Your first thought about the High Knob Recreation Area may be, why aren’t more people here? The highest campground in Southwest Virginia is an excellent place to find cooler temperatures in the summer. But its small size (only 14 campsites are available) and relative remoteness means that it doesn’t draw the crowds of other camping destinations. You’ll find excellent access to hiking trails in the Jefferson National Forest, but you can stay in the recreation area and take advantage well-kept trails as well. Take advantage of the 4-acre, spring fed lake to cool off—and we do mean cool, as the temperatures tend to stay low even in the summer.
What Makes It Great
Located above the city of Norton, Virginia, High Knob Recreation Area is best known for its scenic observation tower. The original tower that was built in the 1930s was lost to a fire 40 years later. The tower was rebuilt, but in 2007, that too was burned down by an arsonist. In 2014, the current (fire-proof!) tower was completed, and it remains one of the area’s biggest draws. From the top of the tower, at 4,233 feet in elevation, you can see five different states on a clear day—Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
Campers can take a 1.5-mile trail (one-way) to the observation tower, but those visiting for just the view can drive further up the mountain and park closer to the summit. (You’ll still have a quarter-mile hike to the tower.) In addition to the observation tower, hikers can access an expansive network of trails from the recreation area. In fact, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest has 1,925 miles of trail to explore. More realistically, the High Knob Trail is 33 miles long, and it winds through the area through woods and past streams, starting near High Knob. For families, the High Knob Lake Shore Loop is, as its name suggests, a circle around the high-altitude lake that’s about a mile long.
The camping area features a bathhouse built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which has hot showers and flush toilets. A 300-foot long sandy beach on the lake is available for playing in the water, but remember that you probably won’t last too long in the lake once you cool off. Expect temperatures 10-15 degrees cooler than the valley below, so it’s a comfortable spot pretty much all summer. With so few campgrounds, chances are you’ll often have the trails to yourself. The lake is stocked and fishing is permitted (with a license) and other area streams and lakes offer other opportunities to drop a line.
Who is Going to Love It
High Knob Recreation Area remains below the radar in this increasingly popular region of Virginia. It’s an excellent campsite for those who want to getaway from the crowds and enjoy a mountain experience. Those who like water have access to fishing and boating at the mountain lake, while the hike to the High Knob Trail can be a challenge for serious hikers. Shorter trails are also available for families.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Norton, Virginia, take US 23 to State Route 619 south. Travel approximately 4.2 miles. At the top of the mountain, you will pass State Route 237 on the right. The next gravel road on the right leads to the trailhead.
Hikers looking to climb for those amazing views will have to work a bit, but they’re worth it. In terms of distance, hikers can choose from a wide variety of trails to fit their skill level.
|Time to Complete||2.0 days|
Longest trail is 33 miles long, but it’s only 1.5 miles from the camping area to the observation tower.
Year round for hiking, but camping is open from May 15 to Sept. 15.
|Land Website||High Knob Recreation Area – USFS|
$3 per vehicle.
|Dog Friendly||[“on leash only”]|