Toddler Friendly Hiking: Craggy Pinnacle Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway
An alternative title for this post could be making the most out of a few setbacks….
Traveling on the Blue Ridge Parkway feels like it is a world away from our home, jobs and responsibilities with the added benefit of really only being a two and a half hour drive. We have done some of the more frequented tourist stops in the area in past trips but this time we decided to explore some new hikes.
As with any trip there are some things outside of your control. For our hike at Craggy Pinnacle it was the weather. The hike in general is approximately 1.2 miles requiring a moderate level of exertion. Mostly uphill until you reach a lovely lookout point and then downhill on the way back to the car. It sounded absolutely perfect for a hike with two senior citizens and a toddler.
Any time something sounds absolutely perfect you should feel nervous. First, the gorgeous North Carolina weather predicted for our trip starting changing. It started with rain. Eighty degrees and rain I guess I can live with that. Then the temperature started plummeting. By the time we arrived the high for the weekend was in the 50s. Add to it that we were planning on being up at a summit and we were looking at temperatures in the high 30s or low 40s. No problem, we can hike on Monday when it gets warmer. Then a girl in my husband’s office quit out of the blue and he had to go to work on Monday. Alright I said, we can pack jackets! I prefer not to hike without my husband because he has an easier time carrying our toddler and is an extra set of hands if she wants to do some walking on her own. But seriously – enough messing with me universe!
The drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Craggy Pinnacle was beautiful. A bit cold, a little windy, but the sun was out and it was gorgeous. This was going to be fun!!
My father-in-law kept pointing out what he thought was snow on the top of the mountains. Hello, its May this is North Carolina that isn’t snow (or is it??)! We arrived at the visitor’s center for Craggy Gardens and would you believe it the trees were covered in….ice. You thought I was going to say snow didn’t you? Turns out when it rained the day at the bottom of the mountain that was ice up on top. If you have ever looked into hiking the Craggy Pinnacle trail then you know that the rhododendron bushes are a huge draw. I figured they might not be blooming but I wasn’t totally ready for them to be ice covered.
One more minor set back came in the road closure I had not be expecting. Just a little extra walking – again no problem! At this point my mother-in-law bowed out of the hike. She isn’t super steady on her feet and all the ice looked a bit ominous. No big deal, we would be up and back in no time. Toss toddler into hiking pack and away we go. Except our daughter completely melted down when my husband picked the back pack up. We are in a “mommy do it” phase. Wait, if mommy is carrying the hiking pack with the toddler and our less able crew is staying in the car why aren’t we doing this when the temperatures rise? Because I am already here and I hate cancelled plans (I need to work on this).
So up we went. And we made it to the Craggy Pinnacle hike! But not all the way to the lookout point. Unfortunately, the wind really did pick up as we reached the trail. My husband managed to bring nothing but summer clothes with him. I did try to warn people about the temperature changes, honestly. He ended up having to take his t-shirt off to wrap it around our daughter’s face like a ski mask. And we kept going for a minute or do before deciding that the view from the car was just as gorgeous as the view from outside the car but 30 degrees warmer.
This is a bit of a failed hike but I am taking a few lessons away from it:
- Adjust your plans based on the weather instead of trying to power through. We have tempted rain a time or two and had it work out (like our hike from Lake Louise). But 40 and windy really is 40 and windy. Just because I wanted it to feel like 70 didn’t mean it did.
- Find magic in experiencing an area in unexpected ways. The rhododendron bushes covered in ice were actually stunning. They looked even more magical juxtaposed next to the bright blue sky. Not too many people probably see Craggy Gardens that way and I am glad to be someone who did.
- There is always next time! I tend to worry I will never come back to the magical places we have visited but that is not the right attitude. Anything we have missed is just another reason to come back.
- Shoulder season is shoulder season for a reason. We were super excited to visit Asheville but had to come early due to my work schedule. Asheville is gorgeous year around but there is definitely a reason why peak season is a bit later in the year. The weather in North Carolina is still a little unpredictable right now. In the future I would either take my own advice and tailor my activities to the weather or make this more of a spur of the moment trip so I could ensure warmer weather for some of these hikes at higher elevations.
Toddler Friendly Rating: 0/10. This rating absolutely only counts if it is very cold and windy. Otherwise this is a relatively easy hike that would have been very doable with a toddler in a back pack. It is not somewhere I would have let her walk on her own but she is a happy camper in the hiking pack (as long as mommy does it!). So just know the 0/10 is only for the weather otherwise I think this is easily a 10/10 experience.
All in all would I do it again? Absolutely! I had a blast and all the ice was really cool!