|View north from Cold Mountain: Rocky, Maintop Mountains and the Priest|
Access: Free. Gravel road to trailhead is bumpy.
The grassy meadows atop Cold Mountain make the peak one of the most unique in the Blue Ridge around Charlottesville. The mountain exhibits a bald-like characteristic similar to the balds found in North Carolina and further south, although the meadows at Cold Mountain require slightly more maintenance. This hike loops around the south slope of the mountain before climbing up to the grassy summit with its sweeping views of 4000-foot Blue Ridge peaks. Confusingly, the peak is marked as both Cole Mountain and Cold Mountain on maps; the USGS refers to the mountain as Cole Mountain, but since most hikers in Virginia know this bald peak as Cold Mountain, I'll use that name here as well. Along with nearby hike to Mount Pleasant, this hike provides some of the best views in this part of the Blue Ridge.
I did this hike with a good friend on a summery May day, when the air was humid and felt like August. After picking up some Bodo's for lunch, we headed south out of Charlottesville on US 29 past Lovingston to Amherst, where we exited onto US 29 Business and drove into the town; we then turned right at the traffic circle where 29 Business intersected US 60 to take US 60 west. From here, US 60 wound through the Amherst countryside at the foot of Mt. Pleasant until climbing slowly into the Blue Ridge. We eventually turned off the very windy road at Coffeytown Road (Route 634) and drove up that up to an intersection with Wiggins Spring Road, where we took the right fork onto Wiggins Spring, following the signs for the Mt. Pleasant Scenic Area. Wiggins Springs Road eventually turned into a gravel road, getting progressively bumpier as it climbed uphill towards Hog Camp Gap. We parked in the parking area to the left of the road at Hog Camp Gap, where Wiggins Spring Road intersects the Appalachian Trail.
From Hog Camp Gap, we continued to follow Wiggins Spring Road on foot for 0.2 miles past the gap to the trailhead for the Old Hotel Trail, which starts as an overgrown former road heading to the right from Wiggins Spring Road. The turnoff for the Old Hotel Trail comes just before the turnoff for car parking for the Mt. Pleasant hike. The wide, grassy trail begins by paralleling the gravel road to the Mt. Pleasant parking area, with cars parked at the Henry Lanum Trailhead in sight. We then followed the Old Hotel Trail to the right and began a gradual descent.
|Old Hotel Trail|
|Clearing along the Old Hotel Trail|
|Cow Camp Shelter|
|Phlox along the trail|
|Flowers along the trail to Cow Camp Gap|
|View west from outcrop on AT|
|View west from the summit of Cold Mountain|
After making a short drop from the summit, we came to the broad meadows on the saddle between the main summit and a lower northeastern summit. From the start of these meadows, there was a stunning view to the north encompassing some of the great peaks of the Blue Ridge: Rocky Mountain, Maintop Mountain, the Priest, Pompey Mountain, and Mt. Pleasant. Mt. Pleasant and its rocky slopes were particularly dominating. Together, this group of peaks forms one of the greatest aggregation of 4000-foot peaks in the Blue Ridge: all of the prior listed peaks, along with Cold Mountain itself and Elk Pond Mountain, exceed 4000 feet in height. Rocky Mountain is nominally the highest of the set, though disappointingly it is perhaps the least spectacular of the summits. However, its summit is barely 10 feet taller than the Priest and 13 feet taller than both Mt. Pleasant and Maintop Mountain.
|Mt. Pleasant from Cold Mountain|