Petites Gap to Cornelius Creek Shelter – Wildflower Row

May 20, 2007 at 10:52 pm 11 comments

On Saturday, I joined a group of six other hikers (mostly from the Charlottesville/Potomac Appalachian Trail Club area) for a hike along the Appalachian Trail. We started at Petites Gap which is Mile Post 71 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We hiked about 7.3 miles on the AT, then we went 1 mile down Apple Orchard Falls Trail to Apple Orchard Falls. From there, we backtracked 0.5 miles up Apple Orchard Falls Trail. Next we cut across Apple Orchard Road 1 mile to Cornelius Creek Trail. We ascended 0.6 miles to get back to the AT. Finally, we hiked 1.6 miles down the AT to the Cornelius Creek Shelter. We ended back up at the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile Post 80.5.

This section of trail had it all– views, waterfalls, wildflowers. It offered so much, it felt like 4-5 different hikes combined into one. Some many features of this section are described below:

View of Devil’s Marbleyard
As we ascended through Thunder Ridge Wilderness, we pass a rock outcropping with a views of Devil’s Marbleyard. It’s quite a different perspective than Mike E and I had a few weeks ago at the Marbleyard.

Devil's Marbleyard
Devil’s Marbleyard from Thunder Ridge Wilderness

Thunder Ridge Overlook
Also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, we passed by an overlook near the high point of Thunder Ridge.

View From Thunder Ridge Overlook
View from Thunder Ridge Overlook

The Guillotine
As we neared the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain, we passed under a boulder balancing precariously above the trail.

The Guillotine
Ken, with remarkable faith, sits on top of the Guillotine with the Appalachian Trail below

Apple Orchard Summit
Our passage took us to the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain. At 4225 feet, this is the highest point the trail reaches in some time. Northbound hikers would have go to 1000 miles to New Hampshire to reach a higher elevation. Meanwhile Southbound hikers would need to go 600 miles.

Summit sign at Apple Orchard Mountain

Ridges At Apple Orchard Summit
View from summit of Apple Orchard Mountain

Apple Orchard Mountain was named for the trees at the top. They are not apple trees, rather they are red oaks that have been twisted and deformed by wind and ice. To the locals, the trees appeared to be a deserted orchard. Thus the name.

Namesake of Apple Orchard Mountain
Namesake of Apple Orchard Mountain

The summit sports more than trees and great views. An FAA air traffic radar tower is present up there as well.

FAA Radar Tower
FAA Radar Tower at top of Apple Orchard Mountain

Apple Orchard Falls
Our side trek took us to beautiful 150-foot Apple Orchard Falls.

Apple Orchard Falls
Apple Orchard Falls

Black Rock Overlook
One of our final stops of the journey was Black Rock Overlook which provides outstanding views, including Peaks of Otter to the left.

Ridges from Black Rock
Layers of ridges visible from Black Rock

Peaks of Otter (Flat Top) from Black Rock

Last, but not least, our hike provided us with a steady stream of wildflower viewing opportunities. The Appalachian Trail Guide to Central Virginia describes this section well.

This area is famous for its spring flowers– acres of large flowered trillium, being crowded by mayapple, as well as a showing of bloodroot, showy orchids, large-flowered bellwort, mountain lily-of-the-valley, blue cohosh, and rattlesnake plantain (an orchid).

However, we met a thru hiker named Biker Barb who improved upon the guidebook’s description.

It is like walking through a botanical garden.

Biker Barb was right. Our journey provided such a variety and high quality of specimens, it very well could have been a botanical garden.

To Be Identified — Chickweed?

Mayapple which has a single stealth bloom underneath a broad leaf canopy

Jack in the Pulpit
Jack in the Pulpit

Two of the thousands of trilliums on the trail

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids
Pink Lady Slipper Orchids

To Be Identified – Spiderwort?


Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

It was a wonderful and fulfilling journey. Many thanks to Jere Bidwell for organizing this trip and inviting me!!!

Additional Links
Many, many more pictures on Flickr
Kevin Myatt’s article on Apple Orchard Falls for the Roanoke Times
Thunder Ridge Wilderness Area


Entry filed under: Appalachian Trail, Apple Orchard Falls, Apple Orchard Mountain, Black Rock, Blueridge Parkway, Devil's Marbleyard, Hiking, Jack in the Pulpit, Jere Bidwell, Mayapple, Mountain Laurel, Peaks of Otter, Pink Lady Slipper, Rhododendron, Spiderwort, The Guillotine, Thunder Ridge, Trillium, Wildflowers.

Quick Trip, Quick Post Future of Blazing – Duct Tape?

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. coloradohokie  |  May 22, 2007 at 1:03 am

    Vicky, it looks beautiful. This is a spot I haven’t been. I’d love it if you’d guide me (and possibly Heather) when I return this fall.

  • 2. tgaw  |  May 22, 2007 at 7:13 am

    I will be happy to take you and Heather anywhere you’d like to go!

  • 3. Katie  |  May 22, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    What a nice hike!

  • 4. Wildwood Park - A Taste of Home « TGAW  |  May 24, 2007 at 12:05 am

    […] like our group hike last week in Southwest Virginia, the trillium almost 1000 miles northwest are in full bloom.  That wasn’t the only familiar […]

  • 5. The Birthday Orange « TGAW  |  March 17, 2008 at 9:41 am

    […] a good thing we established an orange understanding. This summer at Apple Orchard Falls– I shared an orange with some Potomac Appalachian Trail Club members. Yup, members. I’m […]

  • 6. 10 Things in my Yard « TGAW  |  May 6, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    […] was officially introduced to Mayapples last year by Jere Bidwell on our Cornelius Creek hike. Mayapples sport a single bloom which hides under their umbrella-like canopy, so you can’t […]

  • 7. Linda Yarnell  |  May 29, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Yes to the spiderwort, No to the chickweed, maybe blood root.

  • 8. TGAW  |  May 29, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    @Linda – Thanks! You rule!

  • 9. Mike  |  July 19, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I would like to hike to Apple Orchard Falls but also hike to the summit of Apple Orchard Mtn. Is there a way to do this in 1 hike?

  • 10. Ron  |  July 11, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Sorry Linda, but that is indeed chickweed….star chickweed.

  • 11. Emily  |  September 2, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Thank you so much for posting about this hike. I have been wanting to know where to hike to view pink lady slippers, and will put this on my springtime hiking list for next year.


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