Hiking

Scott County’s trails offer the hiker an endless range of options from multi-day backpacking trips down the Chief Benge Scout Trail to half hour jaunts from car to vistas on the Bear Rock Trail. Mountain views, sparkling waterfalls and forest floors dotted with wildflowers are just a few of the many attractions.

The nature enthusiast will be thrilled to discover that Scott County is part of southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee’s “biodiversity hotspot” — an area with more types of plants and animals than can be found anywhere else in the continental United States. Every season of the year has its wild treasures, from brilliantly colored migrating birds in May to stunning fall foliage in October.

Two large protected areas offer the best hiking opportunities in the county. The Jefferson National Forest covers most of High Knob in northern Scott County and expands north from there. High Knob is one of the tallest mountains in Virginia and boasts high elevation plant communities more like those found in New England. Campgrounds, lakes, and trout streams round out the recreation opportunities.

On the western end of the county, Natural Tunnel State Park is named after a water-carved tunnel which is now used by the railroad. In addition to miles of hiking trails, Natural Tunnel State Park offers a chairlift, campground, swimming pool, and many other amenities.

Top Trails

“Guest River Gorge Trail”
The Guest River Gorge Trail is one of the area’s easiest and most scenic hiking and biking trails and is the best way to explore a State Scenic River on foot. Directions:  From Dungannon, take Route 72 north for 10.3 miles, a scenic route that winds around the eastern slope of High Knob.  Turn right at a sign for “Guest River Gorge” onto Route 1140.  Follow the road 0.4 miles to the parking area at the end.  Part of the Jefferson National Forest.  Info:  276-328-2931

Natural Tunnel State Park Trails — Natural Tunnel State Park offers a variety of short trails close to the interstate, perfect for an afternoon of walking.  Please see Natural Tunnel page.

Bark-Camp-LakeBark Camp Lake Loop Trail — This tranquil lakeside trail winds through cove woods, wetlands, and hemlock forests. Nearly level terrain makes for an easy walk with plenty of opportunities to see kingfishers, herons, and other lake wildlife.

Highlights:  lake views, waterfowl, rare plants

Length:  3.7 miles round trip

Difficulty:  easy to moderate

Trailhead:  The trailhead is gated in the winter (mid Oct. — April 1).  During the summer, a parking fee apples.  From Dungannon, follow Route 72 for 0.4 miles, then turn left onto Route 653 (next to old Osborne store).  After 1.7 miles, turn right onto Route 706 and follow for 2.7 miles, winding up onto the mountain.  Take a sharp right onto Route 822.  You will need to take a couple of lefts to stay on Route 822, following the road for 3.3 miles.  Turn left into Back Camp Lake and travel 0.9 miles to the parking area.

Facilities:  campground, restrooms, drinking water, boat launch (no electric motors), picnic areas, 45-acre lake, outdoor stage.

This tranquil lakeside trail winds through cove woods, wetlands and hemlock forests.  Nearly level terrain makes for an easy walk with plenty of opportunities to see kingfishers, herons and other lake wildlife.  From the parking area, head down to the boat ramp to pick up the trail as it crosses the dam and then enters the woods.  The rare Climbing Fern can be found in wet areas on the south side of the lake, along with a profusion of spring wildflowers.  As you near the shallower, west end of the lake, keep your eyes peeled for signs of active beavers.  Partially gnawed trees are abundant and lodges may be evident.  A boardwalk now crosses what was once an impassible swamp, allowing the trail to look back up the south side of the lake to the parking area.  Bark Camp Lake was built in the 1950s and stocked with largemouth bass, several sunfish species, channel catfish and trout.  Don’t forget to bring your fishing rod!  The Department of Inland Game and Fisheries (DGIF) regularly stocks Bark Camp with brown trout.  Check the DGIF website for the stock schedule.

65255bearrockfall3Bear Rock Trail — This short but stunning hike gives you sweeping views across Little Stony Creek Gorge.  Highlights: stunning views, hawks and other raptors

Length: 0.5 miles (round trip)

Difficulty: easy to moderate

Trailhead: To reach the Bear Rock trailhead from Dungannon, follow Rte 72 north for 7.7 miles, then turn left onto Retford Rd (Rte 664.) After 0.4 miles, take a slight left at Corder Town Rd/Quartertown Rd. Follow Corder Town Rd. for 0.8 miles, then turn left onto Forest Road (Rte 700). Follow Forest Rd. for 1.3 miles, then take a slight left onto Rte 701. The trailhead is about a quarter mile down the road on the left.

