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)
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.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 07, 2014
BEES! BEES! DO NOT HIKE THIS SEPTEMBER IF ALLERGIC...WE hiked Cold Mountain the day after Mt Pleasant. The trail winding up is completely different than Mt Pleasant even though the parking area is the same. It was unique in it's own right. We passed one section of pine trees on either side that felt like a different world. It was peaceful and quiet. I am curious where the old stone fence goes or when it was built. WE did not pass a soul going up to Cold Mountain. However, we met two different couples at the top. They had walked up the AT from parking area and back down. This only gave them a 1.2 mile hike, so if you just want to see the view after hiking Mt Pleasant, it would be a shorter route.
On top is like another country. I see why someone said they began to sing sound of music and why they say it is like Switzerland. I have never been in a wide open meadow on top of a mountain. You can see Cold Mountain from the summit of Mt Pleasant and we had thought the day before, how do we get there.
HIKERS BEWARE. Once you turn onto the AT from the Hotel Trail, you will begin to see the ground filled with holes. These are YELLOW JACKET NESTS!!! A previous hiker even posted a note from the week before about being attacked. Of course we hiked anyway as we had already started. We were attacked twice on the way up to the summit and once on the way down the AT to our car. I got four stings and my boyfriend was stung three times. If you are allergic to bees, avoid this hike in September.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 02, 2014
A group of us, including 5 adults and 1 eight year old, cheated and just did the AT portion of the trail, straight to the summit. It was a bit dreary that day, yet we still held out hope we would get good views from the top.
After the short hike (about a half mile), we were sad to see there would be no breathtaking views that day. The summit was completely shrouded in fog and we could barely see each other standing 20 yards apart. Even without the view, my eight year old son was amazed at the fact that we were standing inside of a cloud. Also, just the walk up was a beautiful patch of forest with lots of pretty flowers and interesting mushrooms (bright orange, like construction signs).
I've seen others say the drive is treacherous, but we were able to make it in a minivan with little difficulty, excluding the teasing that I was getting us lost as soon as the road turned to dirt. Back down in the van was worse, as the trailer hitch hit a few big rocks pretty hard even at a crawl.
We will definitely be returning before the summer is done and next time we will try the entire loop without my son. I'll just make sure to check the weather before setting off again! :)
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 26, 2014
Did Cold Mountain on Saturday, 7/26/14. This is one of the best hikes I have done all summer in Virginia. If you follow the route per this site, the first 2 miles plus are pretty boring, relatively flat and winding through some camping areas. The next 2 miles up to the top and through the incredible open meadow is truly spectacular. The top looks just like Hyrule Field from The Legend of Zelda! I spent over an hour at the top taking in the 360 degree views, taking photos and video. This is one of the top 5 most beautiful places I have ever been in my life! The last stint across the mountain top and back down the AT to the parking area is very pleasant, easy, and relaxing. If you are tight on time I'd recommend heading the opposite direction from the parking area up the AT to the open meadow at the top, as it is much shorter than the boring trek through the camping areas.
I only saw 5 other hikers there on that perfect mild Saturday afternoon, so expect solitude on this outstanding hike. The parking area is free, but road access is an extremely long and hard drive even with a 4-wheel drive truck. This hike is so remote and driving access is such a pain that it really will make repeated visits difficult. Nonetheless I highly recommend the Cold Mountain hike over its "sister" hike Mount Pleasant. Expect to spend at least 4 hours (not including the long drive) if you want to take in the amazing meadow views at the top.