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Doughton Park Hike

posted Jul 28, 2014, 10:15 AM by Justin P   [ updated Jul 31, 2014, 6:32 AM ]
This past weekend, I headed out to Doughton Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a challenging 17-mile circuit hike.  I met up with Robin and we carpooled out, arriving at the trailhead on Long Bottom Road at about 930.  We got ready and then headed out for our hike, starting out by passing the gate on Grassy Gap Fire Road.  Almost immediately, we turned right on Cedar Ridge Trail and began making the strenuous climb up towards the parkway.  The trail gains more than 2000 vertical feet in about 4.4 miles, so it was a good and steady climb.  Warm temperatures, high humidity, and a lack of wind made the hike that much more challenging.  Additionally, this trail is not well traveled.  In fact, we didn’t see anyone else the whole way up.  So there was no one else to clear the spider webs across the trail and I think I caught just about every one.  It took us about 2 hours to get up to the top and once here, we made a short detour to Brinegar Cabin, following the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

This historic cabin was built around 1880 by Martin Brinegar, who lived here with his wife Caroline and their family until the 1930s.  Next to the cabin was a garden and a young lady was getting bridal photos taken here.  We took a quick stop in the cabin to see an old loom and other historic artifacts of mountain life in the past, then continued on our way.  We followed the MST back to the intersection and turned right onto Bluff Mountain Trail (which is also the MST) and headed towards the campground.  The Bluff Mountain Trail mostly parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway along its roughly 7.5-mile length.  Along the way, we passed through some beautiful open meadows along the parkway with lots of wildflowers in bloom.  There were thousands of coreopsis in bloom, as well as Queen Anne’s lace, prairie gay feather, and other wildflowers.

We hiked through one flower-filled meadow, then passed through the campground, before crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway at Low Notch, which had lovely views down the Blue Ridge Escarpment.

Soon after, there was another big open meadow, though it didn’t have as many flowers as the previous one.  However, there were a lot of Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies here, taking advantage of what flowers there were.  Soon we came to what used to be the restaurant and gift shop that are now closed then crossed the parkway and walked past the also-closed lodge.  Apparently budget cuts and a lack of private partnerships have shuttered these amenities.  Past the lodge, we stopped at the Wildcat Rock Overlook and had lunch here.  This spot had perhaps the best views in the park.

The basin creek gorge could be seen below, as well as the historic Caudill Cabin, which is 800 feet below this overlook.  Due to the thick summer foliage, only a part of the cabin’s roof could be seen from above.  After lunch, we got back on the Bluff Mountain Trail and continued our hike.  We continued past the picnic area through more beautiful open meadows with the occasional lone tree sticking up amidst the wildflowers and grasses.

At the old shelter, we turned right to stay on Bluff Mountain Trail, where the Bluff Primitive Trail headed down steeply into the gorge below.  From here, we climbed up to the top of Bluff Mountain with great views of the parkway and Blue Ridge Mountains beyond.

Heading down from the summit was probably the steepest part on this trail with some steps added to help with the descent.  Once down, we continued on Bluff Mountain Trail past a couple more overlooks and soon made it to the end of the trail at the intersection with Flat Rock Ridge Trail.  This trail would conclude our circuit hike, losing about 2000 vertical feet over the course of 5 miles.  But it wasn’t all downhill from here – there is a saddle on the first half of the trail, so we would be going down and then back up, before making our final descent back to the parking area.  Along the way, we saw some Indian Pipe growing along dark patches of forest floor where no sunlight penetrated the foliage.  There were no overlooks along this trail, but a couple of open spots allowed us to peer across the gorge.  Far in the distance, we could see a lone tree standing as a sentinel atop the meadow.  We had passed this tree a couple hours ago, but now we could only barely see it in the distance.  That tree really put the distance we had hiked in perspective.

After the saddle, it pretty much was all downhill following Flat Rock Ridge Trail back to the bottom.  As we approached the end, the sounds of cars and motorcycles on Long Bottom Road and flowing water along Basin Creek indicated our hike was almost complete.  In the end, it took about 8 hours to complete our 17-mile hike.  Not bad, considering the distance and elevation gain.  Here's a quick video I made of the hike: