Did you know that the Blue Ridge Parkway is connected to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? That’s right; another National Park is attached to the Smokies! The Blue Ridge Parkway begins (or ends) at milepost 469, a half mile south of the Oconaluftee Visitors Center in North Carolina. The Parkway meanders from there along the mountain tops to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile long scenic drive through the Southern Appalachian highlands. The average speed limit on the Parkway is 45 mph. The Parkway has no red lights or intersections to slow traffic. All access to the Parkway is via on and off ramps connecting to nearby roads. There are no places to purchase fuel on the Parkway so plan carefully.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has access to camping, trails, waterfalls, and historic structures.
Blue Ridge Parkway Campgrounds
Otter Creek @ Mile Post 61 This campground has sites for 45 tents and 24 RV trailers. Facilities currently include water, comfort stations with flush toilets and sinks but no showers or hook-ups. Area hikes include Trail of Trees, Otter Creek, Otter Lake Loop and James River Canal Trails.
Peaks of Otter @ Mile Post 86 This campground has sites for 90 tents and 53 trailers or RVs, water, comfort stations with flush toilets and cold water sinks but no showers or hook-ups. Area hikes include Sharp Top, Elk Run, Harkening Hill and Johnson Farm Trails.
Rocky Knob @ Mile Post 167 This campground has sites for 81 tents and 28 trailer or RVs, restrooms, trailer dumping stations, and a campfire circle that accommodates up to 150 campers. For the more adventurous, backcountry camping is permitted at the designated site in Rock Castle Gorge. A permit is required and can be obtained from the Rocky Knob Campground by calling 540-745-9664 from May-October and calling 540-745-9668 during the off season.
For those in primitive camping areas, keep in mind the following: camping and campfires are only allowed in designated areas, only dead firewood may be gathered for fuel, pack out all trash, do not use soap or shampoo in any streams, and toilet facilities must be at least 200 feet from water supplies. Area hikes include Rockcastle Gorge, Black Ridge, Rocky Knob Picnic Area and Round Meadow Creek Trails.
Doughton Park @ Mile Post 241 This campground has 110 campsites and 25 trailer sites, 4 comfort stations, and a campfire circle at the campground. Area hikes include Bluff Mountain, and Fodder Stack Trails.
Julian Price Park @ Mile Post 297 This campground has 129 tent sites (2 handicap sites) and 68 trailer sites, 6 comfort stations (1 handicap accessible). Area hikes include Green Knob, Boone Fork, Price Lake, Gwyn Memorial and Tanawha Trails. For boat rental info call 828-963-2292 or visit blueridgeparkway.
Linville Falls @ Mile Post 316 This campground has 50 tent and 20 RV sites which sit on the banks of the Linville River. It is the Parkway’s smallest, most popular campground and the only developed site on the Parkway that allows group camping. Area hikes include Flat Rock, Camp Creek, River Bend, Duggers Creek, and Linville River Bridge Trails
Mt. Pisgah @ Mile Post 408 This campground has 70 tent and 70 RV sites and shower facilities are available. The campground is the highest, coolest and most secluded on the Parkway. The campground is located in Flat Laurel Gap. Area hikes include Buck Spring, Mount Pisgah, Picnic Area Loop and Frying Pan Mountain Trails.
Camping is $16 for each site. Reservations for ALL campgrounds can be made online at recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
Blue Ridge Parkway Hiking
There are numerous trails suitable for hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Find out about trails near you by stopping at a Ranger Station or Visitor Center for information. Trail conditions may change suddenly and unexpectedly. Bear activity, rain or thunder storms and downed trees may temporarily close trails.
At a minimum be sure to carry water, a raincoat or poncho, a warm hat, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a first aid kit. It is recommended that you hike with another person. No permit is required for hiking.
One of the most daunting tasks facing hikers is choosing a trail. Start by deciding on what you would like to see. Waterfalls? Old-growth forests? Endless views? Then decide how far you would like to hike. It can be as easy as that!
There are over 369 miles of trails to choose from along the Blue Ridge Parkway! The Appalachian Trail and Mountains-to-Sea Trail are two long distance trails that follow closely with stretches of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sections of these trails can be hiked in a day, or for the more adventurous, over a number of days.
Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfall Hikes
Remember to always take caution while enjoying waterfalls around the Parkway. Do not climb on rocks near waterfalls and use extreme caution when walking along riverbanks. The rocks are slippery due to mist and algae. Never dive or jump into the water. Submerged rocks, trees or debris could be immediately below the surface of the water.
Here is a list of popular hikes with waterfalls along the Parkway:
Linville Falls @ Mile Post 360 Linville Falls has four different overlooks to properly appreciate the falls with two main hiking trails. Both begin at the Linville Falls Visitor Center and pass through remnants of a virgin hemlock forest mixed with other familiar tree species such as white pine, oaks, hickory, and birch. A colorful and varied display of wildflowers decorates the trails in spring. Red and golden leaves in fall beautifully contrast with the soothing green of hemlocks. The Linville Falls trails range in difficulty from moderate to strenuous.
Looking Glass Falls @ Mile Post 411 Looking Glass Falls is one of the most symmetrical waterfalls in western North Carolina. The name comes from Looking Glass Rock which resembles a wintertime mirror, or “looking glass,” of sunlight as water freezes on its side and reflects the sun.
Crabtree Falls @ Mile Post 339 At the base of the 2.5 mile loop trail is spectacular Crabtree Falls, where water cascades over a 60-foot rock cliff. Many types of ferns and wildflowers thrive in the hollow benefiting from the fall’s cool spray. Originally, these falls were known as Murphy’s Falls. The National Park Service changed the name to Crabtree Falls when the Parkway was built in the 1930’s.
Graveyard Fields Falls @ Mile Post 419 The name “Graveyard Fields” originates from a time when a great windstorm felled hundreds of spruce and fir trees in the area. The moss covered stumps resemble graves.
Skinny Dip Falls @ Mile Post 417 Skinny Dip Falls features a swimming hole at the bottom of the cascades. These falls lie along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Falling Water Cascades @ Mile Post 83 Near Peaks of Otter, the trail is lined with rhododendrons creating a beautiful hike setting.
Apple Orchard Falls @ Mile Post 78 These falls have a viewing platform directly underneath the falls creating a refreshing shower during the summer months.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has something for everyone. Here at HeySmokies we love to pack a picnic basket and drive until we find a beautiful spot for lunch. Critters love your “pickanick” basket, so please be extra careful with your picnic supplies! Be mindful with your picnic basket or you may have some unexpected guests!
Smoky Mountains Fall Red Beauty Mountain Ash! Who wouldn’t love a beautiful ornamental tree, not too large or too small, with an abundance of leaves, pure white buds and blossoms in late spring followed by bright red edible berries in the fall, a tree that lives for up to 200 years and has the added (albeit folklorish) benefit of protecting us against evil spirits? Then meet the mountain ash, also known by its more romantic European name, the Rowan tree.
The first thing to know is that the mountain ash is not an ash tree at all. While the ash is a very large tree, the mountain ash varies greatly in size, according to the growing conditions, but tends to be much smaller (no more than 10 – 20 feet tall) than the towering ash and belongs to a completely different botanical family—namely, the rose! Indeed, the mountain ash is often so small that it is thought to be a shrub instead of a tree. It does, however, have a compound leaf similar to that of the ash (only smaller and with fewer leaflets), which is the apparent source of confusion.
The variety of mountain ash that grows in the Smoky Mountains is the American mountain-ash (Sorbus americanus), which is very similar in nearly every respect to its European cousin (Sorbus aucuparia). The berries of both varieties often last through the entire winter into blossom time the next spring and thus provide an important source of food for wildlife, especially birds which play an important role is spreading the indigestible seeds of the mountain-ash. In England the berries, which are inedible raw, are cooked into a jam or combined with apples in a chutney and served with wild game and other meats.
