Thursday, June 12, 2014

Blue Ridge Parkway: Price Lake Trail (Blog Hike #471)

Trail: Price Lake Trail
Hike Location: Blue Ridge Parkway: Julian Price Memorial Park
Geographic Location: south of Boone, NC
Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2014
Overview: A circumnavigation of Price Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: Price Lake Overlook, the starting point for this hike, is located at mile marker 296.7 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  This mile marker is located 5 miles south of the Parkway’s intersection with US 321.

The hike: Consisting of 4200 acres near the base of famous Grandfather Mountain, Julian Price Park is the southern-most of several person-named parks between mile markers 240 and 300 on the Blue Ridge Parkway (known as “The Parkway” for short).  The park is named for Julian Price, a former President of Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Company in Greensboro who purchased the land for use by his employees as a retreat and recreational facility.  When Price died unexpectedly in 1946, the insurance company donated the land to the National Park Service for public use via The Parkway.
            Today the park boasts the largest campground on The Parkway, a 300-seat amphitheater (seen on this hike), and several picnic facilities.  Man-made 47-acre Price Lake sits at the center of the park, and the lake offers excellent fishing and canoeing opportunities.  For hikers, the park features several trails, the most popular of which is the Price Lake Trail described here.  The Price Lake Trail forms a loop around the lake, so it gets used by anglers as well as hikers.
Price Lake Trail leaving the parking lot
            There are several places from which you could start the Price Lake Trail.  I chose to start at the Price Lake Overlook, which has a decent-sized parking area on the east side of The Parkway.  I hiked the loop counter-clockwise to get the developed campground section of trail out of the way first.  To accomplish this, pick up the blacktop trail that exits the south side of the parking area with the lake to your left and The Parkway to your right.  The trail descends slightly into a dense area of rhododendron as the blacktop turns to dirt.
            At 0.1 miles, the trail curves left where some unofficial trails exit right and straight.  The Price Lake Trail is not marked, so junctions such as this one can lead to momentary confusion.  Green walls of rhododendron line the trail here and elsewhere.
Rhododendron walls
0.2 miles into the hike, you cross the paved campground road and begin another brief paved section of trail.  Some trail signs direct you through the campground area, as the trail passes some picnic areas, the campground amphitheater, the campground’s Lakeview Overlook with its large adjoining parking area, and finally the canoe rental shack.  At the canoe rental area, walk down the ramp and pick up the gravel trail that continues around the lake.
The developed area is now behind you as the trail curves left to cross Cold Prong and Boone Fork, two of the lake’s three main feeder streams, on wooden footbridges.  A nice boardwalk takes you over a wet area, and more good lake views emerge to the left.  Just shy of 1 mile, you pass a wooden fishing platform that juts out into the lake.
Price Lake view
At 1.2 miles, you reach a confusing trail intersection created by a recent trail re-route.  The old trail goes straight, but it now dead-ends at a small lake inlet.  Thus, you should turn right to follow the new trail, which takes a higher route around the inlet.  If you look carefully on the other side of the inlet, you can see where the overgrown old trail comes in from the left.
1.5 miles into the hike, the trail crosses Laurel Creek, Price Lake’s third major water source, on a new wooden footbridge.  The smaller wrecked old footbridge lies in the wetland to the left, making you thankful for the effort and money that went into building the new one.  The next 0.7 miles parallel Price Lake’s east shore.  For the most part the going is easy, but some rock outcrops will need to be negotiated.  A few trees over here bear the scars of beaver activity.
Crossing a rock outcrop
At 2.2 miles, you emerge from the woods on the east shoulder of The Parkway near the dam that forms Price Lake.  Turn left and walk along the dam, using the sidewalks on the Parkway’s bridge to cross the spillway.  The Price Lake Overlook lies just beyond this bridge, thus marking the end of the hike.

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