Beards Mountain

Beards Mountain is a hike within Douthat State Park that provides lake and mountain views at various stages of the trail.

View of Douthat Lake from Beards Mountain
A view of Douthat Lake from the trail. Below: The trails in Douthat State Park are clear and well-marked.

Trail Signs

Adam Says…

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.

View from the Trail
Most of the views along the hike were peeks through the trees. Below: Another glimpse through the trees; the stream along the Beards Gap Trail was made up of interesting terraced rocks; another view of Douthat Lake

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.

Christine Says…

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.

Snake Along the Trail
We saw so many reptiles along the hike. Below:  The Visitor’s Center is both the start and end point of the hike.

Visitor Center

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.

Trail Notes

  • 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.
  • Views3.  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.

Mount Rogers

The summit of Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak, can be reached via a nine mile (total, out-and-back) hike starting from Grayson Highlands State Park.  The hike follows the Appalachian Trail for most of the way and crosses into Jefferson National Forest.

Mt. Rogers is beautiful, rugged and home to several herds of wild ponies.
Mount Rogers has beautiful and rugged terrain.  The area is home to several herds of wild ponies.

Christine Says…

Mount Rogers has long been on my list of must-do hikes.  The peak’s status as the state’s highest point was one draw, but personally, I wanted a chance to see the feral highland ponies that roam the area.

Our trip started under rather inauspicious conditions.  We missed a turn on our way to the park, and ended up an hour out of the way.  The weather had been forecast to be sunny, but the morning dawned with a thick, wet, windy cloud of bleakness blanketing the entire area.  But when you have driven almost four hours to do a long-anticipated hike, you’re going to do it regardless of minor complications like gloominess and getting lost.

The trail starts out from Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park.
The trail starts out from Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park.

We parked at Massie Gap in Grayson Highlands State Park.  From there, we walked across a wide pasture, passed a sign warning of extremely erratic weather in the area and went through a horse gate.  The trail climbed upward along a wide, gravel path.

We almost immediately saw our first small group of wild ponies, clustered under the trees on a hillside next to the trail.  The fog was so thick; they looked like silhouettes in the mist.  I quickly got my camera out and started snapping shots.  The ponies were so small and rugged looking.  Their coats were thick and their manes long and wavy.  Some were solid colored and some were spotted.  They also turned out to be incredibly inquisitive and gentle.  While I was squatting down to take photos, a dark brown pony walked up to me and nuzzled her soft nose onto the back of my hand.  I know she was looking for food, but I had nothing to offer. We lingered with the ponies for a while, and then moved on.

(note:  The park rules prohibit feeding the ponies.)

The ponies are very friendly.
The ponies are very friendly.  They come right up to you, especially if they think you have food.  Although it may look like Adam is feeding the pony, he’s actually just unzipping his backpack.  Pictured Below:  More ponies; State park rules!

Grayson Highlands Pony in the Mist. This Mt. Rogers pony was especially friendly
Grayson Highlands Pony in the Fog. Mt. Rogers ponies have long beautiful manes
Adam laughs at the misspelled sign in Grayson Highlands State Park The sign at Grayson Highlands State Park misspelled the word Alcoholic

We soon reached the junction with the Appalachian Trail, followed the white blazes and headed south. The fog was such a transformative element on the morning of our hike.  Instead of the amazing mountain views we’d heard about, the thick mist made the scenery feel closer and more intimate. I told Adam several times that I didn’t feel like I was in Virginia at all.  I felt like I was walking through some storybook version of the Scottish Highlands.  It was so quiet and mysterious-feeling – no people, no tall trees rustling in the wind, no birds chirping. The terrain was open, studded with rocks and covered with scrubby low-lying brush.

The Wilburn Rock scramble was slippery, but fun.
The Wilburn Rock scramble was slippery, but fun.

