Author Topic: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?  (Read 4589 times)

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Offline ahhgo-bike

Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« on: February 19, 2015, 09:47:37 pm »
I'm new to the community here, would love some insight from the veterans:

In mid-Sept 2015, I plan to ride from my house in mid-Maryland to Front Royal VA, then the full length of the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway.

I've done plenty of self-supported 1-3 week thru-hikes (on shorter, but committing, trails like the John Muir Trail). And I've successfully applied that experience to a thru-bike of the C&O/GAP trail. So I'm fine with the camping, carrying food, resupply - the whole self supported aspect of the trip.

However, the one twist that's new to me is dealing with the tourist demand for the limited camping/lodging facilities. In mid-Sept (after Labor Day, but well before leaf season), I'm hoping I don't have to book all my midweek stays in advance so I can lengthen or shorten days based on weather, how I'm feeling, etc. (Or is that false hope?) And how about the weekends?

My current plan puts me around the popular Floyd/Rocky Knob/Mabry Mill stretch on a Friday night. Do I need to commit to a firm destination for that Friday and Saturday night so I can book camping or lodging in advance? Is there any chance I can play that by ear - stay in the campground if it's nice, or go to the hotel if it's raining, or ride a bit farther if I'm feeling good? Or is that unrealistic?

The thing that strikes me is - unlike the C&O (or my High Sierra hikes for that matter) where the next campsite was probably within 30-60 minutes - if I come to a planned stop on the BRP without a reservation, and it's full, I could be hours away from the next stop.

I'd love any insight or experience anyone who's done a self-supported BRP tour has to offer! Thanks in advance!

Offline staehpj1

Re: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2015, 08:32:48 am »
I have not ridden the BRB or Skyline Drive other than a short chunk when doing the Trans America so I can't answer most of what you ask.

I will say that I have had good luck managing to find a way when campgrounds were full.  Sometimes I managed to find someone who was willing to share their site with me, sometimes the person in charge let me stay in a spot that wasn't officially a campsite, and when all that failed I always managed one way or another.

My understanding is that stealth camping is strongly discouraged in both parks, but there are frequently places where there is private land that isn't way down in the valley.  Some of it may be suitable for stealth camping.  I have not stealth camped there though so I can't say how good the prospects are.  If all else failed I would just hide well and camp illegally in the park.  I like wild camping, but am not big on stealth camping.  Still sometimes you just have to make do the best you can.

Edit:  Just to clarify... I'd only stealth camp there as a very last resort and ideally I would leave the park to do it.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2015, 10:42:43 am by staehpj1 »

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2015, 10:37:48 am »
In general, it's a good idea to book things that are right on the Parkway (Peaks of Otter, Mt. Pisgah) or places very close to the Parkway (Chehola Lodge in Blowing Rock, Little Switzerland).  September is a off season, as you've noted, but it would still be a good idea for the weekends.  Places like Waynesboro, Roanoke, Boone/Blowing Rock, or Asheville have enough motels you can probably find a room (unless there's a home football game at Appalachian State).  There's usually plenty of camping spots, although there can be a lot of weekend traffic and congestion at the picnic areas.

During September, the Floyd area is popular with Virginia Tech students out for the weekend.  If your plans have you there during a home football game, that might draw most of the students and leave extra campsites.

Don't even think about wild camping on the BRP. 

Offline DanE

Re: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2015, 10:20:11 am »
I have ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway twice, both times north bound. In the time of year you are talking about which is after Labor Day but before leaf season, I would not worry about reservations with one exception. The Mount Pisgah campground south of Asheville or the Lake Powhatan campground outside of Asheville can fill up on weekends.

Unless things have changed most of the campgrounds on the BRP in the past are first come first serve basis and you cannot make reservations. Mount Pisgah is the only campground that has taken reservations in the past that I know of. This may change as the current schedule for 2015 is not been published that I can find at this time.

The area you express concern over being the Rocky Knob campground I would not be concerned about. If by chance you find Rocky Knob to be full, it is a mostly downhill 9 mile run to Meadows of Dan which has a private commercial campground which I have stayed at. It has a separate area for tenters. In general, I have found that commercial campgrounds will not turn you away when they figure out you only have a tent, do not need hookups and they can charge full price to you and stick you on a patch of grass somewhere.

I made no reservations in advance either time I did the trip, both of which were in the month of July. I did get into a bit of a jam at Mount Pisgah arriving there on a Saturday night. The tent sites there were all full and I had to pay the higher fee for a RV site is all.The only bad side of that was I told I had to pitch my tent on the asphalt pad provided for the RV and could not set it up anywhere else on the site.

If you want to stay in one of the Lodge's, Peaks of Otter or Mount Pisgah I would call ahead. Unless it is a holiday, peak season period they generally have rooms during the week but fill up on weekends.

Cell phone service can be hit or miss on the parkway, if you need to make reservations or call you might have to think about where you can get service.

On my trips I planned my itinerary for about the first three nights, after that it kind of all went to pot depending on the weather and how I was feeling. The thing about riding the parkway is you kind of need to know where to get services and hit those spots. The real mistake is having to leave the parkway for a service which might just be four or five miles away but be 1200 feet lower in elevation. Starting a day with a huge climb in addition to what you have to do on the parkway can just be killer. The other thing is that there are long stretches on the parkway with no services, when you hit those areas you need to be prepared before you try to ride them.

The Skinner book "Bicycling the Blue Ridge Parkway" is excellent for describing the terrain, less so for services. Mainly I think the 2008 recession killed a lot of the seasonal businesses that are said to operate. I see that there is now a 5th edition published in 2014 available, perhaps the information in the current one is more accurate.

I hope this helps. Feel free to ask some more questions.

Offline ahhgo-bike

Re: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2015, 11:09:56 am »
Thanks for info, DanE,  I do have the latest Skinner book and built myself a spreadsheet from it and other sources to use en-route. Good call - thanks Pat Lamb - to check the football schedule (looks like I'm clear there).

It appears I could reserve a Friday night campsite at Rocky Knob online in late March (6 months in advance).

How about Doughton Park Campground - assuming it's open in 2015? Would you expect that to fill up on a Saturday night mid-September?

Thanks again for the guidance!

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2015, 10:28:01 am »
How about Doughton Park Campground - assuming it's open in 2015? Would you expect that to fill up on a Saturday night mid-September?

IIRC, Doughton was closed a couple years ago when I went through there last.  I don't remember if that was for construction, part of sequestration, or both. 

Given its location, I wouldn't expect any problems with it filling up in September.  Some of the most spectacular views of ridges upon ridges from the Parkway are at Doughton.

Offline DanE

Re: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2015, 11:16:20 am »
Doughton was closed a few years ago as there was construction work on the parkway. The last couple of seasons it has been open. I would not expect it to be full in September. It has two large sections, one for RV's and one for tents.

Offline sdotkling

Re: Need to book ahead on Blue Ridge Parkway?
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2015, 02:17:46 pm »
Just did a chunk of the Blue Ridge last April-May, before the campgrounds opened for the season. There are truly almost no services on the Parkway, except for the Mt. Pisgah area. Carrying enough food is a challenge, but water is the bigger challenge. Bring a filtration kit and look for the occasional seep coming off the roadcuts. As far as stealth camping, if one is willing to drag the bike (and any sign that you exist) a ways off the road, there is plenty of opportunity. Look carefully for tamped-down footpaths through the foliage and you'll often find a rough campsite at the end of it. But don't have a fire and don't leave anything behind....and hang your food well away from your sleeping area. Bears.