As much as we might consider ourselves trail experts, there will always be new trails to blaze or hidden trails nearby that we have not yet discovered. I learn of many of these new destinations in casual conversation with friends and fellow hikers or sometimes through my own research.
The other day I came across a two-year-old blog by Casey Higgins titled, “Underrated Hiking Trails In Virginia’s Blue Ridge.” I was pleased that she acknowledged the trails of our local nature preserves: Poor Mountain, Grassy Hill, Read Mountain and Bottom Creek Gorge. I also hoped that the article might provide me with at least one new opportunity, which it did.
I love the excitement and anticipation of getting on a trail for the first time. I must admit though, my ego took a bit of a hit, and I was embarrassed that a trail so close to home that I had not yet traversed. Therein may be a lesson for us all, you don’t always need to travel long distances to discover new and interesting hiking destinations.
So this week I was off to experience for the first time the Dogwood Glen Trail along Philpott Lake. The trail is at the southern tip of the lake and stretches along the shoreline from Philpott Dam to Salthouse Branch Recreation Area. There is ample parking at both trailheads, but keep in mind there may be a day-use fee at Salthouse Branch.
Dogwood Glen is a moderate to strenuous 4.5-mile out and back trail, or a rather challenging 9-mile trek if you do it all. Except for a small section as you enter Salthouse Branch, it is a shared-use trail for hikers, bikers and equestrians. I noticed a little track evidence of equestrian use as I hiked that morning, but little evidence of bike traffic. To accommodate its shared-use purpose, the trail is about 6 to 7 feet wide, which I did not mind at all.
The elevation range along the trail goes from 835 feet to a maximum of 1,185 feet. This would normally not challenge an avid hiker nor would it warrant any descriptive labeling beyond moderate. However, the trail will reach the level of 1,150 feet or more five times along the 4.5-mile stretch, giving it the look of a rollercoaster ride. A couple of these uphill sections are quite steep and will steal your breath away.
You also cross a half-dozen or so small creeks that feed into the lake. A couple of these meandering creeks are too wide to jump across so you will need to make sure you have a good waterproof boot.
Most of the trail meanders through a lovely hardwood forested area managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with occasional elevated views of the lake. At various times the trail wanders right down to the lake’s shoreline for some picturesque opportunities.
The trail has much to offer to the nature lover. There is a wide range of flora to enjoy from the ridgelines of the trail down to the lake’s edge. Wildflowers were beginning to show themselves, and there was quite a lot of dogwood trees and mountain laurels along the trail. I am already planning a return trip later this spring to see this trail in full bloom. It should be stunning.
Anyone familiar with Philpott Lake knows that it is never at a loss for wildlife viewing, and this trail was no exception. There were moments that I felt as if the deer were actually hiking along with me because I saw them so often. A couple snakes sunning themselves along the trails edge added to the excitement of my visit.
And the woods along Philpott never disappoint the birdwatchers. The Vireos were particularly active and vocal adding the extra benefit of music for my hike. These areas are well-populated with various hawks and on a good day, even an occasional bald eagle will fly by.
I was fortunate on this day to have the whole trail to myself giving me a unique and secluded nature experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I won’t know if it is always this peaceful of a hiking experience unless I return more frequently, which I definitely intend on doing. Dogwood Glen is well worth the frequent visit, and if you haven’t yet experienced this gem you must add it to your bucket list.