Whitetop Mountain: Virginia's Overlooked Peak That Should Be on Your Bucket List

For me, there is just something magically special about this place. It still gives me butterflies when I try to get there for a sunrise.

Sometimes, life happens. I get it. There is a chance most of you guys who happen upon this story are avid hikers, or adventurers. Maybe you're bloggers and paid outdoors athletes who hike the AT to test gear or write for big name media outlets. Me? Well, I'm a dad. I'm a dad to a 10 year old boy. My time is crunched day to day from running to and from school, managing every aspect of my small business and networking it on social media until my eyes are burning from strain, finding time to keep after my outlet of training at my local gym, and yes, finding even less time to travel and pursue this small career in freelance photography. I hear it a lot, "You're a busy man." 

Living in rural Southwest Virginia, mountains and trails are somewhat plentiful if you want to drive a little. Growing up in this area, I seemed to take it all for granted and like most local youth, I opted to pursue college out of state, and as my family was starting to grow, I relocated completely to Florida when my son was only 2 years old. Upon moving back, something about getting into Grayson Highlands really called to me for the first time. 


Something so vast and expansive, it just took over. I wanted to go higher, so my pilgrimage included trips into North Carolina to see Mt. Mitchell, and even into the Tennessee side of things at Clingmans Dome. One thing that seems to always bother me with the more publicized destination was always the amount of tourists clamoring for photos and really just putting off the vibe I was searching for that I experienced in my first trip into Grayson Highlands. After a bit of research, I had noticed a reoccurring location among locals that seemed to be a bit out of the way, but still promised a view I could take in on my own and even with my kids, with just a moment of peace and quiet away from the day to day grind. 


Whitetop Mountain is accessible 2 different ways. First off, if you've hiked any of the Appalachian Trail in the Highlands area, you should be familiar with Whitetop. Coming up from Damascus, VA will challenge even the most seasoned backpackers. Coming down the AT from Mt. Rogers, just a simple jaunt. The AT splits the heart of Whitetop and leaving the mountain heading south into Damascus will walk you just past a very out of place rock formation unlike most anything else on this mountain. Aptly named Buzzard Rock, it fits the moniker well. 


The drive in on Route 600 is as straight forward as it can be. Off of Interstate 81 at exit 35, you're merely a 15 minute drive from the summit of Whitetop, depending on road conditions during the winter months. Rt 600 is named "White Top Rd" and will wind you up and over two mountains until you reach the Appalachian Trail crossing the road at Elk Garden, just at the base of Whitetop Mountain. For some folks looking for a good hike, parking is available here, and the AT greets you happily at the stairs for a shade over 3 miles of climbing onto Whitetop Mountain. 


For those on a time crunch or who want to just enjoy the ride a bit further, a mile past the Elk Garden parking lot, Mud Creek Lane meets you on your left, and a short 2 mile drive introduces you to your first few glimpses of what lies ahead. After a series of steep switch backs near the summit, you will find parking a plenty, and on most days, a fairly quiet and peaceful view. 


For me, there is just something magically special about this place. It still gives me butterflies when I try to get there for a sunrise. I've tried 5 different Sundays this year, and everytime the low clouds, or rain coming in from the west has thwarted a sun rise shoot, but the evenings, the golden hours, the sunsets, my God. Whitetop is just a special place. 

Published: February 6, 2017

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Billy Bowling

Tazewell

Adventurer. Photographer. Registered Dietician. Dad.