Buck Mountain trail: simple, but lovely
Kevin Myatt | The Roanoke Times
The sign and a paved path point the way to the Buck Mountain Trail, but in just a few feet, it gets a little more wild and woolly.
Kevin Myatt | The Roanoke Times
Wild azalea blazes the Buck Mountain Trail in mid- to late spring. All four seasons make a showy appearance along this half-mile hiking trail that begins alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.
- Location: Two tenths of a mile past mile marker 123, headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take the BRP south for 2.8 miles from where it crosses U.S. 220 south of Roanoke. (The BRP crosses on overpass, but there are entry roads to the parkway from 220.) The trailhead, named Buck Mountain Overlook, will be on the left.
- Length: 1 mile -- 1/2 mile up with 1/2 mile backtrack.
- Elevation: 1,465 at the trail head to 1,760 at the summit.
- Gottasee factor (scenery, scale 0 to 4) of 1.5: Nothing heartstopping, just a pleasant forest walk under pines and various hardwoods. A couple of decent vistas over the Roanoke Valley open up, especially in the winter when the leaves are off.
- Gottabreathe factor (difficulty, scale 0 to 4) of 1.5: It's a climb, but just a steady one, and only for a half-mile before you turn around and come back down. Almost anyone can make it. A good starter hike for someone just beginning to work on his/her fitness.
Buck Mountain is beautiful in its simplicity.
It's a half-mile climb to the summit cul de sac, then a half-mile backtrack to the trailhead alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of Roanoke.
The 300-foot rise in elevation is enough to accomplish two things: (1) providing a short but vigorous workout for a time-pressed hiker seeking a brief lung stretcher for fitness sake and (2) separating the hiker from the parkway just enough to savor that wild woods flavor. I like to hike fast up the trail to strengthen my legs, then saunter slowly back down to soak in nature.
It's a lovely little forest hike, under oaks, maples and pines. In May, mountain laurel and azalea blossoms add a floral touch. In August, the cicadas sing a wistful chorus. In October, the color-splattered foliage dazzles. I have seen wild turkey running up the trail and deer dancing in the woods all around. (There are bucks on Buck Mountain, no doubt.)
The trail is wide enough along most of its route for a family of three or four to walk side by side. It's never steep enough to be a major problem for young children (or couch potato parents) and never more of a hazard than some ankle-knocking rocks, ruts and roots. Benches near the halfway point and at the summit provide good places to rest, although the viewpoints that they overlook have become so grown up with saplings there isn't much of a view when the leaves are on. Still, a few vistas across the Roanoke Valley can be gleaned through the trees (or by standing on the benches), including a couple of spots where distant McAfee Knob is framed by trees.
In two spots, trails veer off from the main route. These soon enter private land, sometimes posted. Please respect the owners' rights.
The first hundred feet or so of the trail that shoots out of the Buck Mountain Overlook (they call every pullover parking area on the parkway an "overlook" even when there is nothing much to look over) is paved. The pavement soon gives way to a root- and rock-studded dirt path that begins climbing immediately. It passes through one not-so-attractive zone of downed trees, mostly pines, before reaching the first bench off to the left at roughly the halfway point.
Then it climbs some more, a little more steeply, though the mixed forest. At one point, the trail splits, but stay with the blue blazes to the left. It's up a little farther that the trail comes to its ending loop, circling through the underbrush at the summit.
Then it's a downhill glide the rest of the way -- but be careful on those ankles. You'll want to save them for another of the great hikes in our area.