Blue Ridge Parkway | JOHNSON FARM TRAIL (MP 85.4 OR 85.9)

Johnson Family farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Johnson Family farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway


From late May through early October, the Johnson Family Farmhouse is open to visitors on Thursdays through Mondays, 9 AM to 4 PM. Times can change, so before making travel plans visit the official Blue Ridge Parkway Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the latest schedule.


Length: 1.75 mile loop
Time: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate

The Johnson Farm Trail takes visitors past a restored mid-1800s farm. The Johnson Family farmhouse, a barn, a spring house, and antique farm equipment are on display. While the grounds of the farm are always open for those passing through on the trail, if you visit during operating hours, knowledgeable park volunteers are on hand to answer questions and give tours of the farmhouse, which is otherwise locked.

Antique farm equipment at the Johnson Family farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Antique farm equipment at the Johnson Family farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

You can access the trail at two locations. From the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center (MP 85.9) a .3-mile connector trail leads to the start of the Johnson Farm Loop Trail. This adds an extra .6-mile, round trip, to the hike. To save time and effort, park at the lower lot (near the road) of the Peaks of Otter Lodge, which is just a half mile north of the Visitor Center. Look for a paved path that leads through a tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway. You will find the start of the trail on the other side. You can also access the Abbott Lake Loop Trail from this parking lot. To do so, instead of crossing under the Parkway, keep walking along the paved path. This easy, 1-mile hike circles the lake.

Trailhead for the Johnson Farm Trail at the Peaks of Otter Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Trailhead for the Johnson Farm Trail at the Peaks of Otter Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Being a loop, you can start in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction, but if you want to have slightly less uphill climbing, hike in the counterclockwise direction, which is the way the trail sign is pointing. The farm is .75 mile up the trail, which is near the halfway point on the hike. When done at the farm, many people simply turn around and hike back the way they came, but to avoid seeing the same things twice, finish out the loop. It only adds a quarter mile to the hike.

Trail signs point the way to start the hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway's Johnson Farm Trail

Trail signs point the way to start the hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Johnson Farm Trail

Shortly after beginning the hike, the trail forks left and right. Stay left. If you go right, you’ll end up at a dead end near some sort of shack used to store park equipment. Other than this, there are no points of confusion on the hike. Like most trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway, intersections are well marked.

A few minutes later, you will find yourself crossing a field and passing the site of the old Hotel Mons. Tourism at Peaks of Otter dates back to the mid-1800s. In 1857, Benjamin and Leyburn Wilkes (father and son team) purchased the land, including the mountains, for much of the Peaks of Otter area. They had been running a small boarding house, or “ordinary,” since 1849 and were confident that tourism was the future. The same year they purchased the land they began construction on the first true hotel in the area, the Otter Peaks Hotel. Up until then, any lodging for tourists was done in private homes or small ordinaries, which were basically cabins turned into inns. The most popular of such ordinaries was run by Polly Wood, widow of Jeremiah Wood who was a grandson of the original settler of Peaks of Otter, Thomas Wood. The inn was known as Polly Wood’s Ordinary, and it still stands today on the shore of Abbott Lake near the Peaks of Otter Picnic Area. Polly Wood’s ordinary closed in the early 1850s, with rumor being that it was the Wilkes who put it out of business.

The Civil War put a damper on tourism, and it never did recover. The hotel, now run by Leyland Wilkes and his brother-in-law Nicholas Horsley, burned down in 1870. Despite Wilkes and Horsley now involved in lawsuits against each other over the ownership of the land, the hotel was promptly rebuilt. It traded hands a number of times in the subsequent years and eventually became known as the Hotel Mons, named after the village it was located in, Mons. In 1916 it was sold to the Peaks of Otter Company, Inc. for $5,000. A new hotel was built in 1920 that doubled capacity (the old hotel was still used).

The entire area, including the hotel, was purchased in 1935 by the state government for the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway (states purchased the land for the federal government). At this time the hotel was torn down. This also marked the demise of the Mons community.

Early 20th Century photo of the Hotel Mons

Early 20th Century photo of the Hotel Mons

After crossing the field you will enter into the forest, and it is here that the hike begins uphill, thus the Moderate rating for the trail’s difficulty. Other than being uphill, the trail is easy to hike. While not smooth, the terrain’s rocks and roots are minor compared to many mountain trails.

Typical terrain of the Johnson Farm Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Typical terrain of the Johnson Farm Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway

You will arrive at the farm after hiking .75 mile. As mentioned, if you arrive when the farm is “open,” you can get inside the farmhouse. Well informed park volunteers will show you around and answer any of your questions.

The farm property, originally 102.5 acres, was purchased by John Therone Johnson in 1852, and the farmhouse was constructed soon afterwards. Three generations of Johnsons lived on the farm until 1941, but towards the end, more and more people in the Mons community were selling their land to the U. S. Forest Service and moving to larger communities outside of the mountains. Even the Hotel Mons shut down in 1936. The farm was producing less and less, possibly due to the deterioration of the soil in a time when modern farming practices were not known in such rural areas. The last two residents, Callie (Johnson by birth) and her husband Mack Bryant, realized that life on the farm was coming to an end. Mack died in 1931. Callie remained another ten years until selling the property in 1941 to the Peaks of Otter Company for $3,500 and moving to Bedford, Virginia.

