My hiking exploits in North Carolina and other regional adventures
Category: Southern Blue Ridge
Hikes in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This includes hikes along the Blue Ridge Parkway, George Washington National Forest, and Jefferson National Forest between Roanoke and Charlottesville.
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: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: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.