Story by Joe Tennis
Call this a place of highlands and headwaters—an old growth forest where solitude and breathtaking vistas are unmatched—a getaway in southwest Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest.
Here, in the Mountain Lake Wilderness Area of Giles County, Va., lies the Eastern Continental Divide. Streams in this region flow into either the New River, their waters weaving through West Virginia and onto the Gulf of Mexico, or into the James River, heading east towards the Chesapeake Bay.
In this place lies a 2.5-mile loop challenge called the War Spur Trail. War Spur Trail lies a few miles west of Blacksburg, Va. It is also hardly more than three miles from the plush Mountain Lake Resort Hotel.
Mountain Lake—a natural pond of about 55 acres, at full pool—lends its name to the wilderness area, where lush ferns grow amidst massive boulders.
Here, in stands of red spruce, listen for the flocks of red crossbill or the American woodcock. Ruffed grouse are also known to make appearances. A hard look may find a salamander peeking out from under a slick stream rock.
War Spur stands at an ear-popping 3,765 feet. Yet, it is also a place that provides a great escape in naturally refrigerated air with breezes that smell so fresh you can practically taste them.
Combing the War Spur and Chestnut Loop trails will form a moderate loop spanning about 2.5 miles. Actually, it is a fairly easy journey, save a few spots where you must be extra careful stepping over stones, sticks or even a stream.
Starting on the loop, veer left from a small parking area and observe how the first mile cuts through a mammoth rhododendron thicket and a stand of virgin hemlocks. Here, too, you’ll see an occasional chestnut tree.
Midway, you will reach a short spur that extends hardly more than a few yards to the War Spur Overlook.
This rocky cliff provides an exquisite view of unspoiled mountains, valleys and forests. And, here, you will likely linger, soaking up views, not wanting to make the mile-long return trek to the parking lot, thus ending your getaway to this Virginia vista.
Hiking Length: 2.5-mile loop.
Where to Start: From U.S. 460, west of Blacksburg, turn west on VA-700 and follow the signs for about seven miles to Mountain Lake Resort Hotel. Then continue north on VA-613 for three miles. The War Spur trailhead is on the right.
Parking: No fee required.
Duration: Less than two hours, including time to take pictures and soak up the scenery. Hike is easy to moderate. Watch for uneasy footing on rocks and logs.
Information: (540) 552-4641
The moderate War Spur Trail follows along the Eastern Continental Divide in the Mountain Lake Wilderness of Giles County, Va.