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Mt. Cube

January 30, 2017

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This is a beautiful section of Appalachian Trail with spectacular views from the two-summit peak of Mount Cube (2,909′).  The round-trip is  just over seven miles and traverses moderate terrain (by New Hampshire standards).   It’s a worthwhile day hike in the area, especially if you want to escape the crowds.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Christine Enjoys the North Summit of Mt. Cube

Christine Enjoys the North Summit of Mt. Cube – views look toward Upper Baker Pond and Mt. Moosilauke.

Adam Says…

As we slowly work on trying to cover the entire Appalachian Trail, piece by piece, we are always looking through our AWOL AT Guide to come up with day hikes when we are near the trail.  The AWOL guide is a great handbook to get elevation profiles, campsites, water sources, and local amenities for places along the Appalachian Trail.  The AWOL guide uses camera icons in the book to denote great view places that are worth taking pictures.  The guide tends to be pretty stingy with giving out these icons, so seeing two camera icons on this trail, we knew it would be worth checking out.   We had a gorgeous summer day to do this hike and we had a feeling the scenery would be stupendous, but we were even more surprised when we reached the top.

We parked alongside the road of NH-25A and then found the AT trailhead marker heading south (see directions below).  The first .4 miles of the hike are relatively flat.  We passed a campsite fairly early on.  After .4 miles, the trail begins to climb at an easy climb and at .6 miles, we crossed a forest road.  At .8 miles, we crossed a mostly-dry stream and at 1.7 miles we crossed over Brackett Brook, which was the only reliable water source we found on the trail.  After crossing the brook, the trail really begins to increase elevation and will get your heart going.  We always find that conversation tends to die down on the big uphill climbs.

Nice Campsites

There were several nice campsites along this stretch of Appalachian Trail. Below:  Trail signage; Crossing what would be a marshy area;  Forest road crossing.

Trail Signage Appalachian Trail Near Mt. Cube Appalachian Trail Near Mt. Cube

It was a tough slog for the next 1.5 miles of switchbacks up the mountain, but at 3.3 miles the climb levels and we reached a sign at an intersection.  We took a right to check out the northeast summit of Mount Cube first.  The trail is a little tough to follow to the summit.  Follow the sparse blazes through the woods and the trail opens up to above treeline.  Walking on the rocky surfaces made it hard to find the proper path, but we would pick up a blaze eventually and knew we were on the right path.  At 3.55 miles (just .25 miles from the junction), we reached the northeast summit.  The views were phenomenal and we found ourselves surrounded by wild blueberries on the shrubs around us, which made for a snack among the majestic views.  We spent a long time on the rocky ledges overlooking the valley, with views of Mt. Moosilauke in the far distance.

We were impressed we had the views entirely to ourselves, but we made our way back to the intersection to see what the southern main summit of Mt. Cube would give us.  At 3.8 miles, we reached the intersection and continued on the AT to the summit of Mt. Cube just .1 mile away from the intersection.  At the main summit, there were several people at the top.  While we found these views nice, we were at tree level and we felt if we were just about 10 feet higher the views would be more impressive.  We talked with a few people at the top and told them they shouldn’t miss the views from the northeast summit.  We ate a snack here and then made our way back to the intersection and back down the mountain the way we came.

Brackett Brook

Brackett Brook was the only water source still running along this stretch of trail.  Below: Crossing the brook; Scenes from the steeper part of the climb.

Crossing Brackett Brook The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube
The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube

When we got back to the road, we saw an older hiker waiting at the bottom of the trail.  Christine had thought it was Warren Doyle, a well-known AT hiker and supporter of others on the trail.  I told her I would find out and asked the gentlemen if he needed a ride.  He declined, since he was waiting for a friend to pick him up and I slipped the name “Warren Doyle” cleverly into the conversation to see if he would react.  He said that he knew Warren and he was actually going to get some help from him a little further up the trail and had been part of one of Warren’s fabled AT hikes years ago.  So, while we were wrong, it was still interesting to make that connection.

Mount Cube was a wonderful pick and the camera icons didn’t lie.  This is definitely worth doing on a nice spring/summer/fall day, but the ripe blueberries in August made this for a classic day in New England.

Christine Says…

While Mt. Cube isn’t a 4,000-footer, it still offers lofty views from two distinct summits.  It’s a great dayhike if you’re in the area and looking to escape the thicker crowds around the Presidential peaks. We hiked Cube on an absolutely gorgeous Sunday morning, and saw just a handful of other hikers – most of them Appalachian Trail thru-hikers nearing the end of their long voyage north. We hiked southbound on the AT, starting from the road-crossing near Orford, NH.

The Climb to Mt. Cube

There were many beautiful birch trees on the climb. Below:  The rocky, rooty climb continues; The junction for trails to the north and south summits.

The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube

The first mile and a half of hiking was beautiful and easy.  We climbed gently uphill and passed through a mixed hardwood and pine forest.  The overhead canopy kept the trail shady and cool, even on this rather warm summer day.  Our guidebook marked a stream about 3/4ths of a mile into the hike.  When we got there, we found a southbound section hiker filtering what amounted to a mud puddle.  He was worried about running out of water and didn’t want to pass any source without gathering what little he could.  Last summer, New Hampshire experienced serious drought conditions.  Many streams that normally flow year-round were reduced to a trickle, so I understood his concern.

We reached the second stream marked in our guide, Brackett Brook, and found it was still flowing with clear, clean water.  Side note: I love how New England has brooks and notches instead of creeks and gaps. As a southerner, they just sound more exotic and picturesque. After crossing the brook, the climb became a bit steeper, but remained uncharacteristically smooth and uncomplicated.  We stopped to chat briefly with another thru-hiker.  I said something to him about how nice the terrain had been along this stretch of trail and he just replied ‘Ugh‘ and shook his head.  I thought to myself, ‘Hmmm… maybe there’s something I don’t know?’

Soon after that, the trail went from mostly dirt tread to a steep mix of roots, rocks, and log steps built into the earth. It still was pleasant terrain compared to most of what you see in the Whites, but I get the origin of the thru-hiker’s Ugh!  Near the summit, the trail leveled out through a stretch of hemlocks and pines. The footing was a mix of fallen needles and granite sand.

North Side Summit of Mt. Cube

North Side Summit of Mt. Cube.  Below: More of the north summit

Exploring the North Summit of Mt. Cube Exploring the North Summit of Mt. Cube mt-cube19

At the top, we decided to check out the north summit first.  To get to the north summit, you follow a spur trail that departs the AT.  It was gorgeous – ledges and blueberries and views for miles and miles!  Upper Baker Pond added a lovely water feature to the vista. The pond is home to vacation cottages and a summer camp called Camp Moosilauke.  We spent lots of time enjoying the solitude, taking photos, and eating our lunch.  Eventually we made our way back to the junction and followed the trail a few tenths of a mile to the south summit.

It was also beautiful, but lacked the majesty of the north summit.  We chatted with a few fellow hikers, including two women from the area. They gave us some hiking recommendations, but it turned out we had already hiked most of them.  The one we hadn’t yet hiked was Mt. Chocorua.  They told us it was a ‘must hike‘. (so, we hiked it – and it will be our next post).

South Summit of Mt. Cube

The South Summit of Mt. Cube. Below: South summit scenes; The return hike to the start point.

South Summit of Mt. Cube South Summit of Mt. Cube
The Hike Down Mt. Cube mt-cube24

After leaving the summit, we made quick work of the descent. With about a mile and a half left, I started having horrible foot and toe cramps.  I hobbled along for as long as I could before I finally sat down in the middle of the trail and told Adam I had to take my shoe off immediately.  Once I massaged it a bit and did some foot stretches, I was able to continue.  The injury has continued to plague me ever since this hike.  It stinks, but I’ve been able to manage the pain and hike through it.

