I like to plan things. It soothes me, and I find that we almost always have a better experience when traveling if we are at least somewhat prepared. So, I usually book or choose our hotels/campsites in advance.
There are very few times that we chose not to do this. Most of those times things were weird, stressful, or in the case of Julian Price Memorial Park campground, scary.
This campground is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We did a road trip several years ago that included the full parkway. Even with cloudy, rainy conditions it was a fun and memorable trip. Another time I will write about the good parts. Today, the SCARY CAMP.
I did a lot of research. The parkway is long and you have to drive fairly slowly. There are lots of overlooks, trails, visitors centers and such. With all those variables, I was not sure how far we would get. I made a list of a couple options, hoping that we would get into North Carolina at least. After a full day of driving with lots of stops, we made it into the Blowing Rock, NC area. Having all of our camping gear packed, we decided to camp at the Julian Price instead of pulling off the parkway and driving into town for a motel. Oops.
Our first impression was not good. Even though this is a huge campground and at that time was one of the “approved” Blue Ridge Parkway sites, there was no attendant to be found anywhere. Payment is done in one of those envelope things, like are usually found in remote parts of national forests. There was no place to purchase firewood. Despite our unease, we paid our fee and drove into the camp.
It was getting late, so we picked a site somewhat hastily. The very tall trees in the park made it even darker, contributing to our feelings that we had about rushing to set up camp and eat before sunset.
The sites were in really bad shape. They were uneven, extremely sloped and eroded. The picnic table was oddly propped up on the awkward slant. We even picked the least sloped site. We could do that because there was nobody else there. Not a soul. We thought maybe other folks would start trickling in as the sun went down. Nope. It was extra weird because our night here happened to fall on the fourth of july, what I thought would be a big camping day. I guess everybody else knew better!
We cooked our hot dogs using our tiny backpacking stove, since there was no place flat enough to set up our bigger camping stove and no place to buy firewood. Other than things continually rolling and sliding off the table, dinner was alright. Luckily we were using a teeny tiny 4 person backpacking tent on that trip so we didn’t need a huge flat spot to set up.
The only water pumps seemed to be near the restroom building, so I headed over there to do dishes, maybe a hundred yards from our tent. By then it was very dark twilight. Eerie to be surrounded by empty campsites, no people around, no campfires, not even any road noise. The outdoor bathroom walls were plastered with warnings about bears. The water from the pump drained directly into an extra dark creepy forested area so washing dishes was pretty stressful, looking over my shoulder for bears constantly.
I got our of there quick but realized I had to take my daughter back to the restroom to get ready for bed. By then it was 100% pitch black. Unlike many developed campsites, this restroom building had no outdoor light, not even a small one. There was no electric light in the restroom either. Which was absolutely filthy. It looked like there might have been a murder in there. Recently. When my daughter asked why there was blood on the floor I told her it was mud, and just looked weird with our flashlights. I lied.
We got into our tent as quickly as possible and went to sleep, hoping for a peaceful night but not really expecting one. The creepy vibe was just too strong.
In the morning we left as fast as we could. Even in the sunshine this place had a very sinister, eerie vibe and we did not want to wait and find out why. We didn’t take any photos except of the dense forest because I don’t think we really wanted to remember this strange place.
The moral of the story? Planning is good. Reading reviews would have helped us to avoid this weird creepy empty camp. Winging it is not my strong suit, and this scary camp experience just reinforced my need to research in advance. Also, if you find yourself on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Julian Price, keep driving!