Overview: Incredibly scenic hike along Clinch Mountain from Hayter's Gap to Middle Knob along the 14-mile Brumley Mountain Trail, one of the... more »
Overview: Incredibly scenic hike along Clinch Mountain from Hayter's Gap to Middle Knob along the 14-mile Brumley Mountain Trail, one of the... more » East's newest long (10 miles+) hiking trails. Although the Brumley Mountain Trail runs all the way from Hayter's Gap to Hidden Valley Lake off of US-19 in Moccasin Gap, this guide features the trail's most heavily used, easternmost 3 miles that travel to the Great Channels of Virginia. The Channels are a series of deep sandstone crevices worn into sandstone outcrops on the mountain's summit and form one of Virginia's most fascinating ecosystems. It is possible to easily walk within the maze-like channels, which harbor an almost cave-like microclimate and often hold snow cover long after temperatures have risen above freezing. Coupled with outstanding views from the top of these outcrops and a firetower on Middle Knob's summit, this hike forms one of southwest Virginia's most scenic and popular hiking destinations. less «
Tips: Parking is limited in Hayter's Gap and is located at a small gravel pullout at the gated entrance to Raven Ridge Road. The first... more » portion of this hike travels alongside private property - please respect landowners and stay on the trail. less «
Trailhead is located at the gated entrance to Raven Ridge Road (at the top of Clinch Mountain on Route 80) and is marked by a limited parking area and kiosk. Trail begins behind the gate and travels initially along Raven Ridge Road.
As you swing along the ridgeline on the first few hundred yards of trail, look back towards the parking area in Hayter's Gap.
Hayter's Gap - a low point in the ridgeline making up Clinch Mountain - is an ecologically special place. Several organisms located in the gap and surrounding portions of Clinch Mountain are likely stuck here in "... More;refugia" as a result of climate change following the last Ice Age. During this time, roughly 10-15,000 years ago, the climate was much cooler, and vast forests of spruce (like that which covers Mt. Rogers today) blanketed much of southwest Virginia. Evidence of ancient spruce forests, for example, has been found in low-elevation bogs in Saltville, not far from Abingdon. Other organisms adapted to this cooler climate also saw broad distributions at this time.
As the climate warmed, however, these organisms had nowhere to go....but up! The high-elevation ecosystems of Clinch Mountain, such as those in Hayter's Gap, formed perfect hideaways ("refugia") for these organisms, where many remain to this day. One such organism, the Northern Gray-Cheeked Salamander, has a refuge on Clinch Mountain and has been found in Hayter's Gap. This species does not occur again in southwest Virginia until one reaches the high elevations surrounding Mt. Rogers.Less
This small opening provides one of the first (albeit manmade) vistas in the hike, which looks down into the North Fork Holston River Valley. The trail continues straight ahead on the blazed roadway.
The trail still follows the road straight ahead at this point and does NOT turn right (uphill), when hiking from the Hayter's Gap Trailhead.
Still traveling along the roadbed, the trail passes a cabin in this small flat before shortly passing the entrance to Channels State Forest. This relatively new state forest was purchased from The Nature Conservancy in 2008 and serves as a parcel of public land managed for multiple use (recreation, timber management, and wildlife habitat... More protection, among others). Within the middle of the state forest and near the summit of Middle Knob lies the 720-acre Channels Natural Area Preserve, which protects the unique ecosystem of the Great Channels in perpetuity. Beyond this point, the trail begins climbing in earnest towards the Great Channels and Middle Knob.
(Note: the cabin situated near the trail is on private property - please respect landowners and stay on the trail!)Less
This low gap in the ridge forms a loafing point in the climb up Middle Knob and caps an incredibly scenic, ridgeside hike above Eddington Cove. Eddington Branch, which runs through this cove well below the trail, flows into Wolf Creek, which eventually merges with the North Fork Holston River. This stretch of trail contains some of the best fall... More colors of any other portion of this hike.Less
Large, exposed sandstone outcrops begin to appear along and beyond this stretch of trail, where a series of switchbacks begins on what will become the final climb towards Middle Knob.
