Chief Benge Scout Trail
Highlights: rare high elevation plant and bird species, two lakes for swimming, beautiful mountain streams and waterfalls, multiple day backpacking opportunity or shorter day hikes, backcountry solitude
Length: 16.6 miles one way. (An additional 3 miles can be added on by continuing to Hanging Rock.)
Trailheads: Seven trailheads serve the Chief Benge Scout Trail:
High Knob Trailhead: Located off FS 238 at the former site of the High Knob Observation Tower. This is the westernmost point on the trail. To reach the trailhead, head north on Rte 619 from Ft. Blackmore. After 3.6 miles, you will need to make an abrupt right turn to remain on 619. The scenic gravel road heads straight up the side of High Knob for 14.9 miles past Ft. Blackmore before you turn right onto Rte 238. After 1.6 miles, turn right onto Rte 233. Follow Rte 233 to a parking area at the end.
High Knob Lake: This trailhead is gated in the winter (Sept. 15 - May 15.) During the summer, a parking fee applies. To reach the trailhead, head north on Rte 619 from Ft. Blackmore. After 3.6 miles, you will need to make an abrupt right turn to remain on 619. The scenic gravel road heads straight up the side of High Knob for 14.9 miles past Ft. Blackmore before you turn right onto Rte 238. Follow Rte 238 for 1.6 miles to the campground entrance. Turn right onto the campground road and follow it for 1.7 miles to the parking lot at the end.
Mountain Fork: This is not an official trailhead, merely a pull off on the road. To reach Mountain Fork, head north on Rte 619 from Ft. Blackmore. After 3.6 miles, you will need to make an abrupt right turn to remain on 619. The scenic gravel road heads straight up the side of High Knob for 10 miles past Ft. Blackmore before you turn right onto Rte 704. Follow 704 for 3 miles until you see a pull off where the road crosses a creek. Rte 704 is locked in the winter from Sept. 15 - May 15.
Edith Gap: This is not an official trailhead, merely a pull off on the road. To reach Edith Gap, head north on Rte 72 from Dungannon for 8.4 miles. Turn left onto Jaybird Branch Rd. and follow it for 3.2 miles. Take a slight left onto Pine Camp Rd. and drive for 2.6 miles. Turn left at Robinson Knob Rd. and drive for 1.2 miles. (You will need to take a second left to stay on Robinson Knob Rd.) Turn left onto Edith Gap Road and drive for about 0.9 miles (taking a second left to stay on Edith Gap Rd.) Stop at a pull off.
Bark Camp Lake: This trailhead is gated in the winter (from mid Oct. - April 1.) During the summer, a parking fee applies. From Dungannon, follow Rte 72 north for 0.4 miles, then turn left onto Rte 653. After 1.7 miles on Rte 653, turn right onto Rte 706. Follow Rte 706 for 2.7 miles, winding up onto the mountain, then take a sharp right onto Rte 822. You will need to take a couple of lefts to stay on Rte 822, following the road for 3.3 miles. Then turn left into the Bark Camp Lake entrance and travel 0.9 miles to the parking area.
Little Stony Falls: Little Stony Falls marks the official eastern end of the Chief Benge Scout Trail, but many hikers opt to tack on three more miles to view the falls and end up at the Hanging Rock Trailhead. To reach the Little Stony Falls trailhead from Dungannon, follow Rte 72 north for 7.7 miles, then turn left onto Retford Rd (Rte 664.) After 0.4 miles, take a slight left at Corder Town Rd/Quartertown Rd. Follow Corder Town Rd. for 0.8 miles, then turn left onto Forest Road (Rte 700). Follow Forest Rd. for 1.3 miles, then take a slight left onto Rte 701. The trailhead is at the end of the road. During the winter, Rte 700 is locked.
Hanging Rock Trailhead: Take Rte 72 north out of Dungannon toward Coeburn for 2.6 miles. Turn left at a large sign into the Hanging Rock Recreation Area at a hairpin curve. During the winter, the Forest Service locks the gate to the Hanging Rock Recreation Area a quarter mile from the usual parking area.
