Rock Castle Gorge Loop. 10.8 miles.
This Virginia classic, with its high points off the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Rocky Knob Campground, was in fine form this warm day when we began at the low point of the walk: at parking lot off of Va. 615 along the healthy flow of Rock Castle Creek. The smaller feeder creeks along the 2.8 miles of trail that parallel and cross the stream were also flowing well, in testament to the wet spring. And the small falls at several spots along the main creek made some real noise for the first time we've ever been along the stream.
Up the mountainside, things were as they always are: up, up, up, for most of the 1,800-plus-foot climb until you break out into the open cow fields for a time before climbing the rest of the way to the high, open pastureland near the intersection with the Black Ridge Trail. This spot, with its 360-degree views and ever-present breeze, makes for a wonderful lunch spot. Complete with the free comedy of The Day Hiker's vigilance to keep her goofy puppy from doing more than sniffing at the cow pies. The perfection of the lunch spot is complete until you get up and think about that though you have walked a good hard 4.7 miles doing the trail this way, you have an even harder 6.1 left to go, including the ascent of Rocky Knob, at 3,572 feet, the highest point on the route.
The three or so miles paralleling the parkway are keenly different from the also-parallel three miles those 1,800 feet below. Not just the breeze and the views (vs. the down-close forest along the stream), but cows in the fields and lots of people coming up off the spur trails from the parkway for a leg-stretcher. The trail then turns down – at first relatively gently and then steeply before leveling out again along Little Rock Castle Creek, as the path runs along it to deliver, on this pretty day, one tired puppy and two people with tired doggies back to the parking lot.
June 21, 2009