Getting started can be the most difficult part about anything. Whether it is me getting these entries out there or getting back on the trail after a long layoff due to injury or other circumstances. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the hardest or most perfect, you just have to get going. On a beautiful Saturday, Katherine joined me to get back on the trail as North Mountain & Pete’s Cave between Lexington and Covington, VA next to I-64 was the perfect combination of reward and ease.
- name: North Mountain & Pete’s Cave (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
- type: in & out
- distance: 7.5 miles (we went further, Hiking Upwards has it at 6.8 miles)
- elevation change: 1247 ft ascent and descent
- time: 4:00 hours (3:07 hours moving)
- location: George Washington National Forest west of Lexington, VA (google map directions)
According to Hiking Upwards, the typical route starts after driving up to the ridge on a backcountry gravel road. In the past after bad weather, there were reports of washout requiring a 4×4. However, it was in good condition when we drove up in my Hyundai Accent.
An alternative starting point to allow you to hike up to the ridge starts at the Longdale Day Use Area (USDA Forest Service). From the Blue Suck Run Trail (FT#666 – USDA Forest Service), take the Yaccrs Run trail (FT#658) following Downy Branch stream before connecting with the North Mountain trail (FT#467) to work your way up to the ridge. At the ridge, the North Mountain trail continues east while the Blacks Gap trail (FT#4674) starts down the other side.
Lastly, the North is a multi-use trail shared with mountain bikers.
At the trailhead, there were enough spots for several cars and 3 were there when we arrived just before noon. The trailhead is directly west of the parking area along the ridge. There are a couple ways to get on the trail, they both end up at the same place.
Since we started on the ridge, there were several short side trails leading to overlooks on some boulders to the left.
These overlooks faces east and are know to be excellent for sunrises. On the horizon rises the Big and Little House mountains. Though, from this vantage point, a cell tower is also clear in between on the ridge of North Mountain past the parking lot toward the other direction. If you want to come here for sunrise, I would suggest hiking in to the overlook near Pete’s Cave or just before.
To the southeast, you can see Lake Robertson in the foreground, to I-81 further back, and all the way to the mountain chain behind Lexington and Buena Vista that the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway runs through.
There are several outlooks here initially, with a few showing some cool rock formations that make up ridge of North Mountain. In the background is Green Hill.
After a half mile, the trail turns away from the rocky ledge to continue along the crest of the ridge in the woods. There are some interesting rock formations here and there. Overall it is an ok walk in the woods gaining elevation slightly here and there.
The flower bloom status at the end of April was still iffy. I seems like it was still early up here for the Rhododendron. Though it seems I might have missed the other flowers. Katherine, who is much more curious and observant of plants, did find a cool flowering Iris.
Somewhere between a mile and 2 miles into the hike, there is water source in the form of a overgrown pond. There were some concrete and broken pipe parts near the area, but I’m not sure what that is from. Following rainy days, there maybe a stream running. However, I’d treat this as a last resort and I would pack in all the water you need if you are planning to camp on the ridge.
Speaking of camping, there is a great campsite about 3.15 miles from the trailhead with a fire ring
next to a perfect overlook from a rock outcrop of the House Mountains. This is one of the places you should get to for sunrise.
Continuing on for a short distance, the trail starts to head up some rocky steps more aggressively.
This is when you know you’ve arrive at Pete’s Cave area at about 3.37 miles from the trailhead.
While this is not as big of an area as The Channels of Virginia, the gaps and small caves were plenty fun to explore. They don’t go very deep though and we didn’t find anywhere that lead deeper into the mountain, which I thought I’d read of. However, there are more options to climb up for vistas. Be warned though, some of the scrambling here isn’t the easiest and some climbing skills were useful. So use your own judgement.
Once you climbed up on the boulders, you can see I-64 snaking through the valley running between Anthony Knob and White Rock Tower to the west.
To the east side, there is another great view of the House Mountains. Again, great for sunrise.
We hiked a little further to the next highest point on the ridge, but it was among the trees. According to Hiking Upwards, it is a mile from Pete’s Cave to a camping area with a pond and the junction to turn down the ridge to the Longdale Day Use area.
After turning around, the hike provide views of the House Mountains all the way out.
- views: 2. The vistas of the North Mountain trail were plenty of the valleys and the House Mountains, typical of SW Virginia. We enjoyed scrambling amongst the boulders of Pete’s Cave and that’s what made this experience very close to a 3 rating. We didn’t find any Cave or Caverns that you can actually get deep into. For just the purpose of the hike itself without the extra effort and risk of playing around on the boulders at Pete’s Cave, this is a rating of 2.
- difficulty: 1. The elevation profile for the hike is pretty tame considering your car engine will get you up to the ridge already.
- technical: 1. There is only one way to go. Some of the blazes are lacking, but the trail is clear. If you plan to climb around Pete’s Rock, there maybe some climbing moves to get around certain boulders. So, be conscious of your abilities. To include such might involve a technical rating of almost 3.