High Knob Lake --- campground, restrooms, drinking water, sandy beach in a 4 acre, cold water lake
Bark Camp Lake --- campground, restrooms, drinking water, boat launch, picnic areas, 45 acre lake
Hanging Rock Trailhead --- restrooms, picnic areas, drinking water
View a larger version of the trail map (1.3 MB, pdf).
The Chief Benge Scout Trail is the jewel in the crown of Scott County's trail system through the National Forest. This 19.6 mile trail allows hikers to spend multiple days exploring high elevation forests full of rare plants and animals. You will be walking in the footsteps of a half-white, half-Native American warrior --- Chief Bob Benge --- who raided European settlements in southwest Virginia in the late 1700's, killing forty to fifty settlers who had encroached on Native American lands.
Most hikers plan to leave one vehicle at the Hanging Rock (or Little Stony Falls) trailhead and begin their adventure at the High Knob trailhead. This way, they are walking downhill for the majority of their journey. The High Knob trailhead was once home to a fire tower from which visitors could see five states. Although the tower was burned down in 2007, plans are afoot to rebuild the structure. Until then, the views from the top of High Knob are still rivetting --- at 4,162 feet, the peak is one of the highest in southwest Virginia. The lookout is accessed by walking straight up the hill from the parking area. Then walk back down to the parking area and look for the beginning of the Chief Benge Scout Trail on your left as you face the peak.
The first leg of the trail, from the peak to High Knob Lake, is relatively steep --- but not so hard when you're heading downhill! Keep your eyes open for plants and animals usually found in New England. The golden, peeling bark of the Yellow Birch is one indicator that you are walking through a northern hardwood forest while four species of thrush sing in the canopy above your head.
About a mile later, the trail spits you out onto a paved blacktop road --- the entrance to the High Knob Lake recreation area. You can either cross the road and pick up the trail again for a short jaunt beside a swamp where the avid botanist will pick out Grass of Parnassus, or you can turn right down the blacktop and follow the road to the parking area at the end. Either way, once you reach the parking area you should follow the signs through a picnic area to the lake.
High Knob Lake is a perfect place to stop for a short swim before continuing through northern hardwood forest. A loop around the lake gives hikers two options --- follow the left side to stick to the official Chief Benge Scout Trail or go right instead for the wilder path.
After you leave High Knob Lake behind, the trail becomes more wild and rocky (and much less traveled) as it drops down past Mountain Fork and Edith Gap to Bark Camp Lake. The trail criss-crosses Mountain Fork creek multiple times, but the agile hiker can usually keep dry feet. Lush moss-covered logs and dense groves of rhododenron line the hollow while Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue, and Black-throated Green Warblers serenade your walk.
You may begin to see other hikers again as you reach the western end of Bark Camp Lake. The trail splits in two to follow both sides of the shore --- stay right for peace and tranquility, or head left to reach the campground and day use area where you can take a shower and pitch your tent near a jovial campground host.
Below Bark Camp Lake, you have left the northern hardwood forest behind and have instead entered central Appalachia's unique cove hardwood forest. This forest is the remnant of a vast tract of deciduous trees which spanned the entire northern hemisphere 60 million years ago. Glaciation in the last couple of million years caused the extinction of the Arcto-Tertiary forest everywhere except a little pocket in eastern Asia and one in northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and western North Carolina. Our remnant of the Arcto-Tertiary forest gives this region a higher diversity than anywhere else in the continental United States. The avid botanist will be intrigued to find plants like Tulip-tree which have no relatives anywhere else in the world --- except eastern Asia.
The Little Stony Falls trailhead is the official end of the Chief Benge Scout Trail, but nearly everyone will hike an extra half mile to see the falls themselves. A bridge across the 24 foot high waterfall lets you stand atop rushing water, watching it plunge into the deep pool below. It's hard to resist continuing down the gorge for another three miles to the Hanging Rock trailhead.