Location:Flat Top Mountain Overlook, Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, VADistance from Hubs: Raleigh (161 miles – 3 hours and 6 min) Greensboro (125 miles – 2 hours and 23 min) Roanoke (32 miles – 55 min) Trail Access:From Bedford, VA follow VA-43 north for 10.3 mi. When you enter Peaks of Otter Recreation Area turn right on the Blue Ridge Parkway heading north for 2.5 mi. Trail parking is at the Flat Top Mountain Overlook, an alternative start point is 0.3 mi further on the left at the Fallingwater Cascades parking area.Click here for a map provided by the NPSon Peaks of Otter Recreation AreaHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Fallingwater Cascades Trail – Flat Top Trail (both sections of the Fallingwater – Flat Top National Recreation Trail)Hike Configuration: Loop and out-and-back Elevation Gain: 2,115 feetHike Distance:~7.7 miles Hiking Time: 3 hours and 35 minutes Date of Hike: 03-22-15, Sunday at 9:00 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — As a national recreation trail in the parkway system, this is mostly in very good condition except for some eroded sections near the top of Flat Top MountainHike Difficulty:Moderate — The uphill sections are all moderately graded and never difficult Isolation:Above average — The waterfall and mountain summit draw hikers but nothing like the crowds at Sharp Top Mountain and Abbott Lake Highlights:High flow at Fallingwater Cascades, Easy to reach cliff views on Flat Top Mountain Lowlights:Lack of 360° view on Flat Top Mountain and clear view of Sharp Top Mountain, Fallingwater Cascades is a low flow creek and will be pitiful during droughtsGoogle+ photo album link
It was my birthday, but Duke was playing in the NCAA Round of 32 in the middle of the afternoon and there was no way I’m missing the game. I really wanted to get outside for a birthday hike but had limited options for driving and hiking. I decided on Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, which is under 2.5 hours away and offers multiple short hikes. On my first visit I did a quick hike to Sharp Top Mountain on my way to DC, this time I wanted to park at the trail access to Fallingwater Cascades and Flat Top Mountain. Although Flat Top Mountain can be accessed from a lower trail head at Abbott Lake, this is a steep route. It may be shorter in distance but it will likely take the same time to reach the summit. In addition to the casual long walk to the summit, the upper trail head gives you access to Fallingwater Cascades. My mind was set, a new waterfall and a new summit in 7.7 miles. Fallingwater Cascades is a nice waterfall, well worth the short hike. Flat Top Mountain has multiple cliffs on the summit offering exceptional views west and east. This is a fairly easy hike that was a great half-day choice for my birthday trek along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Location:George Washington National Forest, VA Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (190 miles – 3 hours and 19 min) Greensboro (155 miles – 2 hours and 35 min) Roanoke (81 miles – 1 hour and 27 min) Trail Access:From US-29 go left on VA-151 north for 10.5-mi. Go left on VA-56 heading west for 11.7-mi into the Tye River Gorge. Look for the Crabtree Falls parking access on the left side of the road. The trail head is on the left side of the upper parking lot. There is a nominal $3 fee for day access at Crabtree Falls.Click here for information on the George Washington National ForestHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Crabtree Falls Trail – Forest Road – Appalachian Trail – Spy Rock Spur Trail – Appalachian Trail – Forest Road – Crabtree Falls TrailHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 3,610 feetHike Distance:~13.9 miles Hiking Time: 6 hours and 25 minutes Date of Hike: 12-21-14, Sunday at 11:00 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — Crabtree Falls section is heavily used and eroded in many spots but the rest of the hike is on very good roads and trailsHike Difficulty:Strenuous — There are no steep sections along this hike but the elevation change on the Crabtree Falls Trail and Appalachian Trail are steady climbs. Isolation:High — Usually you will get a lot of company on Crabtree Falls and Spy Rock, but the hike in between receives much less traffic. On this day I only saw a few hikers, primarily due to the cold weather. Highlights:All of the beautiful waterfalls along Crabtree Creek, Fantastic 360° panorama from Spy Rock Lowlights:Forest road eroded and steep to the Appalachian TrailGoogle+ photo album link
I don’t get to Virginia enough. From afar I look down on it but when I hike there I enjoy it just as much as North Carolina. After 3 hikes I’ve come to love the mountains around VA-56. The Tye River crashes through a narrow gorge which highway 56 follows through the Blue Ridge Mountains on its way to the foothills. Around this area the Appalachian Trail crosses dramatic peaks through The Priest Wilderness and Three Ridges Wilderness, and other trails follow steep water drainages to popular or secluded waterfalls. There’s a lot to see, and trail access is easy. Crabtree Falls is billed as the highest waterfall on the East Coast. This is decidedly untrue because Crabtree Falls is actually 3 or 5 waterfalls (depending on your source), and when combined would become the tallest waterfall in the East. However, it is still an incredible series of falls that in my opinion is unrivaled in the Southeast. Beyond the top of the waterfall you can continue up a rare hanging valley to meet the Appalachian Trail. During my previous visit to the area, I hiked north to The Priest. My plan on this day was to hike south on the Appalachian Trail to Spy Rock, an incredible rock dome with 360° views. You can easily be satisfied with a short hike to either Crabtree Falls or Spy Rock but I love combining trails for a long day. If you are looking for a hike in this area of Virginia, Crabtree Falls is the place you should start.
