Cole Mountain: A Breathtaking Hike with Wide-Open Views Near Buena Vista

This past weekend, I finally got the chance to hike Cole Mountain and Mount Pleasant. Both had been on my bucket list for ages and I was eager to complete these hikes.

Before I go on, I can tell you that these hikes do not disappoint. They live up to the hype. Both hikes are 6+ miles and originate just east of Buena Vista in Amherst County.

The trailheads are accessed by way of Wiggins Spring Road (a very bumpy ride) and are an easy .25-mile walk from each other. You can feasibly tackle both in one day.

As you drive in, the lot for Cole Mountain appears first on the left. Continue on to the end, veering right onto an access road, to reach the lot for the Mount Pleasant hike.

Trail Stats 
Length6.3 miles
Trail TypeLoop
Elevation Gain1,319 feet
Duration2.5-3.5 hours
TerrainMostly dirt and grass trails
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Arriving at the Trailhead

I’d read horror stories about the drive to the trailheads. They are both true and overblown. I drove a sedan and made it just fine, though some may prefer a four-wheel drive.

Once you turn onto Wiggins Spring Road (State Route 755), you’ve got 4.5 miles to reach the parking area. At the “End State Maintenance” sign, it starts to get tricky.

From here, the final 1.4 miles are potholed and jarring. I wouldn’t attempt the drive in poor weather conditions, like rain or snow. Park in the first parking lot on the left.

The First Steps

The hike begins across Wiggins Spring Road from the parking area. You will see a green marker for the Appalachian Trail, as well as two trails that go up the mountain.

The white-blazed Appalachian Trail is the hiking trail on the left. The ascent begins immediately as you hike along this wooded trail in the George Washington National Forest.

In the first mile, plan to ascend 400 feet, but then, you have arrived. Yes, atop Cole Mountain (elevation 3,927 feet). That was almost too easy, right?

With this in mind, it’s easy to make Cole Mountain a very short out-and-back hike. It’s just 1.0-mile to the summit, so hike there, then hike back for a 2.0-mile hike.

What’s notable about Cole Mountain (also known as Cold Mountain) is that there is no rocky summit. Rather, it’s a wide-open field or meadow. A bald, really.

You will feel on top of the world. It’s very Sound of Music. You’ll also wish you had a soccer ball to kick around the massive open space with plentiful mountain views.

Camping and campfires are not allowed in any of the open or mowed areas. I could tell though that this rule is not followed 100% of the time by every visitor. Sigh.

There are several large rocks too at the top of Cole Mountain that are tops for making a stop for lunch. I drove 3+ hours before the hike, so I arrived just in time for lunch.

Keep your eyes open for the cast bronze U.S. Geological Survey benchmark. I always forget to hunt for them, so I was glad that this one popped out at me. Snap a photo.

Continue following the white blazes across the top of Cole Mountain. By the 1.6-mile mark, the trail leaves the open bald and descends into the forest.

At the 2.2-mile mark, you will reach a rocky outcrop with gorgeous west-facing views of neighboring mountains. In a few more steps, the wooded trail splits in two.

You’ll see a trail sign on the right for the Old Hotel Trail. Turn left here to follow the blue blazes and walk toward the Cow Camp Shelter and Hog Camp Gap.

At the 3.1-mile mark, cross over a small stream and you will arrive at the Cow Camp Shelter. Aside from a three-sided overnight shelter, there is a picnic table and an outhouse.

Re-trace your steps to the Old Hotel Trail, then turn left to continue on this mountain trail. You’ll descend until the 3.6-mile mark, but then you’ve got to make up the elevation loss.

At the 4.8-mile mark, the blue-blazed trail opens up to a wide-open space. I noticed a few fire rings, so I can only assume this is a known space for tent camping.

The trail splits in two at the 6.0-mile mark, but stay left to continue on the Old Hotel Trail. In a few more steps, you’ll be able to see hikers ascending to Mount Pleasant.

The start of that trail is only feet from the end of this trail and you’ll soon walk right past the small parking area for Mount Pleasant on the right.

At the 6.1-mile mark, the trail exits onto the access road. From here, it’s another .2-mile to reach the Cole Mountain parking area. Your hike on this mountain loop is complete.

Wrap-Up Notes

From the parking area, this loop hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia took me nearly 2.5 hours, including a stop on one of the large rocks at the top for lunch.

If you’ve got it in you, it’s a snap to add on the 6.5-mile Mount Pleasant Hike. Though with a 1,300+ elevation gain, I guess I wouldn’t exactly call it a snap.

I hiked to the summit of Mount Pleasant on the same day I hiked Cole Mountain, but then spent the night and hiked back down to my car the next day.