Pete’s Pick: Hike a Hidden Gem

The spring-like days have people running for the mountains. And while that’s a good thing, too much hiking can be harmful to some of our most beloved trails. This weekend, try another hidden gem hike right in your backyard.

The advantages of hiking a lesser-known trail include more parking, and a quieter day with nature that still results in the stunning vistas you would expect from more well-known locations.

Here are five options that I’m sure you’ll enjoy:

  1. Grassy Hill Natural Area Preserve: Characterized by rocky slopes forested with hardwood species and scattered patches of Virginia pine, the Rocky Mount trail includes 6.6 miles with parking adjacent to the preserve. Grassy Hill is known as a prominent landmark in Franklin County.
  2. Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve: The Roanoke County trail is home to the world’s largest population of the rare piratebush shrub. It grows only in a few places in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. While the 0.75-mile Piratebush Loop offers a relatively easy hiking opportunity, the main loop includes a strenuous 3.8-mile hike with more than 500 feet of vertical drop and return climb.
  3. Harkening Hill: The lowliest of the three Peaks of Otter, Harkening Hill is the only one with a loop trail that swings by the top. A gain of just under 1,000 feet from the parking lot makes it a decent walk. Look for plenty of interesting granite boulder formations along the 3.5 mile Harkening Hill loop.
  4. Hoop Hole Trail: With two hike options – the lower loop is 4 miles and the extended loop is 9 miles – you can pick how long you want to stay on this rugged trail in Botetourt County. Both loops offer beautiful views of the streams cascading over rocks and swimming holes. The longer loop climbs to the top of the ridge for scenic views of the surrounding mountains. You can try to reach the ridgetop cliffs for more expanded views.
  5. Cobbler Mountain Trail: Located in the Hidden Valley Recreation Area in the Alleghany Highlands, this trail is 2.67 miles long and offers upland oaks with cove hardwoods and limestone outcrops.

Make it a great weekend … outside!

— Pete