Location:Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson, VA Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (180 miles – 3 hr 13 min) Raleigh (205 miles – 3 hr 36 min) Fees: $4 weekday – $5 weekendTrail Access:From Mouth of Wilson, drive 11.7 miles west on U.S. 58 and take a right at the state park entrance on VA-362. Drive 3.3-mi and take a right towards the Hickory Ridge campground. In 1.3-mi you will come across two small parking areas on the right for the amphitheater and the restrooms, either works. The trail is across the street on the left side. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Wilson Creek Trail – Seed Orchard Road – Scales Trail – Appalachian Trail – First Peak Trail – Kabel Trail – Big Wilson Creek Trail – Upchurch Road – Wilson Creek Trail Hike Configuration: Loop Elevation Gain: 2,568 feet (2,247 feet theoretical)Hike Distance:~14.4 miles (13.1-mi theoretical)Hiking Time: 7 hours Date of Hike: 9-28-14, Sunday at 11:30 AMTrail Condition: Below average — The horse trails in the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness section are either rocky or muddy, mostly in bad conditionHike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — This hike does not have any tough elevation gain but the trail condition puts a beating on your feet and legs Significant Stream Crossings:4 – the last one over Wilson Creek will usually be wetIsolation: Very high — The first half of the hike I saw a couple of groups on the AT but saw no one in the wilderness Highlights:Cascades and waterfalls on Wilson Creek, amazing vistas on Stone Mountain Lowlights:No views in the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness, terrible rock and mud slog on the horse trails, very confusing trail intersections along Big Wilson Creek Trail Google+ photo album link
The day did not end as expected. I spent a wonderful hour exploring cascades and waterfalls along Wilson Creek before meandering up Stone Mountain taking in the panoramic views. Despite being chased away from my lunch spot by an irritated wild pony, the fall colors and perfect temperatures made it a great hike so far. Per norm the sights in Grayson Highlands State Park and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area exceeded expectations. That changed beyond Stone Mountain as I entered the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness. What followed was a boring and sometimes painful 3.5 hours of hiking through the quagmire of horse trails in the wilderness. These trails were always extremely rocky, and at times very muddy. To end the day I slipped in Wilson Creek and ended up wading the creek and Wilburn Branch multiple times as I got lost trying to connect the Big Wilson Creek Trail to Upchurch Road. I eventually found my way out though after a few trial and errors and lots of exploratory running.
So, to summarize – the first half of this hike was awesome and the second half left a lot to be desired. My hiking plan was to take the Wilson Creek Trail from the Hickory Ridge campground/amphitheater parking in Grayson Highlands State Park then connect to the Appalachian Trail north towards Scales compound. From there I would loop around through the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness via First Peak, Kabel, Big Wilson Creek, and Upchurch Road trails. This loop is 13.1 miles without getting lost – I hiked 14.4 miles – but I would recommend turning around at the summit of Stone Mountain and taking an easier return trip. I also was trying out my new footwear combination of La Sportiva Ultra Raptor’s and Mont-Bell Stretch Short Spats (gaiters). They worked really well but I’ll need to try them a few more times before I write reviews.
