The Best Kept Secret in Virginia

Their website says that some people consider them one of the best kept secrets in Southwest Virginia. Now I know why.

Camping isn’t one of my things.  We had tried it when I was newly married with two young kids, and it was a disaster. 

We had borrowed a tent and even though we went to a tame campsite with Yogi Bear as its symbol, we had difficulty.  We made the mistake of arriving at the campground near dark, and tried to set up the tent. It lacked certain requirements, like stakes.  I lost my religion trying to wrestle that tent up, and we ended up at the Holiday Inn.

I didn’t mind though because I am a comfort freak. In fact, we never went camping again.

I am trying to mend my ways these days and become a better father. So last week while I was off work, I wanted to go camping with my boys. I wouldn’t have considered it on my own, but my oldest son Matt is something of an outdoors person (he got his mother’s genes) so I figured we would survive, even thrive.

I went to the Internet to find a place with some elevation.  I thought we could go to a local campground, but it was 17 miles down a “holler” in a low area next to a stream.  This wouldn’t do because my oldest son Matt said he preferred a place with a view.

The Internet is where I found .  It is 21 miles southwest of Wytheville, so it was only about 90 minutes from home. Furthermore, a campsite was only five bucks a night. It seemed like a high enough place and the price was right, so Comers Rock it was.

We went by the outfitter of the university where I work to get some equipment, then we were on our way.  We found Forest Service Road 57 off of Highway 21 south of Wytheville and proceeded to the campground.  The road is full of potholes, but we managed to cover the four miles.

When we got to the campground, there was no one in site, and thankfully, that’s how it stayed for the two nights we were there.  Other than Forest Service workers driving by, we hardly saw a soul.

I counted eight campsites, each containing a fire pit and a picnic table. (The website says there are ten.)  There was also a small brick outhouse nearby.

Our picnic table at our campsite

 Photo by Matt Fowler

 The campground is on Iron Mountain, on the ridge line, so there really isn’t much of a view.  The trees obstruct the opposite ridge.  Still, it was a beautiful place.   So we sat up the tent at the most appealing campsite. 

Matt tried to start a fire.  Lukas, my 11-year old, and I gathered firewood. I went to the other campsites and found wood others had left behind. However, our efforts were to no avail because the wood was just too wet.  (It had rained a lot.) We never got a fire going the whole time we were there.

We had no success at getting a fire started.

We entered the tent relatively early, about 8 pm and played a game of Hearts.  Then it was off to slumber land.

I didn’t sleep well on the hard ground in a sleeping bag. I tossed and turned all night. At 6:40 am I woke up and Lukas said, “The mountains are misty and the sun is rising”.

I opened the tent flap and was greeted by a sun ball shining through the trees on the hill in front of me.  Finally, the clouds and rain were gone.

Lukas and I took a walk and found a nature trail. The schematic in my brain equates “nature trail” with “easy”.  Nature trails to me are like the bunny slope at a ski resort.  So I thought this would be a good warm up for the real hiking in the day ahead.

As it turned out, the Unaka Nature Trail was the hardest hike I encountered at Comers Rock.  It was supposed to be a one-mile loop, but we never really found the turn until we had hiked quite a ways.

The trail was full of broken limbs and twigs, and fallen trees and logs. We had to clear them as we walked.  Eventually the trail went down a slope. I could hear a stream in the distance, but never saw it.  I decided with my weak ankle that the downhill was a little too risky. In addition, I didn’t know whether or not we were following the trail anymore.

We went back the way we came. While my clearing of the trail was motivated somewhat my a noble spirit of helping my future neighbor who would follow me,  I actuallyhelped myself.  We finally did find a tight turn off on the hike back, but it was unmarked, so I still am not sure where this so-called easy trail looped.

We went back to our campsite and found Matt awake. We had our breakfast of granola cereal, and after that readied ourselves to go down Iron Mountain Trail.  It was only 8:30 am and I had already had a full hike under my belt.

Next stop: Iron Mountain Trail

Photo by Matt Fowler

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