Highland Hiking Trails and Tips

Highland County offers gorgeous views on hiking trails; however the lack of cell service on the more remote trails can be a bit intimidating. Rest assured. Pre-planning and safe hiking practices can lower the risk of potential issues and reduce your worry during excursions.

Here are a few pieces of advice for anyone planning a trail adventure:

  • Communication: Be sure to tell someone where you are going, when you will leave, and when you will return. It can be someone you’re staying with, a friend in the area, or (at the very least) a family member or friend back home, who can track you. In addition to supplying them with the where’s and when’s of the hike, also give them the number of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office (540-468-2210) to report any issues that may arise. (Take it one step further – Leave the same info taped to the inside of your car window in case a law enforcement officer or fellow traveler stops to check on you.)
  • Beware of Wildlife: Critters, large and small, are always a possibility when hiking, and Highland County is no exception. Stay aware of your surrounds, pay attention to the trail in front of you, and look where you plan to step. Additionally, hikers should thoroughly check themselves afterwards for ticks.
  • Remember the Survival Rules of Three: A human can last three weeks without food, three days without water, and three hours without shelter. (FYI: Hypothermia can kill in less than an hour if you are wet and the temperature drops below 40 degrees!)

    Steves Safety Kit
    Sample Survival Safety Kit
  • Carry The Proper Supplies: Whether you’re planning a short or long hike, ALWAYS be prepared with a sufficient amount of supplies. You’re in luck because Steve Pullinger, an owner of Blue Grass Cabin, is a survival specialist. Here is his hiking supplies packing list, all of which should easily fit in a small backpack or large fanny pack:
    • Cell Phone – Service is a bit sketchy, but sometimes you can get lucky.
    • Pepper Spray or a pistol – For protection from aggressive wildlife.
    • Walking Staff – For climbing and assistance.
    • A Map – For obvious reasons. 🙂
    • Survival Blanket and Rain Poncho – To use for shelter and warmth.
    • Sawyer Mini-Straw – To filter drinking water.
    • Fire – Two lighters, a pack of matches, and a roll of 0000 steel wool for tinder will ensure warmth.
    • Food – Carry a couple protein bars and some GORP.
    • Super Glue – It fixes so many things and can be used as backwoods wound care.
    • Other Helpful Items – A leatherman tool, paracord or similar cordage, a small AAA flashlight, an extra pair of glasses (if needed), and any medications needed.

     

HIKE #1: MCDOWELL BATTLEFIELD TRAIL

Photo Credit: Winifred Stephenson/Hike Highland
Photo Credit: Winifred Stephenson/Hike Highland

Take a trail through history when you hike the same grounds the Civil War soldiers did during the Battle of McDowell. This approximate two-mile hike is an easy to moderate excursion that will take hikers to the top of Sitlington Hill for an expansive view. There’s not much shade on this hike so be prepared with necessary sunscreen, water, and other provisions and protection.

Trailhead: From Monterey, travel east on Rt. 250 over Jack Mountain heading towards McDowell. Pass through the town of McDowell, and continue another two miles (approximately) to the parking lot and trailhead, which is located at the start up Shaw’s Ridge. (Still on Rt. 250 east).

Additional Tip: Stop in the Highland County Museum before your hike to learn more about the historic happenings that took place on the hill.

 

 

 

HIKE #2: LAUREL FORK PROPOSED WILDERNESS AREA

Laurel Fork Photo Credit Todd Frye
A view from Laurel Fork Trail, which can be accessed via the Locust Spring and Buck Run Trails. Photo Credit: Todd Frye

Laurel Fork is definitely a remote location; however with some of the most diverse scenery and old growth forests in the state of Virginia, it’s something all nature lovers should see. At approximately 4,000 feet, this adventure offers a cool break from high temperatures of other locales. And for the advanced hiker and adventurer, trails within the Laurel Fork area can be combined for a multi-day backpacking excursion. (Definitely exercise good communication if you decide on the backpacking option!)

Trailhead: From Monterey, travel west of town on Rt. 250 over Monterey and Allegheny mountains. A short distance past the Virginia/West Virginia border, turn right onto WV28. Then, turn right onto FR106 and travel .4 miles, left onto FR60 for .3 miles, right onto FR142 for .2 miles, and finally, park at the Locust Spring Picnic Area. You will see the trail head for the Locust Spring Run Trail at the bottom right of the picnic area.

For more detailed information, we recommend visiting the Laurel Fork profile on HikingUpward.com.

 

HIKE #3: HIGHLAND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA

Highland WMA2
Photo Credit: Department of Game & Inland Fisheries

Approximately three to four miles east when traveling on Route 250 out of Monterey is a pull off on the right at the top of Jack Mountain. Upon further inspection, you will see a gravel road, which leads to the Highland Wildlife Management Area. (Click on the link for usage fees!) When you travel this road (AKA: Sounding Knob Road), you’ll find a small piece of the larger 14,000+ acre area that includes diverse habitats, a plethora of wildlife, and a variety of views – an area where you can customize the length and features of your hike! As always, be aware of wildlife such as snakes, bear, fox, and more. These critters are usually fairly elusive but are present, nonetheless.

Trailhead: From Monterey, travel east on Rt 250 up Jack Mountain and look for a gravel pull off area labeled “Sounding Knob Road” at the top of the mountain. Drive in, decide on a hiking area, find a parking spot, and enjoy!

For more info, visit the Highland Wildlife Management Area profile on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website.

OTHER HIKES

For other hiking recommendations, contact the Highland County Chamber of Commerce or check out the “Hike Highland” Facebook group page, which was created by a local resident.

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