Wanderlove is about doing what you love with the people you love. Experience the pristine views and hidden gems of our mountain community of Highland County. Plan your next road trip at www.highlandcounty.org.
Photo credit: Blue Ridge GeoGraphics
One of the most sparsely populated counties east of the Mississippi, Highland County is ideal for those looking for solitude and a refreshing sense of freedom. Known for its breathtaking beauty and rural charm, Highland is characterized by breathtaking forests, dark night skies, pristine waterways, small towns and open farmland. Our high altitude is key to the success of the local maple syrup industry. Highland Counties is home to the headwaters of the James and Potomac Rivers, and overall, clean mountain spring water is abundant.
Check out the following sweet spots as you plan your itinerary to Highland County.
Sweet Spot # 1: Climb the Sounding Knob Fire Tower
Photo credit: Blue Ridge GeoGraphics
It’s easy to improve your highland travel experience, but now you can climb even higher. Over 100 steps further, the Sounding Knob Fire Tower will give you a lasting memory – and maybe even a few wobbly legs! How many mountain ranges can you see? The tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 and dismantled and removed from its original location on Sounding Knob in 2002. In 2017 it was restored through the generosity of Skip Jones and Steve Good. It now overlooks Monterey on Jack Mountain. It is located on a gravel road on Sounding Knob Road, just 1.3 miles south of the intersection at Rt. 250. Enjoy some of the best views in Virginia every day from sunrise to sunset through November 1, 2020. The practice of social distancing is required. Please exit Sounding Knob Road and enter Rt. 250. Very close vehicles may have difficulty with water breaks on Sounding Knob Road, but most vehicles will have no problems.
Sweet Spot # 2: Taste pure delicacy on the New Virginia Maple Syrup Trail
Photo credit: Valerie Lowry
Highland County is known for its maple syrup industry and one of the southernmost places in the US where the sweet “liquid gold” can be consistently made. Maple syrup producers and their sugar warehouses shape the landscape, each with their own stories, story and techniques. Due to the freeze and thaw cycle in late winter and early spring, the county holds an annual maple festival on the second and third weekends in March. Outside of this March timeframe, eight Highland County’s sugar warehouses are scheduled to be open year round by appointment for a tour, local syrup tasting, and fun. Get an insight into farm life, take a hike in some areas, and learn how many producers are even expanding to other tree syrups like hickory, walnut, and birch. Get an official pass, get yours stamped after every visit to the sugar warehouse, and even get a free gift when you’ve completed all eight! Start in September 2020, find out where your syrup is from and live this one-of-a-kind agrotourism adventure! Find out all about the brand new Virginia Maple Syrup page and contact each syrup maker for details and the COVID-19 protocol.
Sweet Spot # 3: Find all of the beautiful shapes and colors on the Barn Quilt Trail
Photo credit: David Cockerham
What are those painted wooden quilting blocks adorned on barns and houses in Highland County? They are barn blankets! As of 2011, Highland County was the first county in Virginia to have its own Barn Quilt Trail. Pick up a copy of the newly revised Barn Quilt Trail brochure starting mid-September, or view the online version to find over 50 unique barn quilts on a leisurely country drive. With interesting names like “Five Reds”, “Colaw Apple” or “Jacob’s Ladder”, each barn ceiling tells a story that usually has a special meaning for the owner, nature, family, business or design. If you follow the Highland County Barn Quilt Trail, you will meander through our back roads with a specific destination. Enjoy the beauty of our hills and valleys, fields and forests and the stories of the people who are part of this community. Can you see them all
Sweet Spot # 4: Take a hike on pristine, sparsely populated trails
Photo credit: Doug Puffenbarger
Get off the road and lace up your boots to hike in the clean mountain air. Four hiking trails are listed in the Highland County section of the Virginia Western Highlands Trail Guide. The Shenandoah Mountain Trail is an easy 6 mile hike that is also part of the Great Eastern Trail. It awaits you at the top of Shenandoah Mountain on RT. 250 along the border between Highland and Augusta counties. If you travel west, you can hike the 2.6 mile McDowell Battlefield Trail that leads to the top of Sitlington Hill and the core of McDowell Battlefield, with interpretive intelligence from Civil War Trails along the steady incline. In the remote area of Laurel Fork in northern Highland Counties, the Locust Spring Run and Buck Run Trail are 6 miles of moderate to difficult trails. The Paddy Knob Trail stretches across Virginia and West Virginia to the base of an old lookout tower and offers easy to moderate hikes ranging from 0.5 to 7 miles.
Sweet Spot # 5: Relax while fishing along the cool, clean streams and ponds
Fishing is a great way to get away! Highland County has three rivers for public fishing: Bullpasture, Potomac, and Laurel Fork. Favorites like rainbow, brown and brown trout swim in the pure mountain streams. Contact Fish Virginia First or the Department of Wildlife Resources for more information on places to visit and regulations. If you need a guide, contact the Bull Mountain Guide Service. For a fun experience with kids to introduce them to fishing, head to Hiner Town Trout Fishing, about a mile north of Monterey on Potomac River Road (Rt. 220) at 222 Hiner’s Lane where you can You can fish in a small pond Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. or on Sunday at 540-679-6194 (if you call before Saturday). Children even get a prize for catching a golden trout! You keep what you catch at $ 5 per pound (cash or check), but no rod / bait licenses or restrictions are required. If family units are outside, they must be three feet apart. If all you want to do is try fish without catching “the big one,” get your fresh or frozen trout from the Virginia Trout Company at 5480 Potomac River Road, Monday through Wednesday, 8:00 am to 12:00 pm.
Sweet Spot # 6: Discover the history of an area that looks similar to over 100 years ago
Photo credit: Highland County Chamber of Commerce
The Highland Historical Society runs a beautiful museum called The Mansion House, which was used as a hospital during the Battle of McDowell in May 1862. At 161 Mansion House Road in McDowell, learn more about the meaning of the Battle of McDowell, experience the Civil War with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Orientation Center, learn about the local ancestors and how the county was formed, and take a look at the classic 1921 silent film directed in Highland County, Tol’able David. The Mansion House accepts voluntary donations for entry and is open Thursday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm through the end of October. More information is available at www.highlandcountyhistory.com. On their website, you can even get a virtual look at the two newest exhibits, early handcrafted furniture in Highland County and a preview of Collection II at the Jones / McCoy House Museum! For more information on the history of the civil war and hiking trails in the area, please visit www.civilwartrails.org and www.shenandoahatwar.org.
Rt. 250 and Rt. 220 are the two main roads that must be used in the highlands and cross at the county town of Monterey in the center of the county. If you are traveling from the Shenandoah Valley to places like Staunton, you will come along Rt. 250 and further northwest over several mountains, first into the town of McDowell and then into Monterey for another fifteen minutes. If you keep going on RT. 250, you’ll have more mountain views and you’ll be in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. If you’re coming from the southwest from places like Roanoke, take Rt. 220 to Monterey, and if you keep going you will eventually come to Pendleton County, West Virginia. A detour along the country roads across the county will lead you to new experiences and views. For a map to help you plan your trip, see the Highland County Motorcycle Guide brochure or the VDOT Highland County Map.
Would like more? This is your Wanderlove calling and we have you covered! Find out more about Highland County’s businesses and organizations, including places to stay, eat and relax, at www.highlandcounty.org, or learn more about other destinations at www.Virginia.org/WanderLove. Good Trip!
WanderLove: A Road Trip Through Highland County first appeared on Virginia’s travel blog.