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Roanoke, VA: Rock Castle Gorge Loop

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Explore the summits and history of a rare trail network along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rocky Knob Recreation Area is one of the few backcountry bulges along the usually narrow Blue Ridge Parkway, and this moderate 10.8-mile loop takes full advantage of the region’s mountaintop meadow scenery and bubbling streams.

Begin in the valley and hike along the Rock Castle Gorge Trail—named for the area’s abundant six-sided quartz crystals, which reminded early settlers of castle towers. You’ll soon pass an old CCC camp that’s now a backcountry site (perfect for basecamping), then the early twentieth-century Austin House at mile 1.5. The trail crosses the creek and continues past an old chimney, then climbs up to the Parkway. Continue on to 3,572-foot Rocky Knob for rolling mountain views and a peek at one of the Appalachian Trail’s oldest shelters—this spot was along the famous footpath’s original course until Parkway construction forced a reroute to the west. Continue past Rocky Knob and descend along the lightly-traveled Little Rock Castle Creek to close the loop.

Info: Free permit required for camping. (828) 298-0398; nps.gov/blri

Hike provided by Randy Johnson, author of Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway (Falcon).

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