Make the Most Out of Summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Summer glows green against the Blue Ridge mountains, that bloom in the foreground with Catawba Rhododendron.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Spring has officially ended here in Western North Carolina. The leaves have taken on the deep, jewel green that I so love at this time of year. I feel the world warming around me. I soak in the sun, drinking summer as it seeps and simmers slowly to life. There is only one thing to do about it: Get out into nature. Revel in the glorious riches this time of year has to offer. Keep reading for some great resources to help you make the most out of summer here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Pink and white Mountain Laurel blossoms bloom like tiny parasols across the green face of the Blue Ridge mountains, heralding the coming of summer.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

The last of the Mountain Laurel blossoms have turned brown and withered away. For weeks, their tiny pink and white flowers have bloomed like parasols across the green face of the mountains. “Rejoice!” they seem to say to us, “Summer is on its way!” The Catawba Rhododendron takes up where the Laurel left off, heralding the start of this glorious season.

Take a Drive Down the Blue Ridge Parkway

A red sports car drives through Craggy Pinnacle tunnel along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

There is no better way to take advantage of summer here in the mountains than a drive down the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Go hiking, swim at a waterfall, stop at a campground and sleep under the stars. Stand and marvel at the utter majesty of this amazing place in the world.

I am doing just that as I write these words. I am eager to wring as much out of the season as I can, since in just a few days I leave the country for a more tropical locale.  I drive north on the Parkway, climbing through clouds as they race each other to the sky. They swirl and somersault, expand and rise.

White clouds race each other to a misty sky over blue and green mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Going up in elevation is like going backwards in time. Around Craggy Gardens the air cools and the Mountain Laurel still blooms. The Rhododendron hold their flowers inside of them like secrets they are yet determined to keep. The temperature warms and then cools again as I drive in and out of summer.

Beneath the rush of the tires on pavement, I detect the wind whispering secrets through the leaves. I follow the Blue Ridge Parkway further than I have ever been before. The earthy scent of Galax fills the air. I spot the bright sapphire feathers of a tiny Indigo Bunting along the side of the road. It throws its head back and sings the song of summer to the sky.

An indigo bunting sings the song of summer to the sun, its sapphire feathers contrasting the green leaves in the trees.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Camping Out Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

My destination on this trip is the Julian Price Campground at Milepost 297. The largest and most popular campground along the Parkway, this gem is a great place to take advantage of everything the summer season has to offer. Set along the edge of the small but beautiful Price Lake, with a view of Grandfather Mountain in the distance, the campground offers 197 sites for both tents and RV’s. There are canoe/kayak rentals available, and lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing in the area. You can also go hiking on several trails, and enjoy some fishing while you are there.

A beautiful view of Price Lake along the Blue Ridge Parkway with Grandfather Mountain rising in the distance against a blue sky.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

The nearby towns of Boone and Blowing Rock are a quick drive if you need to stock up on supplies. Blowing Rock is your best bet if you are in the mood for quaint shops and restaurants in a picturesque setting. This charming village is named after The Blowing Rock, a unique nearby formation at over 4,000 feet in elevation that offers a stunning view and a strange phenomenon. The prevailing winds blow in such a way that light objects thrown over the void return to you! Be prepared to shell out $7 a person to give it a try though.

If you just need ice or firewood (or a vintage dress!), ask for directions to the small country store just down the road from the campground. They have eclectic offerings and boast cell reception, WiFi, and genuine mountain hospitality.

A sign outside a mountain general store near Julian Price Campground reads, "Travelers Welcome, Locals Adored."

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Camp site reservations can be made through Recreation.Gov, and are advisable as this campground can get pretty busy during the summer season. When you get there though, I suggest taking a drive through A loop along the lake to see if you can snag an open site right on the water. Most of these sites cannot be reserved ahead of time, and are first come first serve. My personal favorite is site A26, which offers a nice private lakefront area set apart from the other campsites where you can fish or launch your canoe. (Be prepared to be told to move your tent onto the pad if you try to pitch it on the more favorable spot right on the water.)

A tent rests on the edge of Price Lake at Julian Price Memorial Camprgound along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

If you are looking for a spot to camp out at another point along the Blue Ridge Parkway, click here to learn more about what’s available. The campground at Lake Powhatan will put you close to Asheville, and give you a chance to check out this fantastic and singular mountain city. Explore the unique downtown, listen to live music, check out some art, float down the French Broad River, and a whole lot more, all nestled into the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.

The vibrant city of Asheville,North Carolina sits against the mountains around it.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Waterfalls, Waterfalls, Waterfalls

Nothing says summer in the mountains like a trip to one of the area’s beautiful waterfalls. On this particular trip, I am checking out Linville Falls at Milepost 316.4.

Linville Falls drops three times over 90 feet into the Linville Gorge.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

This 3-tiered waterfall drops 90 feet into the spectacular Linville Gorge. Several fairly easy hikes offer a variety of spots from which to view the falls. The photograph above is taken from the Chimney View overlook, which is a moderate 7/10 mile hike from the visitor’s center. Linville Falls also has restrooms, picnic areas, and even a campground if you care to stay overnight. There is no swimming permitted here, as the current is too strong.

Nearby Crabtree Falls, at Milepost 339.5, requires a bit more of a hike to get to the waterfall but has 5 cascades that total 1200 feet in all. Here you will have to pay a $3 parking fee, and there is also a campground available at this location. Just before this is the Crabtree Falls picnic area, with lots of great, forested picnic spots and a comfort station.

Mingo Falls tumbles down in Cherokee, NC.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot summer day than taking a dip in a pool at the bottom of a cold mountain waterfall. A local favorite near the Asheville area is Skinny Dip Falls. To get there from the Blue Ridge Parkway, stop at the Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Milepost 417. Walk across the Parkway and there is a trail that leads about 1/2 mile in to the Falls. For more information on local area waterfalls and how to get to them, click here.

Get here before it’s gone!

Jewel green mountains layer against blue mountains that bleed into the cloudy blue sky of summer in the Blue Ridge mountains.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

Summer, like all seasons, is as fleeting as it is wonderful. Plan a trip to the mountains to experience it for yourself. Check out the resources below to help you get started. The mountains are calling you. Come listen to what this place has to say.

In just a few days I leave for Costa Rica, so be sure to follow me in LOCUS: A journey in search of PLACE to read more about my amazing upcoming trip!

Travel Resources

Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor information for planning your trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway area including maps, lodging, camping, hiking, attractions and more.

Explore Asheville Check out this awesome mountain city nestled right in the middle of all this beautiful natural splendor.

Julian Price Memorial Park Along with Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, this is the largest developed area along the Blue Ridge Parkway for recreation. Camping, canoeing, hiking, fishing, and picnicking offer a range of options for visitors. While you’re there, the adventurous should check out the ingeniously engineered Tanawha Trail (13.5 miles) which passes under the Linn Cove Viaduct and wraps around the southeastern ridge of Grandfather Mountain.

Linville Falls The most photographed waterfall in North Carolina, this spot offers astounding views of the falls and gorge, hiking, a picnic area, restrooms, and a campground.

Grandfather Mountain More than a dozen different distinct ecological zones stretch across this unique and stunning landscape. A $20 admission gives you a day to fill with the swinging mile high bridge, hiking (from the leisurely to the extreme), a nature museum, naturalist programs, picnicking, and environmental habitats that get you up close with black bears, river otters, cougars, deer and bald eagles.

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