sw virginia hikes: Channels of Virginia and summer wrap up, June-August 2016

With summer coming to an end and the fall colors for us to look forward to, it’s appropriate for me to do a local hike dump of places we’ve walked this summer.

Channels of Virginia, August 28 2016

As summer leaves us, so does our friend Kevin. Kevin and Shannon moved out west where there are many more mountains to explore (we still have Shannon for a few more weeks while she finishes her projects). Hopefully, we’ll be able to join Kevin out there once we graduate. Fittingly, our last hike with him here in SW Virginia is one of the most unique of the area, the Channels of Virginia.

trail information

  • name: The Channels of Virginia via Brumley Mountain Trail
  • type: in and out
  • distance: 6.6 mi
  • elevation change: 1369 ft ascend and descend
  • time: 3 hours
  • location: Jefferson National Forest and the Channels Natural Area Preserve near Bristol, TN
  • The most common access for the Channels is from the parking lot at Hayder’s Gap off of VA-80 on the Brumley Mountain Trail. However, Brumley Mountain Trail can also be access from the other end near Hidden Valley Lake for a longer or multiday trek.

The trailhead for Brumley Mountain Trail starts on private property and follows a fire road for majority of the way. Once you get onto the natural reserve, it becomes steeper and more difficult, especially in the heat.


Once you reach the ridge, it’s not a long time until you get to the split for the Channels Spur Trail. As I mentioned above, the other direction heads all the way out to Hidden Valley Lake and you can make a nice backpacking trip out of it. It also seemed that mountain biking is allowed on the Brumley Mountain Trail, which isn’t a bad idea since it’s not all that interesting from the Channels to Hayder’s Gap Trailhead.


As you reach the top, an old firetower and a run down shelter at Middle Knob.


The bottom rung of the fire tower is taken out with a sign that tells you not to climb it.


Another minute pass the Middle Knob and you have arrived at the maze known as the channels.


The stones and rock faces are pretty amazing and you can literally get lost in here for a while. If you find yourself disoriented, keep in mind that he trail is on the north side and try to head for that direction. The hike isn’t overly crowded as it is a bit far for a major city, but you should find a few people wandering around on a weekend.

A bit back from the entrance of the Channels, there is a spur where you can jump on top of the rocks.



From there, it’s backtracking the way you came to the trailhead.


ratings (1-5)

  • view: 3. The Channels are definitely unique here in SW Virginia and the maze like aspect provides for some good fun. What keeps it from a higher rating for me is that it is an isolated area and the trek itself isn’t all that interesting, especially for the summer. If we are talking about the colors coming up in the fall, then you can add a half point to pretty much all hikes here. Regardless, if I have a hard time getting myself out there with a 3 hour drive for a repeat hike, then I can’t give it a 4 rating.
  • difficulty: 2. There is a bit of elevation on this one.
  • technical: 1.5. Well marked but it is possible to get a little lost in the maze that accounts for the extra 0.5. Just be patient and keep in mind the trail is toward the north.


pictures through the years

Bear Church Rock, July 31 2016


Having had to drive up to Dulles for my Global Entry Interview, I felt like I had to do a hike I otherwise wouldn’t have driven to on the way back. This hike is stretching it for SW Virginia Hikes, but really anything outside of DC, Norfork, and Richmond is SW. Mat and Vru were doing a brewery tour that weekend around Charlottesville and thought about hiking together. So I found Bear Church Rock in the area and was interested because of the stream. Even though they never made it out, I still got my hike and I did have an unexpected guest.

trail information

  • name: Bear Church Rock
  • type: in and out
  • distance: hiking upwards lists it at 8.5mi with a side trip to the lodge. I didn’t have a gps on this one.
  • elevation change: 1394 ft ascend and descend
  • time: about 3 hours
  • location: Shenandoah National Park near Madison, VA
  • The trail at the end continues on ward somewhere, so make sure you pay attention to the trail and the split to the vista. At the split of Jones Mountain Trail and the Staunton River Trail, both ways will reach the top. The latter will connect with the McDaniel Hollow trail, which will meet up with the Jones Mountain Trail. So there is an alternate if you want to explore. Lastly, There is also a sort section at the first slip to continue up the Rapidon River and the Graves Mill Trail, so there is an in and out alternate to explore here also.