This sandstone formation is nearly 400 million years old and forms a "cap" atop the summit of Middle Knob. This sandstone, in fact, is the same rock that... More forms the labyrinth of the Great Channels higher up the mountain. A characteristic feature of these formations that can be seen at this point is their shape: square and block-like, with seemingly carved edges. How do you think this shape might have been formed? (See the answer at the Great Channels placeholder later in this hike.)Less
As the trail swings around the north slope of the mountain on its approach to the summit, a view is available of Beartown Mountain, the high peak located close to the northeast.
Beartown Mountain is unique for its spruce forest, one of the only such forests located to the west of the Great Valley (where I-81 runs) in Virginia and visible as the ... Moremountain's dark, evergreen cap. This forest was once widespread across most of southwest Virginia but was forced to retreat to high "refugia" on mountaintops following a warming climate during the last Ice Age. (See the Hayter's Gap placeholder for more info.) The open valley at Beartown's base is Corn Valley and (to the west) Elk Garden, named for another species once more common in Virginia but now eliminated, except for some recently-reintroduced populations in scattered locations across this portion of the state.Less
Hidden just off a spur trail before the final pitch up to the tower on Middle Knob is a scenic vista atop a series of exposed boulders just below the knob's summit. They provide a rare view to the southeast off of Middle Knob, including much of the mountainside you have traveled to reach this point in the hike.
The trail reaches its high point (4208 feet above sea level) at the pinnacle of sandstone near this point, also known as Middle Knob. From vistas located at multiple vantage points atop the knob, one can see all the way to Mount Rogers (the highest point in Virginia) to the south and the Cumberland Plateau to the northwest. The great expanse of... More the Great Valley lies directly at the mountain's southern base, meaning that one can see three of Virginia's five physiographic provinces from this single spot: the Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, and Appalachian Plateau.
The firetower has been abandoned, along with the old fire warden's cabin at its base, and the lower deck of stairs has been removed, preventing easy access to the tower. Outstanding views can be had, however, from boulders at the knob's northeastern corner and a small, slightly hidden overlook off the trail just before its final, short pitch to the summit.Less
The main feature of this hike - the Great Channels of Virginia - can be found by hiking the short spur trail located just beyond the firetower atop Middle Knob (on the opposite side of the tower from the warden's cabin).
The Great Channels themselves are a labyrinth of cave-like crevices occurring deep between blocks of the 400 million year-old... More sandstone that caps Middle Knob. This region is truly one of the state's natural wonders and contains a cool, shaded microclimate different than the rest of the entire surrounding region. Deep within the Channels, for example, one may occasionally find snow persisting long after it has melted from the slopes above!
How did the Great Channels form? The answer lies in snow and ice itself. Geologists propose that snow and ice formed deep within tiny cracks and crevices in the sandstone during the last Ice Age. Since water expands when frozen, this ice opened up these fractures further, and further still with each repeated freeze-thaw cycle. This is the exact same process that acts to enlarge cracks on a car windshield, just played out over a much bigger scale and much longer time. As untold centuries of this activity persisted, these fractures steadily opened to form the deep channels and block-like boulders seen atop Middle Knob today.
While you are visiting the Channels and the surrounding state forest, please follow Leave No Trace outdoor ethics (linked below) to protect this unique environment.
Before or after dropping down into the Great Channels, (carefully!) hop over onto the top of the nearest boulder to see one of southwest Virginia's most beautiful mountain vistas. The boulders here look down the spine of Clinch Mountain to the south and west, providing a view of the low expanse of the Great Valley (near Abingdon and Bristol), with... More Whitetop and Mount Rogers high on the Blue Ridge in the distance. The High Knob area of southwest Virginia can also be viewed just north of due west.
When standing on this viewpoint, you are actually above the Great Channels themselves, which have been eroded into the cracks between boulders below you.Less
The Brumley Mountain Trail continues west beyond the spur trail to the summit of Middle Knob and the Great Channels. Shortly west of the spur trail, a trail descends from a gap in the ridgeline to the North-South Road, a route that provides a longer (5-mile one-way) hike to the foot of the mountain and a parking area in the Channels State Forest. ... MoreThe Brumley Mountain Trail continues west to Hidden Valley Lake near US-19 and Moccasin Gap, for a total distance of nearly 14 miles. To return to the Hayter's Gap Trailhead, follow the same path that you climbed to the summit of Middle Knob.Less