Facilities: none
This short but stunning hike gives you sweeping views across Little Stony Creek Gorge. At the peak of fall colors, the view can take your breath away, and if you watch for a few minutes you’re bound to see a circling Turkey Vulture or hawk.  From the parking area, hike through Mountain Laurel and short, windswept pines to the overlook — Bear Rock. The hike is level and easy, but at the end care should be taken not to trip on deep fissures between the rocks. Visitors with children or dogs should be aware that the sheer rock cliff at the overlook has no guard rails or signs.  Bear Rock was originally named “Dan Ramey Bear Cliff” after a trapper who caught two bear cubs on this spot. The new, shortened name is a more accurate representation of the wildness of spot, a favorite for romantic getaways.

 

Lower Devil's Bathtub
Devil’s Fork Loop Trail — Devil’s Fork Loop Trail is perfect for the true backcountry enthusiasts who are willing to get their feet wet.  

 

 

 

Highlights: rhododendron-lined creek, fossils, natural swimming hole, overnight possibilities

Length: 7.2 miles round trip (optional 1.8 additional miles (or more) up one way)

Difficulty: difficult

Trailhead: From Ft. Blackmore, head north on Rte 619, turning left at the junction of Rte 619 and Rte 657 to stay on Rte 619. Soon thereafter, take FS road 2631 to the left and bear up the hill to the parking area. (FS road 2631 may not be suitable for two wheel drive vehicles.) Total distance from Ft. Blackmore is about 5 miles.  To reach the other trailhead at the end of Straight Fork Ridge, follow Rte 619 north from Ft. Blackmore for 11.5 miles, winding up the side of High Knob. Turn left onto Rte 237/Big Cherry Reservoir Rd. and drive another 4 miles to the trailhead.

Facilities: none

Devil’s Fork Loop Trail is perfect for the true backcountry enthusiasts who are willing to get their feet wet. All hikers should be prepared to scramble over boulders, and should plan their visit during relatively low water conditions. This seldom traveled trail runs up Big Stony Creek, where huge boulders match the creek’s name. Keep your eyes peeled and you may find fossilized impressions of trees which grew in swamps on this spot 300 million years ago. The swamps were teeming with such life that vegetation fell into the shallow water faster than it could decompose, pressing layers of organic matter down until the plants turned into coal. In fact, Devil’s Fork Loop Trail follows the route of a road which was used in the more recent past to mine coal, as well as to remove trees for lumber. An old, rusting coal car is testimony to the area’s history.

The highlight of the trail is the spectacular Devil’s Bathtub, a naturally smooth swimming hole which is enjoyed by nearby residents on hot summer days. Climb to the top and slide down the rock, pushed along by the rushing creek water. Further up the trail, you will pass a large waterfall at the mouth of Corder Hollow before looping back around to the parking area. Devil’s Fork Loop Trail can be hiked in one long day, but it is even better as part of an overnight hiking trip. Wake up under the rhodendrons with the “Teacher, teacher, teacher” song of the Ovenbird ringing in your ears.

Straight Fork Ridge Trail (optional addition):

About a quarter of the way around the northern side of the Devil’s Fork Loop Trail, the Straight Fork Ridge Trail branches off to the right (north.) This trail is even less traveled than the Devil’s Fork Loop Trail and is perfect for those seeking quiet contemplation. Beginning at the Devil’s Fork trailhead, heading up Straight Fork Ridge, down to Big Cherry, and back is a 10.3 mile round trip with a 1,900 foot elevation gain.

Hikers often set up camp at the junction of Devil’s Fork Loop Trail and Straight Fork Ridge Trail, leaving their gear behind while they take a day hike up the Straight Fork Ridge Trail to Big Cherry Reservoir. Much of Straight Fork Ridge Trail follows a wide, gently sloping logging road, traversing 1.8 miles to FS 237 on top of Little Mountain. From the end of Straight Fork Ridge Trail, hikers can follow FS 237 through a little settlement called Cox Place to a road that turns down the opposite side of Little Mountain to Big Cherry Reservoir. A sign on the road down to the reservoir warns against trespassing, but the Town of Big Stone Gap (which owns the land) now welcomes people to hike across the property.

