No Place Like the Blue Ridge Mountains

We spent three nights just outside Marion, NC. Our hiking adventures included a state park, a national forest, a creek, a mountain, and a waterfall. And snakes! Also, I think I have a new favorite campground after this weekend.

Where We Stayed

This isn’t the campground with the most amenities or the fanciest campsites, but I think it’s the one with the best atmosphere and some of the most beautiful sites. Mountain Stream RV Park has about 45 sites, and most of them back up to a creek. Our site had a slightly elevated deck with a picnic table, as do many of the other sites.

Mountain Stream RV Park
Marion, NC
September 28 – October 1, 2023
Site 2

About the Campsites

Mountain Stream RV Park has about 45 sites. The sites have full hook-ups, including 50-amp electric. Hook-ups appeared to be at the back of all the sites (not on the side as we frequently see). Most of the sites back up to a stream (hence the name). Ours also had a slightly elevated deck with a picnic table. There is no cell service at this campground, but they do have free Wi-Fi and cable. They also offer faster Wi-Fi for a fee.

This beautiful stream runs right behind most of the campsites.

We thought it might be useful to start noting the quality of cell service, electric, and water pressure at the campgrounds we visit…

Cost: $72/night
Water pressure: 60 psi consistently
Voltage: 120 – 125
Cell service: none (not Verizon, T-mobile, or AT&T)

About the Campground

You can fish (with a North Carolina fishing license) from the creek. There’s also a pond stocked with rainbow trout that does not require a license to use. There’s a bathhouse, a small dog park, and a cute playground. They even have three yurts, in case you don’t have an RV.

The area between sites is nicely landscaped. Most have hostas or flowers of some sort in addition to grass and trees. They have lights hung from trees or poles in multiple spots. There’s also a small grassy area and a covered pavilion with a TV, picnic tables, and a fireplace. None of it is necessary, but it all adds a little something to the atmosphere.

The campground looks beautiful at night with the lights hanging in the trees.

There is a dog park at this campground, but the fence seemed quite short to us, so we didn’t use it. I think if Corona spotted a squirrel (or anything else interesting) she could have easily jumped out to go chase it. It’s hard to tell from the photo below because I forgot to have Corona stand by the fence for scale, but I don’t think the fence was more than three feet tall.

What We Did

Mount Mitchell

The entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park is about 30 minutes (16 miles) from the campground. From there, it’s another 5 miles to the closest parking lot to the summit. Between the switchbacks sharp turns, and scenic overlooks, the trip is both harrowing and beautiful.

There are multiple places to pull off the road and take in the scenery. On this trip, we stopped more often than we usually do. There’s just something about the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The park gets busy quickly, so we went early. The highest parking lot has restrooms, a gift shop, and a concession stand. From there, we took the main trail to the summit. “Trail” doesn’t seem quite right, because it’s wide and completely paved. It’s a bit steep, but it’s not a long walk. On the way to the top, there’s an education center (not open when we were there) and an entrance to the Balsam Nature Trail. Once you get to the top, enjoy the 360-degree view. There are four signs, each with a picture of the view from that particular direction and labels for various landmarks (lakes, peaks, towns, etc.). It’s kind of fun to see what you can identify while you’re up there.

Those traveling with dogs, you’ll like this… There are trash cans in the main parking lot, and they even had a bowl with water set up near the snack stand.

If you take the stairs down to the next highest parking area, you’ll find another entrance to the Balsam Nature Trail, which ends at the trailhead we passed on our way to the summit. We started on the trail but turned around before we reached the end. It was fairly narrow, and the large rocks and roots were difficult for Max to handle. At 13 years old, he’s finally starting to show his age. He’s still raring to go on a hike, but his back legs don’t support him the way they used to. This definitely isn’t a trail for strollers or tiny children.

In hindsight, I think it would have been fun to take the Balsam Nature Trail to the summit and take the paved trail back down to the parking lot. If we’re ever back here without a large, senior dog, I think that’s what we’ll try.

There used to be a restaurant here, but we have never seen it open. We still stopped at the building (before you reach the turnoff for the tent camping if you’re heading down the mountain), because it has some nice views. There’s a trailhead for the Old Mitchell Trail in that area and even an electric car charger in the parking lot!

