Hike Location: Douthat State Park
Geographic Location: north of Clifton Forge, VA (37.90177, -79.80532)
Length: 9.1 miles
Difficulty: 9/10 (Difficult)
Last Hiked: May 2011
Overview: A long lollipop loop up the eastern face of Middle Mountain.
Park Information: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/douthat.shtml#general_information
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=723614
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=723614
Directions to the trailhead: In western Virginia, take I-64 to US 220 (exit 27). Exit, but instead of going south on US 220, head north on CR 629. CR 629 takes you into the park in 5 miles. Stay on CR 629, pass the park office, and turn left into the Camp Carson Picnic Area, where this hike begins.
The hike: Located in the Allegheny Mountains of western Virginia, Douthat State Park is one of the crown jewels of the fine Virginia state park system. The park’s original land consists of a 1920 acre donation from the Douthat Land Company, a consortium of Virginia businessmen. The remaining land was purchased in 1933 as part of the state’s initial fund allocation toward developing a state park system. The park opened in 1936 as one of Virginia’s six original state parks. The tall, old trees found here today make this park a real treasure.
From 1933 to 1942 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked here and built many of the park’s structures and 38 miles of hiking trails. The park has a 50-acre lake (created by the CCC) and several campgrounds, but most readers of this blog will be interested in the trails. Unlike many other mountain trails, the trails here are wide and well-graded with good switchbacks thanks to the work of the CCC. Nobody builds mountain trails like these anymore.
CR 629 runs north-south bisecting the park along with the park’s trail system. The most popular trails are located on Middle Mountain west of CR 629, and that is the location of the loop hike described here. This loop gains over 1700 feet of elevation, and as a result it involves some level of difficulty. Even if you do not have the time or energy to do the entire loop, a walk up to the first overlook above Blue Suck Falls and back makes for a very rewarding hike of 2.4 miles with less than half of the overall elevation gain.
|Blue Suck Falls Trailhead|
|Beginning the ascent-Blue Suck Falls Trail|
The trail begins a gradual to moderate ascent. Since this is the main trail in this part of the park, side trails exit right and left. First the Heron Run Trail exits right, then the Tobacco House Ridge Trail exits left, and then Huff’s Trail exits right. All of these intersections are well-marked, and the Blue Suck Falls Trail itself is marked with blue blazes. Thus, it should be hard to make a wrong turn.
|Stepping across a creek|
At 0.8 miles, you reach the trail intersection that forms the loop portion of this hike. The Locust Gap Trail going straight will be our return route, so you should turn right and continue climbing on the Blue Suck Falls Trail. The forest at this elevation is beautiful, mature forest with some tall maple, beech, oak, and hickory trees. Some benches made of rocks make for interesting places to sit and rest on the climb.
|Stone bench beside trail|
The trail leaves the creekbank and begins the first steep section of the climb. This section takes you to the base of Blue Suck Falls, the scenic waterfall that gives this trail its name. A low to moderate volume of water falls in several segments including a couple of waterslides. The area around the falls is rather rocky, but algae lives on the waterslides, and small trees manage to eek out an existence among the rocks. A bench at the base of the falls allows you to stop and rest while observing the falling water.
|Blue Suck Falls|
At the base of the falls, the trail crosses the creek on a footlog and then reverses courses to head for the rim of Blue Suck Hollow through a dense area of rhododendron. At 1.2 miles, you reach the first overlook. This overlook gives a nice view of Beard Mountain through a gap in the beech-maple forest.
From the overlook, the trail curves left and continues climbing, soon to reach an intersection with the Pine Tree Trail. The yellow-blazed Pine Tree Trail continues straight, so you need to turn left to remain on the Blue Suck Falls Trail. For the next 0.7 miles the trail ascends several moderate to steep switchbacks through a dense mountain laurel thicket. Some of these switchbacks offer nice additional views to the south and east. Blue Suck Falls can still be heard in the hollow to your left, but no additional views of the waterfall can be had.
|Climbing through mountain laurel|
|Spur trail to Lookout Rock|
|Bird nest beside trail|
At 2.95 miles, the yellow-blazed Tuscarora Overlook Trail exits left at a soft angle, heading downhill. To continue the loop, head down the Tuscarora Overlook Trail. Note that continuing straight on the Blue Suck Falls Trail another 300 feet (gaining another 40 feet of elevation) will lead you to the summit of Middle Mountain where the Blue Suck Falls Trail ends at the Middle Mountain Trail. The dense young forest here precludes any views, so there is really nothing to see at the summit except a trail intersection. The only thing you will gain is the satisfaction of having reached the top of Middle Mountain.
The Tuscarora Overlook Trail begins with a gradual to moderate descent. Your current trail is narrower than the main trail you traversed earlier, but it is still well-maintained and easy to follow. 3.5 miles into the hike, you reach the signed spur trail to Tuscarora Overlook, which is reached in 300 feet. Now this is a world-class view! Douthat Lake and Beards Mountain lie below you in the foreground with Rough Mountain and Mill Mountain behind them. Bearwallow Mountain can be seen in the distance to the south. Some interpretive signs describe the area as the pioneers would have seen it. A rustic cabin provides shelter, and its front porch provides a nice place to sit and have a snack while taking in the view.
|View from Tuscarora Overlook|
Back on the Tuscarora Overlook Trail, the trail undulates gradually as it negotiates a couple of windfalls while heading southwest around a hollow in Middle Mountain’s east slope. At 4 miles, the Tuscarora Overlook Trail ends at its junction with the Stony Run Trail. A soft left turn will get you heading downhill on the Stony Run Trail and back toward the trailhead.
As its name suggests, the orange-blazed Stony Run Trail has more rocks underfoot than the Blue Suck Falls Trail on which you climbed. Also, while the Blue Suck Falls Trail went through the center of the trail system, the Stony Run Trail lies on the southern flank, so you will not encounter any exiting or entering trails for awhile.
|Descending switchbacks on Stony Run Trail|
6 miles into the hike, the Stony Run Trail crosses the small creek on stepping stones. The official park map indicates a waterfall. To see it, immediately after crossing the creek you will have to leave the official trail and make your way upstream about 150 feet on rough trail. This waterfall is a smaller version of Blue Suck Falls, as the small stream drops over several ledges, many of which are covered with green algae. We can thank the park officials for including this waterfall on the trail map, for otherwise most people would never find it.
|Small waterfall on Stony Run|
Back on the Stony Run Trail, the trail undulates gently as it heads down a wide hollow. Continue straight where a horse trail exits right to head out of the park. Soon the trail again crosses Stony Run with the aid of stepping stones. At 6.7 miles, you reach a trail intersection where the Locust Gap Trail exits left. To continue this loop, turn left to begin the Locust Gap Trail. Note that continuing straight on the Stony Run Trail will lead to a small parking area on CR 629 in another 1 mile. Unfortunately, this parking area is more than 1 mile south of where your car is parked.
|Intersection with Locust Gap Trail|
After a little more gradual climbing, you reach the height of land and begin a gradual descent into Blue Suck Falls Hollow. At 8.3 miles, you close the loop portion of this hike when you intersect the Blue Suck Falls Trail. A right turn and 0.8 miles of downhill walking on a moderate grade will return you to Camp Carson Picnic Area to complete the hike.