In 1984, the Rock Castle Gorge Loop trail was designated a National Scenic Trail in recognition of its outstanding features. The trail, blazed with green, is a moderate to strenuous 10.8 mile loop with elevations ranging from 3,572 feet at Rocky Knob to 1,700 feet at the confluence of Rock castle and Little Rock Castle Creeks.
Parts of the trail are rocky and several sections are quite steep. To avoid the most strenuous uphill sections, hikers can begin at the Rocky Knob Campground and head downhill toward Rock Castle Creek.
From the Campground, the trail descends over 1,000 feet in 3 miles, passing through a hardwood cove forest of oaks, hickories, tulip trees, basswoods, maples, magnolias and a stand of big tooth aspens. Along the ridge, there is a beautiful display of mountain laurel. This is a good place to look for evidence of home sites.
The 2.8-mile section of trail along Rock Castle Creek follows the gated fire road. Within a half mile, it passes a back-country campground on the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps complex. A permit for camping is required and may be obtained free from the Rocky Knob Campground, Ranger Station or Visitor Center. Camping in Rock Castle Gorge is permitted only at this designated back-country site.
The large white house on the left is privately owned and is not open to the public. After steadily climbing beyond the house, there are excellent views of the creek, 100 feet below. This are has a fabulous display of wildflowers in April and early May. Rock Castle Cascades on the left is a prominent landmark.
Turn right at the trail junction where the trail passes through a mesic-hardwood forest. This forest type occurs in ravines and along bases of slopes in the gorge. Here soil is moist, deep and rich. It supports a highly diverse herbaceous layer, as well as unusual cove tree species like black maple. The Rock Castle Gorge Trail gains 875 feet in the next 1.5 miles. After .5 mile, the trail goes through an extensive boulder field known as the Bare Rocks, and a ridge near the rim of the gorge has an impressive stand of Catawba rhododendron and mountain laurel.
From Grassy Knoll back to the campground the trail parallels the Parkway and presents views of Rock Castle Gorge, the Piedmont, and the countryside north of Floyd, Virginia. The trail to Rocky Knob is narrow and steep, and affords outstanding views. Just downhill from Rocky Knob, a rustic shelter serves as a reminder that the Appalachian Trail used to pass along this part of the Blue Ridge Parkway before its relocation to the west.
Note: To avoid confusion, the major trails in the Rocky Knob area have blaze markings in different colors. All connecting trails are blazed in red.