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Roaring Branch Trail

Hike along the eastern end of Virginia's Stone Mountain Trail, including old-growth hemlocks in Roaring Branch Cove.
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 3.6 miles
Duration: Half day

Overview :  Approximately 3.5-mile one-way hike through Roaring Branch Cove, a scenic area of old-growth forest above southwest Virginia's Powell ... more »

Tips:  Hikers should be aware that parking is limited along US-23 at the trailhead. Most dayhikers park in a series of gravel pullouts just... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Trailhead and Parking

Although trailhead parking is limited, a series of small gravel pulloffs along US-23 is the best place to park a car to get to the start of the trail. To reach the trailhead, you will need to cross the road to a set of stone steps beside the bridge over Roaring Branch. Please take care crossing the highway, as it receives heavy traffic and... More

2. Entrance off of highway

The beginning of the trail is marked by a Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail sign and a series of stone steps. Watch your step going uphill, as they will be slippery if it has rained recently.

3. Stone Stairs

The steep set of stone stairs you are using to climb the lowest reaches of Roaring Branch Cove was originally constructed in the 1970s by the Youth Conservation Corps. These steps (while exhausting to climb!) serve an important role to the trail itself by preventing erosion of the moist soil along this steep stretch of mountainside.

4. Hemlock Decline

Hemlock trees are abundant in this forest but are dwindling nationwide due to a sap-sucking insect, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (Adelges tsugae). This insect arrived in the U.S. in the 1920s from Asia and is deemed an invasive species due to it being non-native to our region.

The adelgid arrived in Virginia in the 1950s and is slowly killing... More

5. Stream Crossing

The first major stream crossing on the trail can often be made dry-shod. This crossing can get high enough to become a wade, however, if the water is high.

6. Seepage Area

The path gets a bit muddy in this seepage area. There is a makeshift bridge in the mud using logs to cross this area - watch your step! In the southern Appalachians, seepage areas such as these can harbor incredibly abundant salamander populations.

Can you find any wildlife under rocks and logs in this area? If so, snap a photo (please don't... More

7. Stream Crossing

Another small stream crossing. This is a good place to take a rest, listen to the sound of the birds around you or to look in and around the stream for wildlife. Many frogs, salamanders or small invertabrates make their home in this habitat.

8. Trail junction

The trail appears to split here, but the path tracking to the right side of the cove clearly dies in just a few feet. Thicker woods appear as you are traveling further away from the stream you were walking beside at the start of the trail.

9. Old-Growth Forest

As you walk along this portion of the trail, you will notice that many trees are of incredibly large size, relative to other forests in the region. Many of the trees in this forest were not chopped down when the major logging companies were in business earlier in Appalachian history in the early 20th century. Only small patches of old-growth... More

10. Rhododendron Tunnel

You appear to be walking into a dense tunnel in the forest along this stretch of trail. This "tunnel" is actually a dense growth of rhododendron arching over the trailbed. Some biologists believe that this shrub has increased in population size since the fungal blight that virtually eliminated the American Chestnut tree in the early 20th century.... More

11. Forest Wildlife

The mature forest and thickets of Rhododendron in Roaring Branch Cove make wonderful homes for a common Appalachian bird, the Ruffed Grouse. If you become lucky enough to encounter one of these birds, they will sound like a tractor going off in the distance or a gun shot (if you are really close) as they fly away. Many long-time Appalachian... More

12. Head of Cove

Near this point in the hike is when you begin to finally "top out" at the head of Roaring Branch Cove. At this point, you have also traveled the entire length of a mountain stream, from its mouth (at the Powell River) to its source (at the spring just below the ridgeline).

Ridgetop environments such as this also tend to be drier and warmer than... More

13. High Butte Overlook

Beyond the head of the cove, the trail continues as the Stone Mountain Trail for a total of 14.3 miles one-way. This trail ultimately links Roaring Branch with Cave Spring Recreation Area at its western terminus and Lake Keokee via a short side-trail approximately one mile from the head of the cove.

Hikers may wish to continue on the Stone... More