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Rock Castle Gorge - Floyd, VA


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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
10.7 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
Resources:
6.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
2,490 ft
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From:

Parking on Rock Castle Rd. 36.80759, -80.33105

If you are ever near Floyd, VA, be sure to put this hike on your to do list. There is a heart pounding climb at the beginning of the hike, some gentle hiking through meadows on top of the ridge and then mostly down for the last 4.0 miles. You will see an old Appalachian Trail shelter, chimney of an old homestead and then the Austin House beside Rock Castle Creek.

There are multiple places to start this hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we recommend starting at the convergence of Rock Castle Creek and Little Rock Castle Creek in the gorge. Basecamp at the primitive camping area  0.25 miles upstream on Rock Castle Creek on fire road, and do it as a day hike.

  • Mile 0.0 – From the parking area cross barrier and bridge, continue straight on fire road and in 0.10 miles make a sharp turn to the right on to the green-blazed Rock Castle Gorge Trail.
  • Mile 0.5 – The trail starts to become much steeper, gaining almost 1100’ in 1.0 miles.
  • Mile 1.5 – The tough part of the trail is over, in 0.3 miles cross two bridges.
  • Mile 1.8 – Cross two bridges.
  • Mile 2.8 – You will climb the first of four fence stiles and into a pasture. The last stile will be around the 7.0 mile mark. Be prepared to dodge some cows, a huge bull and of course their cow patties over the next mile. As the Blue Ridge Parkway becomes visible, you will see the entrance to the Rocky Knob Campground and Visitor Center on your right. Follow short trail posts with arrows through the pasture, the trail hugs the pasture close to the Blue Ridge Parkway for the most part. There are great views over the next 4 miles.
  • Mile 3.4Tree coming out of rock, we stopped here for lunch.
  • Mile 3.7 – Reach Saddle Overlook, in 0.1 miles bear left at fork intersection. The trail is evident but there are no blazes as you go over Rocky Knob.
  • Mile 4.0 – Former Appalachian Trail Shelter, the AT was relocated to the west in the 1950’s. Continue on other side of shelter by the chimney following ridge line as other unmarked trails go right towards the parkway. There are a couple of other good viewing areas just after the shelter on your left. The top of the incline is Rocky Knob. Green blazes will start again in about a 0.5 miles.
  • Mile 4.4 – T-intersection, bear left onto Rocky Knob Trail.
  • Mile 4.8 – Rock Castle Gorge Overlook.
  • Mile 5.1 – 12 O'clock Knob Overlook. Comfort Station, Picnic Area and bathroom is just across the Parkway. Trail is now blazed Green and Blue. Trails over the next mile will come in from the right, stay left.
  • Mile 5.7 – Cross a fence stile into another meadow and bolder field.
  • Mile 6.1 – Black Ridge Trail intersection, stay left on Green-blazed Rock Castle Gorge Trail. You are now in Grassy Knoll.
  • Mile 6.6 – Leave Grassy Knoll, go through a fence stile/gate. What goes up must go down, and you will be going down the rest of the way, and the first few miles will be steep.
  • Mile 7.7 – Go through boulders of bare rocks.
  • Mile 8.0 – Old homestead chimney ruins on left. Just after the chimney you will cross the first of four metal bridges.
  • Mile 8.1 – Intersection with fire road, bear left and follow Rock Castle Creek downstream.
  • Mile 8.9 – 2nd Metal Bridge
  • Mile 9.0 – 3rd Metal Bridge
  • Mile 9.2 Austin House, privately owned, built 1916. Also there is an old barn just past the house.
  • Mile 9.5 – 4th Metal Bridge
  • Mile 10.4Primitive camp site. Permit required from Visitor Center or Rocky Knob Campground on the Parkway. You are not allowed to camp anywhere else on this trail besides this primitive camp site.
  • Mile 10.7 – Return to the parking area.
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Hiker Reviews For The Rock Castle Gorge Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Rock Castle Gorge hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: BSA Troop 76 Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 29, 2017
Terrific hike! We completed this as a first backpacking outing with our Scout troop. We took a couple of meetings to prep the troop preceding the outing which paid dividends on the trail. 12 total hiked the entire loop with only one blister!