After we got back to the car, I kicked off my trail runners and switched into my Oofos flip flops.  They’re the best for sore feet!  On the way home, we found a little country store that had a dozen different flavors of whoopie pies.  I tried a gingerbread-lemon pie that was so delicious.  It was the perfect way to wrap up another excellent day of New England hiking!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 7.2 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 2025 ft
  • Difficulty –  4.  Everything is a little tougher in New Hampshire, but we were able to take our time and enjoy it.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was well-maintained and not very overgrown.  We didn’t experience any blowdowns.
  • Views –  4.5.  The expansive views from the northeast summit of Mt. Cube are not to be missed.
  • Waterfalls/streams 1.5.  We did find a water source on Brackett Brook, but most of the streambeds we saw were bone dry in the summer. 
  • Wildlife – 1.  We didn’t spot anything other than some squirrels and chipmunks.  There were a few juncos and chickadees at the summits.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5.  Overall, the trail was easy to follow, but we are marking it down due to the lack of blazes leading to the northeast summit.
  • Solitude – 3.  We were pleased to find nobody on the northeast summit, but there were several at the southern summit.  There is room to spread out, so if you want to avoid people, you can.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: GPS coordinates: 43.9013  -71.9838   Take Route 1 25A East out of Orford, NH. Pass through Orfordville in 2.5 miles and continue up the northern shoulder of Mount Cube, whose summit ledges are visible above the trees. After 8.3 miles, at the height-of-land, pass Mount Cube Farm and former governor Mel Thompson’s famous pancake house. Continue on Route 25A and descend steeply to Upper Baker Pond. Just before crossing a steel highway bridge, 10.2 miles from Orford, the AT south leaves from the right hand side of the road. Park in the parking lot across the bridge.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Welch-Dickey Loop

January 10, 2017

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 4.5 mile loop is a classic New England hike.  Even though Welch and Dickey mountains are diminutive compared to other mountains in the region, they provide stunning views from open ledges and ample opportunities to pick berries in late summer.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

At the Summit of Welch Mountain

At the Summit of Welch Mountain.

Christine Says…

When my parents moved to New Hampshire several years ago, they immediately began exploring local trails.  The Welch-Dickey Loop kept popping up on lists of local ‘must do’ hikes.  Their guidebook described it as a great, moderate, family-friendly hike.  One summer morning they set out to hike the loop.

They made it around the loop, but my mom described it as one of the most harrowing hiking experiences of her life.  She said she spent much of the hike scooting on her rear end along the trail so she wouldn’t fall on the steep, slick granite. She described the hike as extremely difficult and in ‘no way suitable for a family’.

Her words stuck with me, and we avoided hiking Welch-Dickey for years. Steep granite scrambles are doubtlessly the type of terrain that make me the most uncomfortable.

Welch-Dickey Loop

Adam hikes through classic New Hampshire forest. Below: Streams along the trail were low due to drought conditions; All New Hampshire trails are rocky – it seems; Log bridges to cross marshy areas; Impressive trail building; A lot of work goes into maintaining Welch-Dickey; Cobbles give way to smooth slabs of granite as you climb upward.

Welch-Dickey Loop Welch-Dickey Loop Welch-Dickey Loop
Welch-Dickey Loop Welch-Dickey Loop Welch-Dickey Loop

On a sunny summer day, we finally decided to give the hike a shot, and it turned out the hike was just about perfect.  We hiked the loop counter-clockwise, reaching the Welch Ledges below the summit in less than an hour.  The ledges are expansive, flat, and wide open.  They provide a theater-like view of Mt. Tripyramid, the Sandwich Range, and the Mad River Valley.

From the ledges, we climbed steeply uphill to the summit of Welch Mountain.  From the ledges below, the climb to the summit looked like it would be steep, but it was easier than it looked.  Most of the climb was over bare granite.  We took lots of opportunities to look back and enjoy the views.

From the summit of Welch, we enjoyed a magnificent view Mt. Moosilauke,  the Pemigewasset Valley, and the impressive cliffsides along Dickey Mountain.  It looked like all of New Hampshire was rolling out beneath us. Reaching the summit of Dickey mountain required a steep climb down into a col between the two mountains.  The low point was marked with a giant cairn.

The First Ledges on Welch Mountain

The First Ledges on Welch Mountain. Below: Barriers in place to preserve fragile plants on Welch Ledges; The actual summit of Welch looms above the ledges; Climbing toward the summit of Welch.

The First Ledges on Welch Mountain The First Ledges on Welch Mountain Climbing the Summit of Welch

The climb up Dickey was a little steeper and required following yellow blazes and arrows carefully.  At the top, we took a faint spur trail through the bushes to enjoy another spectacular view of Franconia Ridge. From there, we walked along the cliffsides we had seen from the summit of Welch Mountain.  The view remained spectacular for much of the descent.  Eventually, we dipped back into the forest for the remainder of the hike.

It was a great hike!  It offered superb views for a reasonable amount of climbing. I would agree that it’s moderate and good for families – but only on a dry day.  If the granite had been wet or icy, even these small peaks could be perilous.

Adam Says…

This hike is often recommended by people that we have talked to when exploring central New Hampshire and it is worth the hype.  This may be one of my favorite below 4000 feet hikes in New Hampshire.  If you can do this hike on a clear, dry day in late September, you will probably see fall foliage you will remember for a lifetime.

Just a few yards from the parking lot, the trail splits.  The trail to the right is the one we chose, making a counter-clockwise loop of the Welch-Dickey trail, but you do have the option to do it the opposite direction.  Both paths have a two mile climb to the summit of either Welch or Dickey Mountain and there is a half mile connector trail in between the two summits.  The trail to the right started off with a rocky trail which is no surprise to us with all the hiking we have done in New England.   The trail stays in the woods, climbing gradually through rocky steps until it opens up at about 1.4 miles to the Welch ledges. As you approach, you will see areas blocked off to protect the vegetation so stay on the actual trail.  To the left, you will see the summit of Welch mountain looming above you but take some time to enjoy the dramatic views from the expansive open granite ledges.  Many families will just go to this point and back for a beautiful hike fit for people of most ages/abilities.   We spent quite a bit of time here thinking this could be the summit of Welch, but we were wrong.

Views in Every Direction on Welch Mountain

Views in Every Direction on Welch Mountain. Below: Views of the climb from Welch Ledges to the summit of Welch Mountain.

A Little Scrambling on Welch Mountain Granite Slabs on Welch Mountain Granite Slabs on Welch Mountain

Many of the blazes on Welch and Dickey are on open ledges, so look for yellow blazes painted on the rocks or small cairns to find your way.  From the ledges, the trail takes a left, cuts into a wooded area before it climbs steeply and opens up into some of the largest rock faces we have hiked.  The views are expansive all around you.  The footing was fine, but we imagined this would feel very slick and dangerous after a recent rainstorm.  It was hard take a few steps and not turn around and see the scenery behind you; the pictures we have don’t do the magnificence of the panoramic views proper justice.  At 2.0 miles, we reached the 2605 foot summit crown of Welch Mountain.  You will have gorgeous views of Waterville Valley below you.

Enjoying the View

Enjoying the View from Welch.  Below: A view of Dickey Mountain from the summit of Welch; Descending into the col between Welch and Dickey; Cairn in the col; Terrain looking back on the climb up Dickey.

Looking toward Dickey Descending Welch Toward Dickey
Descending Welch Toward Dickey Saddle Between Welch and Dickey

The connector trail continues further and descends down the steep rock face of Welch on ledges that serve as steps.  You will really want to secure your footing here as you are lowering your body down a steep section with nothing to grab onto in front of you.  Take your time and lower yourself on all fours if that helps.  The trail reaches bottom and then climbs back up as you approach Dickey Mountain.  You will reach the 2734 foot summit at 2.5 miles and will be treated with views of Franconia Notch.  Continue along the trail to complete the loop.  Your hike down from Dickey is dramatic as you will be walking on the top of what feels like a bowl below you which gives you dramatic views.  At about 3.2 miles, the trail finally goes back into the woods and you continue your descent along some rocky footing which eventually leads you back into more pleasant footing in the flatter woods.  You reach your initial junction and the parking lot at 4.5 miles.

Looking Back At Welch

Looking Back At Welch. Below: Climbing to the summit of Dickey; Views from Dickey; Descending Dickey.

Climbing the Summit of Dickey Welch-Dickey Loop Welch-Dickey Loop

If you are planning to do this hike, account for some extra time.  The views of this area will make you take your time to enjoy them and some of the climbing is tougher.  While it was only 4.5 miles, it took us longer than normal just from the pure enjoyment of being here.  This is a New England classic for a reason.  The Presidential range in the White Mountains will always have a special place in my heart when I think of hiking in New Hampshire, but this will go down as one of my favorites in the state.

Welch-Dickey Cliffs

Welch-Dickey Cliffs.  Below: Back into the woods.