Beginning in 1935, construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway had begun and the government was trying to buy up land, oftentimes stymied by landowners who wanted exorbitant prices. The Peaks of Otter Company still owned much of the land in the area. To entice the company to sell, the National Park Service offered a deal that made the Peaks of Otter Company the park concessionaire for the Peaks of Otter Recreation Area. By 1943 the land transactions were complete and the NPS now owned the farm property. The buildings on the farm were in poor condition at the time of the sale. It wasn’t until 1949 that a proper survey of the buildings and their condition was conducted. After that, the property was again left to deteriorate, and it wasn’t until 1964 that plans for the farm came under discussion, though it took another four years before any work began.

The decision as to which era to restore the house was in question. Some wanted to revert it to its turn-of-the-century appearance, which was basically its log cabin skeleton. The original log cabin is enclosed within the wood siding walls, which was commonly done to upgrade log cabins to a more modern style. Others argued that enough log cabins were on display and that the lives of mountain farmers who had worked hard to improve their lot, including upgrades to original cabins, would be a more interesting historical perspective, thus a 1930s appearance would be best. It was eventually decided to restore the farmhouse to its turn-of-the-century appearance, and in 1968 work began. Wood panels were removed, the tin roof was replaced with wooden shakes, and the porches, kitchen, dining room, flour room, and one doorway were removed.

By 1971 the work had not been completed. At this time it was concluded that the turn-of-the-century restoration was not the way to go after all because there really was no evidence to support how the house would have looked, and that a 1930s restoration was more desirable. There was plenty of historical evidence, including photographs, as to how the house looked at this time. In fact, some of the Johnsons who lived in the house, as well as some of their neighbors, were still alive and could be consulted. Of course this entailed putting the house back to the condition it was in before everything was torn out during the earlier renovation. Work began in 1972 and was completed in time for the 1974 season, the year the farm was open to the public.

From 1974 until 1983, full time live-in interpreters occupied the Johnson Farm. They dressed and acted the part of Johnson family members, giving tours of the house and answering questions. After 1983, the practice was continued during the summer season only. Today, interpreters no longer live on the farm, but they do volunteer for the entire season, and they do have to study the farm’s history so they can properly educate the public. The interpreters who were at the farm when I visited stayed at the Peaks of Otter Campground.

Barn at the Johnson Farm at Mile Post 85.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Barn at the Johnson Farm at Mile Post 85 on the Blue Ridge Parkway

As you can imagine, country farmhouses aren’t that big, so it doesn’t take long to see the place. Rooms are furnished as they would have been in the 1930s. Period antiques used to decorate the rooms were chosen based on what family members and others in the community could remember about the room decor.

Kitchen of the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Kitchen of the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Both floors are open to visitors. The top floor is where the children’s bedrooms were, while the bottom floor housed the kitchen and bedrooms for the adults.

Upstairs bedroom of the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Upstairs bedroom of the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A selection of early children’s toys shows modern kids just how lucky they are, though many may feel it is the children of the 19th century who had the better childhoods, baring early deaths from all sorts of diseases.

Collection of wooden toys for boys on display at the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Collection of wooden toys for boys on display at the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dolls adorn a bed at the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dolls adorn a bed at the Johnson Farmhouse on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A garden featuring traditional crops grown on a mountain farm can be seen from the upstairs window.

Garden at the Johnson Farm on the Blue Ridge Parkway features crops grown by the Johnsons and other mountain farmers

Garden at the Johnson Farm on the Blue Ridge Parkway features crops grown by the Johnsons and other mountain farmers

Once done with your visit to the farm, head out back of the house to the garden. To find where the trail continues, look past the garden and up the hill towards the far, left hand corner of the field. The trail darts back into the forest at this point. When leaving, you can get a good view of the farm as you walk up the hill.

View from the rear of the Johnson Farm on the Blue Ridge Parkway

View from the rear of the Johnson Farm on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The trail continues uphill for a short distance, then begins the descent back towards the starting point near the Blue Ridge Parkway. By the time you have finished, you’ll have walked about 1.75 miles, though this includes walking around the farm, not just the trail length. It takes about 1.5 hours to hike the trail, see the farm, and talk with the volunteers on duty. If the farm is closed, you can knock off close to a half hour from this time. I spent 45 minutes at the farm, much of that time talking with the volunteers. I highly recommend the hike when the farm is open. You won’t get much out of it otherwise.

During my visit in early October, the gnats were unbelievably relentless in the bombardment of anything alive. I looked like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon, but instead of a dust cloud looming above my head I had a cloud of gnats. I’m guessing this isn’t only an October thing, and most likely the problem persists during the warmer months. Oddly enough, this is the only place on the Blue Ridge Parkway were I was bothered by gnats.

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Last updated on November 21, 2023
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