The Appalachian Trail exits Grayson Highlands State Park at around the 1.5 mile mark.  The trail becomes increasingly rugged and rocky at this point.   There are a couple route options for the middle section of the trail.  Hikers can continue along the AT, or choose to branch off on the Wilburn Ridge Trail for a short rock scramble (and nice views on a clear day).  We chose to scramble.  In retrospect, we probably should have stuck to the AT.  The boulders on Wilburn Ridge were quite slippery.  After we finished scrambling, we passed through a thick tunnel of rhododendron that spilled us back out into another open pasture area.

When we rejoined the AT, we started to see signs of the sun burning through the cloud layer.  We soon reached a horse camp next to an enormous rock outcropping .  When we climbed to the top of the rocks, we both gasped in awe at the view.    The valley below us had been mostly cleared of clouds and fog, and a blanket of fall color spread out before us, as far as the eye could see.  Only a few wisps of mist were left hanging on the ridges below.  We sat on the rocks and took a break from walking.  A couple backpackers passed below, and we overheard them talking about hearing coyotes howling in the night before.  Instead of coyotes, we heard the distant squeal of ponies whinnying ahead on the trail.

We got our first view with clearning clouds atop a huge rocky outcropping.
We got our first clear view from atop a huge rocky outcropping. Pictured Below: fog and clouds lift off the colorful mountainside;  the ferns along the trail were turning gold; one of the pony stallions we saw along the way.

The clouds and fog begin to lift off Mt. Rogers The ferns on Mt. Rogers turn gold in the fall Pony Stallion on Mt. Rogers

After a short break atop the rocks, we continued along, passing through another thicket of rhododendron.  The area was completely shaded and nearly ankle deep in mud.  My trekking poles came in very handy traversing the sloppy footing.  This section of the trail runs almost parallel to the Mount Rogers horse trail.  There are many beautiful backcountry campgrounds nestled into the trees along this stretch.    We saw about a dozen more wild ponies near the campsites, including a couple stallions.

This gorgeous gray was hanging out near the campsites.
This gorgeous gray was hanging out near the campsites. Pictured Below: More ponies – they are everywhere along the trail through Rhododendron Gap.

Ponies at rest on Mt. Rogers Beautiful spotted pony on Mt. Rogers Adam watches the red pony on the Mt. Rogers hike

By this point in the hike, all the fog and clouds had blown off the mountain, giving us a great look at the gentle rolling terrain and spectacular open views.  You can’t help but feel like you’re on top of the world walking along this ridge.  The fall color was amazing!   We stopped for lunch at the Thomas Knob Appalachian Trail hut.  We shared the picnic table with several groups of day hikers and backpackers.  We read the logbook, stretched a bit and then made our final push for the summit.

The spur to the summit departs the AT and heads into a dense, rainforest-like grove of spruce-fir trees.  It was damp and green and draped with moss.  It reminded Adam and I of the forests in the Pacific Northwest.  The summit of Mt. Rogers is rather anticlimactic after passing by so many sweeping panoramic views and rocky pinnacles.  The marker lays set in stone, tucked into a shady spot in the woods.  There is no view to speak of, just a quiet little spot under the trees.

We only stayed at the summit for a few minutes, as there were quite a few people there.  We hiked the return trip to Massie Gap fairly quickly, stopping briefly along the way to admire ponies and take in views that had been obscured by fog earlier in the day.  The hike almost felt like a loop because the weather changed so dramatically between the hike up and the hike down.   My final treat along the hike came less than a mile from the end, when a young foal came bounding out of the brush, nickering loudly for his mother.  The foal was absolutely adorable.  I wanted to pack him up and take him home with me!  (Incidentally, the wild ponies are periodically rounded up and sold to keep the herd at a sustainable size.  Although, I don’t think our property owners association would appreciate me bringing a miniature horse home, so I’ll just have to keep the pony ownership idea in the realm of fantasy for now.)

We had beautiful autumn views hiking back down Mt. Rogers
We had beautiful autumn views hiking back down Mount Rogers. Pictured Below: A foal is curious; View from the trail on our return.

A wild Mt. Rogers foal stays close to his mother We had awesome views on the hike back.

We got back to our car, tired and happy.  The entire hike took around six hours – even with lots of breaks and dawdling along the way.  For its nine mile length, it’s a surprisingly easy hike.