Welch-Dickey Loop Welch-Dickey Loop

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.5 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1650 ft
  • Difficulty –  3.  By New England standards, this is a solidly moderate hike.  In Virginia, it would probably rate a 4.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail is expertly maintained, but the nature of New Hampshire terrain (rocks, roots, slick granite) will challenge anyone used to dirt trails.
  • Views –  5.  Amazing, spectacular, and panoramic (in multiple places)
  • Waterfalls/streams – 1.  There is a stream, but it was nearly dry when we visited.
  • Wildlife – 2.  Lots of red squirrels and birds.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4. The main loop is well-blazed and easy to follow.  The spur to the view of Franconia Ridge is the only tricky part.  It’s unblazed.
  • Solitude – 1.  This is an extremely popular trail.  Expect to see many other hikers. We hiked early on a weekday, and still saw quite a few people.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates: 43.904207, -71.588824.  A parking permit is required for White Mountain National Forest hikes and you can purchase a permit at a green box in the lot (as of 2016 was $3 per day).


MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Appalachian Trail – Elk Garden to Buzzard Rock

December 5, 2016

If you like high meadows and spectacular vistas all-around, this easy 7.2 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail is a perfect fit!  The hike meanders through lovely forest and then takes you across open balds on two of the state’s tallest mountains. It’s a majestic hike!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

The Appalachian Trail Near Whitetop Mountain

The Appalachian Trail Near Whitetop Mountain.  Below: Hiking the Appalchian Trail; Wildflowers; A buck and a fawn.

The Appalachian Trail Near Elk Garden Flowers on the AT A Buck With a Fawn Friend

Adam Says…

On our trip to southwest Virginia, we did three hikes in three days and they were all very distinct.  We explored the slot canyons of the Great Channels, we discovered the serene waters of Devils Bathtub, and then we took in majestic views from a high bald on this trip to Buzzard Rock.  All of the experiences on these three hikes were memorable in different ways and when we were talking about our favorite, is was hard to pick one.  The day we did this hike was my birthday and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

The trail starts from the Elk Garden parking lot by entering the woods behind the parking lot and heading south on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.  The trail ascends mostly over the first two miles, but we never found it too difficult (you only gain about 700 feet of elevation over those two miles).  The trail bisected a sea of fern and short understory with tall trees above, painting a beautiful forest walk.

The AT in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

A twisted old tree along the AT in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Below: Appalachian Trail scenes.

Pretty Open Forest Along The AT in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Pretty Open Forest Along The AT in Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

At 1.7 miles, a small trickle of a stream passed over the trail, but it was quite dry and not a reliable water source.  At 2.4 miles, we passed by a series of campsites to the left of the trail and crossed over Whitetop Mountain Road  and came into an open field.  The views around us were quite hazy, but we know on a clear day you would have some magnificent views.  At 2.5 miles, we walked pass a small spring that was on the eastern (left) side of the trail.  We talked briefly to a couple of AT section hikers were pausing to eat lunch and refill water bottles here.   The trail descends slightly, dips into the woods again, and then emerges into the open bald leading up to Buzzard Rock.   The views are outstanding along the open bald and the trail leads you right to the only outcropping of rock nearby at 3.3 miles, known as Buzzard Rock.  From the summit you can also see another trail leading up to Whitetop Mountain Road.  According to peakery.com, Buzzard Rock is the fourth highest peak in Virginia at 5,095 feet.  You can see the Whitetop Mountain peak and Mount Rogers from the rock, which are the third and first highest peaks respectively.

At Buzzard Rock and the open bald surrounding area, you have panoramic views to both the east and west.  There were a large bank of clouds moving our way, so we knew some rain was likely.  We ate some lunch and talked to a couple at the summit.  The man we talked to had been visiting this spot since he was in high school in the early 1960s.  He told me that when he first visited nearby Whitetop Mountain, there used to be cabins at the top.  Whitetop Mountain Road used to have a toll gate where they would charge $2 per person in the car to drive to the top and $2 per person to stay in the cabins.  He and his friends would hide in the trunk to keep from paying and climb in the windows to avoid the extra charges.  He told us how they would knock on the cabins to inspect who was staying there and they would have to jump out the window to avoid being caught.  They also charged $1 per person to take the hike down from Whitetop Mountain to Buzzard Rock.  So, he was enjoying doing this hike for free these days.  Many people that visit Buzzard Rock tend to drive up Whitetop Mountain Road and then hike down from the road, for a short but easy out-and-back.  Another interesting piece of trivia about Whitetop Mountain is that they used to hold a folk festival in the 1930s here and Eleanor Roosevelt visited in 1933, during her first year of being First Lady, which drew 20,000 visitors to the mountain.

Rocky Steps Along the Appalachian Trail

Rocky Steps Along the Appalachian Trail. Below: Campsites near the road crossing; Entering the high meadows; Foggy view looking at christmas tree farms.

Campsites Near Whitetop Mountain Open Meadow Walking Near Whitetop Mountain View from the Appalachian Trail of Christmas Tree Farm

We decided to head back the way we came (make sure you stay on the AT trail and don’t take the path to Whitetop Mountain Road) and almost as soon as we ducked into the woods, it started to rain.  We made a quick choice to put on our rain gear and within minutes we were in a full downpour.  We made haste along the trail on our return.  While this would have ruined some people’s spirits, we enjoyed walking through the rain.  We saw a few tents on our way back from people that had quickly set them up to escape the downpour.  About a mile from the end of the hike, the rain stopped and we reached our car at 6.6 miles.

After seeing it listed in our AWOL Appalachian Trail guide, we decided to continue on the AT to check out another view from Elk Garden.  We dumped some of our wet gear, crossed the road, and made our way up a steep hill for an added on .3 miles to another plateau.  We did see more views from this hill summit and saw a large herd of cows in the valley below us (we had seen humongous cow patties on our way up the hill, so we thought we may encounter some).  We took a few minutes checking out the views. We then descended the hill and returned to our car yet again.  It was a great day on the trail and we were surprised at how great the views were on this hike!

Christine Says…

This hike was the perfect finish to our four-day visit to southwest Virginia!  We aren’t terribly familiar with the trails in this area, so when I was looking for another hike to do on our trip, I turned to our AWOL guide.  The guide is a detailed resource outlining the entire Appalachian Trail from end to end.  It includes elevation profiles, distances, camping options, water sources, and scenic stops along the way.  Each noteworthy view is marked in the book with a camera icon.  For this stretch, there was just one marked viewpoint – near the parking lot at Elk Garden. I figured we would get one nice view from Elk Garden, and then walk a few additional miles along the Appalachian Trail.  I didn’t expect to get such amazing views from both the flank of Whitetop Mountain and from the rocky outcropping atop Buzzard Rock Mountain.  Neither of those spots were marked with a camera icon in the AWOL guide, so the additional views turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Wildflowers in Meadows Near Whitetop Mountain

Wildflowers in Meadows Near Whitetop Mountain. Below: High meadow walking; Loads of blueberries; Back into the woods

Meadow on the Appalachian Trail So Many Blueberries on the Appalachian Trail Saddle in the Woods

The first couple miles of the hike climbed gently through pretty, open forest.  The trail was mostly soft dirt with just a few rocky spots.  About a mile into the hike, we saw a buck hanging out with a tiny spotted fawn.  It was unusual to see a young fawn hanging out with an adult male instead of his mother.  They were cute and watched us suspiciously from a safe distance.

At 2.4 miles we crossed Whitetop Mountain Road and stepped out into an open meadow.  There were tons of wildflowers in every color, bees buzzed busily collecting pollen, and there were tons of wild blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.  The view was gorgeous and a little misty.  The thin fog obscured a bit of the vista’s majesty, but since we weren’t expecting a view at all, it was a treat.  The trail continued through the open meadow for a few tenths of a mile before reentering the woods.  I wondered aloud to Adam if there would be more views.  He thought the woods looked like they cleared in the next half mile and that Buzzard Rock sounded like it could be something worth checking out… and he was right!

Buzzard Rock Near Whitetop Mountain

Buzzard Rock Near Whitetop Mountain.  Below: Enjoying the top of Buzzard Rock Mountain.

Approaching Buzzard Rock Ferns and Views Adam Takes in the View

We stepped out of the woods again into another mountaintop bald.  The Appalachian Trail climbed the hill like a dark ribbon through a sea of grass.  Off in the distance, athe top of the hill, we could see a rocky outcropping.  There were big, fast-moving, banks of clouds, so the valley below came in and out of view as we climbed.

