virginia hikes: Fort Lewis Mountain Tower Outlook via Angeline trailhead, March 8 2020

On the perfect sunny day in early March, I headed out to explore a lesser traffic trail known for its steep incline. That reputation was spot on as I encountered the steepest non-scrambling and non-technical uphill among all my hikes here.

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information

  • name: For Lewis Mountain tower outlook via Angeline trailhead (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
  • type: in & out
  • distance:  8.7 miles
  • elevation change:  2734 ft
  • time:  3:41 hours (3:31 hours without breaks)
  • location: Angeline Trailhead in Havens Wildlife Management Area near Salem, VA (google map directions)

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Havens Wildlife Management Area (Havens WMA) is overseen by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF). There are several trails in the area with 4 specific trailheads / parking lots. Along with the Angeline trailhead on Mason Creek road, there is the Big Bad Wolf Trailhead and a 3rd parking area on Mason Creek road. From the other side of the mountain, there is an access on Carroll’s Access Road.

Below is an estimated map of the trails in Havens WMA from the Roanoke Valley-Allegheny Regional Commission, but most of the trails are unblazed or marked. The other known trailhead is the Big Bad Wolf Trailhead and is said to be used as a less steep and longer access (14 miles roundtrip) to the radio tower or summit area at the end of this hike. This other route is also know for biking (alltrails review).

havenwildlifemanagementarea
map from Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission & Roanoke Valley Greenways

hunting season

This areas seems mostly designated for hunting, which may occur Apr 1 to May 31 and Sep 1 to Feb 28 except for Sundays. It is recommended to wear blaze orange or blaze pink for safety during these times (see DGIF website for more details).

fees

To access Havens WMA, the Virginia DGIF requires a Restore the Wild Membership, hunting license, freshwater fishing license, boat registration, or an access permit (for more details, see DGIF website).

video

report

The Angeline trailhead has enough space for 5-6 cars, but there was only one other on this perfect Sunday afternoon. So this is a hike for you if you are looking to get away from the crowds at McAfee.

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The official trail name here is called the Elevator trail and as the name foreshadows, it will involve some quick elevation gains.

Right off the bat, there is a creek crossing as the trail heads to the right behind the parking lot. There seems to be a washout bridge here to the left, but that is not where the trail goes now.

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In the first quarter of a mile, the trail will gain elevation at about 12.2% grade curving around the side of a hill overlooking a creek bed, which was dry during my hike. At the top of the first warm up hill, there is a fire ring and a possibly nice camping area. According to the notice board, camping isn’t allowed unless permitted (see regulations here).

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The trail will continue straight and the warm up continues for another half mile. It will start downhills for a few steps before inclining at about 7.6% grade.

There are 3 specific pitches of heavy incline. The first is about 0.21 miles at an average elevation gain of 28% grade. A few steps later, the second portion is about 0.16 miles with an average elevation gain of 34% grade. Then you’ll get a quick 0.2 mile break where the elevation gain is only 9.7% grade before the final push to the ridge at a 31.1% grade over a quarter of a mile. In all you’ll reach the ridge at the 1.66 mile mark having gained about 1524 feet.

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The trail is never technical, but it can be slippery for the loose dirt and dead leaves the sock in the trail. If there was any rain at all during the hike or the day before, this trail may turn into a stream. This also makes the return downhills a bit hazardous. I would recommend hiking poles for this hike.

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While you are catching your breath, you can look at the ravine  on the left or across the way at the Catawba Mountain ridge.

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At the top of the climb, the Elevator trail dead ends on the Cornstalk Trail. There is a rock here, which I’m sure has seen every butt that came up the Elevator.

I turned left on the Cornstalk Trail and continued along the ridge of Fort Lewis Mountain. I can see Salem and Roanoke Valley through the leafless trees. The sound of the I-81 corridor traffic is very present here as well. After a few steps, there is a nice flat area with a fire ring.

Just under a half mile from the intersection (2.09 miles total), the trail turns slightly left and heads downhills to the gap. The trail here is lost easily the ground is overgrown and covered with dead leaves. Just continue down to the gap and you should pick up the trail.

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At the gap, there is a pond here and was the only water source I saw on the ridge. It is still water so packing up a good amount of water is recommended if you plan to camp up on the ridge.

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From the gap, the trail will gain the mountain on the other side and undulate through the woods for the next 0.7 miles. The trail is easily lost here since there is no markers and plenty of overgrown bush. GPS or good navigation skills are required. I imagine this being a lot worse during the summer time.

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At the 2.91 mile mark, the Cornstalk Trail junctions with the Fire Road.

Turn left on the wide open fire road to continue along the ridge of Fort Lewis Mountain. There are markers on the trees here, but that is to indicate the boarder of private and public property. This first road seems to be disused and I even came across a fire ring in the middle of it.

The fire road continues at a slight uphill for 0.85 miles before coming to a gate and an intersection with a seemingly more active service road.

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Continue straight on the service road to reach the junction at the top of the mountain, 3.9 miles from the trailhead. I first headed down the right path to the large radio tower.

The view from here is of Salem and the I-81 corridor as it heads for Blacksburg with Poor Mountain across the way.

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From here, I would recommend retrace your steps back to the junction and head up the other way. While walking around the radio complex, I saw what looked like an overgrown trail, which I took to the other radio facility. That was an mistake as there were plenty of thorny bushes to scratch you. Eventually, I made my way across to the interesting radio structure. Maybe it’s a radar or weather thing for the airport?

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The best, and least painful, view from here is the mound of rocks toward the northeast side the radio facility (the mound in the background in the picture above). There are some rock outcrops and you can hop on for a wide open view of Roanoke and the surrounding peaks.

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From left, you can see McAfee and Tinker Mountains. Then in the distance, the Peaks of Otter. Next is Read Mountain behind the airport. Roanoke is signified by the Wells Fargo building, the Carilion Hospital (AKA the mothership), and Mill Mountain with the Star.

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From there, I retraced my steps and headed down before dark. The way down the Elevator may be faster, but it is just as tiring. My quads were sore for a couple days after the hike.

ratings (1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)

  • views: 2. The best views on the hike are near the summit. You can find an outcrop of rocks to the east of the round radio/radar structure. From there, you can see from McAfee all the way to Salem. It’s a nice view of the entire Roanoke Valley nestled within the mountains. Otherwise, the ridge walk and views of the drainage on the way up can provide nice foliage during the fall and of the valley in the winter.
  • difficulty: 3. This hike has probably the steepest non-scrambling section I’ve encountered in all of Virginia. From the Angeline trailhead, the Elevator Trail has 3 pitches of maximum 45% incline. This is made more difficult by lose dirt or downed leaves. The trail clearly serves as a runoff for water during and after days of rain, possibly making this more difficult.
  • technical: 2. While the Elevator trail is difficult, it is not technical as it is straight forward without any climbing or scrambling elements. The technical aspect of this hike is the navigation skills needed for when the trail is overgrown once you are on the ridge and hiking the Cornstalk trail. There are no markers, so GPS is recommended.

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