Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous, due to the elevation gain, narrowness, and steepness of the trail
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no pass required
Fortune's Cove is one of the hidden secrets of Central Virginia, a small hollow nestled in the low ridges to the east of the principal Blue Ridge, set amongst small 2000-foot peaks just past the vineyards of the Lovingston area west of US 29 not too far out of Charlottesville. A preserve in the mountains surrounding the cove protects a beautiful stand of young eastern hardwood forest and numerous small granite outcrops. The views here are not jawdropping, but the cove is very intimate and offers plenty of solitude. I visited on an early November weekend, just past peak foliage season, and had the entire preserve to myself. Be warned, though, that this is a difficult hike that gets harder the farther you go, and that is harder than suggested by its distance and elevation gain; if you're looking for something gentler, it may be best to turn back after the first mile and the first few viewpoints. Before you go, download and print a copy of the Nature Conservancy's map of the preserve.
On a very beautiful Saturday- the last weekend of fall- I drove down from US 29 from Charlottesville towards Lynchburg during the early morning. The red maples had faded, but the brown oaks and some yellow hickories were left, arching over the roadway that I followed south through the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Just before reaching Lovingston, I took an indistinct right turn at a hilltop onto Mountain Cove Road, or County Road 718 (if you've reached Lovingston, you've gone too far). Mountain Cove Road took me steeply uphill across a ridge, suddenly bringing me onto a magical plateau of vineyards, bright fall colors, and rolling hills. Two miles down Mountain Cove Road, I reached the turnoff for County Road 651- Fortune's Cove Lane. I turned right onto this road and followed it into a narrowing valley, past houses and a vineyard until emerging into a large field toward the upper part of the valley. Here, I turned into a grassy parking area marked with a Nature Conservancy sign to begin my hike. I was the only car parked here the entire day.
|The view from the field next to the parking area|
|The autumn woods|
|Fortune's Cove on a late autumn day|
|The Blue Ridge in the distance|
After passing the last views of the Blue Ridge in the distance, the hike became more difficult. From Woods Mountain, the trail made a steep and sometimes rocky descent down a trail made slippery by the newly-fallen leaves. After reaching a saddle between Woods Mountain and High Top Mountain, the trail began to ascend High Top. The trail stuck to the south side of the ridge, occasionally passing by thickets of mountain laurel. At one point, there was a last granite outcrop with a view into Fortune's Cove. The ascent was generally steep and at some points was very steep; although there were some switchbacks in places, the trail often took direct uphill routes. The narrowness of the trail in places compounded the difficulty of the uphill, and the new carpet of browning hickory and oak leaves on the forest floor didn't help. However, with some work, I gradually made my way towards the top of the ridge, passing along the way some indistinct views through the trees of the hills to the north of Lovingston.
After a final steep uphill push, the trail began leveling out and turned to the left onto the ridgeline of High Top Mountain. In the summer, this part of the hike might seem like any other of the forested sections of trail; but in that undecided week between autumn and winter, when the trees were bare, I could see through the trees to the towering peaks on the Blue Ridge in Nelson County. Three Ridges and the Priest stood prominently to the west, capped in snow from a rare late October snowstorm. The snow I saw atop those peaks was actually left behind by Superstorm Sandy, which, on its way through New Jersey the weekend before, had left rain and snow in Virginia.
|The Priest, coated in October snow from Superstorm Sandy|
|The view from atop High Top Mountain|
|A stream along the descent from the ridge|