Fort Blackmore - Little Stoney FallsLittle Stony Falls — Northern Trailhead — This trailhead provides quick and easy access to the majestic Little Stony Falls.  Highlights: 24 foot high waterfall, scenic views of deep gorges, lush cove hardwood forest

Length: 1 mile round trip to the falls (or 3 miles from the parking area to the Hanging Rock trailhead.)

Difficulty: easy to moderate

Trailhead: To reach the Little Stony Falls trailhead from Dungannon, follow Rte 72 north for 7.7 miles, then turn left onto Retford Rd (Rte 664.) After 0.4 miles, take a slight left at Corder Town Rd/Quartertown Rd. Follow Corder Town Rd. for 0.8 miles, then turn left onto Forest Road (Rte 700). Follow Forest Rd. for 1.3 miles, then take a slight left onto Rte 701. The trailhead is at the end of the road. During the winter, Rte 700 is locked.

Facilities: none

A bridge across the top of the falls lets you stand immediately above the roaring water while a deep pool at the base of the falls tempts hikers to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron bloom in summer, while spring flowers and fall colors also brighten your walk.

The more intrepid hiker can continue for three miles down the the gorge to the Hanging Rock trailhead. Little Stony Falls is also part of the 19.6 mile Chief Benge Scout Trail.

Little Stony Falls — Hanging Rock Trailhead — Little Stony Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail because of its majesty and ease of access. This longer trail to the falls is the path less traveled.

Highlights:  24 foot high waterfall, scenic views of deep gorges, lush cove hardwood forest.

Length:  six miles round trip, three miles to the falls.

Difficulty:  Moderate

Directions to Trailhead:  Take Route 72 north out of Dungannon toward Coeburn for 2.6 miles.  Turn left at a large sign into the Hanging Rock Recreation Area at a hairpin curve.

Facilities:  Restrooms, picnic areas and drinking water are available at the trailhead during summer.

Little Stony Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail because of its majesty and ease of access.  This beautiful hike runs up the bed of an old railroad along a moderate incline that becomes steeper and more rocky toward the end. On the other side of the trail, steep cliffs 400 feet high cocoon the hiker within a gorge that was created when water eroded away the bedrock along the Hunters Valley fault.

Massive bridges were helicoptered in by the National Forest Service.  This keeps your feet dry as you pass a series of smaller waterfalls before emerging on top of the 24 foot high Little Stony Falls.  (A slightly smaller waterfall about half a mile downstream warns of the main attraction’s approach.)

A bridge across the top of the upper falls lets you stand immediately above the roaring water while a deep pool at the base of the falls tempts hikers to cool off on a hot summer’s day.

The boulders and the cliffs along the sides of the gorge makes for a beautiful four season hike.  In winter, icicles cascade below mountain laurel and hemlock.  Spring is the perfect time to search for delicate flowers like Spring Beauty and Hepatica in this lush hard cove hardwood forest.  Summer hikers are regaled by Louisiana Waterthrushes and Swainson’s Warblers among blooming rhododendrons.  Fall brings brilliantly colored foliage to round out the year.

(For an easier hike, start at the northern trailhead and walk only one mile round trip to reach the falls.  At the other extreme, overnight hikers can spend two adventurous days walking the Chief Benge Scout Trail, beginning on the top of High Knob and ending of Hanging Rock.)  This area has reportedly seen sightings of Big Foot, or “Woolly Boogher” as called in these parts.  Once a year, a local hiking club takes a hike in search of the elusive creature.  Not recommended for young children nor the “faint of heart.”

high-knobChief Benge Scout Trail — The Chief Benge Scout Trail is the jewel in the crown of Scott County’s trail system through the National Forest, offering day hikes and multi-day backpacking opportunities.

Highlights: rare high elevation plant and bird species, two lakes for swimming, beautiful mountain streams and waterfalls, multiple day backpacking opportunity or shorter day hikes, backcountry solitude

Length: 16.6 miles one way. (An additional 3 miles can be added on by continuing to Hanging Rock.)

