Those of us who live in Highland know things casual visitors don’t. Things like where to buy fresh-caught oysters at Christmas time, or what’s the best route to follow during Maple Festival to avoid crowds, or where to walk if you want shade, sheep, or show-stopping views as part of the stroll.
You can buy oysters at the Blue Grass Mercantile, but be sure to place your order early in December. To avoid Maple crowds, you should visit sugar camps in the morning and save your pancake meal for the afternoon, and if you want a beautiful, quiet walk, keep reading.
I have walked many roads in Highland and have my own personal favorites. But, as I was preparing to write this article, I also ran a poll on Facebook and was directed to many routes I might not have considered. With all those suggestions to sort through, I decided to list three walks in each of the three major valleys that define our county. I visited each and made sure there were places to park and not much traffic. So, grab your tennis shoes and a bottle of water. You’ve got a lot of steps to take if you want to see it all.
If you are in McDowell and want a strenuous walk that leads to an impressive mountain view, then travel 7.5 miles north on Doe Hill Road, and turn left on Jack Mountain Road. Drive 1.5 miles to Seldom Seen Road, and park in the first wide spot you find. The walk from this location rises from 2,800 to 3,200 feet in a mile, so be prepared to huff and puff. The mountain view at the end includes a cozy farm and endless rows of mountains fading off into the distance.
If you prefer a flat walk where you can commune with cows or sing to sheep, then I suggest you travel a tenth of a mile further up Doe Hill Road until you reach the Doe Hill Methodist Church. You can park in their lot. Follow the sidewalk to River Bend Road where you’ll turn right and walk the half a mile to Little Mountain Trail. Choose: will you turn left there or keep straight? Both choices involve a climb, but the quiet scenery makes it worthwhile. Walk until you are tired, then return to your car. Before driving home, step across the road to the cemetery and admire the view.
Finally, if you are craving shade, then Davis Run Road provides some heat relief on a hot day. From McDowell, travel two miles west on Route 250 to Davis Run Road. Turn left, and travel two miles and park at Buck Hill Road. Walking in either direction on Davis Run Road from this spot will offer a four-mile round trip to the end and back, but if you go left, you will have significant hills to climb, while turning right is much flatter.
Are you searching for a bucolic stroll near Monterey? Travel south on Route 220, watching for horses and buggies, until you reach Vanderpool. Turn right on Route 84 and continue 2.5 miles to Meadowdale Road. Turn right, and drive until you spot The Church of the Old Oak on your left. Park there, and start your walk by turning left onto Meadowdale Road. When you see Mill Lane, turn right, and follow it to Dug Bank Road before turning around. You will travel three miles round trip, and depending on the season, you might spot farmers making hay or feeding cows. Look out for barn quilts painted by local artist Margie Boesch.
If you prefer a vigorous climb that leads to an incredible view then drive five miles north on Route 220 until you see Halterman Hollow Road on your left. Follow it a half a mile to Moats Lane which will also be on your left. Turn there, and park on the right. You will begin your climb through a shady glen of rhododendrons, but rise to open farmland. Be sure to look for the llama guarding the sheep. Turn around where state maintenance ends and where the mountains extend south and west as far as you can see. Look for a line of limestone cliffs that forms the spine of the Blue Grass Valley: the Devil’s Backbone. This two-mile round trip changes in elevation from 2,500 to 2,900 feet.
Finally, if you want a pleasant walk along a babbling brook lined with split-rail fences, then travel Route 220 North for 5.7 miles from Monterey to Peck’s Lane on your right. There are wide places to park once you turn. This walk is through dappled shade and includes lovely open views of farms. There’s a slight grade uphill on the way in, and when you reach the end of the road, you will have traveled 1.5 miles before turning around and cooling off on the downhill trip back.
We’ll start our walk here with one of my favorite views in Highland. Hardscrabble Road offers incredible mountain vistas without a strenuous climb. Drive to Blue Grass from Monterey via Route 250 west, and turn right at the intersection of Route 250 and Blue Grass Valley Road. Enjoy a pleasant ride through Highland County’s iconic Blue Grass Valley and through the charming village of Blue Grass. Then, turn left on Wimer Mountain Road at the stop sign just past Blue Grass Mercantile. One mile later, turn left on Hardscrabble. Park in the first wide spot you see. If you walk to Hevener Lane and back it’s a little over 2.5 miles round trip. Take your camera with you. This is one of the most photographed and painted spots in Highland County.
Finding a shady road in this valley is a little trickier as it is mostly open farmland, but if you travel Route 250 west to Hightown from Monterey, and continue past it about 3.5 miles, you’ll see Upper Back Creek Road on your left. Turn there, and park in a wide spot. Walk to the second farm, and turn around for a round trip of two miles. The first tenth of a mile includes an elevation change of 150 feet, but the rest of the route is fairly flat. Because this shady road is above 3,000 feet in altitude, it’s a lovely route for a hot day.
Sheep and cattle dot the farms on the last walk which begins at the old Hevener Store in Hightown. Park in the parking lot of the store, and head south on Meadowdale Road where you will follow a tiny creek that is the very beginning of the James River. Turn around when you get to the place where that tiny creek crosses under the road. You will have traveled three miles round trip.
There you have it: nine amazing routes, all easily accessible and traffic-free. There are so many more that did not make the list, but now it’s up to you. Drive somewhere new, park along the road, and discover your own favorite walk in the sweet spot that is Highland County, Virginia.