The tree itself is very rugged and adaptable thriving in the Southern Appalachians. While it prefers a rich, well-drained soil, it will grow in nearly all soils, including our stubborn East Tennessee red clay, compensating for any lack of nutrition it encounters by simply adjusting its size.
In the British Isles the rowan tree is associated with many aspects of Celtic folklore and Christian traditions. Both Celts and Christians believed that the tree provides those close by with protection against various evils, especially witches. Hence, rowan branches were often fastened to the lintels of cottage windows and doors as well as over barn doors (for witches especially loved the prank of souring cows’ milk). Rowan trees were also planted in cottage and church yards for protection. The fact that rowan trees often grow in mountainous areas was also thought to drive witches from their favorite habitat, although the real reason seems to be that browsing animals, especially deer and elk, love rowan saplings and so devour those growing in the valleys.
During Candlemas (February 2—the traditional midpoint of winter) residents of the English Westlands (Thomas Hardy country) place crosses made of rowan twigs tied with red yarn about their houses to banish the dark of winter and welcome the coming light and warmth of spring. In Ireland the rowan tree is associated with St. Brigid, the patroness of Ireland, whose feast day is February 1st.
The mountain ash lives so long, at least in part, because it has no pests or diseases that assail it. Deer, however, do browse on its leaves—a point to keep in mind if you plan to grow a mountain ash in your yard.
Whether for cultural or botanical purposes, the mountain ash is a native tree well worth considering for our own properties, both to add beauty and provide for wildlife.
Mountain Ash can be found be found in many popular high elevation destinations in the Smoky Mountains such as Mount LeConte and Clingmans Dome in addition to our sister national park the Blue Ridge Parkway.
HeySmokies.com is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.
Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration is an annual event. Monarch butterflies migrate south each summer and spend their winter hibernating in parts of Southern California and Mexico where the climate is warm year-round. Monarchs living east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico overwintering in Oyamel Fir trees. Monarchs living west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in Pacific Grove, California in eucalyptus trees. The butterflies return to the same trees each year which is unusual because the same butterfly never makes the trip twice and yet, somehow, the fourth generation of Monarchs find the right tree! Amazingly this fourth generation migrates over 2,500 miles each year for the perfect hibernation climate and tree.
Monarchs depend on the migration to avoid freezing in winter and to provide food for their larvae and these plants only grow in the northern regions where the butterflies spend their summer. To sustain their population they travel back and forth each year to continue to propagate the species.
The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont monarch butterfly tagging program is an effort to monitor the health of the Monarch population and to track the butterflies progress along their migration route. Each year in late summer and early fall volunteers flock to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains Tagging program. Part of the fun is discovering, months after the event, that the butterfly you tagged was located thousands of miles away.
What could be more fun than running around a sunny field with a butterfly net chasing Monarchs? The tagging outings are open to school groups and individuals. The Institute provides all the equipment needed for tagging Monarchs. There are often more people who want to attend than equipment available, so these days are limited to 18 people (no more than 8 people per party please, to save room for others). Each party/family may attend one day of tagging in order to give everybody a chance. Alternatively, if the dates don’t fill up and you’d like another chance to go out, you are most welcome! Remember children under 18 are required to have an adult guardian to accompany them. To sign up visit Cades Cove Monarch Tagging.
Tremont Institute Monarch tagging dates:
September – 12th, 14th, 17th, 20, 22nd, 23rd, 25th, and 28th.
October – 1st, 4th, 6th, 9th, 12th, 16th, 19th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 27th, and 30th.
The HeySmokies.com team has participated in the Monarch tagging program in years past and can say this event is a lot of fun for the entire family! The event is fun, educational, and interesting in one of the most beautiful valleys in the United States! Plan now to experience this for yourself and come back to the mountains soon.
Bonus tip: Our sister national park the Blue Ridge Parkway has an abundance of places to see Monarch butterflies migrate in person. Most hight elevation spots on the parkway have a good chance to find Monarchs, but specifically Double Top Mountain Overlook at Balsam Gap near the junction of Route 215 is an excellent view spot as well as Doughton Park at Bluff Mountain!
