Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rock Castle Gorge Trail

A few weeks ago Asta and I trekked up the Rock Castle Gorge Trail, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, VA. The trail is part of the Rocky Knob trail system on the BRP, and it makes a long, 10 and half mile loop. The weather was hot and hazy, in the low 90's, much hotter than the seasonal norm. Due to the heat, we choose the waterside route, spending as much time on the trail beside Rock Castle Creek as we could, on the theory that it would be cooler down by the water. So we started at the bottom of the trail, near where Rock Castle Creek crossed Hwy 8, just east of the BRP, and hiked up to Grassy Knoll on the Parkway, then backtracking alongside the stream.

The first section of the trail follows alongside the creek
The first section of the trail follows a relatively level roadbed that meanders by the stream for several miles. After a mile or so you come across a remarkably well-kept older farmhouse, which shows signs of weekend habitation.

Trailside farmhouse with Asta in the yard. Note the blue rain barrel beside the house, and the bag drying on a clothesline. Surely someone spends some time here.

Not long after passing the house, the trail starts to gradually go uphill, crossing the creek on several steel bridges as the gorge begins to get steeper on each side. It's a classic Blue Ridge drainage basin, channeling water off the mountain to the piedmont. Many tributaries cross the trail, joining with Rock Castle Creek, which flows into the Smith River, and eventually into the Dan River. (Click here for a great topo map of Rock Castle Gorge and the drainage system.)

After crossing at the bridge above, the gorge becomes markedly narrower and the walls rise above you at a steeper incline. Soon the creek is way down below you, cascading over boulders, and providing a loud, constant sound of rushing, tumbling water. It's a beautiful, calming sound, and the trail goes on like this for a while. At 2.6 miles from the parking lot, the trail cuts down from the roadbed and crosses Rock Castle Creek one last time, at this bridge:

The trail then leaves the creek and wanders around the side of the gorge, crossing a number of small tributaries with several very steep sections. Along the way you go past an old homestead, with just the fireplace and chimney remaining. There was once a series of self-guided, interpretative signs along this section of the trail, but they have all be defaced and only the signposts remain, sans any information.

For a while the trail wanders through some interesting rock formations - perhaps the Rock Castle itself?

The trail eventually comes out on Grassy Knoll, by the Parkway. Along the way are firepinks and flame azaleas, seen below.


Flame azelea


we_be_toys said...

Beautiful pictures! I think I read about this trail in a book we have about hikes along the Parkway. I can't remember if that house could be rented or not, but I guess its a moot point when there's no one around.
Can I just say once more - I love your photography - the house shot, the chimney shot, the path through the woods; all incredible.

Bantering Bibliocrat said...

It's a fine hike, we're looking for as many creekside hikes as we can around here. It's a bit different than near the Boone area in terms of drainage/creekside hiking options, and I'll blab about in a post soon. Thanks for the kind words about the pix. It's a lot of fun. I have some more to put on the Rock Castle Gorge post, from the top of the hill by the Parkway. E you soon!

Ian F.G. Dunn said...

The house is used by boy scouts. This is one of my favorite trails to hike.