Left: The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All pauses atop 4,365-foot Bald Knob. Right: The boathouse is at the water's edge in good times for Mountain Lake; on this day, it's a long way over dry land from the minimal remnant.
With another 95-plus day in the Roanoke area, we headed for the high elevation of the Mountain Lake Resort and Wilderness area.
To hike on the resort's property, you pay a $5 fee just below the hotel, and get a sort of approximate and incomplete trail map, equipped with which we headed up a connector trail to the Bear Cliffs Trail, with the idea of going beyond the lookout point to the biological station before turning around.
The lookout point was hazy, but perhaps not as hazy as our reading of the trail sign sending us toward the biological station, which we ignored, with my excuse being that it was a hard left and the map showed no such thing. Anyway, we walked about a mile along a well-blazed trail till we reached an intersection with the Sartain Branch Trail, at which point we turned around. This mile – in and back – was a bit of a test for The Day Hiker, as she has been reminded, these past two weekends, of the day, a few years back in this area, when she came this close to stepping on a rattlesnake. The forest attributes of that hiking day – about 4,000 feet elevation, lots of healthy ferns and rocky terrain – were exactly what we walked through along this trail section, and Gail was on full snake alert.
With an extra two miles or so already walked, we decided to eat lunch back at Bear Cliffs rather than at Bald Knob as originally planned.
From there, the walk was along the Bear Cliffs Trail to the Moonstomper Trail – a nifty, high-ridge trail with stunted trees and occasional open spaces – and then the Homestead Trail, which wends its way around the Bald Knob summit before finally climbing to it. The view from Bald Knob, though you're only about half a mile down a steep trail from the hotel, is panoramic at 4,365 feet, the highest point in Giles County.
Back down the mountainside, at the low point of the resort-proper property, Mountain Lake is a sad remnant of its 50-acre full self, existing on this day as a small pond at the far end of its grown-over basin.
Trails to and beyond Bear Cliffs and Bald Knob in the Mountain Lake Resort area. About 6.5 miles.
How to get there: U.S. 460 west from Blacksburg to Va. 700 up to Mountain Lake Resort.