• Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

Easy Parking
Forest
Scenic

10.8 mile loop hike. 2,500 feet elevation gain. Great trail diversity with meadows, streams and old ruins.

This 10.8 mile loop is a very demanding, but very rewarding hike that will take most of the day to complete. The hike can be started from many different locations but in this write-up it starts at the Saddle Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the loop is in the counter-clockwise direction.

From the Saddle Overlook take the trail to the right of the parking area, which ascends quickly into the woods. You’ll shortly reach a shelter, which is an old Appalachian Trail shelter now used as a day-shelter. The trail will pass the Rock Castle Gorge Overlook, then the Twelve O’Clock Knob Overlook. Once you reach Grassy Knoll (a large open meadow), keep left to stay on the Rock Castle Gorge trail at the intersection with the Black Ridge Trail.

The trail descends quickly from here through forested land, and you’ll lose 875’ in elevation over 1.5 miles. At the bottom of the gorge the trail will intersect an old fire road. Turn left to stay on the trail, which will skirt Rock Castle Creek for about 4.8 miles. During those 4.8 miles you’ll pass old chimney ruins, the Austin House (built in 1916), and primitive camping sites. The primitive camping sites would be a good place to stop for lunch.

After the primitive camping sites the trail will climb back up the gorge very quickly and very steeply. Over the next 1.0 miles you’ll gain approximately 1100’ in elevation. This is the toughest part of the hike. The trail will ascend at a less steep rate for the last 2.2 miles, which will pass through the forest and then emerge in a cow pasture with great 270 degree views. This pasture is a great place to watch the sunset.

Follow the trail and blazes through the pasture into the woods for another 0.1 miles, and you’ll emerge out of the woods at the Saddle Overlook where you are parked.

Pack List

  • Water (lots)
  • Camera
  • Lunch
  • Sturdy hiking shoes
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Reviews

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This is a beautiful and lightly hiked trail. We took the directions according to the descriptions above. The trail is not very well kept it is narrow and difficult in places. It is also not well marked. It follows light green blazes, that blend in well with the moss if you don't pay attention. The blazes are also old and worn, and in places you won't see one for a while. That being said, we did not get lost, even with minimal preparation. As a warning, some of the best views are from just beyond the parking lot. Much of the trail is down in the gorge. This trail is very steep for long stretches in some places and I would not recommend it to beginning hikers, but for those who are looking for a little bit of a challenge, it is a great option. It took us 4.5 hours to complete including a 15 minute lunch break.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Elyse Clark Explorer

Explorer. Hiker. Photographer.

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