New Guide Spotlights Hiking in Southwest Virginia | Outside

Whether you’re looking to climb to high altitudes or just change your attitude, you won’t find a better way than to hike the hidden outdoor treasure of Southwest Virginia – the High Knob area.

Thanks to Wally Smith, associate professor of biology at UVA Wise, the area has its first comprehensive guide called “High Lonesome Trails: Randing Virginia’s High Knob Region”.

“As a hiker, I wanted to provide information to local residents who haven’t hiked and want to get outside,” says Smith. “I also wanted to do it for visitors to the area. It has always been difficult to come to the area and know where to go without having one place that condenses information on various local trails. It can help our local economy and tourism.

Considered one of the most underrated hiking destinations in the Appalachians, the High Knob region is centered around the High Knob Tower located in the Clinch Ranger district of the Jefferson National Forest. From the tower ‘s 4,200 foot elevation, visitors can see five states: Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

“High Knob is not only a scenic element, but a central part of the identity of this rich culture. It is linked to the community, its people and its history, which makes it an important presence in this region, ”said Smith.

In addition, the guide comes out just in time for fall, arguably the most popular season in the Appalachians. So Smith made sure to share some of his favorite places to admire the fall foliage.

The guide offers 25 regional hikes that include local, state, and federal lands in Wise, Scott, and Lee counties. Most are located in the Jefferson National Forest with a sample of state parks including Natural Tunnel and the recently opened Clinch River State Park in St. Paul. City trails like Flag Rock near Norton are also offered.

“This book will share the area with people who have never lived it and will share it with people who live there but want to better live the experience they live in,” said Smith.

Whether readers are looking to find an easy or difficult hike, prefer a short excursion or a day trip, the book helps identify the best options. It includes trail directions, difficulty levels, trail lengths, features and maintenance conditions.

Longtime hiker, Smith also offers a descriptive tour of each trail. It provides an overview of streams, bridges, lookouts, waterfalls, geological features, and unique native wildlife.

For example, the Guest River Gorge Trail, a family-friendly trail, takes visitors through unique geological features, including the 300-million-year-old sandstone cliffs along the river. A casual outdoor classroom for Smith and his UVA Wise students, the trail offers a close-up glimpse of a diverse habitat. On this one, hikers can find eastern hemlock, coppery-headed snakes, and the center of much of Smith’s academic research, the green salamander, known for its vivid emerald color.

Smith got the idea for the book while traveling and hiking during the COVID-19 pandemic, picking up guides on local trails.

“I realized that there was no guide for our local trails, and saw that there was a need, in terms of the hiking, outdoor and educational opportunities that we have here. Smith says. “My family loves the outdoors in our backyard and after work and on weekends we go out and hike. It’s a big draw.

The book is now available on Amazon, and Smith hopes the guide will eventually be found in tourist spots, parks, and outfitters.

“I have been stunned by the response so far. It has been really positive, ”said Smith. “I think we are riding this wave of outings and trail discoveries in this part of the state and I hope the time is right to publish this guide.”

The book also has its roots in the High Knob Regional Initiative, a collaboration of local governments, nonprofits and other organizations including UVA Wise, explains Smith, who is vice president of the Clinch Coalition, a regional non-profit environmental group.

He hopes the guide will not only help generate interest in regional outdoor recreation, but also boost the local and regional tourism economy.

“Hikers or cyclists can come to town, spend the night and spend money in these towns,” says Smith. “I think there’s a lot of interest and people just don’t know where to look. Now is a good time to take out this type of guide with the regional movement focused on the outdoors.

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About Mark A. Tomlin

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