virginia hikes: Poor Mountain Preserve – outer loop, April 5 2020

Sometimes you just need to get out of the house and a short walk in the woods to get your heart pumping a little is just fine. While nothing spectacular, Poor Mountain Preserve did the job. The spring wildflowers were a nice touch as well.



  • name: Piratebush, Cascade, Canyon, and Overlook trail outer loop (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
  • type: loop
  • distance:  3.9 miles
  • elevation change:  922 ft
  • time:  1:42 hours (1:39 hours moving)
  • location: Poor Mountain Preserve near Salem & Roanoke, VA (google map directions)


Our hike took us on the “outer loop” consisting of the Piratebush, Cascade, Canyon, and Overlook trails. There is a smaller half mile loop just consisting of the Piratebush loop trail, which is shared with the “outer loop”

The shorter Piratebush loop is in orange, part of it is shared with the larger outer loop in blue.



Poor Mountain Preserve is moderately trafficked area since it is very close to Salem and Roanoke. A good way to avoid most other hikers is to start very early or very late in the day, we did the former on this Sunday morning as there was only one other car at the trailhead.


The first quarter of a mile is relatively flat with a very short downhill to the main information post for the Preserve. As we reach there, a few deer scrambled out of the trail.


We decided to hike the “outer” loop clockwise, so we started on the Piratebush loop trail on the left. Then took the right branch of the Piratebush loop trail since there was slightly more uphills, which came in the form of 0.15 miles at a 9.8% grade.

Around this area, we came to some Mountain Fetterbush as indicated by a sign.


Then our big downhill of the hike begin for the next 1.4 miles at a pretty even -11% grade starting with the continuation of the Piratebush loop trail before turning onto the Cascade trail at the junction 0.6 miles from the trailhead. The Cascade trail which started switchback shortly down the mountainside.

Along the way, there were more blooming flowers, which I’m guessing might be some kind of blackberry flowers (


The mostly leafless trees also allowed us a view out toward Salem, the I-81 corridor, and Fort Lewis Mountain.


On the last switchback, the trail started to follow a creek and then a junction with the Canyon Trail 1.6 miles from the trailhead.

We took the left turn crossing over the creek and continued to follow it for a few more steps. A separate creek from the gully we would follow later joined the current creek we were following.

We then came to the main cascade of the creek.


The trail continues, but a sign indicates the end of the public preserve.


So we turn around and retrace the 0.1 miles back uphills toward the last junction. Along the way there were some White Trillium blooming to complement the creek.

At the junction, we continue on the Canyon trail taking the trail we haven’t taken uphills for the next 1.2 miles at an average of 10.3% grade. It would follow the gully upwards with a few switchbacks and then crossing the creek a once.

After the creek, the trail switchbacks a couple more times around the side of the mountain and passing a bench before junctioning with the Overlook trail at 3.1 miles.

We turned left to head to the overlook, again the view is of the I-81 corridor. The view now is spoiled a little by the clear cut for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (wikipedia) running up the side of the Rese Mountain in the middle of the picture.


For comparison, here is the view back in 2018.


After the view point, it was 0.5 miles back to the information post on the Overlook trail undulating around the gully and crossing the creek a second time.


Then a quarter of mile to finish at the trailhead.

ratings (1-5; see detailed breakdown)


  • views: 2. The highlight of the hike is the creek and some of the small cascades on it, but the trail only briefly follow it. The spring wildflowers were an nice addition to the otherwise humdrum forest. The view point at the overlook is out toward the city of Salem, though its hard to ignore the clear cut now in place for the controversial pipeline. For me, the main thing this hike has going for it is that it’s very close.
  • difficulty: 1. The trails are all well graded with switchbacks so elevation change isn’t terribly difficult.
  • technical: 1. The trail is well signed and you don’t need to get your foot wet for the creek crossings.

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