We reached the rocky pinnacle and stopped to take in everything around us.  It was spectacular! Little bits of clear blue skies opened through the clouds and the view below came and went as the clouds moved.  The wind rustled the tall grass all around us.  We wook lots of photos and ate our lunch.  After a while, I noticed that the clouds were starting to darken and gather.  It was time to head back!

Christine Enjoys the Views

Taking in the views near Whitetop Mountain. Below:  Storms approaching; Back into the woods right before the rain.

A Look Back at Buzzard Rock Views from WhitetopHiking Back

We made it back into the woods just as the rain started.  At first, it was just a few drops and we thought it might blow over.  But instead, it picked up becoming a steady rain and then a torrential downpour.  I packed my camera away and got out my freebie JMU poncho.  I prefer a cheap plastic poncho to my Marmot rain jacket in the summer.  The poncho covers my backpack and my clothes without trapping in any of the body heat from hiking.  The rain relentlessly poured down for almost 2.5 miles of hiking.  The trail was running like a stream.  It might be some of the hardest rain we’ve ever hiked in.

A couple tenths of a mile before we got back to Elk Garden, the rain tapered off and the sun came out.  I didn’t feel like stopping, so I hiked on in my poncho.  We passed the car in the parking lot, crossed the highway and made our way uphill to the Elk Garden view. To climb the hill, you have to open a farm gate.  Be sure you securely latch it after crossing, as it keeps the cow herd safely enclosed. And yes… you may have some close encounters with BIG cows on this part of the hike.

The storm had cleared out the mist and the low clouds and the sky was blue and the view was clear.  We took in the views of the cow herd and Mount Rogers off in the distance.  After the hike, we headed into Damascus for ice cream and a stop at the outdoor outfitters.  It was a great way to celebrate Adam’s birthday!

Elk Garden Views

After the storms stopped, we got great views from Elk Garden. The little black dots are cows. Below: Thankful for cheap ponchos; Campsite with a view toward Mount Rogers.

Cheap Poncho Cheap Poncho Campsite at Elk Garden

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 7.2 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1225 ft
  • Difficulty –  2.5.  This was an easier hike that had a huge payoff for minimum effort.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was well-maintained and we didn’t have any issues.  I imagine it could be overgrown somewhat in the spring. 
  • Views –  5.  You have great views from Buzzard Rock and Elk Garden. 
  • Waterfalls/streams 0.  Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We did see deer along the trail.  You likely won’t see much on the bald areas, but the woods and elevation add to some wildlife possibilities.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.5.  Just follow the white-blazed AT markers.
  • Solitude – 3.5.  This is a popular spot for locals, but because of the vastness of the bald, you can find your own solitude for the summit if you desire.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Parking lot GPS directions are N36 378.769 W 82 34.992  From Damascus, VA take US-58 East for 10.5 miles.  Instead of turning right to stay on US-58, go straight on 603/Konnarock Road for 2.7 miles.  Turn right onto 600/Whitetop Road and follow that for 5.2 miles until you reach the parking lot for Elk Garden on the right.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Devils Bathtub

November 20, 2016

This 3.6 mile hike takes you over more than 15 water-crossings to see a series of small waterfalls and swimming holes.  The main scenic draw of this hike is the visit to the Devils Bathtub – a beautiful sandstone formation in the streambed.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Follow the Devils Bathtub page on Facebook (current conditions, updates, and tips)

The Devils Bathtub

The Devils Bathtub is a perfectly clear, oval pit in the sandstone. It really does look like a bathtub! When we visited the water levels were very low.  Normally the striated area above the tub forms an even larger pool. Below: Stairs at the beginning of the hike; First water crossing; Early part of the trail.

Devils Bathtub Hike One of 11 or 12 Crossings The Devils Bathtub Hike Requires Very Little Climbing

Christine Says…

The Devils Bathtub popped up on our radar after getting quite a bit of attention on the internet. Sometime after 2014, it started showing up on Pinterest, on Reddit, on lists of most beautiful places in each state – even the Weather Channel called it Virginia’s hidden gem. As dedicated hikers, we wondered how such an amazing place could have escaped our notice for so long.

As it turned out, this hike has been hiding in our plain sight for years.  The route to the Devil’s Bathtub is fully outlined in Bill and Mary Burnham’s ‘Hiking Virginia’ guidebook as part of the larger Devil’s Fork loop.  Burnham’s description of the scenery was far less dramatic than accounts we read on the internet.  And, we’re rarely in the far southwest corner of Virginia, so we stayed in the dark like most outdoorsy Virginians.

However, on our summer trip to the Abingdon area, we finally had a chance to find out first-hand if the Devil’s Bathtub lived up to its internet hype.

First off, the Devil’s Bathtub is in the middle of nowhere in Scott County, Virginia.  There isn’t a nearby gas station to ask for directions or use the restroom.  You probably won’t have any cell service, so make sure you have good directions and all your trail information ahead of time.  Second, the last bit of road to get to the trailhead parking is quite rugged with mud and deep potholes in the road bed.  Our Subaru did fine, but it was a bumpy ride!  Third, parking for this hike is extremely limited with room for just a few cars.  We visited early in the morning on a quiet, overcast weekday, so there was just one other car when we arrived. We’ve heard parking can be a nightmare for this hike, so time your visit strategically.

Red Newt Eft

We saw dozens and dozens of these efts. Below: Scenery along the stream

Devils Bathtub Hike Devils Bathtub Hike Devils Bathtub Hike

Once we got past the logistical challenges – location, road access, and parking, we were all set to see this spectacular beauty spot!  The hike started at the top of a staircase at the top of the parking area.  At the top of the stairs, follow the trail to the left, passing almost immediately under/around a locked metal gate.  In just a quarter mile, you’ll have your first of many stream crossings.  The first crossing was the widest and deepest we experienced on the hike – and we visited during drought conditions.  During periods of heavier rain or snow melt, this stream crossing could be quite a bit deeper and wider.

Shortly after the first stream crossing, you’ll reach marked split in the trail.  You’ll want to bear to the left, following the arrow in the direction of the Devils Bathtub.  The sign says it’s 1.8 miles to the Bathtub, but our GPS calculated the hike at almost a full half mile shorter by the end of the round trip.  This route is also the most direct way to the scenery and is an out-and-back hike.  There is a full 7-mile loop of this area, but all recent accounts say that most of the trail is poorly blazed, covered with blowdowns, and beset by aggressive wasps.

After the junction, we continued along following the yellow blazes.  Even though the trail doesn’t climb much in elevation, it still provides challenges with its sporadic blazing and 15+ water crossings.  It was really easy to lose the yellow blazes, as the trail is eroded and appears to have been relocated several times.  We made our way by carefully looking for yellow blazes any time the trail wasn’t abundantly clear.  We were lucky to visit in a time of low water, so all of the water crossings were easily passable.  I imagine the way could be really tricky when there is more rain.

We passed a neat cliff-side that looked like it was built out of block.  It was set off the trail, about 20 feet into the woods. Shortly after the cliff, the trail dipped down along an eroded bank next to the stream.  There was a rope fixed to the uphill side of the trail to make passage a little easier.   At the end of the rope, we reached the beautiful sandstone streambed that makes this area so popular.

Rock Formations on the Devils Bathtub Hike

Rock Formations on the Devils Bathtub Hike. Below: More stream scenery; A rope assist along the eroded trail; Steep eroded bank

Low Water Levels at Devils Bathtub Narrow Trail One Steep Climb on Devil's Bathtub

The trail crossed the stream one final time at the base of a large pool with a small waterfall.  I imagine a lot of people reach this point and think it’s the Bathtub.  It’s a pretty spot with deep, clear green water.  But, to get to the Bathtub you should continue along the trail up a short but very steep scramble up the bankside.

At the top of the bank, a newer wooden sign indicates that you’ve reached the Devil’s Bathtub.  If you follow the footpath down to the stream’s edge, you’ll find the formation at the base of another small waterfall.  It’s a gorgeous spot, though smaller than I expected it to be.  The water was low on our trip, so I’d say the tub was only about half full!

We explored and photographed the area for a while… dismayed by the enormous amount of garbage left behind by other hikers. We saw dirty diapers, Styrofoam cups, beer cans/bottles, tampon applicators, sodden socks, discarded t-shirts, empty pudding cups, a spent asthma inhaler, and countless cigarette butts.  I simply can’t understand how a person can visit such a naturally lovely place, and feel alright about leaving their trash behind.  Adam and I ended up carrying out three bags of garbage, and it didn’t even make a dent in what was still left behind.

