropping. 

Leaves begin changing at the highest elevations first, usually near the beginning of October but sometimes as early as late September. The colors spread down the mountainsides into the deepest valleys in the days leading up to Halloween. The landscape reaches peak color around the middle of the month. However, the exact peak is difficult to predict and varies yearly.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best places to experience the mountain’s autumn colors. Known for its scenic beauty, this National Parkway is the country’s longest linear park. It meanders for 469 miles through 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina and connects Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park. 

Camping Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Camping is one of the best ways to experience the Parkway, especially in October. The cooler weather is perfect for sleeping outdoors and makes for ideal hiking weather. Wooded campgrounds decked out in all their autumn splendor make for stunning sunup to sundown experiences. 

October is prime time along the Parkway, with thousands of sightseers traveling the Parkway to see the mountains draped in color. You should book overnight accommodations well in advance of the season. 

There are eight developed campgrounds on the Parkway. However, some fantastic camping opportunities are also on state and federal lands near the Parkway. 

While some Parkway campsites are only available on a first-come, first-served basis, many can be reserved up to six months in advance. 

Each campground offers potable water, comfort stations with flush toilets and sinks, and a dump station for recreational vehicles. Julian Price and Mount Pisgah are the only Parkway campgrounds that offer hot showers. 

If you want slightly less rugged accommodations, several privately owned campgrounds near the Parkway offer amenities like laundry facilities and water and electric hookups. 

Otter Creek Campground

At milepost 60.8 near Bedford, Virginia, Otter Creek Campground is located at the lowest spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It sits at only 649 feet above sea level, where Otter Creek descends to meet the James River. 

While the views from this quiet campground would never be classified as glorious mountaintop vistas, the area has warmer temperatures and plenty of water, making it a haven for plant and animal communities to thrive in ways unlike anywhere else on the Parkway. 

Visitors can enjoy a relatively easy three ½-mile hike along the creek from the campground to the James River Visitor Center, where they can view several historic and restored canal locks.  

The campground features 45 tent-only sites and 23 RV sites without electrical hookups. 

Peaks of Otter Campground

Sharp Top, Harkening Hill, and Flat Top are the three summits that form the Peaks of Otter, and this campground offers views and access to all three. Nestled near the base of Sharp Top Mountain (which historically marked the northernmost boundary of the Cherokee Nation) at milepost 85.9, Peaks of Otter Campground 11 miles north of Bedford, Virginia, visitors can enjoy stunning mountain views. 

The campground also has access to nearby Abbott Lake. Well-stocked with smallmouth bass and bluegill, this manmade lake provides ample angling opportunities. Other nearby attractions include Polly Wood’s Ordinary, a preserved cabin that lodged early tourists to the area, and Johnson Farm, a living history farm that predates the Parkway.

Peaks of Otter Campground features 88 tent-only sites and 51 RV-only sites, although no electrical hookups exist. 

Rocky Knob Campground

Located within the Rocky Knob Recreational Area at milepost 167.1 near Floyd, Virginia, Rocky Knob Campground is surrounded by 4,000 acres of lush forests, making it the perfect spot for enjoying colorful fall leaves. 

The campground also offers convenient access to the Rock Castle Gorge Trail. The 10.8-mile loop is a challenging hike, ranging in elevation from 1,700 feet to 3.572 feet above sea level, but the views are well worth the effort. 

The relatively small campground hosts 25 tent-only sites and 27 RV-only spots, making it an excellent option for campers who want to avoid seasonal crowds.  

Doughton Park Campground

Located near Traphill, North Carolina, at milepost 239.2, Doughton Park Campground is one of the Parkway’s larger campgrounds. The campground has 75 tent-only sites and 24 spots for RV camping. Although the campground has seasonal restrooms and a dump station, none of the sites have electrical hookups. 

The Doughton Park area has 7,000 acres of forested slopes, open meadows, and more than 30 miles of hiking trails. It is also one of the best spots on the Parkway to see whitetail deer, red foxes, and even the occasional bobcat.  

Visitors to the campground can also visit the historic Brinegar Cabin, which hosts cultural demonstrations on the weekends during the summer and early fall. Doughton Park also throws outdoor mountain music concerts that showcase traditional music from the region. 

Julian Price Campground

Julian Post Campground is situated at North Carolina’s milepost 297 at the base of Grandfather Mountain near Blowing Rock. The campground sits on the shores of gorgeous Price Lake. This pristine 47-acre lake sits against a backdrop of rolling mountains, which makes the fall views of orange and red foliage particularly striking from this vantage point. 

