If you’re looking to make your way to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, Apple Orchard Mountain is it, hitting 4,222 feet at its open summit.
It’s also the highest peak in Botetourt & Bedford Counties.
While that’s considered a baby mountain or even a hill when compared to western rises (looking at you, Colorado), it’s a beauty in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
Venture through the Jefferson National Forest to encounter this iconic mountain and then plan to explore the other mountains in our Iconic Mountains of VBR series.
There Aren’t Any Apples
Contrary to the views its name conjures, Apple Orchard Mountain does not have an apple orchard. Rather, it gets its name from the gnarly trees that mimic the look of apple trees.
Harsh weather conditions over the years have pruned and stunted the northern red oak forests. Consider the toll an ice storm followed by stiff winds might have on a tree and you get the picture.
Tune In, Tokyo
When you reach the top of Apple Orchard Mountain (by foot; the road is closed to traffic) you encounter the FAA radar dome, a remnant from a time when the plateau was part of the Cold War early warning system in the United States.
The larger-than-life, golf ball-esque, long range radar tower was a key component of the Bedford Air Force Station, which included as many as 200 troops. At the time, there were three such radars atop Apple Orchard Mountain. Today, the radar assists with air traffic.
Learn More: WSLS - "'Golf Ball' Tower Has a Rich History >
Waterfall Hike - Apple Orchard Falls
One of Virginia’s most impressive waterfalls in Apple Orchard Falls at 200 feet. You can get there by hiking from the Blue Ridge Parkway near milepost 78 and Sunset Fields Overlook. You’ll cross the Appalachian Trail as you make your descent about 3.5 miles.
The falls can be reached from the Cornelius Creek Trail as well, which connects to FS Road 59; the end point for the Apple Orchard Falls Trail. To loop the two trails, begin from either the Blue Ridge Parkway or from the end of FS Road 59.
Some experienced hikers suggest starting from FS Road 59 and taking the Cornelius Creek Trail up to the seeded logging road, then hike the Apple Orchard Falls Trail back down. That’s about a six-mile loop and keeps you off of the Appalachian Trail farther up.
Hiking Apple Orchard Mountain is a reward for those who love spring wildflowers. Expect to find trillium, Dutchman’s Breeches, and wild geraniums (also known as money plants).
The photography opportunities are plentiful with North Creek meandering through the woods, bridges to cross, and perhaps wildlife along the way.
Be aware there are stream crossings and the rocks tend to be slippery.
For an interesting geologic feature you’re sure to appreciate, do incorporate part of the Appalachian Trail if you have time.
The Guillotine is a narrow path through huge boulders with one round boulder lodged between them. It’s as if a giant pinball became wedged between two rails. Learn more from Wandering Virginia.
Apple Orchard Mountain is within National Forest, which means you’re welcome to set up an overnight primitive camp as long as it’s at least 200 feet away from any water source. Take all necessary supplies (especially water), and practice pack-it-in/pack-it-out to ensure you leave the woods as untarnished as you find them.
North Creek is not only beautiful to gaze upon, it’s a great little fishing stream, too. Wild brook trout flourish in these cold, narrow waters, and spring is a great time to cast as several aquatic insect hatches take place.