After a while, a couple more groups of hikers joined us at the Bathtub, so we decided to pack up and make our way back to the car.  To exit, we simply retraced our steps.  On the way out, I kept thinking about all the litter we saw on our hike.  If you choose to do this hike (and we hope you will) please bring a trash bag and help clean up along the way!  This is a gorgeous area – but it’s overused and fragile.

Adam Says…

A friend of mine had asked me about a year ago if we had hiked Devil’s Bathtub yet.  After checking out pictures online, I knew this is one we had to put on our radar.  Living several hours away and the fact this is a short hike made our decision to incorporate this hike into a four-day trip to check out a bunch of hikes in southwest Virginia.

This hike does have some challenges involved – navigating to parking without reliable GPS signal, the bumpy drive on the fire road to get to parking, the often poor blazing on the trail, and the numerous stream crossings.  But with a little determination, we found our way to this gorgeous spot.

The Devils Bathtub

Adam enjoys the Devils Bathtub. Below: Signage; Terrain around the Bathtub; The Bathtub

Trail Sign Devils Bathtub Hike Devils Bathtub Hike

From the parking lot, we heading up the short flight of stairs where we met the trail.  There are no signs to say which way to go, but we took a left at the top of the stairs and found we were correct.  The yellow-blazed trail leads to a gate and passing through, the trail leads down to your first of about 15 stream crossings at .15 miles.  When we went, the water was at a low level, so if you are hiking when there has been a lot of rain, expect your feet to get wet and plan to do a lot of rock hopping.  At about .2 miles, you reach a junction with the straight fork ridge spur trail.  Bear left to stay straight on the trail.

Devils Bathtub Hike

The Devils Pool. Below: Small cascades; Pools along the stream.

Devils Bathtub Hike Devils Bathtub Hike Devils Bathtub Hike

At .7 miles, we reached the first of the hard to navigate sections.  We approached this larger creek section and saw some blazes straight ahead, but also to the right of us.  We went straight ahead and up a steep bank that went down a steep, slick hill back to the creek, only to realize this section had been re-routed.  We went back to the original spot to cross, bore right to the larger fire road and found the blaze to continue on the trail.

At .9 miles, at the fifth stream crossing, we had a hard time finding where the blazes continued.  We reached the large stream bed and rock-hopped and walked ahead on the creek about 75 yards before finding the yellow blaze going up a steep bank to the other side.  Our instincts led us the right way, but the lack of blazes made this an unnecessary challenge.  We got back on the trail and just a little over a tenth of a mile, we were standing above a swimming hole, looking down to the left.  From the trash and abandoned clothing left behind, we could tell many people have taken a dip in this spot before.  Continue on the trail and continue to cross the stream several more times.

Devils Bathtub Hike

A beautiful green, waterfall-fed swimming hole. Below: A sampling of litter; Butterflies

The Saddest Part of the Devils Bathtub Hike Butterflies

At about 1.5 miles, the trail reaches a large rock formation and you scale the side of it on a narrow path, but with some assistance to an anchored rope that guides you along.  You then climb down to a stream crossing and swimming hole before making your way up a very steep bank to continue on the trail.  From here, the hike is relatively flat and at 1.7 miles, you reach the sign for Devil’s Bathtub.  There is a small lookout over the bathtub from here, but if you want to see it up close, the best thing to do is continue past the sign and stay on the trail.  When you reach the stream again, cross it and then navigate along the side (the rocks were very slippery here) until you make your way down to the bathtub at 1.8 miles.  The water again was low, so we were expecting a deeper basin of water from what we have seen in some pictures.  The rock around the bathtub was covered in algae and very slick, so be careful!!

It took us a while to just remove enough trash around the site to get some decent pictures.  As Christine mentioned, please bring a trashbag and help pick up around the area.  The devastation of litter here made me quite sad that people would treat such a picturesque spot with such disrespect.  We made our way back the way we came and saw a few people on our way back.

The green water plunging over and into the Devil’s Bathtub makes for one of those truly magical places in Virginia.  If you are ever down in the southwestern part of Virginia, put this on your must-hike list.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.6 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 580 ft
  • Difficulty –  3.  The climb is easy and very small/gradual.  The challenge factor is increased by the number of water crossings you must negotiate.
  • Trail Conditions – 2.5  The trail is eroded in numerous places and there is a real issue with litter. 
  • Views –  0. None on this hike.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 5.  The stream scenery is gorgeous!
  • Wildlife – 2.  We saw lots of newts.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.5  The trail is poorly blazed and hard to follow in several spots.
  • Solitude – 2.  We visited on a quiet weekday, and still saw multiple groups of people.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  Parking coordinates: 36.819106, -82.628852.  This location is very isolated and not really close to anything.  It’s best to use the GPS coordinates and navigate fro=m your home direction.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Great Channels

October 23, 2016

The Great Channels Natural Area Preserve is one of Virginia’s most geologically fascinating areas.  This 6.6 mile out-and-back takes you down into a network of maze-like crevices formed in soft sandstone.  You won’t find any other hike in Virginia like this one!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam Explores Virginia's Great Channels

Adam explores Virginia’s Great Channels.

Adam Says…

Who would have thought there were slot canyons in Virginia?  I have read about the slot canyons in the southwest of the US and thought it would be so cool to actually go hiking through these formations.  It wasn’t until recently that we had heard about the Great Channels in the southwest of Virginia and we just had to take a trip and explore them.  We decided to take a four-day trip down to Abingdon, Virginia and rented a house that served as a great launchpoint for some of those interesting hikes we have heard about in the area.

We left our car in the parking lot and then followed the Brumley Mountain Road up the fire road (blocked from cars by a gate) that went up the hill to the right of the parking lot.  The initial part of the hike follows this wide fire road, making it nice to walk side-by-side with your hiking partner.  The trail is mostly a gradual uphill climb to the top, with the first 1.5 miles being very little climbing at all.  At about .6 miles, you reach a set of power lines that are cut in that may give you an obstructed view to the left of the trail of the valley below.  At .75 miles, you reach a junction where the fire road takes a sharp turn to the right and goes uphill.  Stay straight instead of veering to the right to stay on the trail.  The trail continues along and at 1.0 miles, a cabin and picnic area appears to the right of the trail.  This is private property, so stay on the trail.  Continuing along the trail, at 1.5 miles, you reach Shallow Gap, which provides some obstructed ridgeline views to the right of the trail.

Easy Footing at Great Channels

The trail to Great Channels climbs a bit, but the footing is all easy.  Below: The trail follows an old road bed most of the way; A pretty cabin along the trail; Blooming rosebay rhododendron.

Easy Footing at Great Channels Cute Cabin Along the Trail Blooming Rhododendron

The trail becomes slightly steeper from this point and at 2.25 miles, you reach an outcrop of sandstone, which is what you will later see that forms the Great Channels themselves.  You hit a few switchbacks shortly after that take away the steepness of the terrain.   At 2.8 miles, you reach the junction where the Great Channels trail breaks off to the left of the Brumley Mountain Road.  Take this trail to reach the summit of Middle Knob, which you should reach around 3.0 miles.

At the summit, you will find a shelter with rotted boards and exposed nails (it looks like quite the danger, so don’t explore).  Behind the shelter you will see some exposed boulders that allow for some obstructed views around you.  Straight ahead also is the incredibly tall fire tower that was once used to spot fires from a long distance.  The rocks that you walk across near the fire tower will show you exposed cracks that travel deep below.  Shortly past and to the right of the fire tower, you will see a blaze that enters into the woods.  Take this trail as it leads down a steep, hillside.  We found another rock on the way down that we could hoist ourselves up which gave us some nice views.  While the views are nice, you do need to be extremely careful here, since there are gaps in the rocks below where you are looking from the top of the Great Channels down below.  One slip could spell catastrophe here.

Rhododendron Tunnels on the Great Channels Trail

Rhododendron tunnel on the Great Channels Trail. Below: Hiking along the Brumley Mountain Trail; The junction of the Brumley Trail and the Channels Trail.

