This is the second time this year I am doing this loop. First time I left my car on the Blue Ridge and went clockwise. Coming back to the car with the long climbing was quite painful... So the second time, I left my car at the Rock Castle Gorge Rd (right after the CC Camp lane), and I did the loop anti-clockwise. Much better for my legs! Once near by the Rocky Knob, I could stop for a while, relax, have a good lunch ...and start the second part of the loop in good shape! Well, this is specially true when you are 60++, Before, you can enjoy it either way!
The Castle Gorge Trail/Loop was excellent!:)…10.8 miles……..I parked at the Gorge and went counter-clockwise, going up the steep accent first while my legs where fresh and that’s the best way to do it as most of the second half of the trail was going down. I took my time and stopped to eat and enjoy, it took me 9H15M, very nice and beautiful…….I will return and do it again and take even longer to enjoy the endless streams and water-falls. I did see bear poop, so beware and keep your eyes open.
Rock castle gorge is a great trail with great views, lots of history, and a fun challenge. You can start at the top and see the grand views first, work your way through cow pastures down to the Gorge. Or you can start at the Gorge, where primitive camp sites are offered, and work your way to the grand views. Either way you will leave feeling very accomplished.
We did the full Rock Castle Gorge loop, starting from the bottom at the trailhead off SR 605. Be sure to do this counter-clockwise. Right after the sharp right not far from the parking lot, the trail gets very steep- about 1100 feet of gain in a little more than a mile (20%). Hiking clockwise you'd get that as a tough descent on tired legs. Once the climbing is out of the way, you'll reach the Rocky Knob area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This area opens up as a meadow, leading to a couple of miles of spectacular views. You could also start the hike here from any of the overlook parking areas. The descent from the ridge is much longer. It follows Rock Castle Creek much of the way, making it an interesting trek through the trees. You'll pass through a couple of boulder fields, too. The trail finishes by following an old fire road, so the hiking is easier.
This trail has it all - climbs, views, creeks. The variety helps the miles pass quickly. It gets my highest compliment: I can't wait to do it again.
Shelby T. B. on Rock Castle Gorge Loop
Beautiful views. Steep climb up
my boyfriend and I hiked from the Rocky knob visitors center. we parked at the upper end if the picnic area. we crossed the parkway and Turned right on the rc trail. it was beautiful views right off the bat. we could see the gorge and where we would be camping. we had no tent just sleeping bags and freeze dried food. and some coffee to make it out the next morning. take a tent with you we slept in weird glowing stuff. the campground is beautiful you can even fish so take a pole. I would recommend parking at the bottom near the primitive campground on the trail. we packed everything for 13 miles and we are both exhausted today. good luck
Awesome loop with great views, challenging ascents and descents (more than 1800'), wildflowers and wildlife (snakes, butterflies, deer, woodpeckers, and cows!), wide open spaces, cool mountain waters and lush forest! Pink Ladies Slippers, Flame Azaleas, Purple Rhododendron, galax and ferns galore. Weather ranged from cool and sunny to chilly and windy and overcast. We started from the Rocky Knob Campground and hiked clockwise, opposite from what most recommend so we could take the road less traveled. We had lunch at the Austin house, which seemed to be on the Monarch Butterfly migration route, as they were everywhere. This hike offered just about everything you'd want in a demanding hike - a great workout offering views, waterfalls, flora and fauna - not to miss.
Rock Castle Gorge Trail is a strenuous, but very scenic 10.8-mile loop. The wildflowers here are fantastic and I always come for a hike in late April. I always start this hike at the end of CC Camp Road at the bottom of the gorge. Hiking the loop clockwise allows getting the most strenuous part of the hike done at the beginning. Once up and out of the gorge, the trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway across Rocky Knob and several scenic overlooks. The trail then descends back down into the gorge - this section of the trail tends to have the most wildflowers. The last part of the hike follows a old fire road along Rock Castle Creek back to the start.
Wonderful trail for novice hikers who want to push their limits. If you have any knee or ankle weakness, I would recommend starting at the CC Camp entrance and taking the right fork of the trail. If starting from from Rocky Knob, also go to the right (south).
