Day 1: Appalachian Wonders—Little Stony National Recreation Trail, Bark Camp Lake or Glady Fork Wetland
The Little Stony National Recreation Trail is a 2.8 mile trail with an upper trailhead at Falls of Little Stony Creek, and a lower trailhead at Hanging Rock Picnic Area. It should also be noted that another trail, the Chief Benge Scout Trail originates at Hanging Rock as well. Chief Benge Scout Trail is an 18.7 mile trail that travels northwest to Bark Camp Lake, Edith Gap, and to the High Knob Tower and Recreation Area.
The Little Stony National Recreation Trail follows Little Stony Creek through a 400’ deep and 1700’ wide gorge. Large outcrops, rock ledges and boulders form the scenic edges along Stony Creek. In some areas of the trail, hikers will need to climb around/over boulders and large rocks to remain on the trail. A scenic 24’ waterfall, along with two smaller waterfalls, gives this site it name.
Though much of this region was logged during the early part of the 20th
Century, cove hardwoods and hemlock forest cover much of this area. Mountain laurel and rhododendron thickets lace the edges of these trails in various areas. This rock-bedded drainage of Little Stony Creek is excellent for finding Louisiana waterthrush in the summer. Blue headed vireo and Swainson’s warbler may also be spied along the trail. Several species of wood warblers and songbirds are common during the breeding season. In spring and fall, look for migrant thrushes, warblers and tanagers.
Bark Camp Lake is a 45-acre lake with a 3.25 mile lakeshore that traverses woodland forests, rhododendron thickets and lakeside habitats. This site is connected to the preceding and subsequent sites
via the Chief Benge Scout Trail. The lakeshore trail is a great place to look for waterfowl in early winter. Most eastern warblers and several thrushes and tanagers can be found during migration. In summer, look for common nesting birds such as northern parula, American redstart, hooded, chestnut-sided, and black and white warblers, as well as blue-gray gnatcatcher, Acadian flycatcher, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, and even the spectacular scarlet tanager. Near the parking lot, look for eastern bluebirds and other open land favoring birds. This is also a good site to look for raptors and nocturnal birds of prey. Broad-winged and red-shouldered hawks nest here. Campers are serenaded nightly by by great horned, barred and eastern screech owls.
Glady Fork Wetland is home to an unprecedented ecosystem: a flat mountain valley forested wetland maintained by beaver. Situated at about 3000’ in elevation, this site possesses a unique ecology based on beaver dam ecosystems, as they progress through various successional stages. Open meadows, marshes, swampy shrub, ponds and hardwood forests comprise most of the habitat in this area.
Pileated woodpeckers are common, making homes in the stands of dead threes. At this elevation, there are songbirds such as the chestnut-sided Canada, yellow-throated and yellow warblers. Northern parula and dark-eyed junco can be found with relative ease. In addition to the typical woodland species mentioned above, the more open areas are also home to grassland birds. Listen for northern bobwhite, and watch vibrant yellow and blue flashes of American goldfinch and indigo bunting cross windswept meadows. Wood duck make themselves cozy in secluded woodland ponds. Tree, northern rough-winged, and barn swallows can be circling in the sky.
Day 2: Fincastle Turnpike: Rye Cove School Nature Center and/or Natural Tunnel State Park
Rye Cove Intermediate School Nature Center: Perhaps the most endearing aspect of this site is its proximity, use and management by the local school. This site serves as a Nature Center Classroom for students and offers a well-maintained trail system. These trails meander from open fields to shrub patches and into small stands of hardwood forests. Rye Cove is an unusual feature in this area. It comprises 25 square miles of markedly smooth relief. It was here that a major tragedy in Scott County occurred. On May 2, 1929, a tornado tore through the spot, destroying the school and killing 12 children and one teacher. Many others were injured.
A log cabin found on this site was the Red Cross center at the time of the cyclone. Though the site is not as large as some of the others, there are still numerous opportunities for wildlife viewing. Eastern box turtles scurry along the forest floors, occasionally basking in green pastures. Butterflies such as common buckeye, eastern-tailed blue, great spangled and meadow fritillaries flit about the nature center. Avian residents include an array of songbirds and woodpeckers in the summer, red-eyed vireo, eastern towhee, and cedar waxwing are very abundant throughout the site. Pay particular attention to the open fields and you may glimpse an American kestrel, wild turkey or white-tailed deer.
