By Bob Heafner © 1985-2012
Issue: April 1985
Back in a simpler time, Teddy Roosevelt bear hunted each year in the area around Whitetop Mountain and Mount Rogers. The local folks went about the daily tasks of their lives and they, like the President, savored and enjoyed the beauty of this unique area with its unusual (for Virginia) northern forest. Little has changed since that time because tucked into this far western corner of Virginia is, without doubt, some of the most spectacular mountain beauty in America. This is a BACKROADS tour you'll want to travel time and time again, if you marvel at nature's beauty as I do.
Our tour will require eight (8) unhurried hours and will cover a total of 123.2 miles. We will begin and end at the intersection of Route 18 and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is located between Parkway Mileposts 217 and 218 in North Carolina, just south of the Virginia border.
This area is ideal for picnicking and camping and if you don't bring a camera, you'll probably regret it.
BACKROADS tours always make a complete loop back to the point where we started. The underlined numbers at the beginning of each paragraph indicate the total number of miles we've traveled from our point of beginning. The numbers in parenthesis ( ) indicate the distance from the last point of interest that we passed.
00.0 (0.0) Traveling south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we will have just crossed the Virginia border into North Carolina and passed Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost marker 217, when we will turn onto the exit ramp leading to Route 18.
00.2 (0.2) From this stop sign at the end of the exit ramp, we will turn right onto Route 18 west, towards Sparta, North Carolina.
02.4 (2.2) Crestview Golf Course is on our left here.
03.3 (0.9) There is a tremendous Christmas tree farm covering the hills to our right.
07.3 (4.0) Here we cross a bridge over the Little River and the highway will follow the river for a short distance.
09.2 (1.9) Beautiful views of meadows and mountains are to our left and right here.
14.1 (4.9) We are now entering the city limits of Sparta, North Carolina.
14.9 (0.8) Here, in downtown Sparta, we will turn right onto Route 21.
17.8 (2.9) Route 21 and US 221 turn right at this point, but we will continue straight ahead on US 221 south.
18.6 (0.8) Here US 221 goes straight ahead toward Jefferson, North Carolina, but we will turn right, toward Mouth of Wilson, Virginia on Route 93.
20.6 (2.0) The Elk Creek Primitive Baptist Church is on our right and the old J.C. Fields Store (1888-1944) is on our left. The store is no longer in operation.
20.7 (0.1) There is a good view of Whitetop Mountain and Mount Rogers straight ahead.
21.5 (0.8) Here we cross a bridge over Elk Creek.
24.1 (2.6) Lined up along the road here, as if on museum display, is a collection of antique farm machinery and tractors that are worth the trip to see.
28.1 (4.0) At this stop sign, Route 113 turns left, but we will turn right, continuing on Route 93.
28.6 (0.5) Here we enter Grayson County, Virginia and leave Alleghany County, North Carolina.
29.4 (0.8) At this point, we are crossing a bridge over the beautiful New River.
29.5 (0.1) Here we turn left onto US 58 toward Marion, Virginia.
30.2 (0.7) The New River is on our left here.
30.4 (0.2) On our left is Wilson Creek.
30.7 (0.3) We are now entering the small mountain community of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. Once folks from all over this part of the Blue Ridge brought their wool to Mouth of Wilson to sell or trade to the Fields Woolen Mill here. The mill manufactured wool blankets and often mountain families would trade their raw wool for the finished product.
34.1 (3.4) Here we cross a bridge over Big Wilson Creek.
34.7 (0.6) This is the community Of Volney, Virginia.
34.9 (0.2) US 58 turns left here and Route 16 goes straight ahead. We will turn left, continuing to follow US 58 towards Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Damascus and Abington, Virginia.
35.3 (0.4) Here we cross another bridge over Big Wilson Creek and it will follow along on our left as we continue.
39.5 (4.2) We cross Big Wilson Creek again at this point.
40.2 (0.7) The Mill Creek Methodist Church is on our right here. Just beyond the church, the views are beautiful.
42.4 (2.2) The view here is spectacular!
42.6 (0.2) Here we will turn right onto the beautiful rock lined entrance to Grayson Highlands State Park.
43.4 (0.8) There is a ranger station and log cabin exhibit at this point. All hikers are asked to register here before starting, for safety purposes.
43.5 (0.1) You'll just have to see these views for yourself!
44.6 (1.1) A beautiful rock fence crosses the high mountain meadow to our right.
45.1 (0.5) Picnic area entrance is on our right here.
45.8 (0.7) Campground entrance is on our right here.
46.1 (0.3) At this point, our tour will turn around and head back the way we came, but you might wish to explore a little further. The peak to our right is Mount Rogers, the highest point (5729 feet) in the state of Virginia. From here, it is only a .5 mile hike to the Appalachian Trail and some of the most breathtaking scenery imaginable.
49.6 (3.5) We are now back to the Park entrance at US 58, we will turn right onto US 58 west.
51.8 (2.2) Here we cross Cabin Creek. It is a fast flowing trout stream and very scenic.
53.3 (1.5) Mount Rogers High School is on our left here.
54.2 (0.9) Helton Valley Missionary Baptist Church is on our left.
