Exploring the Rocky Knob Recreation Area

The idyllic and historic grounds of Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The idyllic and historic grounds of Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Living Off Grid, Creative Commons
Made Possible by
Curated by

Somewhere near the confluence of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Crooked Road music trail sits an area of the Southeast often underestimated for its sheer amount of worthwhile distractions. Small-town music jams, stunning mountain views and a Tuscan-inspired winery nestled among the rolling green hills of southern Appalachia are just a few highlights of this area of southern Virginia—just a 2.5 hour drive from Charlotte.

Here we present a brief guide of what this area has to offer.

Hiking the Rock Castle Gorge Loop

The rolling balds offer 360 degree views
The rolling balds offer 360 degree views Rob Glover

Rarely will you find a more complete package containing everything that makes a great day hike than the 10.8 mile Rock Castle Gorge loop. Located in the Rocky Knob Recreation Area , this trek begins and ends with the prototypical Parkway view—an eye-filling expanse of hardwood-covered mounds that swell and retreat beneath an ever-present blue haze. The well-marked and easy to follow trail includes plenty of leg burning uphill, gentle strolling along a rolling stream and a touch of history along the way.

Begin at BRP milepost 169, parking behind the visitor center near the picnic area. Access the trail across the Parkway at the Twelve O’clock Knob overlook. You may be tempted to join picnickers enjoying lunch at this scenic spot. But much more awaits if you resist the urge to nap on the grassy bald.

A welcome break at the bottom of the gorge
A welcome break at the bottom of the gorge Rob Glover

Pick up the trail and head right. Soon enough you’ll descend… a lot. Dropping well over 1,000 feet in just a couple miles on sometimes rocky terrain can be a bit of a shock to the knees. Luckily the dense hardwood forest will at least provides some protection from a hot summer sun.

Your next few miles is a blissful stroll on trail and fire road, at the bottom of the gorge, ambling in parallel to Rock Castle Creek. On your left you’ll see some backcountry campsites. They are free but require a permit (available at the campground, visitor center, or ranger station). On your right you’ll pass a large white house. It’s private property but there are plenty of pleasant spots nearby to stop for lunch and a soak for tired, hot feet. Look for the chimneys and tumbled stone walls left behind by settlers of the gorge.

What goes down must come up, at least in the world of hiking a loop trail. It’s time to gain all the elevation you lost. But the reward is worth it. After what seems like an eternity of climbing through the forest, you’ll be greeted by grazing  cows as you break out into wide-open balds. Take some time over the final few miles to look behind and around you. The original path of the Appalachian Trail came through here for a good reason. You’ve worked hard to climb out of the gorge and you’ve earned these vistas.

The Poor Farmers Market   is the perfect stop on the way back to Charlotte.
The Poor Farmers Market is the perfect stop on the way back to Charlotte. Eli Christman

Meadows of Dan is a small community anchored on quaint gift shops and local diners. A post-hike stop at Poor Farmer’s Market in the center of town means freshly made sandwiches, an outdoor produce shop, locally made specialty foods and, perhaps most important, hand-dipped ice cream. Just 20 minutes south of the trailhead, this is the perfect place to refuel on the way back to Charlotte.

Make it a Weekend

If you have the time, you don’t have to go far to enjoy all this neck of the woods has to offer. First, you’ll need a place to crash. The Rocky Knob Campground has over 100 RV and tent sites and is perfectly located to access everything around. Amenities are basic but include drinking water, fire rings, flush toilets and picnic tables.

The Floyd Country Store is known as a center for bluegrass music.
The Floyd Country Store is known as a center for bluegrass music. Jeff Noble, Creative Commons

Just 20 minutes north, the town of Floyd, Virginia, is known and loved for its place in bluegrass music history. Each Friday night the Floyd Country Store , a mainstay of the Crooked Road music trail, plays host to some of the region’s best pickers and singers. Oddfella’s Cantina will refill your spent tank with an oddly successful fusion of local ingredients and Latin-inspired dishes. For a jump start, hit Blackwater Loft for freshly roasted, Fair Trade Coffee.

A great place to sit and sip Italian influenced wines.
A great place to sit and sip Italian influenced wines. Villa Appalaccia

If you’re wound up enough and looking to take it down a notch, what could be better than sitting on a stone patio of a Tuscan-inspired winery overlooking the farms and hills of southern Virginia? (The answer, by the way, is nothing.) While sometimes overshadowed by its much larger neighbor Chateau Morrisette, Villa Appalacia’s cozy confines and well-kept grounds—complete with bocce ball court—offer a more subtle and relaxed tasting experience.

Finally, once you’ve packed up the tent, stop by the historic Maybry Mill for a stack of their famous pancakes. Have your fill of the buckwheat, cornmeal, sweet potato, or traditional version and stick around for a Sunday traditional mountain music jam.

Last Updated:

Next Up

Next

How to Spend a Day at Wekiwa Springs State Park