Natural Tunnel State Park is a “must” visit for any naturalist. The 850-acre park offers camping, swimming, picnicking and hiking, as well as a visitor center, gift shop, amphitheater, chairlift and seasonal interpretive programs. The park also contains established ruffed grouse
habitat; so don’t be surprised to hear the sound of drumming during a wander through the woods. The “natural tunnel” began its formation more than a million years ago during the early glacial period. Groundwater containing carbonic acid leaked through crevices of surrounding limestone and dolomite bedrock to form a cavity and pave the way for what is today known as Stock Creek. William Jennings Bryant called Natural Tunnel, the “Eighth Natural Wonder of the Natural World” and, most recently, The Weather Channel cited it as one of the “Top 20 Caves in the World.”
Cave tours are available at Natural Tunnel State Park, plus canoe or kayak trips on the world-famous “Clinch River,” one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems in the world—second only to the Amazon.
The park offers seven hiking trails, including the self-guided Arboretum Trail. Each trail offers slightly different habitats and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Creekside bottomlands, hardwood forest, natural caves and caverns, riparian corridors, limestone outcrops and mountaintop views are all represented. The great diversity in habitat types attracts an equally diverse assemblage of wildlife species.
Since this park encompasses both valley and mountain, naturalists can experience wildlife at both low and high elevations. A 530’ ride down into Stock Creek Gorge via chairlift spans a change of 250’ in elevation. Views of the valley from Lover’s Leap and other scenic overlooks are spectacular. Enjoy eye-level views of turkey and black vultures as they soar and/or rise on thermals. In autumn, the composition of these kettles may also include several species of migrating raptors.
Day 3: Daniel Boone Wilderness Road—Daniel Boone Trail, Kane Gap Trail, and/or Duffield Industrial Park Trail
Duffield Industrial Park Trail: A four-mile informal community trail along a flood channel. Open fields border the channel and attract a variety of songbirds. Mudflats and rock shoes may also yield wintering and migrating shorebirds. During summer, the site is alive with vociferous and displaying red-winged blackbird. Barn and northern rough-winged swallows are abundant, as are indigo bunting, eastern meadowlark and killdeer. Waterbirds in this area include belted kingfisher and two species of herons. The adjacent fields are interspersed with asters, daisies and other wildflowers that bloom in rotation from spring to fall. Butterflies, such as sulphurs, hairstreaks, great spangled and meadow fritillaries, frequent the blooms in search of nectar. Damsels and large dragonflies can be seen patrolling the surrounding meadows.
Daniel Boone Trail: This lesser-known trail originates in a small Duffield neighborhood. The hiking travels uphill through Powell Mountain and ends at Kane Gap. The first part of the rail is an old gravel road that traverses more narrow footpaths ideal for the hiker, mountain biker or horseback rider. The trail is part of the original Daniel Boone Trail/Wilderness Road that eventually leads to Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap. Surrounded by hardwood forests, this several-mile trail passes through nesting habitat of vireos, flycatchers, woodpeckers, and a number of other woodland species. Reaching higher elevations, black throated blue warbler may be seen as well as spectacular views of the valley below. During fall migration, this can be a good venue for hawk watching, as well as enjoying the migrating songbirds. This site joins the Kane Gap Trail.
Kane Gap Trail: This Forest Service trail offers hikers an opportunity to ascend Powell Mountain. This secluded and underutilized trail is excellent for nature watching and eventually leads into Kane Gap. Most of the trail is surrounded by habitat typical of Appalachian mixed forests, as well as remnants of old orchards. Avian diversity peaks during the spring and fall migration, but summer still holds many treasures for birdwatchers. Summer woods are alive with singing flycatchers, American redstart, vireos, summer tanager, and black and white hooded Canada and Kentucky warblers. This site traverses the same general area and joins the Daniel Boone Trail.