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Hiker Comments for the Rock Castle Gorge Hike - 1 to 25 of 25   
Average Rating:

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, July 14, 2019
This is the second-most strenuous hike I've ever done! My friend and I are both strong, fast hikers and this took us eight hours (we stopped more than usual to re-soak our neck towels, but still). Lots of beauty, amazing vistas and varied scenery, (and so much time next to water!) but this trail needs serious maintenance. We lost time to navigating multiple downed trees and there were several stretches with thigh-high weeds nearly obscuring the trail. But definitely glad we did it! Feel like we earned a badge of some sort!

By: Jeanne Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, October 1, 2018
This was one of the most strenuous hikes we have ever completed (and we've hiked in deserts, canyons, and more). Mileage is off - it's well past 10.9 miles as stated on the map and probably closer to 15 miles, total. Took us about 8 hours with plenty of rests along the way. Gorgeous waterfalls, varying terrain, meadows, and more made it enjoyable. Pack plenty of water and leave a lot of time.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, July 29, 2018
Awesome hike! Arrived to start the hike later than anticipated around 2:45pm from the twelve o'clock knob overlook and started the hike clockwise... great start considering everyone recommends the opposite direction. The first mile was spent taking in some seriously spectacular views as we passed rock castle gorge overlook, rocky knob, and saddle overlook and even from the first cow pasture! After that you get a feeling of being deeply alone in the woods which is just incredible and exactly what a long, hard hike like this should deliver. There's about a mile of traversing a rocky descent before you arrive at the bottom and meet up with the creek. Then, you're on the fire road. This serves as an excellent place to make up some time which may have been lost enjoying the sights at the overlooks. These 2.8 miles have a slow and steady incline and are wide and easy to traverse-- also another treat! Along this part I did see a black bear and various prints, so beware.

After the fire road we began our ascent once again out of the gorge. this was moderate at worst and to me what made it difficult was just the sheer distance preceding it, but it was definitely manageable. At the top of the 1.5 mile 900' ev section you will arrive at another cow pasture. If you have a dog with you please use caution because me and my dog almost got mauled by some angry cows as we interrupted their feeding along the trail. They were not fans of us stepping on their grass before they got to eat it :( from there its easy and your only about 1.5 miles from the twelve o'clock knob parking area again!

All in all this was a great hike with excellent views and a challenging but rewarding and manageable terrain. Great for training for an AT thru hike. Make sure to bring plenty of water. Me and my dog went through almost 5 liters on a 80 degree day. There is the creek so you don't have to bring it all with you as long as you have a water treatment system with you (yay for Sawyer filters!) I loved this hike and its a rare gem. :) Hike on friends!!!!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 30, 2018
Great Hike and even better workout! We started around 8am to beat the heat, did the hike counterclockwise as recommended and made it in just a little over 5 hours. Remember to take plenty of water and have that extra bottle. Most of the hike was in the wooded area and provided good shade for the hike. the creeks provided ice cold water to dip the hat in to cool off. Stopped a little over half way for lunch. Hiking stick or poles are a must due to the steep areas and slick rocks. Remember its a gorge so if you hike down, you have to hike back up, be prepared for some tough but rewarding hiking with some awesome views. Planning on doing this again in the fall or Winter.

By: Jfo Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, May 14, 2018
Saw a black bear at mile 8 ish - it was scared of ya and ran away. This is one of my fav hikes and is quite strenuous

By: cimindv Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, February 18, 2018
The Rock Castle Gorge was a great hike. My wife and I arrived around 9:45AM at the Twelve O'Clock Knob Overlook. We left from there and followed the loop in the South direction. I was a great hike and it had everything, we enjoyed the Rock Castle Creek at the bottom of the gorge. The climb up to the Rock Castle Overlook is tough. Water and food should be considered. The hike is 12.9 miles and we made it in 4:15. We used Strava to map the hike.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, October 2, 2017
My friend and I both hiked the 11 mile trail.  We are both in our sixties and not frequent hikers.  We found the trail strenuous and steep with our aging knees, but a very beautiful and well laid out path. If you don't think you are up to the physical hiking I would suggest a moderate alternative. The timber was beautiful and Rock Castle Creek was perfect.  In fact we returned later to fish and caught several very small native trout.  Only artificial lures are allowed so we used dry flies and single hook spinners. We returned all that we caught.
We also camped at Rocky Knob Campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It is close and convenient, but provides no electricity.  Flush toilets and water, but no showers or hot water.  

By: Ron Riquelmy Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, July 22, 2017
I have hiked this trail I believe 5 times now.  I recommend starting at the bottom.  The trail head is located on route 605 which is off route 8, in Woolwine, VA.  After you cross the bridge leaving the parking area take the right and follow the trail counter-clockwise up the steep ascent.  That way you get the hardest work done at the beginning of the hike when you are freshest.  Trekking poles are helpful.  Especially on the steep descent.  They will take some of the load experienced by your knees.  Take lots of water and energy snacks.