I got to the trailhead around 1pm on a Sunday and the reports high solitude on this trail is accurate as there is only one other car in the Graves Mill parking area. The hike starts out on a multi-use Grave Mill trail along the Rapidan River, which may be muddy. After turning left onto the Staunton River Trail at the first intersection, the trail slowly ascends.


However, the trail doesn’t stay close to the Staunton river in that you can hear it, but not always see it. There are a few well worn spurs off the main trail toward the Staunton River, so take those to find the cool cascades, pools, and


large spider webs. A good sign this isn’t a busy trail.


When you reach a fork in the trail, take the left Jones Mountain Trail. You can get to the same place continuing, but it is a longer distance. The Jones Mountain Trails is steeper at this point. At the next intersection where both ways meet up, the Jones Mountain Trail continues left.


There is one more intersection where you can head down toward the Jones Mountain Cabin, but I just too the right trail at the fork to continue to the top. Be aware a the end as the Bear Church Rock overlook isn’t well marked and there is another trail that continues onward. The overlook is only 0.5 miles from the last intersection.

As I climbed on the overlook, I was greeted by my unexpected guest.


I guess they don’t call this Bear Church Rock for nothing. It scrambled down the hill after a minute looking around. I might have started singing loudly as I headed back to my car, until I remembered I can play music off my phone. Hopefully Mr Black Bear didn’t mind my singing too much.

ratings (1-5)

  • view: 2. My main gripe about this hike is that it does go along the river, but you really never see it from the trail. You are close enough to hear the waters, but the trail just doesn’t give very good vantage points. At certain spots, you can see that a spur have been walked over and you’ll find a couple of cascades. The Shaunton River just isn’t as geologically interesting as some other ones in the area for some reason, at least from the distant views from the trail. There is a typical SW Virginia overview at the top and it’s more secluded that most popular hikes, but nothing big to write home about.
  • difficulty: 2. The trail is gently slopping until you reach the Jones Mountain Trail, where it’s steeper. The last section is also a bit steeper as you gain the top of Bear Church Rock.
  • technical: 1. The trail is well marked with sign posts at the intersections.

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Peaks of Otter: Sharp Top, August 8 2016


This was just a lazy Sunday hike with Mat, Vrushali, and Brennan. The only other time we did Sharp Top was at night for a full moon hike. There was much more people on this one during the daytime.

trail information

  • name: Peaks of Otter: Sharp Top
  • type: in and out
  • distance: 3.5 miles
  • elevation change: 1705 ft ascend and descend
  • time: 2 hours
  • location: Jefferson National Forest between Bedford and Buchanan, VA
  • This is a very popular hike, so popular that they actually built a road to the top and a shuttle operates for a fee to go up. As for the hike itself, there is a spur to visit Buzzard’s Roost on the way up that has some good views too. Flat top is the sister hike in the Peaks of Otter area. Hiking Upwards describes both hikes together, but only Sharp Top is described here.

The hike for Sharp Top is pretty straight forward, rather upward. It continues upwards a decently gradual slop, with a few rocks here and there to step up on. There really isn’t much of interest other than few boulders here and there.


Most of the trail are in the trees. When you reach the summit, you are met with a nice open peak with 360 degree views.

There is also a shelter right below the peak. I don’t know what the regulation is for staying in the shelter. The peak does look like it would be a cool place to camp out and look at the stars as there isn’t much light pollution there. However, we did find a lot of flys or horse flys buzzing around this time around at the top.

The way back is the same, but much unhappier for the knees.


ratings (1-5)

  • view: 2. Again, this is pretty typical views of the Appalachian chain here in southwest Virginia. The 360 view at the top is rarer as most mountain tops in Virginia are still covered in trees. I think what really made this hike so popular is more in the infrastructure that’s built around it and its location off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Either way, it’s a nice short hike near home.
  • difficulty: 2. This is a short one, but it is uphill at a decent gradual slope all the way. Nothing technical.
  • technical: 1. There is one trail to the top.


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