Thunder Ridge to Apple Orchard Mountain

  • Highlights: Great views, the Guillotine, Appalachian Trail
  • Distance: 5.4 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change: 948 feet
  • Trail Surface: Dirt with rocky sections
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate (distance, rocky sections)
  • Trailhead Parking: Thunder Ridge parking area, Blue Ridge Parkway MP 74.7
  • Website: AllTrails
  • Beer Pairings: Loose Shoe Brewing Co.—Apprentice Brown Ale & Alpha Mare IPA

The Hike:

This AT section hike has great views, a mountain summit, and passes beneath the famous Guillotine. From the Thunder Ridge parking area, follow a short spur trail at the far end of the parking lot to join the Appalachian Trail. Bear left on the white-blazed AT. In a few hundred yards, reach the Thunder Ridge overlook with great views to the west of the James River and the Allegheny Mountains. This is a great spot to watch the sun set. 

Continue on the AT heading south. The trail crosses the parkway and over the next two miles gradually ascends about 400’. The trail passes through a meadow with a colorful wildflower display in the warmer months. At 1.4 miles, a short spur trail on the left leads to the Thunder Hill Shelter. 

At 2.3 miles reach the Guillotine—a large rock boulder wedged between two walls of rock. Just past the Guillotine, rock steps make the climb up a bit easier. Reach the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain at 2.6 miles. At 4,225 feet, this mountain meadow is the highest point on the AT between Tennessee and New Hampshire. 

The summit features an air traffic radar dome which looks like a huge white golf ball. The trees obstruct some the views to the west. Wildflowers and butterflies line the meadow and fall foliage make this a favorite location for many hikers. Take in the views and enjoy a snack then retrace your steps north on the AT to return to your vehicle. 

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing: 

Finding a nearby brewery on this hike is a challenge. We decided to add a stop at the famous Woodruff Cafe and Pie Shop for a slice of pie before our post-hike beer. The nice folks at Woodruff’s have been making great pies since 1998. It is well worth a visit. It also happens to be directly on the route to Amherst and the Loose Shoe Brewery.

Loose Shoe Brewing in Amherst has indoor and outdoor seating and live music on Saturdays. Pete liked The Apprentice (5.2% ABV • 24 IBU) an American brown ale with notes of toffee and caramel. Kathy enjoyed a pint of Alpha Mare (6.5% ABV • 15 IBU) a hazy New England-style IPA. With only 15 IBUs, this would be a good IPA for those who don’t like bitter IPAs. We prefer our IPAs to be on the bitter side.

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