Location:Rocky Knob Recreation Area, Floyd, VA Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (125 miles – 2 hr 25 min) Raleigh (152 miles – 2 hr 48 min) Trail Access:From U.S. 58 head north on VA-8 for 13.0-mi, turn left on SR 605 CC Camp Lane and road ends at small parking area for trail head in 0.7-miTrail information can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Rock Castle Gorge Trail Hike Configuration: Loop Trail Condition: Very good — The trails along the ridge and in Rock Castle Gorge were excellent, along Little Rock Castle Creek the trail was very eroded in spots Hike Distance:~10.8 miles Elevation Gain: 2,490 feetHiking Time: 5 hours Date of Hike: 6-16-13, Sunday at 11:30 AM Hike Difficulty:Moderately strenuous — The trek out of the gorge was steep and the descent also steep, otherwise a lot of the trail is flat or barely changing elevation Isolation: Above average — We passed a few groups of hikers, otherwise only the parkway overlooks had gatherings of people Highlights:Little Rock Castle Creek, the numerous balds and fields, perfect tree/rock lunch spot Lowlights:The long stretch beside Rock Castle Creek had few views of the creek and was very buggy Google+ photo album link
Although not featured heavily in guidebooks, Rock Castle Gorge is an extremely popular loop hike for the Piedmont Hiking and Outing Club. The trail is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Rocky Knob National Area, and is described as Doughton Park-lite by hikers. Due to its close proximity and description, I was anxious to check it out. I brought along my friends Ryan and Rachel, and we tackled the nearly 11-mile loop starting at the bottom. The Rock Castle Gorge loop climbs out of the valley along a steep creek drainage and traverses open fields before climbing over Rocky Knob, then drops into Rock Castle Gorge and follows the namesake creek back to the parking area. Since I hiked it over a year ago, some memories have faded but it is an excellent loop hike that is worth the trip for the creeks and vistas.
Location:Grayson Highlands State Park, Mouth of Wilson, VA Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill/Durham (180 miles – 3 hr 13 min) Raleigh (205 miles – 3 hr 36 min) Fees: $4 weekday – $5 weekendTrail Access:From Mouth of Wilson, drive 11.7 miles west on U.S. 58 and take a right at the state park entrance on VA-362. Drive 3.4-mi to the Massie Gap parking area. The trail head is at the overnight backpacker lot on the group campground road. You will have to pay a fee at the park entrance. Park information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hike Hiking Trails:Appalachian Spur Trail – Appalachian Trail north – Pine Mountain Trail – Appalachian Trail south to Thomas Knob Shelter then turn around and hike north – Wilburn Ridge Trail – Appalachian Trail north – Rhododendron Trail Trail Condition: Very good — AT maintained very well, Pine Mountain Trail close to Rhododendron Gap is overgrown and the Wilburn Ridge area is very rocky on the Wilburn Ridge Trail and AT Hike Configuration: Loop plus out-and-back Elevation Gain: 2,225 feetHike Distance:~14.2 miles Hiking Time: 6.75 hours Date of Hike: 7-6-14, Sunday at 11:40 AMHike Difficulty:Strenuous — There are not many difficult stretches but the hike is long, Wilburn Ridge is very rocky Isolation: Average — The first half of the hike is generally isolated but there are more people around Mt. Rogers and Wilburn Ridge Highlights:Open vistas on Stone Mountain, Pine Mountain Trail approach towards Lewis Fork Trail, Thomas Knob Shelter, Wilburn Ridge Lowlights:Extremely overgrown final stretch on Pine Mountain Trail, lack of interesting creeks, Wilburn Ridge Trail all rocks Google+ photo album link
It was the perfect day to visit a spot I hadn’t hiked in years. I have backpacked here twice in March 2010 and October 2010 but never a day hike. I drove out to Grayson Highlands State Park planning to do a big loop in the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness. Most of the hike would be on trails I’ve never touched and I was excited because it was sunny and mid-70s. Once I got started though and started ascending Stone Mountain towards Scales, I could not resist doing a loop I did years ago backpacking. The views and weather were too good to pass up. I started at the Massie Gap parking area in Grayson Highlands State Park and took the Appalachian Trail north past Scales before using the Pine Mountain Trail to form a loop with the AT. After a quick out-and-back to the Thomas Knob Shelter I trekked over Wilburn Ridge and said hi to some ponies on my way to the car. This loop hike is one of the best hikes in the Southeast and everyone should try to experience at least a portion of this area.