In the first mile+ every time I hike this trail I wonder how I am ever going to finish.  But after cresting that first steep ascent the trail is kind and allows you to recover before encountering the climb up to Rocky Knob.  From the Knob most, but not all, of the work has been done.

It's important to be both physically and mentally prepared for this hike.  For me it was more enjoyable the 2nd time when I knew what to expect from the steeper sections and knew how to pace the 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 6, 2016
The trail is officially open according to the NPS:

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!

By: MeadowsHiker Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 26, 2016
(Note: these are the conditions we encountered the date we hiked it, March 26, 2016. Depending on additional rainfall or subsequent repairs, you may encounter different conditions them we did).

The Rock Castle Gorge Trail is officially closed because of damage related to flooding over the winter of 2015–2016. However, the trail is still very hikable although, as always, I definitely would not attempt the entire 10.8 mile loop hike or the steep sections into and out of the gorge (and add to that now the fire road at the bottom) any time soon after a significant rain. We saw several other people hiking the entire loop, and others doing out-and-back hikes along the ridge paralleling the Parkway and also along the old fire road at the bottom of the gorge.

The main damage is related to one area of total washout and several areas of partial washout of the old fire road in the bottom of the gorge. In other areas, the previously relatively smooth and even surface of the fire road has been strewn with rocks of various sizes, sometimes also accompanied by shallow water or mud/mushy ground, making sections of it a little slower and more attention-demanding than they used to be. For most of these, you can just tread from rock to rock through the short sections that are wet, or step over narrow areas of wash. The area of total washout of the fire road is near the southern end, not too far from where the trail heads up to or down from the ridge along the Parkway, depending on whether you're hiking the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. The area of total washout is, at this point, 10 to 15 feet wide and 5 to 6 feet deep in one area requiring clambering down and back up dirt sides (if a person has good jumping skills, there's a narrow area about 3 to 4 feet across which is also 5-6 ft deep, but we did not want to chance it). The other areas of partial wash can be stepped over or walked through/beside without difficulty. The most impressive area of washout is between the primitive campground and the parking area/gate along the old CCC Campground Road, where a linear 60-70 ft long, up to 10 ft wide and 5 ft deep section of the road has been washed away. The other half of the road is still present beside this washout, allowing the section to be hiked, but the road is now impassable to vehicles, rendering the campground unserviceable and the entire rest of the fire road inaccessible to vehicular (park vehicles and the Austin house property owners) traffic.

The Rock Castle Gorge Trail hike is beautiful, but relatively strenuous, especially the section on the north end of the loop where there is an average 20% grade over a mile (with steeper sections of what I would estimate to be up to 35% in areas). You should definitely be in reasonably good shape and have some miles in your legs before tackling this one. (My husband and I actually used this as a training hike for our one-day rim-to-Phantom Ranch-to-rim hike at Grand Canyon). I find hiking poles to be beneficial especially for the steep and rocky areas of ascent/descent. Definitely take plenty of water with you, as there is no water along the route unless you have a filter to use for the stream in the gorge (and bearing in mind that there are cattle in pastures along creeks which drain into the gorge). The main "usual" hazards along the trail are drifts of leaves which cover the trail and obscure roots/rocks, especially in fall, winter and early spring, and which can also make footing slick, and steep rocky sections especially on the north end of the loop. Wear proper foot gear, pay attention to footing, think about poles, be prepared (proper clothing, adequate water and food) and you'll be OK.

The trail is a great hike any time of year, but is especially beautiful in the springtime. Wildflowers begin poking their heads up usually in late March to early April, and are in full swing by late April. There are up to 200 wildflower species along the route. There is a great degree of diversity especially on the southern (longer but less steep) ascent/descent, where a variety of microcosms create many different unique niches for innumerable varieties of flora.