Six Great Synchronous Firefly Viewing Areas For 2018! A spectacular display by the Synchronous Fireflies and the Blue Ghost Fireflies will light up the sky in the Great Smoky Mountains in late May and early June 2018. The annual event has become so popular that several venues are now available to the public where they can enjoy the amazing show as blinking beetles rise from the ground and surround them in waves of tiny twinkling lights.
The Synchronous Firefly (Photinus carolinus) and the Blue Ghost Firefly (Phausis reticulata) are two species found only in the Southern Appalachian Mountains which include the Great Smokies. And during the short mating season in late May and early June, both firefly species put on a mini firework display choreographed by Mother Nature.
Male Synchronous Fireflies flash little green-yellow bioluminescent lanterns in unison for about 6-8 blinks casting an eerie wave of light throughout the forest before going dark for a few seconds. The male Blue Ghost Fireflies do not blink to attract mates but instead feature blue-white lights that glow continuously just a few inches above the ground creating a surreal carpet of light that is certain to delight and amaze all ages. The National Park scientists use air and soil temperatures to predict the timing of each year’s mating season and the dates will be announced sometime in April 2018. Check with HeySmokies.Com for updates on this popular event.
Synchronous Fireflies with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
One of the best places to view the Synchronous Fireflies is in Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park— a location so popular that a free lottery system was instituted for the $1.50 parking passes during the eight-day shuttle period to Elkmont. Elkmont closes at dusk during this peak viewing period allowing only shuttle ticket holder and Elkmont campers in Elkmont Campground.
Dates for the 2018 Sychronous Firefly event will be announced in April. You may apply for a chance to win a pass April 28 through May 1 by going to www.recreation.gov and search for firefly event lottery. Winners will be notified on May 10.
Synchronous Fireflies with Discover Life in America in Gatlinburg, TN
For a few nights during peak firefly viewing time, Discover Life in America hosts a fundraising event featuring nightly presentations and field walks at the Norton
Creek Sanctuary near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tickets for the event are $100 each and the event is geared toward persons ages 10 and older. For reservations for this exclusive event, call Discover Life in America at 865-430-4757 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Synchronous Fireflies in Cataloochee with Cataloochee Valley Tours
Take a Synchronous Firefly Night Walk with Cataloochee Valley Tours out of Waynesville, NC. Small groups of guests are outfitted with safety vests and flashlights for a walk to the tour company’s secret viewing locations! Tour tickets are $60 per person. Tours are from 8:30 – 11:30 p.m. weather permitting. For more information, visit Cataloochee Valley Tours.
Blue Ghost Fireflies in DuPont State Recreational Forest near Asheville, NC
DuPont State Forest is located in Cedar Mountain, NC about 30 miles outside of Asheville. Due to the popularity of this location in recent years, some of the trails in the High Falls parking area will be closed during peak viewing season. Visitors are urged to stay on designated trails because female Blue Ghosts stay on the ground and many have been killed by visitors wandering off trail. For more information, visit DuPont State Forest.
Transylvania County Blue Ghosts
The Pisgah Field School offers a firefly hike led by a trained naturalist under the cover of darkness along paved trails at the Cradle of Forestry. You never know what you will find on this hike so call 828-884-3342 to make a reservation or go to Pisgah Field School to learn more about this rain or shine, family friendly event!
Fireflies on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway are a great place to view starry nights as well as the fireflies in June and the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville usually offers a family-friendly firefly viewing event. For more information, visit Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.
Both firefly species are common in other areas of Southern Appalachia and perhaps may make an appearance in your backyard during the month of June. Beginning around 10 p.m. turn off the lights, grab a comfy chair or spread a blanket on the ground, sit back and relax and wait for your own private firefly show to begin.
HeySmokies left the crowds at Elkmont Campground and backpacked a bit further up Little River Trail to enjoy the show! Remember a permit is required for an overnight stay at a backcountry site. Happy Trails!