Camping, hiking, and good food a short drive from home
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile two-lane scenic roadway through the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. The Parkway was built in the 1930s and is run by the National Park Service, which maintains the roadway, various hiking trails, recreation areas, visitor centers, historic buildings, folk art centers, several lodges and restaurants, and eight campgrounds.
Doughton Park, at mile marker 240, has many of the features of the Parkway, and it’s just over an hour from our home in Winston-Salem. The campground has a small trailer loop which is usually full, and a very large tenting loop which is rarely close to capacity. So we made a reservation for one of the trailer sites for a June weekend, and headed up the mountain on a Thursday morning.
Along the way we stopped at the Blue Ridge Music Center, a wonderful music venue and museum of local folk music on the parkway in Virginia. The museum was still closed due to COVID restrictions, but the Midday Mountain Music had returned. Every day a local artist or band volunteers to play old time or bluegrass music in the breezeway from 12-4pm, free. During the summer, the amphitheater hosts outdoor concerts by regional and national artists.
We had a very private campsite with a pull through driveway, and steps down to a flat area with a table and a sitting area. We were surrounded by woods, and once DF set up our string lights, we had a private, quiet area to hang out. The locals call this site the “honeymoon suite.”
The rest of the trailer loop was more crowded and close together. The loop was designed decades ago when small camping trailers, teardrops, and vans were popular and people didn’t need satellite TV and air conditioning. It was amusing to see some extremely large RVs and even a diesel RV bus wedged into tiny 20 foot driveways. Somewhat less amusing was the constant hum of generators, though being down in our sitting area helped with that and the folks with generators cut them off during quiet hours.
Scenery and Hiking
Doughton Park is located on the Blue Ridge Escarpment, which is a fancy way of saying that there are a lot of bluffs and cliffs here where the land drops away to the piedmont. Hiking trails are everywhere, from the Bluffs Trail that follows the Parkway along the edge of the escarpment, to several trails that head down to the bottom, and the Basin Creek Trail that starts at the bottom and hikes up to historic Caudill Cabin.
The Bluffs Trail is well maintained and has great views. It’s about a 7 mile out and back from the campground to the scenic overlook at the far end of this trail (see top photo), which we did on a particularly hot afternoon.
An enjoyable weekend
We headed into the market town of West Jefferson on Saturday morning. West Jefferson has a thriving shopping area, some excellent breweries and restaurants, and all the services that the residents of Ashe County might need. We stopped in at the farmer’s market, where we could buy organic meat, local fruit and vegetables, tie dyed clothing, artwork and crafts. We had a great lunch at New River Brewing, with good service and a very nice saison to go with our sandwiches.
Back in the park, the Bluffs Restaurant has reopened. The Bluffs was an icon – a classic Park Service coffee shop and lodge that had a 60 year run before closing in 2010. With support from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, the restaurant has reopened and is serving three meals a day. The renovated space is lovely, and looks very much like the old coffee shop. Reservations are recommended. We ate there three times, once each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The food was excellent, and the service very good.
It’s a 15 or 20 minute walk from the campground to the Bluffs Restaurant on the Bluffs Trail.
After a lovely three night trip, we headed home. This seems like the kind of trip we should be doing every month.