Which way to hike the loop and where to start? Well, there are many many choices. You can start at either end of the old fire road at the bottom of the gorge, or start at one of the parking areas along the Parkway. You can hike it clockwise or counterclockwise. We have done pretty much all permutations. I prefer to hike it counterclockwise, in order to do the steepest section in the uphill direction because I feel it is safer going uphill on the steep grade than downhill. You will be hiking uphill for a bit along the Parkway, but then get a nice gradual downhill on the fire road in the gorge. You can either park at the bottom and get the really steep section over with early in the hike, or start at the top along the Parkway with the more open, scenic pastureland early in the hike, enjoy wildflowers on the more gradual descent into the gorge and continue more gradually downhill walking in the direction of the Rock Castle River at the bottom of the gorge, have a nice lunch stop in the primitive campground, and save the nasty uphill for later in the day just after your lunch break (with a really nice flattish section afterwards to recover on). We like to park beside the Parkway at the Rocky Knob Campground area (across the road from which there is an access through the fence into a cow pasture and into the trail) and go counterclockwise. Allow about seven hours including your lunch stop if you are an average-speed hiker, longer if you are slower or are stopping frequently to take photos and admire the scenery.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, November 26, 2015
Great Thanksgiving hike. Arrived at parking off CC Camp Ln around 11am. The trail is still "closed" due to hazardous conditions. After completing trail, the hazards were 1) leaves on trail making it very slick and 2) some washed out conditions due to some recent flooding. If you are careful, the trail is passable. It was a very quiet, peaceful hike. I completed it in 5 hours taking only very brief stops. I assume trail will reopen in the spring. Enjoy.

By: TS Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, November 7, 2015
Trails still closed but a great hike. This will be a huge loss to the local outdoor community and negatively impact local businesses if the trail remains closed this year

By: nw Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, November 7, 2015
We showed up late Friday to camp and hike Saturday...we were surprised and disappointed to find the trail closed for "hazardous conditions." The closure sign is metal and bolted to the trailhead with orange tape strung up across the road so it looks like a long term closure. Not only was it late, but there are no other trails nearby for which to make a quick detour. Made for a frustrating night and weekend.

By: K2 Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, August 30, 2015
I've heard about this trail for years, and was finally glad to hike it. One thing I've learned about this website, if it describes a loop in a certain direction, it's best to do it that way. Starting at the bottom parking area, we got the very steep portion of the trail out of the way early (counterclockwise). This is a much better option than trying to tackle the big rocky steps as a descent at the end (with tired legs).

The trail is everything it's advertised to be, and then some. The diversity of the trail is great. You get steep, rocky sections, smoother and longer grades, boulder fields, and lovely mountain meadow views at the top. On the way down, you follow the cascading Rock Castle Creek most of the way. It gets my highest compliment: I can't wait to do it again.

By: Maggie Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Overall a good hike. Start the loop in the other direction for a much harder workout.

By: Bill Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 1, 2015
Perfect day for a hike.  Sunny and low humidity.  Parked at Rocky Knob Visitors Center and hiked counterclockwise.  Started at 6 AM and finished at 1200 with a 1 hr lunch break.  Saw 11 deer, 1 skunk, and two turkeys.

Trail was mostly in good shape.  A couple of the creek crossings were a little washed out due to some heavy rains in late July.  The worst spot was about 1/2 mile up from the parking area on Route 8.  There was a large tree that had fallen down a ravine crossing.  Had to climb on and through the tree branches to get past.  My hiking partner slipped and fell but only hurt his pride and side.

By: kelly s Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 16, 2015
Wonderful views

By: SpartanVenture Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 7, 2014
Really enjoyed this hike. The variety - from tumbling creek to pretty forests to big old trees to pasture/meadows to ridge line - keeps it interesting, as do the views. The tree growing from rock was a great break spot. I enjoyed seeing the view from The Saddle of Buffalo Mountain since I'd hiked that the previous day. Overall a very pretty hike and a great outing if you're in Floyd, VA. I'd like to do it again to see fall color.

The primitive campground is interesting - a multitude of spots, each with fire ring and bear-proof storage. And one porta-potty.

By: Trader Joe Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, July 14, 2014
As mentioned, a bit of a climb in the beginning...However this one has it all. Technical Climb, Open Meadows, Views, Cows, Rodo's, Boulder fields, streams...really enjoyed it!

By: rumplestiltskin Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, July 4, 2014
A word of caution about the location "rock castle road":  If you use "rock castle road" as a target/destination on some gps devices such as google maps, you may be directed to a location "rock castle lane" approximately 5 miles from the suggested parking site listed in this review.

Using the "get directions" feature of this site does work properly.  The coordinates listed also appear to be accurate.  It is the use of "rock castle road" independently on a gps that may result in confusion.  The location "cc camp road" also directs you to the correct parking location on rock castle creek which is off county road 605 from state route 8 ("parkway lane").  This departure point for the hike gives me a better sense of isolation and "backcountry" even though the trail ultimately travels through a "civilized" section along the parkway ridge.  I also like to face the difficult climb at the beginning rather than the end of the hike.

By: Michael Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, December 20, 2013
By no means was this my favorite hike nor was it my least favorite hike. Overall, the hike covers many of the different aspects that hikers enjoy (Meadows, creeks, views). The first 2 miles of the hike is difficult with large elevation gains, but after that the hike is fairly moderate to easy. I gave Rock Castle Gorge a 4 star because it is an above average hike but lacked the dynamics to make it one of my favorites!

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