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.

Big House and Little House Mountains are on the horizon. Photo by Brent McGuirt.

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 from atop Big House Mountain. And yes, the final climb to the 3,645 ft. summit is steep, but the lofty panoramas are oh-so-worth the burn.

Where It's AT

And when it comes to burn, might we introduce you to the Appalachian Trail? Dubbed the AT, this beloved path bounces beside the Blue Ridge Parkway like a puppy, begging road-trippers to pull over and explore. AT thru-hikers trudging to Maine or Georgia 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 unfurls along the ridge line of South Mountain. Highlights? Blooming rhododendron and mountain laurel in the spring and colorful leaf peeping 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 drops hikers at 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, Cave Mountain Lake Recreation Area, or Yogi Bear's Jellystone Camp & Resort. Both recreation areas have hiking trails.

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