Location:Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area, George Washington National Forest, Vesuvius, VA Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (161 miles – 2 hr 58 min) Durham (161 miles – 2 hr 56 min) Raleigh (188 miles – 3 hr 21 min) Trail Access:Follow U.S. 60 west from U.S. 29 in Amherst for 18.1-mi – turn right on SR 634 for 1.6-mi – turn right at Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area sign on SR 755 for 2.7-mi – parking area on left at Hog Camp Gap where AT crosses road, or smaller parking area available 0.3-mi further at Henry Lanum trail head A description of the hike, trail map, and directions can be found hereHikingUpwardHiking Trails: SR 755 – Henry Lanum Trail – Mount Pleasant Summit Trail – Henry Lanum Trail – SR 755Trail Condition:Very good — Henry Lanum Trail in excellent condition to Mount Pleasant with wide path and few rocks. Trail beyond Mount Pleasant over Pompey Mountain less used with more overgrowth on trail but still in good condition.Hike Configuration:Loop Hike Distance:~8.8 milesHiking Time:4 hours Date of Hike: 5-26-14, Monday at 2:20 PMHike Difficulty: Moderate — trail starts easy and flat then has moderate uphill grades to Mount Pleasant, Pompey Mountain, and a couple of ridges Isolation: High — I passed 2 groups on the way to Mount Pleasant and saw no one else after that. I was very surprised I hardly saw anyone on Memorial Day, I guess all those cars were people hiking the AT next door. Highlights: Excellent trail through green forest, multiple rocky vantage points from Mount Pleasant Lowlights:No views from Pompey Mountain, nothing interesting for last couple miles along the ridges Google+ photo album link
Until recently, I have focused on finding trails in North Carolina that aren’t well-known. However I have been mostly ignorant to the fact there are a lot of great hikes just across the border in Virginia that are sometimes closer than our own mountains. In the past year I’ve gone on 6 hikes in Virginia and am continually impressed by what I find. On Memorial Day, still recovering from my grueling hike in the Black Mountains, I slept in and struck out to do a casual hike in the Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area in George Washington National Forest. There are 2 excellent loop options in this region, I chose to hike the Henry Lanum Trail, a 5.2-mi loop hike that crosses Mount Pleasant and Pompey Mountain. I read Mount Pleasant has one of the best summit views in Virginia and it did not disappoint on this beautiful Monday afternoon.
Location: Old Rag overflow parking, Shenandoah National Park, Etlan, VA Distance from Triangle: Chapel Hill (230 miles – 4 hr 9 min) Durham (216 miles – 4 hr 7 min) Raleigh (256 miles – 4 hr 21 min)Trail Access:Exit 73 off I-40 at Old Fort, go north on Catawba Ave, left on W. Main St, right on Old US-70 for 2.4-mi, right on Mill Creek Rd for 2.5-mi, right on Graphite Rd for 0.5-mi and gravel parking will be on left of road. Trail begins at end of Nethers Road about a mile past the parking lotPark information and trail map can be found hereWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Ridge Trail Hike Configuration:Out and backHike Distance:~8.2 miles Hiking Time:4.75 hours Date of Hike:05-19-14, Monday at 12:40 PMTrail Condition: Very good/Poor — The first 2/3 of the trail has many good switchbacks and is not too steep or rocky, the last 1/3 there is no trail, only blazes on boulders pointing the direction to climbHike Difficulty: Strenuous/very technical — The length was short and generally the approach trail had well-graded switchbacks. Combined with almost 2 hours of rock scrambling up and down it became tiring Isolation: Very Low — There were about 50 cars in the parking lot, I didn’t pass many people going up until I got to the rock scramble. This section slowed down traffic and people were everywhere all the way to the summit Highlights:Views west of all the central mountains in Shenandoah National Park, exciting and fun rock scramble that offered views at every spot Lowlights: 1 mile road walk to trail head due to popularity of trail, 70+ people at rock scramble through the summit, difficult sections to climb in the rock scramble section, relatively boring approach trail for first 2 miles Google+ photo album link
I have always wanted to hike Old Rag. It’s very well-known and supposed to be one of the best hikes in Virginia. But it is a considerable distance from Chapel Hill and is also supposed to be extremely crowded on the weekends in the summer months. I had my chance on the way back from Washington DC on a beautiful Monday. It poured rain a few days prior, and the weather couldn’t be better with clear skies in the 60s. While not exactly on the way back from DC, I did not mind the detour and I knew the crowds would be small because it was a weekday. Old Rag Mountain (3,268 feet) is located on the eastern periphery of Shenandoah National Park, standing separate and alone from the mountains that line Skyline Drive north to south. Although it was a short hike, it took a long time and lived up to its billing as an exciting rock scramble with excellent views. This hike should be on everyone’s bucket list if you live within driving distance.