Beards Mountain is a hike within Douthat State Park that provides lake and mountain views at various stages of the trail.
This was our first trip to Douthat State Park and we were quite impressed. The park contains over 40 miles of hiking trails. The origin of the name “Douthat” is from a land patent given to Robert Douthat from the Governor Robert Brooke. Part of this land makes up the park today. The best guess as to how to pronounce the name I found was “dow-thut”.
Like most state parks, you have to pay $3 on the weekends to enter. We went to the park office first to talk to someone about the two hikes we were contemplating – this one and Blue Suck Falls. The Blue Suck Falls hike is close to 10 miles, so we opted for the shorter hike on this particular day. Before we started, I wanted to check out two new programs that state parks are now offering. The Trail Quest Program is something created to replace the state park passport program. This program allows you to track the state parks you have visited online and there are some pins given as rewards based on how many you visit. I started the passport system a while ago, which I have enjoyed, but I think this program is also a great idea. The second opportunity is now all of the Virginia state parks are sponsoring geocaches. Each park has a multi-stage geocache that leads you to a wildlife card for each park. When you collect a number of these cards, you can also get some prizes.
Due to the tricky network of trails, I would recommend picking up a map at the park office. The hike up Beards Mountain starts to the right of the park office entrance by taking the blue-blazed Beard’s Gap Trail. This trail starts off relatively flat and crosses a creek a few times (it was dry when we crossed) before it starts an uphill climb with several switchbacks. While I normally don’t enjoy switchbacks, this trail was well planned and it really takes the difficulty out of the elevation gain. At 1.2 miles you will reach a trail junction and a hut that was created as an eagle scout project. Take a left on this trail to join the yellow-blazed Mountain Top Trail. At 1.7 miles, you will reach a junction of three trails. You will see the Buck Hollow Trail and the Mountain Side Trail to the left, but you will just head straight continuing on the yellow-blazed Mountain Top Trail for the toughest climb of the trip. At 1.8 miles, you will take a sharp right on a switchback and be able to see Douthat Lake below through the trees. There are better views ahead. The hike continues to climb up, leveling off around 2.0 miles, until you see a marker for the forest boundary around 2.5 miles. At the marker, you will take a left to stay on the yellow-blazed Mountain Top Trail. Around 2.7 miles, the trail begins to descend steeply. Around mile 3.1 the woods will open up to reveal a very nice view of Douthat Lake below. Around mile 3.4, as you are descending, you will come to another junction of trails. Take a left on to the Mountain Side Trail. This will continue be a fairly level trail that will eventually give you a third lower view of Douthat Lake around the 3.7 mile marker. After the view, you will have a slight ascent back up to the familiar junction with the Mountain Top Trail. At this junction, you will take a right down the blue-blazed Buck Hollow Trail. Around the 4.7 mile marker, you will see a branched path that is marked as an Overlook Trail. We did not go down that path this time, but it adds an extra .5 mile on to your trip. Around the 5.4 marker, you will reach a junction and take a left on the white-blazed Wilson Creek Trail and you will cross a small bridge. Shortly after rounding the corner, you will see a water tower that is on a gravel road. Just cross the road and stay on the white-blazed trail. The trail will eventually pass a few staff houses and a stone chimney around 6.9 miles. Just travel the last .1 miles to reach the park office and your vehicle.
While we felt the views weren’t exceptional, we did really enjoy this hike. We had a perfect hiking weather day with a cool breeze to keep from sweating profusely and to keep the bugs away. We definitely plan on returning to visit and explore this park some more. Most of the people that come here seem to come for fishing, picnics, and camping but I do think the trails we saw were very enjoyable. While it was a longer hike, it wasn’t too tough to handle if you’re in decent shape.
Beards Mountain was an enjoyable hike for a blustery spring day. For a seven-mile hike, it was relatively easygoing. Most of the steep climbing was in the first third of the loop, which allowed for very pleasant downhill or level walking for the last two-thirds of the hike.
This was by far the windiest day I’ve ever been out in the woods – gusts were easily 45-50 mph. The wind was really roaring through the mountains, catching on all the newly leafy trees. Any time I looked up, I could see the treetops swaying and swirling dramatically above our heads. Every now and then, we would hear branches snap – but thankfully none fell close to the trail. It was nearly impossible to talk over the wind, so Adam and I hiked in silence most of the way.
Hiking Upward gave this trail a five-star rating for views, so I was really hoping there would be a pretty overlook to stop and eat our picnic lunch along the way. Unfortunately, all of the views were merely small openings in the trees along the trail. None of the viewpoints really had an off-the-trail space to sit and take in the view. We ended up eating lunch along the ridge of Beards Mountain, near the National Forest border marker. We love Hiking Upward, but have found that our opinions sometimes differ on what makes a five-star view. For me, a top rated view has to be panoramic, unobstructed, offer a deep view into the landscape beyond and have a nice place for a couple people to sit and enjoy the vista. The views on this hike were nice, but I wouldn’t give them top marks.
The descent on this hike was long and followed a (usually) gentle grade. The one thing that made it tricky was the dryness/looseness of the soil and the narrowness of the trail. There were a couple spots along the Mountain Side Trail that had precipitous drops on the downhill side. For some stretches, the trail was only 12-18 inches wide – not even wide enough to use trekking poles. Every now and then, a rock would slip off the edge of the trail, and bounce endlessly down the steep mountainside. It made me think that someone could get hurt pretty badly if they took a wrong step. On these sections, I just kept my eyes straight ahead on the trail and my feet. If I looked downhill, I felt dizzy.
I think in early June, a lot of this loop hike will be extremely gorgeous! I noticed a lot of the trail was lined with mountain laurel. When it blooms in a few weeks, it should be amazing.
All in all, I was really impressed with Douthat State Park. The trail system there is pretty expansive and well-maintained. I’ll look forward to visiting the area again sometime.
- Distance – 7 miles loop
- Elevation Change – around 1400 feet
- Difficulty – 3. Some sections are tougher than others, but we still felt it was fairly challenging. The first couple of miles are the toughest.
- Trail Conditions – 3. The trails were in decent shape, but some were a little overgrown and there were some areas affected by landslides that made for a narrow trail and careful footing.
- Views – 3. The views are nice, but they are obstructed. You won’t find overlooks with expansive views on the trail, but you do see pretty mountainous scenery through the trees throughout your hike.
- Waterfalls/streams – 1.5 There are some streams that might be really beautiful in times with lots of rain. The water was down to a trickle when we visited.
- Wildlife – 2. We saw a couple of snakes on the trail, a few fence lizards, and some different bird species.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. The trail is well-marked, but there are a lot of intersections and different trails to make this a loop.
- Solitude – 3. We were surprised since it was a state park, but we only saw one hiker and a couple of mountain bikers on the trail.
Directions to trailhead: Take I-64 to exit 27 near Clifton Forge, VA heading north on state route 629. Continue on this road until you enter the park. Pay your fee at the gate and park at the park office just ahead on your right. The trail starts to the right of the park office entrance.