More Scenes from Great Channels More Scenes from Great Channels More Scenes from Great Channels

The trail descended the hillside until it led to the entrance of the Great Channels.  I will say this is one of the most unique things I have ever seen.  You walk down a path in between these sandstone formations that creates a maze of trails and rocks.  You will feel like a kid again with your desire to explore this maze.  Most of the paths between the rocks are passable (I did squeeze my body through one tight area just to see what was on the other side), but get your bearings early so you can remember the proper way back.  We found you can get a little turned around as you explore these channels, which could create some panic from anyone claustrophobic.  It was much darker in the Channels, but occasionally you would find a spot where the sun shined down to the bottom.  The formations were so unique that you will want to take some time to explore down all the channels.  The only real exit to the Channels is going back the way you came.

After we were done exploring, we climbed back to the top and ate a snack underneath the fire tower before finishing up our trip.  We came across a few other families at the top, but we enjoyed having the Great Channels to ourselves.  We made our way back the way we came, giving us about a 6.6 mile hike total.  We were so glad we were given this hike recommendation.  This is a true geological treasure that is surprisingly not as well known beyond the local community.

Arriving at the Entrance to Great Channels

Look for the fire tower when you’re seeking the entrance to the Great Channels. Below: There is an old, burned out watcher’s hut; The descent into the maze; Moss covered walls.

Burnt Out Shelter at Great Channels Entering Great Channels Entering Great Channels

Christine Says…

The idea to hike the Great Channels came from one of our readers (thanks, Dj!)  We had never heard of the area and were excited to add this hike to our itinerary on a recent visit to Abingdon, Va.  Since Adam has covered all the details and distances, I’d like to use my part of the post to share some of the fascinating history of this area.

The Channels has only been accessible to the public for a little over a decade. It’s really one of Virginia’s newer hikes!  In 2004, The Nature Conservancy purchased the 5,000 acre tract land from a private owner.  Then in 2008, through a partnership with the state, Channels State Forest was established.

In the early years of the new state forest, the route to the Channels formation was traversed only by the rugged Channels Trail.  Marked in green on this map, the hike required an 11-mile round trip effort with about 2,600 feet of climbing.

Inside Virginia's Great Channels

There is nothing else in Virginia like the Great Channels. Below: As seen inside the Channels.

Inside Virginia's Great Channels Inside Virginia's Great ChannelsInside Virginia's Great Channels

In 2012, the non-profit group Mountain Heritage opened the Brumley Mountain Trail.  The trail was built over several years with the assistance of volunteers and labor supplied by inmates from the Appalachian Detention Center.  All in all, the Brumley Mountain Trail covers 14 miles along the spine of Clinch Mountain from Hayters Gap on VA80 to Hidden Valley Lake.  If you park in the new lot at Hayters  Gap and follow the Brumley Trail, you can access the Channels formation via a moderate, well-graded trail – totaling six miles, round trip.  The establishment of this trail made the Channels infinitely more accessible for hikers of all abilities!

The sandstone maze at the heart of Channels State Forest sits hidden at the top of Middle Knob – elevation 4208’.  Formed 400 million years ago, the deep crevices and slots likely formed due to permafrost and ice wedging during the last ice age.  The expanding ice fractured the sandstone and water slowly spread and smoothed the breaks over millions of years.  What we’re left with now is a labyrinth of slots and crevices through the rocks. The pathways range from 20 to nearly 40 feet deep and wind their way through damp, moss-covered walls of stone.  It stays shady and cool in the Channels – even on a hot mid-summer day.

Inside Virginia's Great Channels

The rock walls of the channels had lots of interesting textures. Below: More scenes from the Channels.

A Look Up from the Bottom of Great Channels Jumbles of Boulders in the Great Channels A Look Up from the Bottom of Great Channels

The entrance to the maze is located near one of the tallest and most rickety fire towers I’ve ever seen.  You could not pay me a million dollars to climb that tower! However, when doing research for this post, I stumbled across the blog of another hiker who DID climb the tower in 2013 (despite the bottom two flights of stairs being removed and posted signs saying NOT to climb the tower.)  We implore our readers to stay safe and stay off the tower.  I will add that photos shared by this particular hiker showcased 360 degree views all the way to Mt. Rogers, Roan Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain.  From the tower’s top, you can also down into the maze from above.  His photos were pretty cool – but again – do not attempt to climb the tower.  An article from the June 3, 2012 issue of the Bristol Herald Courier says that funding is being sought to renovate the old tower and turn it into an observation platform.  Clearly, nothing has happened between 2012 and 2016!

I enjoyed exploring the labyrinth of passageways that make up Great Channels.  The scale and size of the formation exceeded what I pictured before visiting. The maze covers about 20 acres.  Some pathways loop around and connect to other paths and some just reach a dead end.  There was plenty to explore, but the area is not so expansive that you feel you’ll get lost and not find your way out.  I will add that after a suitable amount of exploration, I was ready to see the land from back ‘on top’.   After a while, the maze started feeling eerie and close.  I guess I’m more claustrophobic than I thought!

The Precarious Fire Tower

The fire tower is closed to climbing. It is very tall and rickety. Below: You do not want to climb this fire tower: Atop the maze

Elevation at the top of Channels The Great Channels from the Top Leaving the Great Channels

Another couple things I wanted to note about this hike!  The first one is a big plus — there were TONS of sweet, ripe, juicy blueberries around the fire tower when we visited in late July.  It was a treat to enjoy them with our packed lunch.  The negative I wanted to remark on is the amount of litter left in the Channels.  There were so many plastic water bottles, candy wrappers, and beer cans tucked into crevices in the rocks.  It’s always a bummer to visit a beautiful, unique place and find it covered with garbage, and unfortunately that was the case with the Channels.  If you think about it when you visit, bring a trash bag and try to carry some of the trash out with you.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 6.6 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1200 ft
  • Difficulty –  3.  The hike isn’t as tough to approach the Middle Knob fire tower, but the climb down to the Channels may be a little steep for some.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail mostly follows a large fire road, so footing is easy. 
  • Views –  2.  There were some obstructed views along the way, but nothing overly dramatic. 
  • Waterfalls/streams 0. non-existent. 
  • Wildlife – 3.  This area is not as well populated and black bears have been spotted.  We saw several deer along the trail.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  There are only a few junctions that could lead to any confusion.  Finding the trail down to the Great Channels was a little tough since there was no sign, but with our directions, you should have no trouble.
  • Solitude – 3.  This is a popular spot for locals on nice days, but overall isn’t used heavily. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: GPS coordinates:  36.864640, -81.946982.  Take exit 24 on I-81 and get on VA-80 W.  In .2 miles, take a left on VA-80/609/Hillman Highway.  Take a right shortly after the light to stay on VA-80/Lindell Road.  Continue to follow VA-80 for 13.5 miles until you reach the parking lot on the left of the road.  You will find the name for this road changes from Lindell Road to Hayters Gap Road.  It takes a sharp left turn about 10.5 miles in on your 13.5 mile trip and the road winds up very steeply until you reach the crest and the parking lot on the left.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

 

Dolly Sods – Rohrbaugh Plains to Red Creek

October 9, 2016

This 10 mile (round-trip) hike takes you past some of Dolly Sods most beautiful scenery.  The dense rhododendron thickets, unblazed trails, and rugged terrain will have you feeling like you’re truly in the wild.  Camping along Red Creek is popular and can be crowded with weekend backpackers, but it’s still one of West Virginia’s most spectacular places.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Beautiful Red Creek

Beautiful Red Creek was our destination for this short overnighter. Below: Our excellent hiking crew (Maia the dog not included in the photo!);  Making our way onto the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail; The trail is only lightly maintained so you have to climb blowdowns and navigate without the help of blazes.

Our Hiking Crew Start of the Rohrbaugh Plains Trai Rohrbaugh Plains Trail

Day One…

Back in early June, we were at happy hour with our friends Christy and Brian.  Over beers, we cooked up a vague plan for a weekend backpacking trip in late July.  In the weeks to come, we added our mutual friend, Kris, into the mix and settled on a route.  The plan was to take two cars, and do a trans-navigation of Dolly Sods starting at the picnic area and ending at Bear Rocks.  It was about a 16 mile route with tons of camping options along Red Creek.

As it turned out, a heat wave settled over the mid-Atlantic that weekend.  It was the hottest, most humid weekend of the summer.  We still thought we could make the full 16 miles, so we met at Bear Rocks and shuttled in our car to the start point at the Dolly Sods Picnic area.  On the ride, we learned that you really can fit five adults, five big backpacks, and one German Shepherd in a Subaru Forester. It was like a clown car!

