Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blue Ridge Parkway, VA - Rock Castle Gorge

Rocky Knob/Rock Castle Gorge Trails - Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trails
Rocky Knob Trails - Virtual Blue Ridge

Where this hike generally starts at the higher elevation of the Blue Ridge Parkway, I wanted to get the steepest climb out of the way first so I started low in the gorge.  These directions are for that parking area.
GPS Coordinates 36.807732, -80.331023

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Parking for 4 cars on the left (2 on either side) and additional parking to the right all the way to the dead end.

Rocky Knob Trails - National Park Service

Everything says this hike is 10.8 miles although I measured it out at 11.3 miles with the first third and last third of the hike jiving with given mileage - something was different along the Blue Ridge Parkway section - the difference is probably from circling around cows and crossing over the Blue Ridge Parkway for views on the other side.

Rocky Knob -
Grassy Knoll -

From the parking area, cross the barrier and bridge and continue straight on the fire road.
Make a sharp right turn on the green-blazed. Rock Castle Gorge Trail.
The trail starts out very easy along the creek through beautiful forests.
During mid-May an explosion of wildflowers throughout most of this hike.
The trail will start to climb more steeply.
And more steeply.
After crossing a challenging blowdown (you have to climb over the top of the huge tree trunk that slants down into the gorge so you keep sliding down the trunk while trying to get over it) the trail becomes intensely steep for a bit.  After passing a bench on the right, things smooth out and it becomes a stroll in the park.
The trail ascends more gently through pastures along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Posts mark the way.
An interesting tree growing out of a rock in the mountaintop meadow.
There were many cows in the pastures we hiked through.
The cow on the right was standing in the middle of the trail and had no intention of moving so we made a wide circle around her and she kept her eye on us.
There will be several stiles to cross - some with steps like this...
... and a couple of walk-through stiles
The trail traverses The Saddle at the Blue Ridge Parkway.
On the opposite side of the Blue Ridge Parkway from The Saddle overlook, Buffalo Mountain.
An old shelter from when the Appalachian Trail used to pass this way before being rerouted.
View from the old AT shelter.
View from Rocky Knob
View from the Grassy Knoll
Starting the descent back into the gorge.
Descending through Catawba Rhododendrom
Going down is easier than coming up was.
Passing through Bare Rocks.
Old fireplace and chimney in the woods.
Cascades in Rock Castle Creek
The trail becomes an old woods road following along the creek with several bridge crossings.
The Austin House, built in 1916, privately owned.
Final stretch through a campground.
Driving back to the cabin at Fairy Stone State Park I saw a bird sitting in the middle of the highway and she did not fly away when I passed her.  There was no traffic so I put on my flashers, backed up, jumped out and scooped her up.  I held in my hand the Virginia State Bird.  It appeared as though she had been clipped by a car and was dazed.
Back at Fairy Stone State Park I was consulting with the park rangers over what to do with her when she started protesting at being held.  I opened my hand and she flew away and landed in the parking lot.  She would not let the rangers catch her so that was a very good sign that she was coming around.  She flew into a fire wood box and we decided that was a good place for her to rest and hopefully take off when she was ready. 

[0.00]    From parking cross barrier and bridge, continue straight on fire road
[0.10]    Make sharp right turn on to green-blazed Rock Castle Gorge Trail
[0.50]    Trail becomes steeper
[1.25]    Cross over huge blowdown; trail becomes much steeper
[1.40]    Trails levels out some and beyond bench on right becomes very smooth and level
[2.00]    Cross two bridges
[2.80]    Rock hop over creek
[3.00]    Cross fence on stile
[3.15]    Rocky Knob Campground on right other side of Blue Ridge Parkway
[3.70]    Leave cow pasture via walk through stile
[3.90]    Saddle Overlook
[4.00]    Keep left at fork - no blazes through this area which goes over Rocky Knob
[4.15]    Former Appalachian Trail shelter from before the AT was relocated; continue other side of shelter following ledge when other unmarked trails go right towards the parkway; top of incline is Rocky Knob
[4.40]    Green blazes start again
[4.65]    Turn left at T-intersection
[5.05]    Rock Castle Gorge Overlook
[5.40]    Keep left when a trail goes up steps to right
[5.45]    Twelve O'Clock Knob; trail now blazed both green and blue
[5.55]    Straight on green/blue when unmarked comes in from right
[6.05]    Cross fence on stile
[6.40]    Grassy Knoll; just beyond bench keep left on green when blue leaves to the right
[7.10]    Cross fence on stile
[7.75]    Rock hop over creek
[8.30]    Trail goes over boulders of Bare Rocks
[8.65]    Old chimney on left
[8.70]    Cross bridge
[8.75]    Turn left on woods road at T-intersection
[9.50]    Cross bridge
[9.65]    Cross bridge and rock hop creek
[9.90]    Austin house, built in 1916 on right (privately owned)
[10.10]    Cross bridge
[10.90]    Campground
[11.20]    Keep straight when Rock Castle Gorge Trail goes left
[11.30]    Back at parking


  1. We hiked this on 8/10/2013, great hike. The blow-down you mention on Mile 1.25 is no longer there. That was one tough climb up to the Parkway!! Thanks for posting. - Bryce

    1. Thanks for the update, Bryce! That was a tricky downed tree to hurdle because it slanted down into the valley and the force of gravity would pull you down that way as you were trying to get on top of it to get over! Glad you enjoyed the hike. Wish I lived closer so I could do it again. So beautiful there!


  2. Daniela - My friend Tony and I map trails and post them on our free hiking website (, most hikes (200+) are in VA, WV and MD. We will post this one in the next few weeks. I am glad we saw your post and your recommendation of knocking the climb out of the Gorge first, that is how we will present it in our mile by mile writeup. Later in the day near the Back-country Campsite we passed 2 ladies who had started at the Visitor Center, I didn't have the heart to tell them they were coming to the toughest part!! I came in at 10.7 miles, like you, mileage discrepancy is probably some wandering in the meadows/pastures. I drove 4 hours from Richmond, picked up some friends at the 2 hr mark in Lynchburg, did the hike, drove 4 hours back, dropped them off and then headed home, 450 driving miles, left my house at 4:30am and got home at 9:30pm, long day!! Your blog and photos made it too enticing not to do, even with the drive, thanks. Happy Trails - Bryce

    1. You are!?!? How awesome! I have used your site extensively for planning Virginia hikes and have a link to it on my Virginia page. Thank you so much for making your information available!

      I do one or two long trips like that a year where I leave at 5 AM and get home at 11 PM. Exhausting but so worth it for the right hike!


    2. Daniela - Glad you like the site. Lots of family things going on right now but will let you know when we finally get it posted. BTW, would you mind if I borrowed your photo of the first trail sign to head up the trail? Mine blurred for some reason. That was a great hike and definitely worth the drive. Thanks - Bryce (

  3. Daniela - Here is our version of this hike, thanks so much for your great blog that got us down there to hike it: