Fallingwater Cascades and Flat Top Mountain – Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, VA

 

Fallingwater Cascades
Fallingwater Cascades

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.

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Crabtree Falls to Spy Rock – George Washington National Forest, VA

 

East view of The Priest from Spy Rock
East view of The Priest from Spy Rock

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.

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Rock Castle Gorge – Rocky Knob Recreation Area, VA

 

Rock Castle Gorge view from Rocky Knob
Rock Castle Gorge view from Rocky Knob

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.

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Henry Lanum Trail – Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area, VA

 

Cold Mountain view
Cold Mountain view

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.

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