virginia hikes: Sherando Lake, Torry Ridge, & White Rock Falls loop, June 27 2020

Being opportunistic is a good way to avoid the crowds when it comes to popular trails. It may mean getting up before sunrise, starting out late in the day, or still heading out when it’s rainy. With many of the frontcountry campgrounds still closed, certain trails are a little less crowded than normal. This included the Sherando Lake area, which is known as the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains and typically sees hundreds of campers a day.

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virginia hikes: Rock Castle Gorge, May 9 2020

A different season in Virginia can make the same hike a completely different experience. It was winter the last time I visited Rock Castle Gorge. When we returned for a spring hike, we found a completely new experience.

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my first time here was different experience with the Roanoke Outdoors Meetup group

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virginia hikes: Petites Gap, Highcock Knob, & Sulphur Spring loop, March 21 2020

With COVID-19 pandemic shutting down everything, there are a lot of questions regarding if hitting the trails is something ok to do. My impression on the aspect of social distancing is to avoid other. So it’s not just a simple questions of is heading outdoors ok. Rather the question is can I go hike somewhere not many other hikers are. Remember it’s not just contact with other, but also surfaces others have contacted. You know that rock everyone likes to sit on (McAfee), probably should avoid that. This is the reason popular parks such as Yosemite are closing as they should. Not to mention how the popular parks get tramped on the most without rangers upholding infrastructure (see the damage from government shutdown of 2019, Business Insider).

So the takeaway is go hiking, but probably should be limited to day hikes in your local area on the lesser trafficked trails. With all of that in mind, we headed to an out to explore an out of the way trail we hadn’t done before. We saw only 2 groups of hikers along the 8 mile stretch, so I’d consider that minimizing the risk.

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virginia hikes: Flat Top & Fallingwater Cascades, May 20 2017

Previously, I had covered Sharp Top, one of the two peaks making up the Peaks of Otters. This is one of the more popular spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Earlier this year, Meg, Mark, and I headed up the second peak, Flat Top (FT) and tacked on an addition loop to the Fallingwater Cascades (FWC).

information

  • Flat Top (FT) & Fallingwater Cascades (FWC)
  • type: FT – in & out; FWC – loop
  • distance:  6.8 mi
    • FT – 5.4 mi
    • FWC – 1.3 mi
  • elevation change: 2443 ft ascent and descent
    • FT – 1954 ft
    • FWC –  489 ft
  • time: 2:45 hours moving (3:15 hours with breaks)
    • FT – 2:10 moving (2:30 with breaks)
    • FWC – 0:35 moving (0:45 with breaks)
  • location: Jefferson National Forest
  • This hike can be broken up into 2 separate hikes. There is also an alternative way up to Flat Top from the Sharp Top parking lot, see this recording from Alltrails.

report

We started from the parking lot that is shared by both Flat Top and Cascading waterfalls. It is a few minutes east of the information center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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The beginning of the trail starts upwards right away through the green tunnels that’s typical of Virginia Mountains. Similar to Sharp Top, the hike is pretty much a climb up to the peak. However, the trail for Flat Top continues upwards with a series of switch backs rather than a straight up winding around the mountain.

At the end of the switchbacks, there is an outcrop with your first view of the valley to the east.

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The trail continues along the ridge of the mountain passing a set of large rock formations before a split. The right trail heads to the true peak of Flat Top, which is shrouded by trees.

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We bushwhacked further on toward the endpoint of the other trail to find the large outcrop rock

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with a view out toward Bedford and Lynchburg.

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After returning to the car, we decided to hike the additional short loop to the Fallingwater Cascades. We headed clockwise on the loop heading down hills at first until we reached the lower crossing of the cascading stream.

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The trail then follows the stream upwards

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with a couple points where you can cool your feet.

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The trail crosses the stream once again at the top with a wooden bridge before looping back. It will first pass the separate dedicated parking lot for Fallingwater Cascades before reaching the shared lot.

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ratings (1-5; link for detailed breakdown)

  • views:  2. For the most part, the hike is among the green tunnels of VA with not much to see. Of course, it may be different in the other seasons, but the leaves were completely in during that spring day. There were a couple vistas at the top of the Ridge, but most of the views were out toward the flat regions of VA. The Fallingwater cascade mixed it up with a nice running stream, but it was very small.
  • difficulty: 2. The way up Flat top were purely switchbacks. Some endurance is needed for the elevation change.
  • technical: 1. The trail is well marked with no technical aspects.

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