“Experience an incredible 11-mile run just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
— Roanoke Outside
This is an incredible 11-mile run just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are several variations you can do for shorter mileage, but it is highly recommended that you complete the entire loop. This is a classic run that is moderate-to-difficult with the option to shorten the run on other connecting trails.
Fall Colors — River/Creek — Views — Wildflowers
Sheltered within the deep, narrow confines of Rock Castle Gorge is a surprising variety of plant life. The loop encompasses high, open meadows with an impressive panoramic view as well as the narrow confines of the gorge itself, making for a strenuous, but rewarding outing.
As you run down the sometimes steep trail, you might be tempted to think of this botanical haven as a slice of wilderness left untouched by man, but that idea quickly vanishes as you begin to see old homesites along the trail. The banks of Rock Castle Creek were once home to more than 70 families who farmed the land and harnessed the stream to power their mills.
This steep trail is less strenuous if taken downhill from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Rocky Knob Campground. The trail drops more than 1,000 feet in its first three miles. The predominantly oak-hickory forest also features maples, tuliptrees, bigtooth aspens, basswoods, and mountain laurel.
At mile 3.2 of the run, you'll reach the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, now a designated backcountry campsite. The only remains of the CCC camp are the foundations of old buildings. The required camping permit for this site is available at no charge from either the Rocky Knob Campground or Visitor Center.
The trail reaches its junction with the Hardwood Cove Nature Trail at mile 5.5 and begins to climb out of the gorge. There are many nooks and crannies to explore a half-mile later when the trail goes through Bare Rocks, an extensive boulder field.
The Rock Castle Gorge Trail tunnels through rhododendron as it climbs up to Grassy Knoll at mile 7 of the run. The trail opens up in another half mile with commanding views of the surrounding countryside. For the remainder of the run, the trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, passing by Rock Castle Gorge Overlook at mile 9. Beyond that overlook, it is 0.8 miles to Rocky Knob Summit (elev. 3572').
There are 200 species of wildflowers, 45 species of trees, and 28 species of ferns alone along the loop trail. The gorge also has a stunning wildflower display boasting nearly 200 species from April through early May, all within easy running distance of the Blue Ridge Parkway.