During peak foliage season, popular hikes like McAfee Knob can become very crowded. It seemed like standing room only up there just this past weekend (reddit). For such reasons, I only hike to McAfee during the weekday and for either sunrise or sunset. For the weekend, there are plenty other options along the Appalachian Mountains with outlooks. Angel’s Rest is such a place located about 30 minutes west of the Virginia Tech campus, yet we had plenty of time at the two major viewpoints all to ourselves during this peak hiking season.
- name: Angel’s Rest & Wilburn Valley viewpoint
- type: in & out
- distance: 5.2 mi
- elevation change: 1745 ft
- time: 3:15 hours (2:30 moving)
- location: Eastern Divide Ranger District, Jefferson National Forest near Pearisburg, VA (google map directions)
Parking is very limited around the trailhead with pull of shoulders a few steps from either direction of the trailhead. There is only enough for roughly 10 cars.
It was just after noon when we reached the trailhead and started the hike on a moody and overcast day. The foliage had changed earlier this year, 2020, than the previous few years. So we were slightly past peak in western Virginia, where the leaves change the earliest in the state. The trail we would hike the entire day was the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) and starting southbound. The postings at the trailhead are all information for AT thru-hikers and there is plenty of cell service during this stretch of the A.T.
Right off the bat, the trail starts to gain elevation with a few switchbacks. There was even some steps on a small slab of granite. Then the trail straightens out and continues into a ravine next to a small stream. This was at the half mile mark with an average grade about 15.3%.
The next 0.7 miles were a bit milder at 11.6% grade as the AT started to switch back again. Along the way, we passed a section of disused fire road, a low hanging wire, and a disused electric tower. But the yellow foliage was the highlight of the section. This was partially because we were working up the side of the mountains so we could see a real nice layering of the canopy below us.
The grade kicked up a notch after we hiked over a few boulders for the final 0.3 miles up to the next junction. The grade was a calf burning 28.5%. The end of our uphill was signaled by a set of boulders and some mountain laurel shrubs.
Here we come to a sign post indicating the two viewpoints for the hike, we headed for Angel’s Rest view rock first.
A few steps further and we came to an outcrop with a view of the New River curving through the town of Pearisburg. Behind that to the left is the south western end of the long Peters Mountain ridge, which serves as the board to West Virginia for stretches and extends all the way to Covington, VA, and Hemlock Ridge to the right. The only blemish to this view is the Celanese plant that makes cigarette filters. At least the water they put back in is actually cleaner than what they take out, according to a friend that use to work there.
Returning to the trail, we continued southbound on the A.T. and coming to a few boulders and caves.
After exploring them for a few minutes, we continued on the A.T. and up on the ridge toward Pearis Mountain. For the first 0.3 miles, there was a 10.3% grade before flattening out for the rest of our hike to the next viewpoint. Shortly before that viewpoint, we passed a side trail to a water source and a nice camping spot with the first view out toward Wilburn Valley.
Don’t settle for this view however as the main viewpoint is just a few more steps further. From here, we can see the expansive Wilburn Valley spread out in front of us. To the right is the Pearis Mountain, where the A.T. will continue on toward but we will not. Left of that in the distance is Sugar Run Mountain and the ridge that the A.T. will traverse further south. We previously hiked that section as a loop, called Dismal Creek and Sugar Run Mountain loop. To the left of that, stretches the Walker Mountain ridge.
We stayed here for a while enjoyed the perfect fall colors before turning around and retraced our steps back to our car.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
- view: 2. There are 2 main views here, one to the north of the New River and the town of Pearisburg from Angel’s Rest outlook and the second to the south of expansive Wilburn Valley. Both are decent views both having a side perspective of mountain chains Virginia is known for. However, the side perspective doesn’t provide as much layering that really makes a scene. My preference is for the view from Angel’s Rest as the New River adds but the Celanese plant takes away from the viewpoint. Lastly, there were some interesting rock formations and some small caves that I had forgotten about. Otherwise, we were pretty much just working up the side of the mountain in the forest.
- difficulty: 2. The bulk of the uphills is within the first 1.6 miles, so it is a bit steeper than the typical A.T. uphill. It will work your calves.
- technical: 1. There is only one way to go and well signed.