Bluff Mountain

  • Highlights: Views, Appalachian Trail, wildflowers
  • Distance: 4.2 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change: 1,284 feet
  • Trail Surface: Dirt with several rocky sections
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate (elevation) 
  • Trailhead Parking: Punchbowl Mountain Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway mile post 51.7
  • Website: AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Heliotrope Brewery—Neahkahnie IPA & Quotidan Pils

The Hike:

Bluff Mountain is located on the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest. From the Punchbowl Mountain parking area, cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and begin your ascent southbound on the white-blazed AT. 

In May and early June, a variety of wildflowers, mountain laurel, and rhododendron are in bloom and make for a colorful hike. The fall foliage is equally spectacular. At .4 miles the AT turns sharply left. A short spur trail to the right leads .2 miles to the Punchbowl Mountain AT shelter. We like to visit the AT shelters and usually meet a few through hikers. The shelter log books also make for some fun reading. There is a small pond and stream near the shelter.

Return to the AT and continue the climb as you pass through small forests of mountain laurel and rhododendron. Several switchbacks help with the climb as the trail is steep in some sections. At 2.1 miles reach the 3,370’ grassy summit of Bluff Mountain.

Large cement blocks are the remnants of a fire tower. Fire towers were usually located on mountain peaks with panoramic views. While the tower is gone, fortunately the views remain. To the west are great views of Lexington and the Shenandoah Valley. To the east are more mountain and forest views.

Just past the clearing on the summit on the left is a memorial to Ottie Cline Powell. In 1891, young Ottie was sent to gather firewood with his schoolmates and became lost in the mountains. His body was later found on this site, seven miles from the schoolhouse. The memorial is often decorated by AT hikers with a variety of flowers and mementos. 

Take in the views and reflect on the tragic disappearance of young Ottie. Retrace your steps down the mountain on the AT to return to the parking area.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

Heliotrope Brewing in nearby Lexington has really good beer and a variety of food options including pizza. They also serve cider and wine. The owners are also serious hikers which makes a good brewery even better.

Kathy enjoyed Neahkahnie IPA, named after brewmaster Erik’s favorite hike in Oregon. It’s a hoppy Pacific Northwest IPA made with Strata, Citra, and Apollo hops. Pete really like Quotidan Pils, an Italian-style pilsner dry hopped with Saphir and made with local barley. The food was great and the staff made for a great experience. We plan to return on our next trip to Lexington.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe, be responsible, and leave no trace.