Blue Ridge Parkway Weekend

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.

The Cricket Comes Home

The Cricket in our driveway.
The Cricket in our driveway.

So we drove out to Bumgarner Camping in Lenoir on Saturday to pick up our Cricket. We spent about an hour with Darryl, one of the service techs, as he patiently explained the operation of all the parts. We’ve been thinking of the Cricket as a big tent on wheels, but some of it gets complicated — the Truma heater/hot water unit is quite complex, for example. Darryl had hooked up the Cricket to shore power and city water, and tested everything to make sure it all worked properly. He had also installed a pair of Group 24 AGM deep cycle batteries that should give us plenty of stored power for use off the grid.

After we finished the paperwork and wrote a really big check, Darryl and his team helped us buy the proper hitch ball, and helped me hook up the Cricket to my 4Runner. I haven’t towed anything since I was in the Army over 30 years ago, so it was useful to have someone look over my shoulder. We got it all hitched up, then pulled around front and found a few items we needed in their parts store. Then we headed home.

In the service bay at Bumgarner Camping. It looks so tiny all closed up.

The 4Runner pulls the Cricket like there is nothing there. It tracks very well, turns easily, and acceleration is fine. Braking takes longer, and that’s when I feel the 1500 extra pounds. It was fine on the interstate at 65mph, but started to sway a bit at 70. The Cricket is no wider than the 4Runner, so I had good visibility with the stock mirrors.

We got home and I backed it into the driveway. Again, haven’t done that in 30 years, but it came back pretty quickly. We opened it up, checked out some of the systems, and got ready for the big test: will it fit in the garage?

It turns out that my very careful measuring of the garage door opening height and the closed height of the Cricket was correct: the Cricket fit in the door with about 1/2 inch to spare. Whew. Keeping it in the garage is more secure, and we can leave it connected to an outlet to keep the batteries fully charged.

This afternoon we pulled it back out and set it up again. I wanted to check some of the systems and see how they operate. I also wanted to remove all the pink RV antifreeze that the tech had run through the plumbing system. We don’t need it since the Cricket lives in the garage. (And the manual suggests that he should not have run antifreeze into the Truma heat/hot water system anyway.) So we hooked up a water hose, filled the Truma, and started up the heater and the hot water. Wow! In a few minutes it was very warm inside the Cricket. Hot water took a little longer; on Eco we had hot water in about 20 minutes. The Truma runs on 12v and the propane tanks. We also filled the fresh water holding tank and ran the water pump to make sure everything works when we don’t have a city water supply.

NA making hot chocolate in the kitchen area.
NA making hot chocolate in the kitchen area.

For our first meal in the Cricket, we boiled water on the stovetop, then made hot chocolate and served it with chocolate cookies. The stovetop worked well, but we discovered that our car camping/backpacking pot was not as useful and we’ll need to buy a tea kettle and maybe another pot or two with handles. We’ve been puttering around the kitchen area, trying to see what fits where, and what makes sense to bring. That’ll be the topic of a future post.

Then we sat and enjoyed hot chocolate inside our tiny, warm Cricket. After that, we packed it all up and put it back in the garage. Looking forward to our first real trip next month.

Enjoying hot chocolate inside the Cricket.
Enjoying hot chocolate inside the Cricket.

The TAXA Cricket

Exterior of Taxa Cricket camping trailer.

We’ve been tent camping for 30+ years, both on the trail (backpacking) and in state and national parks (car camping.) This past year we also started going to local music festivals and fiddler’s conventions, where we set up our big REI tent, 10×10 foot pop-up canopy, outdoor carpet, chairs, etc. It’s fun, it gets us outside, and even an expensive tent isn’t that expensive.

For most of those thirty years, we’ve occasionally seen a small, hard sided pop-up trailer called an Aliner, and we always said we’d get one eventually. Well, eventually finally came this year, so we went to the Aliner dealer and got a quote for a very nice one. Then some camping friends suggested that we check out a dealer who specializes in small campers, so a couple of weeks ago we ended up at Bumgarner Camping in Lenoir, NC, about 90 minutes from home. We looked a 15 different models from four or five manufacturers. The Cricket, from TAXA Outdoors in Houston, immediately caught our eye.

The Cricket is tiny on the outside and big on the inside. With the roof popped open, I have plenty of room to stand up. It has a large bed that converts to a small table and chairs, a kitchen area with a gas stove top, hot and cold running water, a propane furnace, and lots of windows for cross ventilation and views. There’s a fair amount of storage under the bed, too.

Interior of Taxa Cricket camping trailer.

The interior is, to put it gently, “practical.” It looks like the inside of an Air Force C-130, all aluminum framing and panels and held together with bungee cords, carabiners, and clevis pins. There’s a reason for that — the designer, Garrett Finney, was a senior architect at NASA and worked on the habitat area of the International Space Station. The bed frame and the entire kitchen area are made from birch plywood and they look great. I feel that I can take the whole thing apart and put it back together — very helpful for repairs on the road.

Interior of Taxa Cricket camping trailer.

Towing and using the Cricket should be easy. It weighs 1500 pound empty, and is small enough to fit in our garage. It has electric trailer brakes and a built-in brake controller. It should also look pretty good behind our silver 4Runner 🙂

I think what appealed the most to both of us was the idea that the Cricket is “just enough and not too much.” We wanted something that would let us sleep off the ground, make coffee and breakfast inside on a cold, rainy morning, keep us warm on cold nights, and carry our camping gear. Inside, it feels more like backpacking than any other trailer we tried (most of the big ones have the look and feel of a hotel room in Myrtle Beach.)

We bring it home in two weeks. More to come.