Can't make it to Scotland or Switzerland anytime soon to hike those spectacular high mountain meadows? Well right here in the Old Dominion we have the next best thing! Every hiker in the mid-Atlantic should hike Cold Mountain at least once. The 360° meadow views from the saddle are are some of the best on the east coast.
Cold Mountain is the sister circuit to the Mount Pleasant hike on the next ridge. If you are looking for a slightly longer hike, or a backpack, consider combining this hike with the Mount Pleasant route for a combined 11.3 mile figure eight circuit.
From the parking area continue down FS48 for 0.2 miles. Just before the road splits the Hotel Trail will be on the right marked by two posts with blue blazes. Head up the blue blazed trail for 0.1 miles arriving at a wooden horse gate (the trail on the left leads down to the Mount Pleasant parking area). Stay straight on the Hotel Trail passing through the horse gate. Descend slightly, then in 0.6 miles head back uphill climbing a spur of Cold Mountain.
On the southwest side of the campsite, or on its right corner as you approached, the blue blazed trail descends the spur. Continue to follow the blue blazed trail, cross a small stream, then arrive at the crest of a second spur in 1.5 miles (there is an overgrown abandoned trail on the left here).
Continue downhill on the blue blazed trail into Cowcamp Gap, cross Little Cove Creek, then in 200 yards Cowcamp Gap Shelter is on your right. 100 yards to the right/southeast of the shelter in is a large campsite suitable for 4-6 tents, and 75 yards to the left/northwest of the shelter is a spring and the source of Little Cove Creek.
Continue up the blue blazed trail, on the opposite side of the creek than the shelter, and in 75 yards turn left on the Hotel Trail at the sign towards the Appalachian Trail (AT). (turning right and crossing Little Cove Creek at this point leads back to the spring and shelter. note: this side trail is also blue blazed)
Continue up the Hotel Trail for 0.5 miles to the intersection of the AT. Turn right/north on the white blazed AT and make two switchbacks, pass two view points, then arrive at the first open meadow and 4033ft summit of Cold Mountain in 1.2 miles. Continue, passing through a small stand of trees before reaching the the main Cold Mountain saddle, and largest of the high mountain meadows. The saddle provides a 360° panoramas with views of Pompey Mountain and Mount Pleasant.
After re-entering the forest at the end of the meadow, follow the white blazed AT as it winds its way downhill for the remaining 0.6 miles back to FS48 and hike parking area on the right.
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Reviews For The Cold Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
I'll start off by saying that this is a fairly easy hike. We finished in just over 3.5 hours with several lengthy breaks to take in the incredible views. The views definitely deserve the 5 star rating that they were given. You are surrounded by great views while walking through the meadows on the summit. There are also a couple of outlooks earlier in the hike. We saw about seven areas of bear scat throughout the hike, but never saw any bears. We did see a hawk (and some smaller birds), a toad, and countless butterflies and bees. Also, on the way out we ran into a Timber Rattlesnake and a White-tailed deer. The solitude was great, as we only encountered three other hikers (one of whom was hiking the entire AT for the second time). Another really cool part of the hike was the cabin (Cowcamp Gap Shelter) which had a notebook and pen for people to write down a few notes. This was really interesting! If anyone is interested in camping, there were many camping areas throughout the hike. This was a great hike and I highly recommend it for just about anyone!
Date of Hike: Sunday, May 24, 2015
I decided to the hike loop in reverse, since I had a late start and wanted to make sure I see the meadows on the AT. Those are the best rewards of the hike for those of us who enjoy views. This loop is one of the best hikes I've done in Virginia for sure, I highly recommend it. I would say when dry and as of the date of my hike, the road to the trail head is doable for a sedan, but a few spots are rougher, and I parked a mile down the road (Wiggins Spring Rd.) and walked up to the AT intersection where the hike starts. The GPS files are very useful and make it easier to follow the hike and not get lost. Thank you for providing them. The path is well maintained and well marked - white blazed on the AT and blue blazes on the rest. It has a great variety of scenery - meadows with and without views, hardwood forest, and pine stands. Keep in mind that Cowgap shelter is on the other side of the stream from the hike itself. In terms of wildlife, all I saw was a couple of huge deer (or buck?). IMPORTANT!!! Do not trust a driving GPS to give you proper directions on these back roads after you punch in just coordinates as I did. My GPS sent me on a non-existent road and I lost 40 minutes trying to find my way. Follow step by step instructions.
Date of Hike: Friday, May 22, 2015
Absolutely loved this hike. It was a beautiful, cool day and the views were spectacular. I did the Old Hotel Trail to the AT and saw several thru hikers. If you haven't done this hike, you should put it on your bucket list -- but save it for a beautiful sunny day. The only drawback is the Forest Road leading up to the trail head -- it's pretty rough and I wouldn't want to try it without an SUV/4 wheel drive.
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 18, 2015
Did the 5.8 mile Cold Mtn/Hotel loop walk with my 70-yr young parents. We mozied the loop in just under 3.5 hours. Sunny and upper 70s and hazy. Enjoyed the meadows and wildflowers, especially dutchman's britches and bloodroot. Plenty of fellow travelers on the trail, all friendly. The Cow Camp shelter was occupied and several tents nearby. We filled our water bottles where the spring comes out of the mountain--tasted great and no gut trouble yet. The lovelyclearingcamp on Hotel Trail was also busy, but large enough not to feel crowded. Road access wasn't as bad as some made it sound. All rocks are completely avoidable. Gnats were a little annoying, but not intolerable if you keep moving, esp. up on top in the breeze. Hope to do it again in fall. Mountain laurel should be lovely in June too.
Date of Hike: Friday, April 17, 2015
This was a wonderful hike... nice gradual elevation gain with beautiful views at the top as your reward. Like others have noted, the meadow at the top makes you want to spin in circles singing "the hills are alive!". We went on a weekday and it wasn't too crowded but I can imagine that it would be rather busy on a weekend.