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Rock Castle Gorge Trail

An incredible 11 mile hike just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are several variations you can do for shorter mileage but it is highly recommended that you complete the entire loop.

  • Classic hike
  • Moderate to difficult hike
  • 11 miles with shorter variations
  • View hand drawn Rock Castle Gorge map
Trail Description:

Sheltered within the deep, narrow confines of Rock Castle Gorge is a surprising variety of plant life. There are 200 species of wild flowers, 45 species of trees and 28 species of ferns alone along the 10.8-mile loop trail. The Gorge also has a stunning wildflower display boasting nearly 200 species from April through early May, all within day hiking distance of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The loop encompasses high, open meadows with an impressive panoramic view as well as the narrow confines of the Gorge itself, making for a strenuous, but rewarding day hike.

As you hike down the sometimes steep trail, you might be tempted to think of this botanical haven as a slice of wilderness left untouched by man, but that idea quickly vanishes as you begin to see old home sites along the trail. The banks of Rock Castle Creek were once home to the more than 70 families who farmed the land and harnessed the stream to power their mills.

This steep trail is less strenuous if hiked from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Rocky Knob Campground downhill to the creek. The trail drops more than 1,000 feet in its first three miles. The predominately oak-hickory forest also features maples, tuliptrees, bigtooth aspens, basswoods and mountain laurel.

At mile 3.2 of the hike, you will reach the sight of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, now a designated backcountry campsite. The only remains of the CCC camp are the foundations of old buildings. The required camping permit for this site is available at no charge from either the Rocky Knob Campground or Visitor Center.

The trail reaches its junction with the Hardwood Cove Nature Trail at mile 5.5 and begins to climb out of the Gorge. There are many nooks and crannies to explore a half mile later when the trail goes through Bare Rocks, an extensive boulder field.

The Rock Castle Gorge Trail tunnels through rhododendron as it climbs up to Grassy Knoll at mile 7 of the hike. The trail opens up in another half mile with commanding views of the surrounding countryside. For the remainder of the hike, the trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, passing by Rock Castle Gorge Overlook at mile 9. Beyond that overlook, it is .8 mile to the summit of Rocky Knob (elevation 3,572 feet). There are impressive views from the old trail shelter on the summit. This shelter was built as an Appalachian Trail shelter in the 1930s, before the building of the Parkway moved the A.T. to a more westerly course along the Blue Ridge mountains.

The trail passes through open fields and an old orchard on its way back to the trailhead at the Rocky Knob Campground. 

Directions to Trailhead:
Add On:
  • Continue south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to milepost 171.5 where you will find Chateau Morrisett - a winery and restaurant (540.593.2865)