I really can’t fully put into words how much I loved this hike. I went to sleep that night dreaming of wild ponies and gorgeous fall views.  I know I’ll revisit Mt. Rogers often in my mind until I have a chance to hike it again.

Adam Says…

We had such a great hike up Mount Rogers!  A co-worker that had previously hiked the mountain had described the scenery as God’s country and I couldn’t agree more.  While walking across the highlands, you can’t help but feel reflective about the beauty before you.  The land around you is vast and I guarantee you will be humbled by the nature.

The trail along the top of Mt. Rogers is surprisingly level.
The trail along the top of Mt. Rogers is surprisingly level.

Mount Rogers was originally named Balsam Mountain, but the name was changed to honor Virginia’s first state geologist and first president of MIT, William B. Rogers.  With the peak being the highest in Virginia at 5,729 feet, this is quite an honor.

One thing that does make this a special hike is the ponies.  Another co-worker of mine didn’t believe that there were wild ponies here (even with photographic evidence).  The ponies were originally placed here by the park service in 1974, but are currently maintained by the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association.  The ponies help protect the area from wildfires by eating grasses and underbrush.  The Wilburn Ridge Pony Association takes care of their veterinary needs and provides supplements of salt and hay in winter months.  There are close to 150 ponies, that are separated into three herds – some are in Grayson Highlands State Park, more are  in the Scales area of Pine Mountain, and the most are near Rhododendron Gap on the Mount Rogers trail.  The proceeds from the sale of the ponies at the end of September supports the vet and winter feed costs.

Adam points out the only sign of humans he can see for miles from Mt. Rogers
Adam points out the only sign of humans he can see for miles from Mt. Rogers. Picture Below: a pair of palominos; beautiful clouds and blue skies over the rocky vista.

Pair of palomino ponies on Mt. Rogers Rocky views and blue skies on the hike down Mt. Rogers

The geology of Mount Rogers provides an interesting tale of how things were formed over the years.  Geologists will be able to see evidence of gneiss, sandstone, rhyolite, and shale on their hike along the trail.

For people that like a little more direction for the route that we took, here are some points of interest along the way:

  • Cross the field at the Massie Gap parking lot and go through the gate to start the trail.
  • You will now be on the Rhododendron Trail for .8 mile until it intersects the Virginia Highlands Connector Trail.  Take a left on this trail for just .2 miles.
  • When you reach the junction with the Appalachian trail, head south.  You will shortly leave Grayson Highlands State Park and enter Mount Rogers National Recreation Area through a gate – continue straight on the AT at this point.  After another .25 mile, you will have the option to stay straight on the Appalachian Trail or turn left and proceed on the Wilburn Ridge Trail.  The distance is about 1 mile either way.  The Wilburn Ridge Trail does join back to the AT.  It is a tougher rock scramble, but I would recommend doing it on the way up rather than the way down.
  • Once you are back on the AT, proceed for another mile until you reach a junction of trails.  This area is known as Rhododendron Gap and comes to an elevation of 5526 feet.  At this junction, there is a large pinnacle rock.  Climbing up the rock will give you gorgeous panoramic views that are a must-see of the hike.  This area joins the AT with the Pine Mountain Trail and Crest Trail.  Once you enjoy the view, make sure you follow the white blazes to stay on the AT.
  • You will then proceed on the AT for about 1.5 miles, walking through the bald area known as the Crest Zone, until you reach the Thomas Knob Shelter, protected by gates on both sides.  This is a great place to grab a snack.  There are also great views behind the cabin.  This cabin sleeps plenty, since there is a ladder that goes to a second floor, allowing a little light through two small windows on the side.
  • Once you leave the shelter through the gate, you will be entering Lewis Fork Wilderness.  Shortly after this point, to reach the summit you will need to leave the AT and proceed to the summit by taking the Mount Rogers Spur Trail for .5 mile straight ahead.  The summit is marked by a simple USGS benchmark in the stone.  There are two within 100 feet of each other, so make sure you find the correct one for any of you peakbaggers.
The Summit of Mt. Rogers resembles a rainforest. Pictured Below: the Thomas Knob Appalachian Trail Shelter; Adam on the summit.
The Summit of Mt. Rogers resembles a rainforest. Pictured Below: the Thomas Knob Appalachian Trail Shelter; Adam on the summit.

