I was looking for a trail within one hour drive (around) from Roanoke, about 8 miles long. The Sulphur Springs trail seems good, but a little under my goal. Looking at the map, I decided to do this loop, using the Appalachian Trail, the Sulphur Springs Trail, and the Petites Gap road to come back to the parking.
I find it well balanced, with a first part climbing easily on the ridge, then a long descent to the junction of Sulphur Springs Trail and Petites Gap Road. Then a moderate climbing back to the car. There are a few places with an overlook, perfect to take a break and have some food, for instance!
Not to crowded, but in October its not a surprise...
I think this trail is located near Buchanan in Botetourt County, not Bedford. It has been a few years for me so I am ready to go again. I have hiked it from the parkway down to the falls and I have hiked it up to the falls. From the bottom it is about an 8 mile round trip. It is one of my favorite hikes in the Roanoke area. Make sure you go after a lot of rain because the falls are so much better!
Did this loop in May 2015. The circuit named above (AOF and Cornelius Creek) is not nearly that long. If you start from the bottom, it's a little more than 5 miles - just guessing. We saw a couple of parking areas there. However, we started from Sunset Field overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway (mile 78.4). That makes it a little more than 7 miles. From the bottom, the description we had read used the Apple Orchard Fire Road. But if you start at the top, there is extra distance on a connector trail (just more of the Cornelius trail) and the AT. Either way, it's a spectacular hike. Both AOF and Cornelius follow creeks with innumerable little cascades on them. And the weekend of our hike saw Rhododendron in full bloom (mountain laurel looked to be a few days behind). The main falls are 200 feet. That section of the trail has many steps, as you would expect on a sheer drop that creates such a waterfall. From the Parkway, we descended those steps, meaning we were going down the steepest part. If that sounds good to you, be sure to do this loop in counterclockwise fashion (all lefts). The Cornelius trail is a longer, more steady grade. No matter what direction you take, this is a fantastic hike. Not to be missed!
This is one of my favorite hikes/runs and is part of the Promise Land 50k course. I park at Sunset Field and head down the Apple Orchard Falls Trail to the AT. Turn left on the AT, go about 1.2 miles and then right at the sign for Cornelius Creek. The Cornelius Creek Trail is very runnable. There is a somewhat confusing intersection where the trail crosses the Apple Orchard road. It appears you should go straight across to continue on the trail, but really you should turn left. If you look left, you will see the blue blazes for Cornelius Creek. If you make the mistake and go straight, very soon the "trail" will end... where I guess most people realize their mistake and turn around.
After you get to the bottom of Cornelius Creek at North Creek Road, you take the Apple Orchard Falls trail back up. What to remember is, don't go over the bridges to the left. Always stay right. I ended this track when we reached the AT again because we then continued our hike north on the AT this particular day. We ascended Apple Orchard Mountain via the AT all the way to the radar base and then ran down the parkway back to Sunset Field. I didn't want that showing up in the track, though. I think my GPS lost a bit of mileage because I believe this hike (if I had continued the final 0.2 to the parking lot) should read about 7.5 miles. That is what the signage on the trail seems to indicate.
The scenery is very beautiful on this trail and I love it. Promise Land 50K is my favorite ultra race and the Cornelius Creek Trail is my favorite part of it.