Car Camping in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and More
In 2017, my employer PerkSpot offered me the opportunity to take a two week sabbatical. The idea was that I would get away from the office for a while and work on developing skills outside of my day-to-day work at PerkSpot. Wanting to make the best of this opportunity, I decided to take a trip out to one of my favorite places in the world – The Blue Ridge Mountains. There I would spend 10 days traveling through Asheville and the rural towns of North Carolina, working on my photography and drawing skills and ultimately compiling my experiences into a website which I would build from scratch. That website became The All Around.
Living in downtown Chicago I have no need for a car, so my parents (who live outside Raleigh) were generous enough to let me borrow their SUV while they were on vacation in Puerto Vallerta. In mid-September I hopped on a flight to Raleigh, loaded the car up with my camping gear, and took off to the mountains.
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Snaggy Mountain Hop
My first stop along the way was two nights at a little farm outside Burnsville, NC called “Snaggy Mountain”. The farm is owned by a really nice guy named Jared, who uses the land to host musicians, artists and travelers who want to get away from their normal day to day for a while. While I was there I met a lot of interesting people, most of whom were there with a program called WWOOF, which connects volunteer workers with organic farms around the country.
Snaggy Mountain is a cool place. The farm is nestled in the mountains a few miles from the town, and you can tell that every part of it is a labor of love from its owner. There are beautiful murals painted on almost every building, apple trees littered throughout the property, and an underground greenhouse on top of the hill where his main house is. He even has a small recording studio where the various traveling musicians who stay on the farm have nightly jam sessions.
After spending my first evening on the farm and admiring the beautiful night sky, I woke up early the following morning to find the valley blanketed in a light fog.
I decided to spend the morning taking a hike around the farm, and Mooshy decided to follow along.
On the way back down through the pine forest, Mooshy seemed to be bored of following me and decided to stop at this spot on the trail. After trying to call him a few times I figured he knew what he was doing, so I let him be. When I got down to the bottom of the mountain I found him laying on the ground waiting for me – I guess he was trying to clue me into a shortcut he knew about. Go figure.
On the second day of the trip I decided to take a drive out to Lineville Gorge, known as “the grand canyon of the east. It’s a pretty breathtaking sight, with a river and falls cutting through the mountains on either side.
There were too many families and kids on the main Linville Falls Trail, so I decided to go on one of the back country trails for some solitude. This is the Babel Tower Trail.
The trail was mostly a steep downhill into the gorge, but ended at a rocky climb to the top of what I assume is the “Babel Tower”. The views were breathtaking – the photograph doesn’t communicate it well but there’s about a 5 story drop off immediately behind me.
With a good amount of time until sunset, I sat town and spent an hour or so sketching the vista ahead of me. Since completing my BFA in college I unfortunately haven’t spent nearly as much time as I should working on my drawing skills, so I’m a bit rusty.
After hiking back out of the gorge, the sun was starting to get low in the sky so I decided to stop at one of the many outlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy the sunset.
On to Asheville
The following day I checked out of Snaggy Mountain and drove into the city of Asheville. After checking into my hostel in West Asheville I decided to take a trip down to the nearby River Arts District.
The River Arts District is full of really cool studios and galleries with all kinds of artists. I wandered into one and got to watch as local artist Andrew Herod screen-printed some custom shirts.
Unfortunately on my second day in Asheville it became very clear that was coming down with a pretty bad head cold – either from playing with my nephew or from pulling off a mason jar of homemade moonshine a farmer at Snaggy Mountain was passing around earlier in the trip. Either way, I decided to spend my next day taking it easy at the hostel and working on developing photos in Lightroom.
Mile High Mountains
Still struggling with the cold on following day, I considered spending one more day in Asheville to recover. Ultimately I decided I’d probably be just as sick in Asheville as I would be at a campground, so I packed up my stuff and headed back to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The drive on the Parkway west towards the Smokey Mountains was beautiful, but I tried to make my overlook stops minimal so I would make it to the campsite early enough.
The campsite I chose was located on a Native American Reservation, deep in the Appalachian Mountains. I appreciated the honesty of this National Park Service sign – apparently more than the loser who attempted to vandalize it.
I spent three nights at the “Mile High Campground“, and the reason should be obvious. The property was perched on top of one of the highest mountains around, and I managed to get a beautiful, secluded spot with an incredible view.
I decided to spend my second day at Mile High relaxing around the campground in the hopes of getting my cold to go away finally.
A Day in the Smokies
On my last day at Mile High I decided to make the hour drive into the Smoky Mountains for a hike. The views along the way were incredible.
After the pleasant drive through the mountains I made a stop at the Smoky Mountain tourist town of Gatlinburg, then I drove a bit outside of the town to hike the nearby trail to Rainbow Falls.
The Rainbow Falls trail was very nice – winding up the mountain through old growth forest which fortunately was only minor damaged by the wildfires that happened the previous year.
After reaching the falls and spending some time sketching, it started to get late so I decided to head back to the car. With only about a quarter mile to the parking lot, I realized I had been watching my feet a bit too much and decided to make an effort to scan my surroundings. Not ten seconds later, I spotted a black bear walking opposite me across the narrow creek the trail had been following. Unfortunately he was so far away and I was so preoccupied with not getting eaten that I wasn’t able to get a great photo. See if you can spot him in here (look right in the middle):
Fortunately the bear decided I didn’t look too appetizing, so I made it back to my car unscathed. From there I made the drive back to my campsite where I realized that I had made a rookie mistake – I forgot to zip up the fly on my tent and it had rained while I was gone. Luckily it wasn’t raining anymore and my tent was at a bit of an angle, so the water had pooled in one corner and hadn’t gotten my sleeping bag very wet. Lesson learned: always double check.
The next day I left the Mile High Campground and checked into a small hostel in Franklin, NC called Gooder Grove. Close to the Appalachian Trail, Franklin is a bit of a hub for hikers in the early months of the year. At this point though most of the trail hikers had moved on, so I had the run of the place to my self.
I spent the next day taking a hike out to William’s Pulpit, an overlook not far from downtown. At this point I was pretty exhausted from traveling and camping, so I decided to take it pretty easy.
Franklin, NC is home of Lazy Hiker Brewing, a craft brewery that focuses on the Appalachian Trail hikers who come through the town, usually in the spring. From the banner on the wall it was easy to see how popular the trail – and the brewery – were.
After ten days of driving, hiking, camping and otherwise traveling around the mountains of North Carolina, I was ready to go home. I met a lot of interesting people along the way and saw some beautiful vistas, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do this trip.
Special thanks to PerkSpot for making the trip happen, to my brother for hosting me on my first night in Raleigh and to my parent for lending me their car. Hope I didn’t leave too many leaves and twigs in the upholstery.