57.1 (2.9) On our left is the Whitetop, Virginia Post Office. Each year the community of Whitetop has a maple festival and pancakes are served with local made maple syrup. The event is sponsored by the Mount Rogers Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, Whitetop, Virginia 24292. If you'd like to he notified of coming area events, write to them at that address. This year's Festival was scheduled for March 23, 24, 30 and 31. We wish we had known in time for our March issue, but promise to remind you next year. We will turn right off of US 58 and onto state road 600 directly across from the Whitetop Post Office. We will be heading toward Whitetop Mountain, Konnarock and Chilhowie, Virginia.
58.8 (1.7) Here we turn left onto National Forest Service Road 89, which leads to the top of Whitetop Mountain.
59.6 (0.8) At this point, we are driving through a type of forest that is very rare in Virginia. It is typical of northern forests with its red spruce, yellow birch, beech and sugar maple. It is designated a protected area by the National Forest Service and all trees, shrubs and flowers are not allowed to be removed or destroyed. I have only seen comparable forests in northern New England and must admit, it seems strange to find such an area in southwest Virginia.
61.9 (2.3) We are now at the top of Whitetop Mountain, elevation 5344 feet, the second highest peak in the state of Virginia. This is also the highest road accessible by car in the state. We will turn around at the weather and communications satellite station on the crest of the mountain and head back down the way we came. My notes for this area were simply the word, "VIEW" followed by about ten exclamation marks. It is spectacular.
62.2 (0.3) As we head back down the mountain, we'll cross the Appalachian Trail at this point.
65.0 (2.8) We are now back to the stop sign where we turned off of state road 600 onto Forest Service Road 89. We will turn left here, back onto state road 600.
66.3 (1.3) This area is known Elm Garden and the elevation is 4500 feet. The Appalachian Trail crosses the road here and we enter Smyth County, Virginia and leave Grayson County.
71.4 (5.1) At this stop sign, we are in the community of Konnarock, Virginia. We will turn right here onto state road 603 toward Troutdale, Virginia.
71.5 (0.1) After crossing the bridge over Big Laurel Greek, we will turn right continuing to follow state road 603 toward Troutdale and Grindstone Campground in Mount Rogers National Forest.
72.9 (1.4) The picturesque log church on our left here is Laurel Valley Lutheran.
75.9 (3.0) The entrance to Grindstone Campground is on our right.
76.3 (0.4) We enter Grayson County and leave Smyth County at this point.
77.6 (1.3) The Fox Greek Picnic Area is on our right.
77.9 (0.3) The Appalachian Trail crosses here.
80.3 (2.4) There is a small pull-over on the left of the road here that provides a beautiful view of a cascading trout stream.
81.9 (1.6) At this stop sign, we turn right onto route 16 (76) toward Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. The Troutdale Trading Post, which is on our right here, offers hunting, fishing and photo supplies as well as local made crafts, molasses and a small restaurant.
82.2 (0.3) The Troutdale Dining Room is on our left at this point. It is a nationally recognized restaurant, located in a turn of the century house. The menu features locally caught rainbow trout, served informally in candlelight dining rooms or on the porch. We suggest you call ahead if you plan to dine here.
85.8 (3.6) The old country store on our left here is the Grant Store. This is the small community of Grant, Virginia.
88.9 (3.1) We are back to the junction of US 58 and route 16, where we turned west onto US 58 earlier. Now we will continue straight ahead on US 58 east.
92.8 (3.9) The Mouth of Wilson Post Office is on our right.
93.4 (0.6) To our right is where Wilson Creek joins the New River.
95.6 (2.2) The small dam on our right is the old Fields Dam. It still generates electricity for many local families.
104.7 (9.1) Here we enter the city limits of Independence, Virginia.
105.6 (0.9) The old Independence Courthouse is on our left here. An attempt has been made by some local politicians to tear the old courthouse down, but it has met with much opposition and soon the fate of the graceful old building will be decided by a county referendum. Notice the thickness of the mortar between the rows of brickwork. The mortar joints are only 1/4" thick and are evidence of the pride the craftsman took in his trade.
110.6 (5.0) There is a beautiful view of the New River to our left here.
113.4 (2.8) At this point, we will turn right off of US 58 onto state road 624.
113.8 (0.4) After stopping at this stop sign, we will continue straight ahead on state road 624. Be sure to notice, if not stop at, the old Baywood Store to our left at the stop sign.
113.9 (0.1) On our left is the Crossroads Primitive Baptist Church, which was established in 1845.
115.4 (1.5) State road 624 curves hard to the left here and state road 633 goes straight. We will bear left, staying on state road 624.
116.7 (1.3) At this stop sign, we will turn right continuing to follow state road 624.
118.0 (1.3) Here we leave Virginia and enter North Carolina.
118.4 (0.4) At this stop sign, we turn left onto route 18 north.
123.0 (4.6) Turn left onto the entrance ramp leading to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
123.2 (0.2) We are back to our point of beginning at the intersection of route 18 and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I hope you enjoy this area as much as we have! There is much more to see than we had space to describe, but additional information is available at: