There seems to be a lot of mountains named North Mountain in Virginia, along with Brushy Mountains and Cove Mountains. This is an out-and-back hike following the ridgeline of the North Mountain that forms the boundary between Rockbridge and Alleghany Counties in Virginia.
This hike contains an abundance of overlooks, many of which look east toward Big House and Little House Mountains, the town of Lexington, and the Blue Ridge Mountains near Buena Vista, Virginia. Lexington is the home of VMI and Washington and Lee University. W&L’s Outing Club published a guidebook some years ago which proclaimed of the North Mountain Trail, “Undoubtedly, this is Rockbridge County’s finest trail!” Anyone who has hiked it would be hard pressed to argue.
It is possible to start hiking the North Mountain Trail from its western end at the George Washington National Forest’s Longdale Recreation Area, but most folks drive up to the ridge line using Route 770, start from the east, and only hike the best part of the trail. That is the hike described here.
A couple of caveats: This is a well-known mountain biking trail. Be sure to keep an eye out for riders on this trail on weekends. And the description includes a location known locally as “Pete’s Cave.” We did not explore this, we do not know whether it legitimately qualifies as a “cave.” and by mentioning it we do not imply that you should explore it either. There may not even be a cave. But it is best to be safe out there!
Parking: At the ridge on VA 770 you will see a small parking area. Park here, and look for the trail to start in one of two places across and a little down the east slope of the mountain. There are no trail signs here.
Mile 0.0 – The two trails coming off of Collierstown Road merge within 50 feet, so it does not matter which choice you make. Pass a post that appears to have once held a trail sign, and follow a rocky trail among rhododendron and Virginia Pine. Almost immediately, the blue blazed North Mountain Trail is fenced in on the left by a rock face.
Mile 0.2 – Do not plan to race along this trail at the start of this hike, because there are serious fireworks right away. The rock face on your left can be climbed in several places to reveal spectacular views, especially near sunrise. These overlooks become progressively easier to access from the trail as you continue down the trail. The first overlook requires about a 30 foot climb. The second overlook, about 300 feet further, requires about a 15 foot climb.
Mile 3.2 – The trail continues through the woods for another couple of miles, generally following the eastern edge of the ridge, with occasional views back towards Big and Little House Mountains. At 3.2 miles is the first and only fire ring, indicating an established campsite. The sixth eastern viewpoint is also found here. Contemplate whether these views could ever get old, but avoid staying here too long, as the highlight of the hike is just ahead.
Mile 3.4– Come to a nice series of stone steps that leads into a series of large rocks after a short, steep climb. Soon, you are completely surrounded by large rock formations. There seems to be caves and tunnels all around! Climb to the top or continue on the trail (which is actually difficult to locate in this wonderland), and you will have your only views to the west. Looking west, in the foreground you will see Interstate 64, Brushy and Mill Mountains – which form the Rich Hole Wilderness. Further west, using binoculars, ridgetop houses can be seen looking down from near the Homestead Resort. All the way to your right is the ridge taking the North Mountain Trail back to your vehicle.
Most folks will head back to their rides from here, though the North Mountain Trail continues all the way down to Longdale Furnace Recreation Area, administered by the National Forest. There are no more views on the trail, however if you continue on another 1.1 miles, staying straight where a trail sign says that Longdale Furnace is to the right, you will come to a large flat area with a wildlife pond that appears to be a good campsite. A woods road goes down to the valley from this spot.
Mile 6.8 – Return to the parking area at the 6.8 mile mark, assuming you did not continue past the last viewpoint. On the way back, enjoy the eastern facing views all over again!
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Reviews For The North Mountain/Pete's Cave Hike (5 Most Recent)
Author's update: Hiked this in mid-June for the first time. Contrary to earlier reviews, the road from Longdale Furnace to the trailhead is in great shape. As others have noted, the trail can be a little tough to see from trailhead parking, but both entrances become obvious if you walk east downhill on Collierstown Road. (The trailhead is now marked as "North Mountain/Pete's Cave Parking" on Google Maps.) The trail itself can seem quite overgrown in sections (check for ticks), particularly right at the beginning with mountain laurel encroaching on the trail, and near Pete's Cave with thick grass. Consider bringing hand clippers and making a few clips along the way! If there is any breeze at all, this is otherwise a wonderful summer hike.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 09, 2018
Enjoyable hike. Flat, easy, with lots of bling in the first 10 minutes of hiking. The parking area was a bit uncertain, however, since there were no cars there and I had some miscommunication with my map reader. (Once I looked at the map myself, it was a bit clearer.) To clarify a bit more than others have already, the "parking lot" can be missed if empty of cars because it's basically just a large intersection among 3 roads with no signage.
By my odometer, from Longdale Furnace, starting at the turnoff onto Rt. 770 you go 3.9 miles up the mountain and turn right at the intersection as mentioned by others. You will almost immediately see an unimproved "two-track" driveway (to radio tower) on your left. Don't take it you are now in the parking lot. (If you were to keep driving past this point, you'd start heading back down the mountain. If you do, there is room to turn around shortly at a large hairpin turn.) Park on the side of the road next to the tower drive entrance, where there is room for a few cars, and the trail access is behind you, across from where the tower drive enters the road . A slightly easier access is a couple of hundred feet farther down the road, to your right.
Date of Hike: Thursday, December 28, 2017
The hike has amazing views - and the road is a trip all by itself. Probably one of the best ridge hikes I've ever done - even at 6 degrees! While the views are wonderful right from the start, the real fireworks are 3.2 miles in - the rock grotto is interesting, offers many view point, and for the adventurous - a breathtaking 360 degree view after a quick scramble. I would argue this hike is the most scenic (fall and winter) in Rockbridge County.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 24, 2017
This was an excellent hike! Considering that all the work is done for you. As described accurately from the guide, the first 1/2 mile had several amazing vistas. The rest of the hike to the last two vistas were quite easy. There was a nice breeze going on, as well. The only qualms I had about the hike was the poorly marked entrance to the trail, It is not seen from the parking spot. The other thing was how narrow the road was going up the mountain. If you have a low clearance vehicle, this is a no go! The road leading to the trail head is completely gravel. Another thing I almost forgot to mention was the thick patch of rhododendrons during the first 1/2 mile of the hike. Otherwise, this hike was amazing, its for all fitness levels. Definitely the best hike in the area!!!
Date of Hike: Thursday, June 08, 2017
This was an exceptional hike that I did today with my 8 and 5 year old. First things first, getting to the trailhead is half the battle. Best way I found was I-64W towards Longdale Furnace and get off on exit 35. Take a left on 850 and very soon you'll see 770 on the left(small road that becomes gravel) and take that right to the top. Hang a right when it splits and the parking lot is on the left. The trail is across from the parking lot. Hard to see, but it's there.
Now the hike. It's mostly flat and super easy. The lookouts are mostly in the beginning on the left and they are great. The majority of the hike is a forest walk amidst ample greenery and trees. Keep going as it follows the ridge with minimal up and down. Once you get to the stone steps you arrive at the boulder garden. So many climbing opportunities! Find you way and you will have awesome views, but take care when crossing the open spaces between the rocks. Wonderful day!