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Oct 24, 2011

Hiking Virginia: Heart of Appalachia

Pine Mountain Trail. More photos
We just spent 10 days in  far southwest Virginia, near the Kentucky border, also known as the “Heart of Appalachia.” We're re-hiking the trails in our first book, “Hiking Virginia” (2001) for a new edition.

This is quite possibly the most rugged hiking in the book, and perhaps all of Virginia. The climbs are steep, the ridges relentless, but the rewards are many. Autumn rains mean the streams are flowing through deep hollers to cascade over waterfalls, and the leaves are at their peak.

The great little town of Big Stone Gap has been our basecamp, specifically Jessie Lea RV Park, where we’ve parked the Vanagon (aka Virginia Creeper), to rest, refuel and do laundry between hikes. This is a beautiful spot, a little slice of heaven along the Powell River. 

Big Stone Gap is home of the “Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama,” Mutual Drug where you can get great home-cooking, several good museums, and Adrianna Trigianni, author of the best-selling “Big Stone Gap” novels.

The soundtrack to our trip has been the traditional and mountain music of the region. The 40th Annual Home Craft Days were taking place at Mountain Empire Community College and we attended the Friday night concert, and purchased the CD to accompany us on the rest of our journey.

Here’s the hiking re-cap of Southwest VA:

1. Stone Mountain overnight: 14 miles from Gap Springs, camping at Lake Keokee, ending at Roaring Branch.

2. Chief Benges Scout Trail overnight: 14 miles from High Knob, camping at Bark Camp Lake, pass the Falls of Little Stony and end at Hanging Rock.

3. Devil’s Fork day hike: 7 mile loop, featuring numerous stream crossings in a lush gorge

4. Pine Mountain Trail, Highlands Section: 14- mile overnight (probably more like 15). From Pounda Gap, Virginia, to Route 119 outside Whitesburg, Kentucky. A spectacular hike along the razor’s edge of the VA-KY border. In places you are literally walking atop the ridge where the Virginia plate is pushing up over the Kentucky plate.

Thus closes the chapter on Southwest VA, at least for now. Next: Mount Rogers, highest point in Virginia!

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