Christy and I were in Winston a couple of weeks ago. We decided to do a hike that was a favorite of mine when I lived in the area. We brought the dog along, and my old hiking buddy Patrick decided to join us as well.
We drove up from Winston to Fancy Gap and picked up the Parkway. From there we drove a 30 mile section of the Parkway that I had never seen before. Along the way I spotted a fawn with the mother nowhere in sight. We reached the Rocky Knobs Visitor Center in about 90 minutes from Winston. It was nice to be on the trail before 10AM.
We walked across the Parkway and picked up the Rock Castle Gorge loop trail. We followed it up to Rocky Knob, where we found an old shelter which dates back to when the AT passed through here. We also found a nice view of the gorge below. Later, we passed a huge red spider that appeared to be pregnant.
We crossed a fence into a pasture with nice views of the rolling farmland around us. Then we began the big descent. We left the parkway and hiked steeply downhill. The footing was bad in a few places, so our pace was slow. We reached Rock Castle Creek where the trail joined a jeep road. We followed it upstream where we found a nice lunch spot on some boulders by the creek.
After lunch we continued upstream, passing a beautiful camping area in a meadow. Beyond the campsites we passed a house that is still privately owned. All of the surrounding land is owned by the NPS. We crossed the creek twice on bridges before the climb became steep. We struggled up the hill, with the creek cascading below us. Eventually we left the jeep road and crossed a third bridge. We climbed on a footpath, reaching the huge boulder pile known as the "Rock Castle". We had a long break here before resuming our climb. Finally we reached another pasture. I had been looking forward to the views on this part of the hike. However, clouds had rolled in and visibility was limited.
We continued through the field and found a tree full of ripe apples. We couldn’t resist filling my pack. The apples were small, but extremely sweet. We were having fun, but our harvest was interrupted by the first rain drops. We hurried up the trail, but the storm moved in fast. The temperature plummeted and we were quickly soaked. Initially it seemed too warm for rain gear, but that was a mistake. Our warm summer day had quickly turned into a wet autumn one. We hurried back to the visitor center, where the bathroom provided a welcome opportunity to dry off and change clothes. We had finished the 11 mile hike in less than 6 hours, which was a respectable pace considering the 2000’ of climbing. I’d like to come back here and backpack sometime, just to take advantage of the beautiful campsites along Rock Castle Creek.
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