It's a mile and a half of pretty steep descending through here. The scenic highlight of the descent is an area of rock chunks, some as big as houses, known as the Bear Rocks. Not far after this, the trail finally bottoms out at Rock Castle Creek, with a resting bench placed with a view over some small waterfalls.
I've always said that the hardest trails aren't those where you start out climbing right out of the trailhead. It's those where you start by going downhill.
If you start the Rock Castle Gorge Trail at the Rocky Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will find out just how difficult downhill hiking can be. That's because what goes down must come back up on this 10.6-mile loop, and in this case, that means about 1,800 feet.
The Rock Castle Gorge Trail is pretty simple, made up of three roughly equal parts: It's one part folllowing a ridgeline at over 3,000 feet with spectacular views, one part following a gurgling stream through a thickly forested hollow at 1,700 feet, and one part straining knees, ankles or lungs on steep descending or climbing to get between the two.
But the sights make it worth the gasps. Much of trail on the ridge near the Blue Ridge Parkway traverses grassy fields, opening up magnificent vistas west toward the lopsided hump of Buffalo Mountain and east toward the tamer hills and valleys of the Piedmont. The creekside portion in the gorge is an enchanting saunter along a creek that sings a melody as it washes through boulders and rocks.
You can start from any of the Rocky Knob Recreation Area overlooks to the left of the Blue Ridge Parkway, heading south from Roanoke. Starting from the Saddle Overlook is a good choice since you get a short but steep climb to Rocky Knob out of the way first instead of having this be your last stretch after already making a rugged 1,800 feet climb out of the gorge.
The white-blazed Rock Castle Gorge Trail bounces up and down some along the ridgetop for about three miles, reaching Rocky Knob (3,572 feet) and Grassy Knoll (3,480 feet), along the way. From Rocky Knob, be sure and absorb the view from the from small log shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. If you look downward, way downward, you will see where you will be a few miles later: deep in the Rock Castle Gorge. Grassy Knoll -- not to be confused with the infamous one in Dallas -- offers a view more the other direction across its own rock-strewn, cattle-grazed field (hence the fence-crossings along the way) and other similar ridges rolling toward the horizon. It's a pleasant place to stop. This is how I imagine Scotland looks.
After the Knoll, it's time for the descent. After a split in which the Black Ridge Trail turns right, the Rock Castle Gorge crosses a fenceline and enters a patch of woods encircling a communications tower. It angles across more open grassy areas, then dives into a densely wooded area where you will come along a stream. The trail will weave in and out of several of these drainages, crossing little creeks, some with samll waterfalls, that run down into Rock Castle Creek below. The forest is thick and there are a number of large downed trees. One of these is the one which crashed down a few hundred feet in front of me during a late July hike. As of November 2000, that tree remained across the trail, although many others before it had been cut away.
For nearly four miles, the trail is wide and mostly level, as it follows an old road paralleling this pleasant stream and crossing it thrice. (It's even a bit downhill, mostly, since the road is following the trial downstream.) Deep in this protected valley, it's likely to be either several degrees cooler or warmer than it was on the ridge, depending on the situation, as it's sheltered from both sun and wind. The 1,800-foot distance is enough that a snow up top may be a cold rain down here, a 35-degree rain up top may be icing the trees down here, or a 90-degree day up top may be only in the mid 70s down here. Be prepared for these changes.
The most unusual sight along the way is the vacated two-story house about halfway along the creek portion of the hike. Unlike many structures you will see along hiking trails, this one is in no apparent state of disrepair, and appears ready to move into tomorrow. What a great place this must have been to live!
A half-mile past a primitive campground (ranger's permit required), the trail reaches the end of its creek segment. A country road and at least one house are visible straight ahead before the trail makes a sharp left turn and starts angling upward. This is state route 605, which can be used as an alternate trailhead less than a mile from Virginia 8. You could start here and get the climbing out of the way first instead of saving it for last, as we're doing on the hike.