We parked at a small pullout near the picnic area, and picked up the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail on the opposite side of the road.  The trail meandered through dense rhododendron forest.  A lot of the rhododendron was Rosebay near the peak of its bloom.  So pretty! The air was thick, still, and heavy with humidity. It felt like walking through the jungle.  At one point, Kris said, “I feel like we might see monkeys!’

Meadows on the Rohrbaugh Trail

Walking through meadows. Below: Maia enjoys a shady pool under the rhododendrons; Walking across Rohrbaugh Cliffs; A nice spot for lunch!

Maia Enjoys a Shady Pool Arriving at Rohrbaugh Cliffs Lunch Stop

The trails in Dolly Sods are well-traveled but very lightly maintained.  There are no blazes.  The only wayfinding signs are at trail junctions.  There are lots of rocks, blowdowns, and mud pits to navigate. Even though the area is complete wilderness, the high traffic through the area keeps the trails apparent and fairly easy to follow.

We walked the Rohrbaugh Plains trail for about 2.5 miles before reaching the spectacular viewpoint off Rohrbaugh Cliffs.  The area is near and dear to my heart because it was one of the first places I ever camped in the backcountry. The cliffs offer great views across the valley to the Lions Head (another popular rocky outcropping in Dolly Sods) and down into the Red Creek basin.  Just past the cliffs, there is a patch of open forest with space for many tents.  It’s still one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at.

We decided to take a lunch break at the cliffs.  At first, the breeze across the open terrain felt nice.  Maybe the heat wasn’t so bad?  But after a few minutes of sitting in the direct sun, we were all pretty hot.  I could feel my shoulders starting to burn.  After lunch, we packed up and continued another .6 mile down the Rohrbaugh Plains Trail.  At 3.1 miles, we passed the junction with the Wildlife Trail.  We stayed to the left, continuing on the Rohrbaugh Plains trail.

We passed a small (mostly dry) waterfall and crossed over some extremely rocky footing. At 3.5 miles the Rohrbaugh Trail meets the Fisher Spring Run Trail.  We followed the Fisher Spring Trail to the left, beginning to descend for 1.2 miles.  At first the descent is smooth a gradual, but it becomes steeper and follows a couple switchbacks down to a rocky crossing of Fisher Spring Run.

Setting Up Camp

We set up camp at a large site along Red Creek. Below: Most of the trails in Dolly Sods are rocky; Crossing Fisher Springs Run before arriving at camp; Our campsite had a private swimming hole nearby.

Rocky Trail Crossing Fisher Spring Run Our Private Swimming Hole

After the crossing , the trail follows the stream on high ground.  There are several nice campsites at the bottom of extremely steep spur trails.  A few sections of this trail are quite eroded, leaving the trail narrow and precipitous.  Take your time and watch your footing, especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack.

At 4.7 miles the Fisher Spring Run Trail ends at the Red Creek Trail.  We took a right, following the trail down toward Red Creek.  In about three tenths of a mile, we passed the first of many stellar campsites.  At the very first one, I thought to myself, “That’s a really sweet campsite.  I wouldn’t mind sleeping here!’

Our group decided to take a break and discuss camping plans and how much of the route we wanted to cover on day one of our trip.  We all agreed that we were pretty hot, the campsite was ideal, and Red Creek looked really inviting.  We figured on day two, we could either hike 11 miles or hike out the way we came in and make our trip a short 10-mile out-and-back.

Adam and I explored several more campsites along the stream before agreeing that the very first site was the prettiest and most private.  There was easily space for four tents.  The ground was flat and clear.  We had easy access to water.  We even had a large fire pit with a stone couch someone had constructed. We all unpacked and set up camp. Maia, our friends’ German Shepherd, supervised the operations.  She was on her first backpacking trip ever, and she took to it like a pro!

Red Creek

Red Creek is a beautiful place to camp and swim.  Below:  Fun in the water and fun at camp!

Swimming in Red Creek Swimming in Red Creek Swimming in Red Creek
Swimming in Red Creek Enjoying Red Creek red creek 18

It was only around 2:30, so most of us spent the entire afternoon swimming and playing in Red Creek. The water was so cold and refreshing. The small rapids and waterfalls felt like hydrotherapy for our hot, tired muscles. Adam opted to restock everyone’s water and read a book at camp, but even he enjoyed splashing in the cold water near camp.

Around 5:00 we decided to get dinner started.  Everyone brought their own dinner, but Christy and Brian brought a shared dessert – Rocky Road pudding.  Kris contributed a two-bottle capacity bag of wine to the feast.  After dinner we played cards and sat around our campfire.  Even at 9:00 p.m., it was still 75 degrees.  That’s unusually warm for Dolly Sods at night!

Around 10:00 we let the fire die down, and everyone started retreating to their tents.  Adam and I opted to leave the rain fly off in hopes that it would keep us cooler.  Honestly, it didn’t really cool off until sometime around 3:00 a.m.  It was a steamy night and I was very glad to have left my sleeping bag home in favor of a light summer quilt.  I enjoyed falling asleep to the sound of the running stream.  Any time I woke up during the night, I took a moment to marvel at the brilliance and magnitude of the stars in the sky.  It’s such a gift to be able to visit places like this and have good friends to share the experience. I felt so fortunate that night in my tent.

Day Two…

The next morning we awoke at daybreak.  We thought Maia would have woken up the group, but she was a perfect camp companion and let us get up when we wanted.  We enjoyed some of Christine’s homemade granola with Nido and then made our way back to the car.  With a warm night and temperatures climbing quickly in the morning, we decided to get an early start to get back to our cars before the temperatures peaked in the afternoon.  It is always uncomfortable when you feel like you never had a chance to cool down, so everyone felt hot within a few minutes back on the trail.

Camp Dog

Maia did great on her first backpacking trip. Below: Hiking back out the way we came in!

Hiking Out Hot and Humid More Rocks to Cross

We climbed back up the steep Red Creek Trail and Fisher Spring Run trail very slowly as we were all quickly drenched with sweat.  We got back to the junction with the Rohrbaugh Trail in about 1.5 miles and we knew our toughest work was behind us.  In another .4 miles, we reached the junction with the Wildlife Trail and took a right to make our way to the Rohrbaugh Cliffs again.  We paused for a snack and some more pictures from Rohrbaugh Cliffs, which is probably my favorite spot in Dolly Sods.  Looking over the creek and seeing nothing but mountains around you is a scene that begs you to pause and appreciate nature.

Rohrbaugh Cliffs

Taking in the view from Rohrbaugh Cliffs. Below: The small waterfall along the Rohrbaugh Trail was running very low; Climbing on the rocks of Rohrbaugh Cliffs; Back to the Forest Road.

Small Waterfall Rohrbaugh Cliffs The End

With the strong sun beating down, we decided to press on and continue our journey back to the car.  We made our way back fairly quickly, passing by a group of about 10 women that were enjoying the weekend as well.  We got back to our car just a bit before lunch and carpooled Christy, Brian, and Maia back to their car.  We had a great adventure together and we were really glad to share this amazing piece of wilderness.  We parted ways with Christy and Brian, and Christine, Kris, and I headed to Lost River Brewing Company in Wardensville, WV for some celebratory beers and food.  It was a great trip, but we vowed to return when it isn’t the hottest weekend of the year to do the traverse across Dolly Sods like we originally planned.

If you are looking for a hike or overnight trip that combines majestic views, creeks with a waterfall and swimming possibilities, and great overnight camping, this may be a perfect one to experience.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 10 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike [Day One] [Day Two])*
  • Elevation Change –  1480 feet
  • Difficulty – 3.  The elevation gain/loss is moderate, but the rugged nature of the footing adds difficulty to this route.
  • Trail Conditions –  2.  Trails are unblazed.  Be prepared for mud, blowdowns, and lots of rocks.
  • Views – 5.  The view from Rohrbaugh Cliffs is pretty spectacular!
  • Waterfalls/streams – 5.  You will want to spend all day enjoying the beautiful rapids and waterfalls along Red Creek.  This is some of the best stream swimming in West Virginia.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We saw a white tail doe with two fawns on the drive in, but generally the woods were quiet and we didn’t feel like there was much wildlife in the camping area.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.  There are no blazes, but junctions were marked, and the trail was generally easy to follow.  Navigation gets trickier near Red Creek where you depend on cairns to mark stream crossings.
  • Solitude – 3.  This is tough to call!  We saw almost nobody on the trail when we were hiking, but there were many people camped along Red Creek.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  GPS Coordinates for Parking are 38.962019, -79.355024. From Seneca Rocks, go North on WV 28 for 12 miles.  Take a left on Jordan Run Road.  Go one mile up Jordan Run Road and take a left on to Forest Road 19.  In 6 miles, Forest Road 19 comes to a T on to Forest Road 75.  Take a right, heading north on Forest Road 75.  Drive for about eight miles until you reach the Dolly Sods Picnic Area. The Rohrbaugh Plains Trailhead will be across the road from the picnic area.

