Rocky Knob is a ridge that runs for a few miles between Mileposts 167 and 174 along the Virginia Portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some maps mark the highpoint as Rocky Knob Point, but that is not on USGS maps. Contrary to its name, Rocky Knob is not rocky and open at the top the way Blue Ridge peaks such as Old Rag, Bearfence Mountain, Blackrock, Sharp Top, and Grandfather Mountain are, but there are some openings at the top and along the way to it that provide nice views to the east.
One of the highlights of the views is looking down into Rock Castle Gorge, which is 1800' below. A small farming community existed in the gorge until the 1930s, when the federal government began buying the land there. A trail through the gorge is all that remains of a wagon road, and remnants of homesteads can be found as nature continues to reclaim the area. Rock Castle Gorge got its name from the colorless six-sided crystals people found there; the people thought the crystals resembled castle towers in form, and so the name came about.
Rocky Knob is no big challenge of a peak, and few people are likely to make trip plans centered around it. What it is, though, is a nice stop for people driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs for 470 stoplight-free miles between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the North Carolina portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most Parkway highlights are the views from the overlooks and the spring wilflowers and fall foliage seen along the road, but there are some places where one can get out of the car, stretch the legs a bit, and enjoy a little more of the scenery without expending too much time and effort. Rocky Knob is one of those places.
Hiking to the Summit
There are at least three options for hiking to the summit, and the longest is only about a mile (one-way length). Elevation gain is up to 500 feet.
Across the road from the campground entrance (north of the peak), there is a marked trail that indicates a distance of one mile to Rocky Knob. This is the longest route and has the most elevation gain, but it also may be the most scenic, as it begins by passing through some very pretty open, rolling hills. This hike can be shortened by driving a bit south to the Saddle Overlook and starting from there, but that would mean missing those pretty meadows.
A little further south, a trail leads from the picnic area to the summit. This is the shortest trail and is around half a mile in length.
South of the picnic area is an overlook that has an interpretive sign about Rock Castle Gorge. North of the parking area, an unsigned trail heads across a small meadow and starts climbing the wooded mountainside. This is the way I took, and it is a little less than a mile to the summit, with around 400 feet of elevation gain.
The best times to hike are spring and fall, when temperatures are nicest and the flowers or leaves are at their most spectacular. The trails are accessible year-round, though, weather permitting.
Getting ThereDrive the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Rocky Knob area, which is between Mileposts 167 and 174. Numerous signs indicate the area, so it's hard to miss even if you're not watching the mileposts. The Rocky Knob area, via the BRP, is about 1.5-2 hours southwest of Roanoke. The closest town with full services is Meadows of Dan, reached by exiting the Parkway onto U.S. 58 a few miles south around Milepost 178.
Red TapeThere is no red tape, but travelers in late fall through early spring should check on road access. Although the BRP is open all year, sections do close temporarily because of snow and ice.
CampingThere is a developed campground here, and there are cabins as well. Please see the Links section for more information.
External LinksNPS Blue Ridge Parkway Site
Information on Camping and Cabins at Rocky Knob