The Parkway’s largest campground, Julian Price features 90 tent campsites and 73 spots for RV camping. Five of the campsites are wheelchair-accessible. The campground also has comfort stations with flush toilets and hot showers. 

I highly recommend snagging a site on Julian Price’s A-Loop. Not only are these sites farther from the busy traffic of the Parkway, but they are also closest to Price Lake and the breathtaking autumn scenery you can enjoy from its banks. 

Bring a kayak or canoe (or rent one from the Park) and float out onto Price Lake to really experience the peace of this gorgeous mountain setting. 

Linville Falls Campground

Linville Falls Campground at North Carolina milepost 316.4 in Burke County has 33 campsites, 14 for tent camping and 19 for RV camping. It is only a short drive from the campground to scenic waterfall overviews of Linville Falls and Duggers Creek Falls. 

The campground is also near a trailhead that takes hikers into Linville Gorge, a designated Wilderness Area with over 11,000 acres of thick forests and rolling mountain views. The Gorge surrounds the Linville River, which flows 1,400 feet below the rim. Linville Gorge is often called “The Grand Canyon of North Carolina,” and when the trees put on their autumn colors, this photo-worthy mini-canyon is a sight to behold. 

Crabtree Falls Campground

If you want to get away from autumn’s bustling seasonal crowds, camping at Crabtree Falls Campground is a solid strategy. Hidden away at milepost 339.5 near Micaville, North Carolina, this peaceful little gem has 84 sites open from mid-May through the end of October. RVs are welcome, and while there is a dump station and potable water, there are no electric or water hookups. 

The campground provides easy access to the Crabtree Falls hiking trail. It is a moderate to strenuous hike that is steep in some places. However, the views of the falls are well worth the effort to get there, especially in the fall. 

Mount Pisgah Campground

The last campground on the Parkway headed south, Mount Pisgah Campground, is situated just off milepost 408.8, about 40 minutes southwest of Asheville, North Carolina. The campground is located at 4,939 feet above sea level with a total of 128 campsites, with 61 sites able to accommodate trailers and RVs up to 100 feet. 

Blanketed in orange, yellow, and red hues, views of Mount Pisgah and the surrounding mountains are jaw-droppingly gorgeous when the fall foliage peaks in mid-October. The elevation makes for chilly temperatures, so bring plenty of warm clothes. However, the crisp autumn air also makes for crystal clear skies and great opportunities for stargazing. 

Backcountry Camping

If you want to escape it all, you can load your camping supplies on your back and head into the backcountry for some dispersed camping. Pitching a tent deep in the woods is a fantastic way to experience the cooler weather and brilliant fall scenery. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway has several great access points for off-grid campers. One of the Parkway’s more rugged areas is Rocky Knob at milepost 167 in Virginia. While there is an established campground at milepost 167, there are also eight primitive campsites in Rock Castle Gorge. 

Another primitive camping area, called Johns River Road, is located near Julian Price Park. Backcountry camping is only allowed at designated sites. Permits are required and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Best Fall Views on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Although camping among colorful fall leaves is quite an experience, you'll need to get away from camp to get the best views of fall foliage in the mountains. Here are some tips for making the most of your fall Blue Ridge Parkway experience. 

  1. Travel the Parkway. Because the trees at different elevations change colors at different times, one way to ensure you see a wide range of colors is to drive a more extended section of the Parkway. The Parkway’s elevation changes dramatically, from 650 feet at James River in Virginia to over 6,000 feet above sea level at Richland Balsam in North Carolina. Traveling a long section of the Parkway will take you through dips and hollows and help you see all the varying shades of colt. Take advantage of scenic overlooks along the way. 
  2. Get High. Higher points and scenic overlooks provide long-range views of the mountains decked out in fall color. I highly recommend visiting Mount Mitchell State Park. You can access the park at the Parkway’s milepost 355 and enjoy the fall foliage from the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. 
  3. Head North. In general, the mountains in the Tar Heel State are higher than the mountains in Virginia. Since leaves begin to change earlier at higher elevations, North Carolina colors peak earlier than the foliage in Virginia. If you plan to travel the length of the Parkway, starting in North Carolina and traveling north will provide the best color-viewing opportunities, especially if you plan your travel over multiple days. 
  4. Check the Weather. Weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains, so check the weather before you head out, especially if you’re planning to hike. Rain and fog mute the mountains’ colors. Clear, sunny days provide more vividly colorful views.

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