Cold Mountain (Cole Mtn)
George Washington National Forest (near Amherst, VA)
Distance: 5.8 miles
Views: Epic (meadow love)
Trailhead: State Rte 755 (4WD or AWD)
Type: Loop (shorter out and back option)
Dogs: Bring your furry friends
Notes: If you like twirling in circles on grassy mountaintop meadows, then this is the hike for you.
Getting there: From Charlottesville, VA head down US-29 South (about 45 minutes). Take the US-60 exit toward Amherst, VA and turn right on 60 West. Be sure to stay straight through the traffic circle and travel on 60 W another 18 miles or so. Keep an eye out for State Rte 634 (hang a right here). Last, but not least take a right onto State Rte 755/Wiggins Spring Rd and get ready for a bumpy ride. Seriously though, I highly recommend 4WD or AWD for this leg of the journey. Parking area on your left about 3 miles down the road.
A lot of people start this loop on the Appalachian Trail (AT), marked by a white blaze, across from the parking area on Route 755. If you do this, you reach the beautiful summit and views first and then have the rest of the hike ahead of you. Let’s be honest guys, put in the work for that view first. Save the short, downhill hike back to your car for post-meadow twirling. My recommendation? Walk down the road a bit and hang a right on a side trail marked by two posts and blue blazes. Stay right on the trail to do the Cold Mountain loop. You’ll see the Mt. Pleasant parking area through the trees on your left – keep on walking and stay on the blue blaze trail.
The trail starts out on a nice wide path. In the winter, the fallen pine needles make this part of the trail soft underfoot. A slowly steepening incline will start to work those lungs and just when you get tired of it, things straighten out. You’ll come to a nice open grassy area with great campsite options. On the weekends, this area may be sprinkled with tents from folks who spent the night there. Allow time to hang out and rest near the massive oak tree. I love to spend time in this area before continuing this hike and can’t wait to plan a camping trip here soon. To stay on the trail look for the blue blazes again. Remember that a sharp turn or change on any blue blaze trail should be marked by two blue blazes. Next the trail will head downhill a bit, but don’t get too excited…this means a nice uphill climb is on the horizon.
Okay, it’s time to get real for a minute. Ladies…this bonus is just for you. It’s not always easy for us to use the restroom on the trail. Especially in the winter or early spring when there are no leaves on the bushes and trees to hide behind. That is what makes this trail extra appealing for us – there is a bathroom. Yes, I said bathroom. Well, an outhouse, if you want to get technical. With the outhouse coming up next on the hike, all your wildest trail dreams come true. I’m talking privacy here. Enjoy.
A couple water crossings, which have been easy with low water levels every time I’ve hiked this trail. Jump and skip over rocks to cross. Keep an eye on your right for the Cow Camp Gap Shelter and your toilet (mentioned above. Pro-tip: Bring your own TP). While it’s tempting to stop and have a snack or lunch at the shelter, I suggest trucking on and save the dining experience for the view.
Your next challenge is a series of switchbacks that leads to those incredible views I mentioned. Phew. I know you are tired right now, but read the trail signs to be sure you turn onto the AT heading North. You’ve made it up the mountain and are probably sweating and dry-heaving by now. Luckily, the view makes all that work worthwhile and I’m sure you’ll still have some energy left to frolic. Enjoy this mountaintop meadow. Take a nap. Twirl. Take pictures. Do yoga. Maybe even some Karate moves. Do it all up there and when you can’t take any more of the epic view, make your way back to your car. Keep your eyes peeled for the trail and be sure to stick to the AT (white blazes) rather than following the fire road down. A quick downhill walk and you are back at the parking area and ready for the ride home. Don’t forget to pick up your pizza at Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie on the way back to Charlottesville.
Difficulty and Length: I’ve done this hike a few times and it typically takes about 3 hours to do the complete loop. This includes eating lunch and some frolicking and twirling on the mountain top. If you have the kiddos with you allow for 3-5 hours. Take it nice and easy at the beginning of this hike. Once you pass the AT Shelter you have a nice climb and a lot of switchbacks. You’ll want to save some of that energy for this climb!
Tip: If you’re in a hurry and want to make this a quick hike, take the AT (marked by white blazes) across from the parking area on Route 755. You’ll reach the mountain top meadow in about 1.2 miles. Take this route if you must, but the whole loop is worth the time and effort. I promise.
I love this hike! Huge shout out to my girl, Katie, for introducing me to this one. I cannot believe I’ve lived in Central Virginia for so long and never been on this trail until recently. My favorite thing about this hike is how much the scenery changes. Meandering trails, switchbacks, grassy campsites under mature oak trees, a creek, an Appalachian Trail (AT) Shelter, expansive grassy meadows and more. You truly get it all with this hike.
I’ve hiked this trail several times and each time is completely different. My first hike on Cold Mountain with Katie was a beautiful sunny day with perfect clouds. We got to the mountaintop and stretched and laid on our backs to look at the sky. To top off a great day outside, we stopped at the Blue Mountain Barrel House on the way back to Charlottesville. Got a brew and a surprise treat with afternoon music by Travis Book of The Infamous Stringdusters. Perfect day.
Try this hike out in the winter too. The lack of greenery on trees allows for more views on several parts of the hike. The meadow is not as easy to enjoy with freezing temperatures, but still beautiful. I think the cold makes the switchbacks easier and cold weather typically means fewer people on the trail. Easier switchbacks and fewer people? Win-win.
P.S. This is not “the” Cold Mountain from the well-known movie. Sorry…that one’s in North Carolina.