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Whitetop Mountain & Buzzard Rock

Posted by on September 11, 2011

Buzzard Rock

Whitetop Mountain is the State of Virginia’s second highest peak at 5525′, along with having the highest maintained road in the state.  You can make this a very short and easy day-hike by taking this road all the way to the top of the mountain, but I decided to climb it on foot instead… starting at highway US600 at Elk Garden and heading south on the Appalachian Trail.

Much of Whitetop’s ridge-line is a Southern Appalachian Bald with wonderful views into Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  My goal was to make it to Buzzard Rock, which is often listed as a separate mountain, being one of Virginia’s 5 peaks over 5000 feet.  However, it seems to be just a ridge off of Whitetop Mountain with very little prominence of its own.  Regardless, Buzzard Rock is the highlight of this area with spectacular views.  Interestingly, the rock outcropping is also made up of this region’s oldest Rhyolite (igneous volcanic rock), …created by lava flows.

Pretty Grove on the A.T. Near Buzzard Rock

Huge Tree Fungus Called "Sulphur Shelf" (It's edible... prepare it like chicken)

View Looking Down Whitetop Toward Buzzard Rock

The hike from Elk Garden to Buzzard rock is a moderate climb with about 1000 feet of elevation gain in 3.2 miles (6.4 miles round-trip).  It is all on the Appalachian Trail, but I decided to take a detour up to the summit of Whitetop Mountain by walking on up the graveled road when the A.T. intersected it.  This added a couple of miles to my hike.  I was hoping the summit would offer more vistas, but instead it is covered in Red Spruce, Fraser Firs, and a fenced-in area with radio towers.

The Summit of Whitetop Mountain

Buzzard Rock from the Appalachian Trail

Buzzard Rock - Composed of Volcanic Rhyolite

After visiting the summit of Whitetop, I continued to Buzzard Rock where I spent quite a bit of time photographing and enjoying the scenery before I returned back down the mountain.

On Top of Buzzard Rock

Very Nice Couple I Met... Checking Out the Amazing Views

Views of the North Carolina Mountains from Whitetop

Buzzard Rock is a beautiful place, and even if you don’t want to make this a long hike, it is still easily accessible to almost any hiker or sightseer (regardless of physical ability) by using the well-maintained road.

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Overall
Recommendation:

Intermediate to advanced hikers looking for some of the best vistas in Southwest Virginia.  Less advanced hikers can also take the road to see these great views.

Outstanding
Features:

Southern Appalachian Bald, prominent summits, great views spanning three states, very old Rhyolite rock formations.

Difficulty:
Moderate to Difficult. 1000+ feet of elevation gain if using the Elk Garden approach.  Easy if using the road.

Driving:
From Damascus, Virginia take Route 58 East and travel 10.6 miles, then continue straight onto Route 603 (Konnarock Rd.) and go 4.4 more miles.  Then turn right onto Route 600, which is Whitetop Mountain Road. and go 3.3 miles.  You will see a Mount Rogers sign and a large parking lot on your right.  This is Elk Garden  Or, another route is coming in from Interstate 81.  If using this route take exit 35 at Chilhowie, and go away from town on state route 762/600.  I’m not sure of the exact mileage, but just stay on Route 600 and in approximately 11.5 miles you will take a left onto Route 600 (Whitetop Mountain Road).  Travel 3.3 miles and the Elk Garden parking lot will be on your right.

Trails:
From the parking area, simply get on the Appalachian Trail heading south, which is on the same side of the road as the parking lot (right behind the privy, immediately heading into the forest!).  If you cross the road to get on the A.T. you would be heading north, so don’t cross the road.  Just follow the white blazes and in 2.6 miles you will reach the graveled Whitetop Mountain Road.  If you want to summit Whitetop Mountain you will need to take a right here and climb the road all the way to the top (at least .75 mile).  If not, just stay on the A.T. and at the 3.2 mile mark you will reach Buzzard Rock, which is a very large rock outcropping immediately adjacent to the A.T.

Needed
Gear & Tips:

Water sources are plentiful unless in drought conditions.  Take cool weather clothes and expect windy conditions with temps 15 degrees or more cooler than in the lowlands.  

Distance:
Approximately 6.4 miles round-trip.  If you want to summit Whitetop, add another 1.5 miles.

Time
Allotment:

4-6 hours

Type:
Out & Back.

Vista
Rating (1-5):

5.0 – Almost 360 degree views with expansive grassy ridge-lines.  View many of the region’s prominent mountains spanning 3 states.  

Waterfall
Rating (based on a 1-50 scale):

none

Water
Crossings (one way):

A few very small streams, but you shouldn’t get wet.

Scrambling/Climbing:
None, unless you want to climb around on Buzzard Rock.

Hazards:
Take precautions to avoid hypothermia especially in cool conditions. Weather can change dramatically at high elevations.  Expect temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler than in the lowlands.