The above info is slightly incorrect in actual practice. For starters, the mile markers are all slightly off throughout as the total loop, according to our GPS, is closer to 15 miles, not 10.7. Also the designation at the 6.6 mile mark as being downhill from there is, well, wrong. Really wrong. There is still a fair amount of up remaining, which the Scouts reminded me of each time they were encountered. Also additional metal bridges have been added in the year 2016 causing some confusion for us as we neared the end of the loop.

The campsite is in what we assumed is an old homestead location with a couple of foundations remaining and washed out bridge with some flag stones from the old driveway. It is a large area with room to spread out and hammock camp if desired. There is a porta-john as well that was well maintained. The river is only feet away and during our stay it was roaring.

Camping does require a permit and this proved the most difficult part of preparing for the trek. I finally got an answer when I called this number for the 6th time, (540) 745-9660. Other numbers I found online were not correct.

Happy hiking!


By: Bruckner8 Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, April 10, 2017
I'm 6', 230 lbs, and I managed this hike in 5 hours and 15 minutes, including 3 ten-minute breaks. I followed the instructions on the main page to the letter, and they worked very well! I will refer to their mileage points in this review.

Right after mile 3.4, it's clear where the next "Short trail post" marker is, but the NEXT one caused a small amount of uncertainty. It seems one can veer right, or go straight. I decided that the I'd go straight in the direction of the marker, and I found the next marker at the top of the hill (grass had grown up). Moral of the story: Just follow the parallel direction of the arrows, and you'll be OK.

The trail between 6.6 and 7.7 is amazingly beautiful, with two gully/stream crossings out of this world! In fact, I'm not sure why this hike isn't rated 6 for streams!!! There must be 10-12 crossings (no bridges), not to mention the bridges and the fact that you see and hear streams/creeks/gullies for most of this hike!

Between mile 8.1 and 8.9, two new "metal bridges" have been installed. Maybe the original author didn't mention them because they are large enough for vehicles (on fire road, after all), whereas the other 4 "metal bridges" are purely for foot traffic. At any rate, I was a little confused as I was counting bridges (and the distances weren't making sense), but I figured it out after I saw the metal foot bridges. :)

From 8.0 to 9.2 is a treat if you're into lots of cascades/mini-waterfalls, as Rock Castle Creek roars down to the valley floor. Both you and the creek need to descend from 2600' to 1700' but the creek does it a lot more abruptly, until it mellows out near Austin House. By then you're at the same elevation for the rest of the hike.

I can't wait to go back in do it in reverse!


By: J Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, September 06, 2016
The trail is officially open according to the NPS: https://www.nps.gov/blri/learn/news/rock-castle-reopen.htm

By: Crissei Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, August 26, 2016
The trail is CLOSED. Stay off of it until it has been reopened. It is not just about your safety. If you attempt to hike this trail you are putting my husbands safety at risk. We have two children. Be better.

By: VA Hiker Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, June 26, 2016
The trail is still officially closed as of June 2016, although we were able to finish the entire 10.8 mile loop without too much difficulty. We encountered a couple of other hikers but mostly had the trail to ourselves. Besides the issues mentioned in the earlier 2016 review, the main challenges were washed-out areas in very steep sections of the trail, and also some downed trees in areas covering the trail. I would also echo the earlier comment that I would not consider doing this trail during or too soon after a heavy rain. It had rained a few days before our hike and the trail was still slippery and fording some of the streams was challenging. With higher water, some of these crossings would be really dangerous and/or impossible. Stinging nettles were also growing heavily in several parts of the trail, so if I did it again in the summer, I would wear long pants.

This is always a challenging hike, but with the trail in its current condition, it is extremely strenuous. However, the beauty more than made up for the challenges!


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