The Thomas Knob Applachian Trail Hut Adam claims a geocache on the summit of Mount Rogers.

Overall, the trail was really quite manageable for a 9-mile hike.  The terrain is very nice in some points walking across flat lands, but there are some rocky parts, especially around the Wilburn Ridge Trail.  My back and feet were in pain from having too much weight on my pack, but my muscles didn’t feel sore at all the next day.

There are just a few geocaches that you can find along the way.  A couple of them are earthcaches, which do not have you finding a physical cache, but it teaches you about the geology of the area.

Christine told me that this hike has been her favorite ever.  While there are a lot of contenders for me, this would definitely be a strong candidate for me as well.  I feel that anyone interested in hiking in Virginia should make this a trail you must do.  It is a day you will remember forever.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 9 miles the way we went making a partial loop in the middle with the Wilburn Ridge Trail.
  • Elevation Change –About 1100 feet
  • Difficulty – 4. The actual trail wasn’t too tough, but due to the length we upped the difficulty.  The Wilburn Ridge Trail does include a few rock scrambles, but is also manageable for most people that are the slightest bit nimble.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5 The trail is well-maintained and traveled.  There are muddy spots, especially through the Mount Rogers Spur Trail.  The hike on the AT and Wilburn Ridge before the Rhododendron Gap area is quite rocky, causing you to watch your feet.
  • Views –5. Great views walking along the trail in all directions.  The views from Rhododendron Gap are especially beautiful.
  • Waterfalls/streams –0. Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 5. It doesn’t get much better than wild ponies.  Bears and coyotes have been spotted also.  Lots of bird-watching available also.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3. It is easy to get a little confused at Rhododendron Gap, but overall things are very well-maintained.  Make sure you grab a map to have a backup plan.
  • Solitude – 2. You will get good spacing due to the length, but you will see other people due to the backpackers, AT hikers, and day visitors.  It is the highest summit, which is going to draw crowds, especially at the shelter and summit.

Directions to trailhead:
From Abingdon, take 58 East until you reachGrayson Highlands State Park on the left through SR 362.  Continue for three miles to reach the Massie Gap parking area.  The start of the trail at the gate is across the field to the north.

Molly’s Knob

Molly’s Knob is the best known hike in Hungry Mother State Park.  On a clear day, views of Mount Rogers can be seen from the summit.

Adam takes a look at Molly's Knob from the viewing platform lower on the trail.
Adam takes a look at Molly’s Knob from the viewing platform lower on the trail.

Adam Says

On our way down to Abingdon for a weekend of hiking and biking in the Highlands, we decided to stop by Hungry Mother State Park.   There is an interesting legend surrounding the origin of the park’s name.  Native Americans destroyed many settlements south of this park on the New River.  Molly Marley and her child survived the raid and were taken captive.   Eventually they escaped the raiders.  They wandered through the wilderness until Molly finally collapsed.  Her child wandered away, hungry and alone.  Eventually the child was found by residents of a small settlement near where the park stands today.  All the child would say was “Hungry Mother”.  A search party went out to find Molly, but they were too late.  There are some variations to this legend, but it is an interesting tale.

The colors of the fall leaves were really quite gorgeous in the park, so we decided walk around a bit.  Of course, the hiking enthusiasts that we are, we decided to try the hike up Molly’s Knob.

We parked in a small lot on the northeast side of Hungry Mother Lake.  We left the car and began walking the Lake Trail Loop, giving us glimpses of the beauty of the lake.  After .5 miles, this joined the blue-blazed Ridge Trail.  We continued on this up a steady uphill grade for .2 miles until we reached the viewing platform pictured below.  With the beautiful colors on the mountain of Molly’s Knob in view, we decided to take the remaining trip to the summit.  We continued up the white-blazed Molly’s Knob Trail for .9 miles.  The trail was marked as a black diamond trail, but we didn’t find this portion to be too difficult.   After the .9 miles, we began the fuchsia-blazed Vista Trail.  This was the steepest portion of the hike, but once we got to the top, we were quite impressed by the view.  While I scurried around looking for a geocache, Christine enjoyed taking a few pictures of the views.  We shortened the trip back by just following the Molly’s Knob Trail to our car.  We were worried about the hike taking too much out of us for our trip to Mount Rogers the next day, but it was worth the risk to see these views.

There are several geocaches to find in Hungry Mother State Park, but here are the few that I located on the trail:

The forest was filled with foliage of every color. Pictured Below: The golden foliage along this trail was especially spectacular. Adam even found several geocaches along the way.

geocache foliage and pdp

Christine Says…

Going on this hike was completely unintentional.  We wanted to drive through Hungry Mother State Park just to see what the park had to offer.  But the foliage along the lake was so pretty, that we felt compelled to get out of the car and walk a bit.  I thought a short stroll along the level Lake Trail would be pleasant and scenic.

After a short bit of walking, we reached the junction of the Ridge Trail, and decided to turn there to make a short 1 mile loop back to the car.  At the top of the ridge, we saw the platform overlooking Molly’s Knob off in the distance.  Next to the platform, a sign indicated that the summit was only 1.3 miles further.  The short distance made the summit far too tempting, and we were on our way.  I kind of regretted not changing clothes before we hiked.   The impromptu nature of this hike had me wearing jeans, a dressy shirt and my hair was down.  About halfway up the steep climb, I would have traded just about anything for a ponytail holder.  As luck would have it, someone left a pack of hair elastics in one of the geocache boxes Adam found.  I was much more comfortable with my hair up, but hiking in jeans is never fun.

The view from the top was obscured by fog and clouds, but it was still beautiful with all the fall color.
The view from the top was obscured by fog and clouds, but it was still beautiful with all the fall color. Pictured Below:  You get some nice views of the lake along the trail.

lake view

There were some steep sections of trail, but the fall colors were so beautiful I hardly noticed the climb.  We had almost the entire trail to ourselves, too.  We saw just two other solo hikers near the beginning of the hike, but after that we didn’t encounter a single soul.   The wind was rustling through the treetops, sending colored leaves falling down all around us.  Plumes of fog curled around the folds of the mountains.  Off in the distance, we could hear a pileated woodpecker cackling.  In no time, we reached the summit and its beautiful view of the valley.  There were two benches built into the summit, so it was a perfect place to rest before hiking back down.

The trail down was so steep in some places, that momentum had us practically running downhill.  The final stretch back gave us a very pretty view of the lake and the beach below. This hike turned out to be a great surprise!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.8 miles the way we went making a partial loop.  You can shed .4 miles off, by cutting out the Lake Trail Loop trail and Ridge Trail
  • Elevation Change –1000 feet
  • Difficulty – 3. The steepest parts were the Ridge Trail portion and the Vista Trail, but we found it to be a moderate hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4 The trail is well-maintained and traveled.  We found the Vista Trail to be a little slippery during the rain due to some clay surface.
  • Views –3.5. Great views from the summit and Hungry Mother Lake.  On a clear day, you should be able to see Mount Rogers.
  • Waterfalls/streams –2. You do get some nice views of the lake.  Since it used to be a stream before it was dammed, we thought it was worth mentioning.
  • Wildlife – 1. We saw a pileated woodpecker, but nothing else.  There is some good birding in the area.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4. There are a few switches in trails during the path we chose, but everything was well-marked.
  • Solitude – 4. We only saw two people on the trail on a Saturday afternoon, so I’m guessing it is not very well-traveled.  During heavy camping weekends, I would expect more traffic.

Directions to trailhead:
On I-81, take exit 47 and then take 11 South.  After a little over a mile, take a right on to 16.  Follow this into Hungry Mother State Park (fee required of $2-$3).  Take a right immediately after the P6 lot and continue on the road until you reach a cul-de-sac parking lot.  The sign for the Lake Trail Loop is at the end of the cul-de-sac.