I climbed up into the mountains from Buchanan on Route 43, parking for the hike within sight of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This section of Route 43 is a pretty spectacular drive, as the slopes are steep and the road is windy. There are few routes through the Blue Ridge in Virginia that are this impressive. Just outside of Buchanan, a sign warns off tractor trailers and GPS users.
The A.T. has been rerouted where it meets Route 43. Unfortunately, the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club, which does a spectacular job maintaining this section of trail, has not built a trail between the re-routed A.T. and the only viable parking area. (Even this spot only fits three or four cars.) I did not want to walk along the road with my canine hiking companion, so I bushwacked through the woods to find the trail crossing.
The NBATC tells me they have no plans to connect the parking area and the trail, as traffic volumes are low on this road and sight lines are good. But a fog rolled in at the end of my hike, and I don't believe walking the road was safe. It would certainly not be a walk I would take with my son's Boy Scout troop.
|The Little Cove Mountain Trail's southern terminus
at the Appalachian Trail.
Heading north, the A.T. climbs Cove Mountain from the parking area, gaining about 450 feet before hitting the first of two summits of this mountain at about 8/10ths of a mile. The second summit is nearly the same elevation, and is about twice as far from the parking lot, as the mountain is actually a ridge. After topping the second summit, the trail drops down a couple of switchbacks before coming to an intersection with the southern end of the Little Cove Mountain Trail at the 2 miles.
I had a decision to make here. I wanted to take each trail, but figured that the Little Cove Mountain Trail might be less likely to be properly maintained. If so, I wanted to be able to turn back early in my hike. There is nothing worse than being 2/3 of the way through a long circuit hike only to find a trail that is impassible.
|At the point where the Little Cove Mountain Trail crosses the
Yellowstone Road, this sign attempts to justify a previous clear cut.
Also here was a sign talking about clear cutting that had occurred at some point in the past. The sign looked pretty old and had clearly been edited when more clear cuts had been made after the original sign was erected. The trail continues on, just west of a ridge, before crossing the ridge and crossing a grassy roadway. For the next 3/4 of a mile, from 3.75 to 4.5 miles, the trail is exceptionally scenic. It is the prettiest part of the entire hike as the trail drops somewhat steeply into the valley created by Cove Creek and Little Cove Creek. The trail crosses a creek three times on its way south - something to consider if you are hiking in wet season.
|Descending the Little Cove Mountain Trail there are nice views to the west of Cove Mountain, which the A.T. Climbs.
Photos do not do justice to this exceptionally scenic section of trail.
|A bridge crosses Jennings Creek at the northern terminus of the
Little Cove Mountain Trail, at Rt. 614.
From the bridge I turned left on the road and walked along a road that was once a section of the Appalachian Trail. According to a topo map I have, the A.T. intersected with the road right where the Little Cove Mountain Trail comes out, though it had come down from another mountain. I wonder if that is why there is such a nice bridge over Jennings Creek here. I walked 0.8 miles to the present A.T. road crossing at the Panther Ford Bridge. Local legend has it that a woman and her child were killed eons ago by a mountain lion here, giving the bridge its name. There is a parking area here, at the lowest point on the hike - 951 feet. It is important to note that this is also the last part of the trail with a reliable water source. There is a conspicuous sign on the trail letting hikers know that the section's trail hut does not have a spring - a rarity along the Appalachian Trail.
The A.T. climbs swiftly for 4/10ths of a mile before leveling off somewhat, but the trail generally climbs steadily from the road for 1.75 miles, reaching 1720 feet. During this climb, the trail first passes through a couple of horse stiles where it intersects the Glenwood Horse Trail (at 6.7 miles) then it intersects with the Buchanan Trail (at 7.0 miles).
|View from the Appalachian Trail looking southeast towards
|Looking south from the Appalachian Trail as it climbs Cove Mountain.
Route 43 can be seen winding its way up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Between 9.5 and 10 miles into my hike, the view switched back over towards the valley created by Jennings Creek, and I found myself on the edge of a forest that no longer existed, clearly due to a forest fire some years back. As happens after all forest fires, the land is slowly healing itself, and I estimated that the fire had occurred more than two and less than five years ago, based on the growth I was seeing.
|Elevation Profile of this hike.
|Trail map showing the A.T./Little Cove Mountain Trail loop.
My trailhead on Rt. 43 is off this map to the lower left.
My GPS Data:
|PATC Difficulty Factor
|Total Altitude Gain
|feet above sea level
|feet above sea level
|Time of Hike