Foliage season is always a fleeting prospect. One day of bad weather and it’s all over. At least that’s how it seemed this year as a heavy wind storm with tornado advisory passed Southwest Virginia a few days after peak weekend. I headed out on the trails after the storm and found much of the foliage on the ground. At least Bottom Creek Gorge hike has some cascades and a waterfall to hold our attention.
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- name: Bottom Creek Gorge loop (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
- type: loop
- distance: 4.1 miles
- elevation change: 781 ft ascent and descent
- time: 2:20 hours (1:58 hours without breaks)
- location: Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve (The Nature Conservancy) near Bent Mountain, VA (google map directions)
The loop that we hiked linked a few of the trails within the conservancy. Specifically, the Entrance Road, Knight Trail, and the Johnston Trail. There is a slightly larger loop (0.6 miles longer) by taking the blue marked Duval Trail, which doesn’t show up on the OSM map. I took this the first time visiting the Bottom Creek Gorge and it was pretty much just a trail in the woods from what I could remember.
The parking area has room for plenty of cars, but we were only one of 4 here on a Sunday during peak foliage season. More would come later, but this is a moderate to light trafficked area. Zhuoya join me for the hike.
The first half mile was on a wide disused gravel road with a slight incline of 7.0% grade. A few steps on the trail, we crossed a wooden bridge crossing a stream draining into Bottom Creek. While we found majority of turned leaves under our feet rather than on the trees, we did get a glimpse here and there still around.
Shortly after cresting the Entrance Road trail near a information board, we came to the junction to the yellow marked Knight Trail junction to the left. We took it to continue down hill.
The Knight trail will drop unevenly for the next mile at about a -5.6% grade. It passed a small pond
and a small stream. Then it started to follow Bottom Creek and Patterson Drive high up on the side of the hill, before curving around the hill and away from the road eventually dropping down the creek.
There is a small side trail down to Bottom Creek. This was my favorite part of the hike as you can make your way along the side of the creek for a nice view of the creek cutting through the gorge downstream.
You can also look upstream for a few flat pools after drops.
At the very top of our exploration along the creek we saw a small waterfall.
On a hot day, I can see people jumping into the pools here. However, be warned of the dangers downstream as pointed out by a posted sign.
After hanging around the creek for a bit, we continued on our hike. The Knight Trail started to climb out of the gorge around the side of the mountain over the next third of a mile at an aggressive 13.6% grade. It was mostly through the woods, but the were some nice open views with some foliage left.
At the 2 mile mark, the Knight Trail dead ends onto the red marked Johnston Trail.
We turned left to head toward the view point. It was an inconsistent slight down hill. We first crossed another stream draining into Bottom Creek and then passed the junction with the blue marked Duval trail branching off the the right.
We continued straight and in a third of a mile from the Knight Trail junction, we came to the Malcolm & Jimmie Black overlook of Bent Mountain Falls.
From here, we returned on the Johnston Trail all the way back to the parking lot on a mostly wide former dirt road through the woods.
ratings (1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)
- views: 2. There were 2 major points of interest for me on the hike, Bottom Creek and the overview of Bent Mountain Falls. The former is more interesting as you can scramble along the edge of the creek for some nice views. However, the trail doesn’t stay next to the creek and you wouldn’t see it at all during the summer with full leaf cover. Bent Mountain Falls is tall, but the view point is quite far away that it loses some of its luster. On a dry day, the tributary into Bottom Creek that makes up the falls might not even run. The rest of the hike is pretty much in the woods.
- difficulty: 1. The trail is under 1000 ft of elevation gain and pretty short. There are some downed trees and the full leaf cover from fallen foliage can make it a little more difficult. But that comes with a slightly less trafficked trail.
- technical: 1. The trail is well marked with color markers and there is no technical sections. However, if you are looking to hike a specific trail, you should know the color corresponding to the trail. Take a picture of the map at the beginning of the hike to make sure you know.