Thursday, September 5, 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway - camping with small children

In my previous life (before kids) it wasn’t uncommon to grab a tent and go. While a wildland firefighter I usually slept in a tent when on a fire detail (two weeks at a time with little or no access to showers…), and as a girl scout (and now girl scout leader) annual camps would find me camping every summer and winter. My husband shares my love of the outdoors (or maybe he just shows his love for me by going along on my trips?) and we’ve hiked/camped the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Isle Royale and all sorts of other places. Alone and with friends I’ve hiked and camped portions of the Appalachian trail, back country New York, crowded State campgrounds in Michigan and backyards all over. But I hadn’t spent a single night in a tent since before getting pregnant with Lauris, over 4 years ago. That is, until this Labor Day weekend.

Due to unexpected circumstances we found ourselves planning our cruise down the Blue Ridge Parkway very last minute. With interesting inns, bed and breakfasts and historic hotels along the entire stretch it would usually be no problem finding a place a few days in advance… unless it’s Labor Day weekend. After confirming several places were booked we switched to plan B – as in worst case scenario we will sleep in the car. But with numerous first come, first serve campgrounds managed by the Park Service (Blue Ridge Parkway) and the Forest Service (Pisgah National Forest) scattered along our route I was confident we would be able to claim a spot each of the nights we would be on the road. I packed the tent, sleeping bags and other camping gear, and started thinking about other aspects of the trip; I knew if I thought about camping with a one and three year old any further I would chicken out.

Our first day on the Parkway was a wet one as it rained a large portion of the day. We pulled into the Linville Falls campground at milepost 316.3 to a slight drizzle and claimed one of the last two campsites (of 69 or so) available. After popping up the tent we set off for Linville Falls, the nearby 150-foot waterfall that the campground is named for. Legend has it the falls were used by local Native Americans to execute prisoners, and my research only turned up one survivor of the final 40 foot drop - kayaker Pat Keller in 2010.

From Erwin's View overlook, taken the second day
The falls were donated to the National Park Service in 1952 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. A trail departs from the Linville Falls visitor center for three overlooks. We hiked the first of the trails, to the Upper Falls overlook where the small twin upper falls are visible and visitors can see the water spiraling through a small canyon on its way to the main falls. By the time we made it the ½ mile to the overlook it was pouring rain, Mikus was getting chilled and I was having difficulty keeping both Lauris and my camera dry. We double-timed it back and jumped in the car.

The not-so-impressive Upper Linville Falls in the rain
This was the point I seriously doubted we would last the night in a tent. The logistics of getting everyone fed, cleaned up and into the tent (dry) seemed overwhelming, especially as both boys were starting to get antsy. Luckily my husband suggested we drive over to the picnic area and search for a shelter. We found one, just the right size to keep the two little guys dry as they were running around, keep the chef out of the rain and give us a dry spot to sit down and eat. Our “next time” list was started, and the first thing on it was a tarp to give us a dry spot in our campsite for such rainy days.

Proof that they did in fact sleep
Somehow we made it through the night, dry and cozy if not completely well-rested. The morning routine of getting coffee and breakfast ready before breaking down camp had a therapeutic effect on me, the tasks as familiar as the previous time I had performed them four years ago. The best part of our overnight adventure was the early start; we were only the third vehicle at the Linville Falls trailhead and had the place to ourselves until we started passing other hikers on our way out.

Erwin's View overlook
Choosing to bypass the Upper Falls trail this time, we took the Erwin's View trail which leads to 2 overlooks, the Chimney View overlook (0.7 miles) and the Erwin's View overlook (0.8 miles). Both provided spectacular views of the last drop of the falls, which I would not even have known was there from our experience the previous day. We were also far better prepared with the backpack carrier, rain gear, snacks and a fresh start. Linville Falls is a must-see stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we were soon headed north to our next stop: Grandfather Mountain StatePark.

Our “next time” list:
   a tarp (for the rain)
   rope (for the tarp)
   fire starter sticks (for the rain)
   camp chairs (for dad)
Our “so glad we had it” list
   waterproof matches
   stovetop espresso maker
   instant oatmeal
   tin of Rīgas šprotes
   car charger
   big Maglite

** Added September 11, 2013
We're not the only fans of Linville Falls, they were recently voted #1 in the Blue Ridge Mountain favorite waterfall poll by!
Top 10 Blue Ridge Parkway Waterfalls


  1. Our daughter first "camped" for real not just in our garden, when she was 2, since then (now she is 4) camping is her beloved way of spending time in summer!

    1. That is wonderful! I really hope it becomes a habit for our family. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. That's one of the best ways to bond with your kids and at the same time teach them about the basics in safety. Glad you had fun.


    1. There are so many options for learning and trying out new things, aren't there? Plus it was nice to see the boys enjoy doing something I love doing. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I'm glad to see the stovetop espresso maker get some use...!

    1. You know it! After a long night in a tent with two kids a good cup of coffee is a requisite!

  4. Ou, you are brave family! :) And good cap of coffee always in time!:)


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