Maps/GPS
info:

none


More
Information:

15 Responses to Whitetop Mountain & Buzzard Rock

  1. Doug

    Great photos and accurate description too. A great place to visit. Keep up the good work, your site is wonderful and I’ve enjoyed it very much.

  2. Brian

    Did that hike in March – loved it. Good pics.

  3. Patty

    HI, BILL! FIRST OF ALL, WOW!! FOUND YOUR SITE BY ACCIDENT WHILE READING UP ON OLD JOHNSON CITY, BACK WHEN IT WAS JOHNSON’S DEPOT; AN ARTICLE ABOUT HENRY JOHNSON & HOW HE BUILT A DEPOT, STORE, ETC..TO ATTRACT PEOPLE PASSING THRU ON TRAINS. SAW A PICTURE OF THE OLD CLOUDLAND HOTEL, STARTED READING ABOUT THAT–MY MOM & I WENT UP TO ROAN MT. LAST YEAR & JUST MISSED THE RHODODENDRONS! ANYWAY, SAW YOUR PICTURE OR SOMETHING THAT LED ME TO YOUR SITE. IT’S GREAT! I LOVE WATERFALLS, BUT DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT A LOT OF THEM THAT YOU HAD PICTURES OF. LOVE THE MAP,TOO. I LOVE THE OUTDOORS, BUT DON’T GET OUT & HIKE, BUT MY HUSBAND JUST RETIRED FROM TVA THIS PAST SPRING & HE’S HIKED THE AT FROM ROAN MT. TO HWY. 19 E, BEEN TO GEORGIA TWICE & HIKED DOWN THERE UP TO NC, MT. LECONTE, & PLANNING MORE. I CAN’T WAIT TO SHOW HIM YOUR SITE. IT’S FULL OF INFORMATION & I LOVE READING IT. ALMOST AS GOOD AS BEING THERE. LOVE THE PICTURES, TOO. WE LIVE IN BRISTOL, TN. JUST WANTED TO THANK YOU FOR ALL THE HARD WORK YOU’VE DONE PUTTING TOGETHER SOMETHING I’M REALLY ENJOYING READING. TAKE CARE! PATTY. P.S. MY HUSBAND (STEVE) HIKED TO LAUREL FALLS–LOWER, I THINK, & RIDES HIS BIKE TO DAMASCUS & WHEREVER.

    • Bill Fuller

      You’re welcome, Patty! I’m glad you like it. I hope you and your husband can get some ideas from it to get out and hike! Thanks again!!!

  4. Michael Kambourelis

    Bill, I appreciate your information and photos on this hike to Whitetop Mtn and Buzzard Rock. I have just one suggestion for your readers to make this hike even better. Instead of taking the 1 mile gravel road off the AT up to the peak of Whitetop Mountain, I recommend crossing the gravel road and continuing on to Buzzard Rock first. As you are returning back (northbound) on the AT from Buzzard Rock you will see Whitetop Mountain along with its radio towers. While you are still on the grassy meadow (before reentering the woods), you will see an unmarked grassy side-trail working its way up the side of Whitetop mountain in the direction of the radio towers. This path will take you almost to the top of Whitetop and you will only have to walk on a very small section of the gravel driveway to reach the very top where the station is located. I also recommend following the same grassy trail back down to rejoin the A.T. We took the grassy path up, but then regretted taking the 1 mile boring gravel driveway back down, instead of taking the shorter and more scenic grassy path.

    • Bill Fuller

      I agree. I hiked up to the towers by the road but came down that trail along that grassy ridge. It’s much nicer. Thank you!

  5. Louie

    Bill, I’m planning on doing this hike next weekend. We are a group of 4 planning on visiting Buzzard Rock and then sleeping in the woods that night. Are there any primitive campsites along the route? From what it looks like there are plenty of trees for us if there are not sites (we are hammock sleepers). Thanks.

    • Bill Fuller

      Louie,
      I can’t remember exactly where, but I do remember a couple of primitive sites. I can’t remember about water sources, but seems like I crossed a few small springs. I think you’ll have plenty of options in the hammocks.

  6. Bobbi

    Doing some writing about my section hike two years ago and failed to take pictures of Buzzard Rock, but remembered it as a highlight. Thanks for refreshing my memory with the scenes and description! Bobbi

  7. Bob

    Thank you for the great description. I am looking forward to this one.

  8. Becky

    Beautiful photos, and wonderful description of the trail- thank you! I was wondering what time of day you reached the summit in these photos- I’ve found some of my best photos from the AT occur closer to the “golden hour” than in the morning. Looking for some photo insight! Thanks again!

    • Bill Fuller

      Thank you, Becky. I took these around mid-day if I remember correctly. It’s a little over 3 miles hiking to get there from Elk Garden, but there is a road that goes up there so you could drive the majority of the way if you wanted to get early morning shots. Not sure, but I think you might be able to catch a sunrise there as well. The view is looking mostly northeast.

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