Hidden Rocks

September 5, 2016

This 2.5 mile hike passes a small waterfall and two beautiful rock crags.  The views are pretty limited, but it’s still a worthwhile hike in the vicinity of Hone Quarry.  If you visit in early July, the blooming Rosebay rhododendron is impressive!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Hidden Rocks View

Tony and Adam launched a drone from the top of Hidden Rocks. Below: Adam crosses Rocky Run – a small stream on the hike; The trail splits and makes a lariat loop near this pretty small waterfall; Blooming Rosebay Rhododendron.

Crossing Rocky Run Small Waterfall and Pool on Rocky Run Blooming Rosebay Rhododendron

Adam Says…

Hidden Rocks was truly trying to stay hidden from us.  It took a while for us to find the location of this hike from another website, it was steering us about 35 minutes off course.  We ultimately arrived at the correct parking area and met up with Tony and Linda from Hiking Upward to start our hike for the day.  This hike is relatively easy and if you want to just do a quick, out-and-back hike to the main rock outcropping, you would be looking at around a two mile hike.  We decided to make a loop out of this hike and at the time, there wasn’t a lot of information about this hike.

The hike started from the right of the parking area.  The yellow-blazed trail starts fairly easily and consists of a few ups and downs, reminiscent of a roller coaster before finally descending down to Rocky Run which you will reach at .65 miles.  Crossing the stream, you can see there is a smaller trail that branches to the right, but stick to the left.  You will quickly come into a thick tunnel of rhododendron.  You cross Rocky Run a couple of more times before reaching a small, scenic waterfall at .9 miles.  Here, the trail splits as you will see yellow blazes that go to the left and right of the waterfall.  Take the trail to the right of the waterfall (the left trail will be how you return on the loop) that leads steeply above the waterfall area.

Rock Climber at Hidden Rocks

A rock climber descending Hidden Rocks. Below: Christine and Adam atop Hidden Rocks; Ripening blueberries at the top of the crag; A sideview of Hidden Rocks.

Christine & Adam Atop the Crag Ripening Blueberries Side View of Hidden Rocks

In a short distance, we arrived at the base of the Hidden Rocks face where we came across a man rock climbing and rappelling off the structure.  The trail skirts along the left of the rock base and then climbs steeply up some rocky steps.  At the top of the trail, the trail splits.  Head up to the right on some wooden steps to reach the top of the Hidden Rocks structure that you saw from the base a few moments ago.  There was a campsite at the top and a couple of ledges that you could enjoy the view.

Tony set up his drone to take pictures and video of the area around us.  We were hoping to get some shots of the rock climber, but he had just switched spots on where he wanted to climb, so it took him a long time to position ropes to start his rappel.  Tony let me even steer the drone a bit which was a blast.  Christine and I posed for a high elevation selfie before we packed up the drone and continued our hike.

We went back to where the trail split leading us to the rock outcropping and then continued on the trail.  This part of the trail was less-traveled and narrow.  After skirting along another large rock face, I found a break between two large rock areas and decided to explore.  I had to climb by holding onto rocks and roots, making it not an easily accessible sidetrip that should only be done if you feel capable. I ventured out to the right and left areas of the rock.  The rock to the right led to precarious footing and fearing I was going to look for a handhold and upset a timber rattler, I decided to not go any further on that rock.  On the left rock, I found a way to climb to the very top and found a very small perch to enjoy some views that I thought were better than those on Hidden Rocks.  I called back down to the rest of the group and Tony and Christine decided to climb up also.  We then made our way down the steep decline and joined Linda back on the trail.

The trail descends rather steeply after this point, causing us to take our time make sure we had good footing.  We reached another stream crossing at 1.4 miles and at 1.6 miles we were back at the small waterfall, completing the small lollipop loop of this hike.  We retraced our steps and made it back to our car at 2.5 miles.

Christine Says…

We were thrilled to see Tony and Linda again for the second time in the span of just a few weeks! We were also pleased to have cooler, less humid weather for this hike (compared to the sauna-like conditions we had for our hike at Shrine Mont). The morning started off with a bit of chaos related to bad directions. We originally found the Hidden Rocks hike outlined on the Virginia Wilderness Committee website.  Their write-up included GPS coordinates that took us to some random road – in the middle of nowhere – about 30 minutes from the actual trailhead.  We arrived at their designated coordinates and found ourselves in the totally wrong place with no cell phone service.  Fortunately, Tony and Linda were also running a few minutes late, and we all arrived at the trailhead parking around the same time.

The hike started off over a mini ‘roller coaster’ – with the trail steeply ascending and descending over a series of gullies and washes.  Eventually, we descended a gentle hill down to Rocky Run – a shallow, winding stream.  The trail was shaded by a tunnel of Rosebay Rhododendron that was just starting to bloom.  At about a mile in, the route got a bit confusing when we reached a split in the trail near a small waterfall.  The Virginia Wilderness directions said there was a loop trail, but added that the loop route was not on their map (it’s on ours – see below).  We took a guess and headed steeply uphill on the trail on the right side of the split.  In just a couple tenths of a mile, we arrived at the bottom of a towering rock wall – Hidden Rocks.  There was a local guy rock climbing.  He had a beautiful Vizsla dog – she barked a lot, but was very friendly and hung out with us the entire time we visited the rock.

Hidden Cracks

The second crag on the hikes is known locally as Hidden Cracks. Below: The view from the top of Hidden Cracks; Christine scrambles down Hidden Cracks; We enjoyed beers and Grillizza Pizza after the hike.

The Top of Hidden Cracks Descending Hidden Cracks Grillizza Pizza

To reach the summit of Hidden Rocks, we followed the trail along the left side of the crag, eventually climbing steeply to the top via a small set of constructed stairs.  The top of Hidden Rocks has two outcroppings and a spacious campsite with a fire ring.  The views are limited – all you really see is another hillside of trees across the ravine.  If you’re looking for expansive views of mountains, distant valleys, or the lake in Hone Quarry – this is not the hike for you!  Fortunately, the outcropping still gave Tony enough room to launch his drone.  He was able to get a few cool shots looking back at Hidden Rocks.

From Hidden Rocks, we came back down the stairs and continued following the trail across the ridge.  We passed another towering cliffside on the right – this one called Hidden Cracks.  Adam found a split in the rocks with a jumble of boulders.  We were able to climb to the top and get another view – this one included an obstructed peek at some distant mountains.  Soon after Hidden Cracks, the trail descended, crossed the stream again. We arrived back to the split in the trail that made the loop, passing the small waterfall once again.  From there, we retraced our steps back to the parking area.

After our hike, we headed back into Harrisonburg so that we could take Tony and Linda on a tour of Harrisonburg’s craft beer scene.  We started off at Wolfe Street, then proceeded to Billy Jack’s for lunch.  The day rounded out with stops at Pale Fire and Brothers (with dinner from the Grillizza food truck).  It was a fun day and we really enjoyed exploring this little gem of a hike!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2.5 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change –  390 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.  This is doable by most people.  If you do the entire loop, be careful climbing up to the top of the other rock outcropping.  That short climb feels more like a 4-4.5.
  • Trail Conditions –  3.5.  Overall the trail was in great condition, but the lollipop loop part of the trail was not as maintained.
  • Views –  2.5.  The views were nice, but not as expansive as I would have liked since most of your views are blocked by the mountain directly in front.  
  • Waterfalls/streams   2.  Rocky Run was pretty with rhododendron nearby.  The small waterfall creates a peaceful setting.
  • Wildlife – 0.  We didn’t see anything. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.5.  There weren’t any signs for junctions which caused us to get confused about which way to go when we first crossed Rocky Run and again at the waterfall junction.
  • Solitude – 4.  This isn’t heavily used, but you may see some people at the top of Hidden Rocks or rock climbing. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: GPS Coordinates for this hike are 38.44813, -79.12205.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.