Photo by Dan Cook When the calendar turns to fall, Grandfather Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway comes alive with color.
Within a few weeks, area campers and recreational vehicle buffs can put themselves in the midst of fabulous leaf displays.
There’s an added attraction on the popular Blue Ridge Parkway, which has its southern terminus 148 miles from Chattanooga at Cherokee, N.C. Mount Pisgah Campground, located on the parkway between Cherokee and Asheville, is adding a bathhouse.
That’s according to Chattanooga native Phil Noblitt, now a management assistant based in Asheville with the National Park Service.
A bathhouse is unusual for NPS properties. Most offer only the basics — at best, running-water bathrooms with no showers, as are found at the Elkmont and Cades Cove campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Mount Pisgah is next to Cold Mountain, made famous in a book and a movie about the Civil War era.
During the summer, nearby Sliding Rock in the Pisgah National Forest provides a lot of entertainment for visitors willing to slide nearly 60 feet down a gentle waterfall into icy water. But in the fall, the big attraction at Mount Pisgah, as well as the other eight NPS campgrounds along the 469-mile scenic road that links the Smokies with Virginia’s likewise Shenandoah National Park, is the turning leaves.
However, attempting to pick the best part of October and the best section of the parkway can be a tricky guessing game.
Noblitt, a former Chattanooga News-Free Press reporter who earned a degree in education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga before launching an NPS career — later adding a master’s degree from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. — says various weather factors figure into the best time to visit.
"Fall comes earlier at 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 feet," he explained. "Mid-October is hard to beat, though. Some years it’s late. The optimum situation is clear days and cool, but not freezing nights, in early fall.
"It’s better to plan in advance. Look at the calendar and look at October 15 — early October for higher elevations."
Campers planning to head to Mount Pisgah in October should expect cold weather, at least at night, Noblitt warned.
Color should be found at some level during mid-October along the stretch of parkway from Cherokee to Asheville. The Mount Pisgah elevation is near 5,000 feet, but it’s much lower on the parkway at those two cities.
Pisgah is the southernmost parkway campground. It is located at milepost 408.6. The northernmost campground is Otter Creek, milepost 60.9. Others, north to south, are Peaks of Otter, 87; Roanoke Mountain, 120.5; Rocky Knob, 167.1; Doughton Park, 239; Julian Price, 297; Linville Falls, 316.3; and Crabtree Meadows, 339.5. Most campsites in an NPS facility are offered on a first-come, firstserved basis, although some may be reserved.
There also are numerous private campgrounds near the parkway where RVers can find hookups, showers and other amenities, and they may make reservations for those. Among those are the Boone KOA and Bear Den Campground (3,000 feet) near Spruce Pine, N.C., and adjacent to the famous highway at milepost 324.8.
Photo by Dan Cook Campsite visitors like this squirrel at Lake Dardanelle State Park in Arkansas add to the enrichment of the camping experience.
Some Tennessee Valley Authority campgrounds in prime leaf country also offer showers and hookups, among them scenic TVA Loyston Point-Norris Reservoir. The Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg and Townsend areas have campgrounds with easy access to the Smokies.
The Cherohala Parkway from Tellico Plains, Tenn., to Robbinsville, N.C., is another scenic road with wide-ranging elevations and color possibilities. Completed in 1996 after 34 years of construction that cost $100 million, it travels through 21 miles of Tennessee forest and goes over 5,400-foot mountains for another 15 miles in North Carolina, according to its Web site.
E-mail Dan Cook at ChattaDan@aol.com SEVEN FAVORITES FOR FALL CAMPING Vogel State Park Blairsville, Ga.
Elevation 2,640 feet. Nation’s second oldest state park. (800) 864-PARK (number for all Georgia state parks).
Twin Creek RV Resort Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Bathhouses kept especially clean. Wifi and TV hookups, but no tents allowed. Open through Dec. 5.
(800) 252-8077; (865) 436-7081. Bear Den Campground Spruce Pine, N.C.
Photo by Dan Cook Bicycling along the recently prepared paved hiking/biking path adjacent to Lamar Alexander Parkway in Townsend is one option for campers staying at the parks along the river.
Has showers and hookups, but the amenities don’t take away from that feeling of being wrapped by colorful foliage. (828) 765-2888, Fall Creek Falls State Park Pikeville, Tenn.
Great weekend get-away. Peaceful with lots of things to see, including waterfalls and a short trip to Rock Island State Park to see another beautiful waterfall. (800) 250-8611. Elkmont Campground Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Lovely stream flows through it.
National Park Service facility stays busy, although the amenities are limited: flush bathrooms, but no showers or hookups. (865) 436-1200 (number for all Smokies campgrounds).
Cloudland Canyon State Park, Trenton, Ga.
Vistas and a boardwalk to a lovely waterfall are appealing. (800) 864-PARK Fort Mountain State Park, Chatsworth, Ga.
A mysterious rock wall adds to a mountaintop lake setting. (800) 864-PARK