Difficulty: difficult

Trailheads: Seven trailheads serve the Chief Benge Scout Trail:

High Knob Trailhead: Located off FS 238 at the former site of the High Knob Observation Tower. This is the westernmost point on the trail. To reach the trailhead, head north on Rte 619 from Ft. Blackmore. After 3.6 miles, you will need to make an abrupt right turn to remain on 619. The scenic gravel road heads straight up the side of High Knob for 14.9 miles past Ft. Blackmore before you turn right onto Rte 238. After 1.6 miles, turn right onto Rte 233. Follow Rte 233 to a parking area at the end.

High Knob Lake: This trailhead is gated in the winter (Sept. 15 – May 15.) During the summer, a parking fee applies. To reach the trailhead, head north on Rte 619 from Ft. Blackmore. After 3.6 miles, you will need to make an abrupt right turn to remain on 619. The scenic gravel road heads straight up the side of High Knob for 14.9 miles past Ft. Blackmore before you turn right onto Rte 238. Follow Rte 238 for 1.6 miles to the campground entrance. Turn right onto the campground road and follow it for 1.7 miles to the parking lot at the end.

fall-photoMountain Fork: This is not an official trailhead, merely a pull off on the road. To reach Mountain Fork, head north on Rte 619 from Ft. Blackmore. After 3.6 miles, you will need to make an abrupt right turn to remain on 619. The scenic gravel road heads straight up the side of High Knob for 10 miles past Ft. Blackmore before you turn right onto Rte 704. Follow 704 for 3 miles until you see a pull off where the road crosses a creek. Rte 704 is locked in the winter from Sept. 15 – May 15.

Edith Gap: This is not an official trailhead, merely a pull off on the road. To reach Edith Gap, head north on Rte 72 from Dungannon for 8.4 miles. Turn left onto Jaybird Branch Rd. and follow it for 3.2 miles. Take a slight left onto Pine Camp Rd. and drive for 2.6 miles. Turn left at Robinson Knob Rd. and drive for 1.2 miles. (You will need to take a second left to stay on Robinson Knob Rd.) Turn left onto Edith Gap Road and drive for about 0.9 miles (taking a second left to stay on Edith Gap Rd.) Stop at a pull off.

Bark Camp Lake: This trailhead is gated in the winter (from mid Oct. – April 1.) During the summer, a parking fee applies. From Dungannon, follow Rte 72 north for 0.4 miles, then turn left onto Rte 653. After 1.7 miles on Rte 653, turn right onto Rte 706. Follow Rte 706 for 2.7 miles, winding up onto the mountain, then take a sharp right onto Rte 822. You will need to take a couple of lefts to stay on Rte 822, following the road for 3.3 miles. Then turn left into the Bark Camp Lake entrance and travel 0.9 miles to the parking area.

Little Stony Falls: Little Stony Falls marks the official eastern end of the Chief Benge Scout Trail, but many hikers opt to tack on three more miles to view the falls and end up at the Hanging Rock Trailhead. To reach the Little Stony Falls trailhead from Dungannon, follow Rte 72 north for 7.7 miles, then turn left onto Retford Rd (Rte 664.) After 0.4 miles, take a slight left at Corder Town Rd/Quartertown Rd. Follow Corder Town Rd. for 0.8 miles, then turn left onto Forest Road (Rte 700). Follow Forest Rd. for 1.3 miles, then take a slight left onto Rte 701. The trailhead is at the end of the road. During the winter, Rte 700 is locked.

Hanging Rock Trailhead: Take Rte 72 north out of Dungannon toward Coeburn for 2.6 miles. Turn left at a large sign into the Hanging Rock Recreation Area at a hairpin curve. During the winter, the Forest Service locks the gate to the Hanging Rock Recreation Area a quarter mile from the usual parking area.

Facilities:

High Knob Lake — campground, restrooms, drinking water, sandy beach in a 4 acre, cold water lake

Bark Camp Lake — campground, restrooms, drinking water, boat launch, picnic areas, 45 acre lake

Hanging Rock Trailhead — restrooms, picnic areas, drinking water