Hiking & Camping
As you huff and puff up the old jeep road to House Mountain, you inevitably begin to wonder, "Is this hike worth it?" The forest is endless, the views are closed in, and the road just climbs and climbs. Rockbridge County's most famous mountain, you grumble, is perhaps best appreciated from afar. And then, just as you consider giving up on this 6-mile adventure, "the saddle" rolls into view.
Dotted with apple trees, the saddle is a lovely meadow tucked between Little House Mountain to the east and Big House Mountain to the west. It's an invigorating spot for a picnic. Even more invigorating? The expansive views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains from atop Big House. And yes, the final climb to the 3,645 ft. summit is steep, but the lofty panoramas are oh-so-worth the pain
Where It's AT
The white-blazed Appalachian Trail, dubbed the AT, ribbons alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway in Rockbridge County, tempting road-trippers to pull over and explore. AT thru-hikers trudging to Maine or Georgia can descend to Glasgow and Buena Vista – named Appalachian Trail Communities by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy – for grub, gossip, mail and a shower.
But the AT isn't the only trail hugging the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 11-mile Whetstone Ridge Trail at milepost 29 rolls along the ridgeline of South Mountain. Highlights? Blooming rhododendron and mountain laurel in the spring and colorful foliage in the fall. The family friendly Indian Gap Trail at milepost 47.5 leads to a spectacular rock formation while the short Yankee Horse Trail at milepost 34.4 takes in a waterfall.
Budding geologists may prefer the delicate scramble across Devils Marbleyard, a wonderland of quartzite boulders jumbled precariously across the side of a mountain. The creek-crossing Belfast Trail passes the marbleyard on its three-mile climb to the Appalachian Trail in the James River Face Wilderness. The trailhead is just a few miles from Natural Bridge.
In Goshen Pass, a bouncy swinging bridge sets an adventurous mood at the start of the rugged Jump Mountain Trail, which climbs to rolling views of forested mountains. The Laurel Run Trail wows hikers with waterfalls and wildflowers. A $4 per person access pass is required for both trails.
Where to Camp
For a head start on the Blue Ridge Parkway, pitch your tent at Glen Maury Park, a 315-acre park with 52 wooded campsites at the foot of the mountains. To camp near a lake or river, consider Lake Robertson Recreation Area, which has campsites and a small cabin, or Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area. Both recreation areas have hiking trails.
Natural Bridge State Park doesn’t have a campground, but Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp Resort, is just down the road. Campsites overlook the James River. The Natural Bridge/Lexington KOA borders Route 11 between Natural Bridge and Lexington.