Mount Mitchell Travel Tip

Did you know Mount Mitchell has its own radio station? We didn’t either! It turns out, if you tune in to 1630 AM when you get close, you can listen to information about the park. (There are one or two signs about it on the drive through the park.)

Roaring Fork Falls

On Saturday morning we drove about 20 minutes to the end of Busick Work Center Road, where there is a small parking lot right across from Forest Service Road 552. After about half a mile on this road, you’ll come to a small bridge. Then it’s maybe 100 yards or so to a stunning waterfall. Except for the short part after the bridge, it’s a fairly easy walk. Parts of the gravel road are a little steep, but not bad at all, and it seems like you could bring a stroller if you wanted to. After the bridge, the trail is much narrower and there are a lot of exposed roots, so that part is not stroller accessible, but from there it isn’t far to the waterfall. You could probably leave a stroller at the bridge and carry a child to the falls if you wanted.

Most of the trail to the waterfall is wide and seems like it would be fine for a stroller.
Close to the waterfall, there’s a narrow bridge followed by a narrow section of trail with lots of exposed roots.

The waterfall was beautiful and was much larger than I expected. When we visited, it had rained within the last few days. I’m curious how much of an impact that has on what the waterfall looks like. There is a lovely shallow pool at the bottom that is perfect for dogs to wade in.

We managed to get a photo with Max and Corona to give an idea of the size of the waterfall.

Can you see Max and Corona sitting next to the falls? You get a sense of how magnificent the waterfall is when you have an idea of scale.

We take very few photos with us and the dogs together. Neither Jesse nor I love the camera, but there was a very nice couple visiting the falls while we were there. We took a photo of them, so they offered to get one of us.

South Toe Fishing Access

From the falls, we drove to South Toe River Road. It’s unpaved and quite bumpy, so beware if you’re not traveling in a truck. After passing a few picnic tables, there’s a small parking area on the right with a map and a sign for South Toe Fishing Access.

The trail is about a 1.5-mile loop. It’s only wide enough for one person at a time, but a majority of the trail winds along the river, so it’s very scenic. There are also multiple spots with easy access to the river. Your water-loving dogs will be thrilled! No trash cans though, so be prepared to carry out whatever you bring in.

This trail in particular had some impressive trees! (Corona included for scale.)

Black Mountains Overlook

On our way back to the campground, we stopped at the Black Mountains Overlook. We stopped at several overlooks yesterday on the way to/from Mount Mitchell, but the view from this one was breathtaking!

Where We Ate

Toonez Chophouse

Good place! The rolls they bring to the table when you sit down are warm and delicious. The burgers were delicious, and the fries were cooked perfectly. Even though we ordered ours plain, the burgers had a slight barbeque flavor. It was unexpected but pretty good. There were several options on the menu that sounded good.

Dot’s Dario Bar

This place doesn’t look like much from the road, but there was a line when we arrived and when we left. We stopped on the way back to the campground after getting dinner, but it’s only 13 minutes away, so it seems like a reasonable stop by itself if you decide you just have to have dessert one night. They have soft-serve and regular ice cream. They had some interesting flavors, like Bourbon brown butter truffle and roadrunner raspberry. I got brookie dough blast, and Jesse got cookie dough.

When we were there, they only accepted cash. They even have no-sugar-added flavors and a non-dairy option they call magic snow.


There were many quick sightings that didn’t allow for photos.

  • a chipmunk on the trail to Roaring Fork Falls (Corona was very disappointed I wouldn’t let her chase him.)
  • I heard what I believe was a woodpecker on that trail as well
  • some wild turkeys driving back from the Black Mountains overlook
  • a kingfisher while driving to Marion for dinner one night
  • lots of bats

The most exciting part of the campground was watching for snakes in the creek behind the campsite. I spotted four. As far as I can tell, they were all harmless Northern watersnakes. I spotted the first sunning itself on a rock while we were eating dinner one night.

Once I realized they lived in the stream, I brought out my binoculars and started looking harder. Thank goodness I did, because that’s how I spotted the second one! He was resting on top of a pile of leaves.

We stumbled upon another while wading in the stream with the dogs. (There was a fourth, but he was camera shy.)

More Photos

OK, I think there are enough photos to make you feel like you’ve been there. Or at least enough to convince you that you should go there.

Happy travels!

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