Roanoke, VA: Little Dry Run Wilderness

Score quiet views of the southern Virginia highlands on this lush loop.
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Score quiet views of the southern Virginia highlands on this lush loop.

When the Appalachian Trail was rerouted through nearby Grayson Highlands State Park in the 1950s, solitude returned to the Iron Mountains. Result: a special stash of unmarred hiking for in-the-know locals who patched together this 16.4-miler.

From Little Dry Run trailhead, head into the wilderness area along Little Dry Run. Climb 800 feet in three miles, in the shade of oaks, hemlocks, and rhododendrons. At mile .7, the route zigzags over the rocky streambed, which is usually dry except for early spring (hence the name). At mile 2.8, the trail intersects the orange-blazed Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. The unnamed gap here makes a good first night’s camp, if you’ve started on Friday evening.

From here, continue straight on Little Dry Run Trail for an optional 2.7-mile ascent of Comers Rock. The next morning, continue east, descending through maple and hemlock, interrupted occasionally by small meadows of shin-high grasses and Queen Anne’s lace. Cross US 21 and the ankle-deep East Fork of Dry Run, turning right at mile 5.6 onto the gravel CC Camp road (good camping nearby), then twisting an immediate left onto Dry Run Gap Trail. You’ll meander along the base of a dry ravine before turning left onto the yellow-blazed Iron Mountain Trail.

Climb switchbacks .5 mile to reach a ridge with blown-open views north and south in winter. After two brief-but-steep climbs, turn left onto the Divide Trail, plunging 700 feet in .7 mile. On your descent, keep your eyes peeled for black bears drawn to the blue and blackberries of this deep, wooded valley (in June). Cross the CC Camp road again at mile 10.3 to rejoin the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, leading to 3,873-foot Horse Heaven and its idyllic grassy campsite (pack in water). Close the loop: Descend nearly 1,300 feet in four miles, linking to Henley Hollow Trail at mile 14.8. Follow the faint tinkle of cascading water back to the trailhead.

Gear up: SunDog Outfitter, 331 Douglas Dr., Damascus, VA; (866) 515-3441; sundogoutfitter.com

Permit: None required

Map: USGS quad Speedwell ($8, store.usgs.gov)

Season: May for blooms, June for berries, Nov. for fall colors

-Mapped by Peter Rives

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 30.9

Waypoints

DRW001

Location: 36.7886, -81.182783

From Little Dry Run trailhead, head into the wilderness area along Little Dry Run. Continue southwest.

DRW002

Location: 36.787856, -81.191819

At mile .7, the route zigzags over the rocky streambed, which is usually dry except for early spring.

DRW003

Location: 36.776913, -81.219247

At mile 2.8, the trail intersects the orange-blazed Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. The unnamed gap here makes a good first night’s camp. Continue straight on Little Dry Run Trail for an optional 2.7-mile ascent of Comers Rock.

DRW004

Location: 36.775, -81.1811

Cross US 21 and the ankle-deep East Fork of Dry Run, turning right at mile 5.6 onto the gravel CC Camp road.

DRW005

Location: 36.772183, -81.17715

Twist an immediate left onto Dry Run Gap Trail.

DRW006

Location: 36.764983, -81.170217

Bear another left onto the yellow-blazed Iron Mountain Trail. Climb switchbacks .5 mile to reach a ridge with clear views north and south in winter.

DRW007

Location: 36.766933, -81.130217

Turn left onto the Divide Trail, losing 700 feet of elevation in .7 mile. Watch for for black bears here: they're drawn to the blue and blackberries of this deep, wooded valley (in June).

DRW008

Location: 36.775917, -81.12885

Cross the CC Camp road at mile 10.3, and rejoin the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.

DRW009

Location: 36.784679, -81.142015

Here you'll reach 3,873-foot Horse Heaven and its idyllic grassy campsite.

DRW010

Location: 36.777307, -81.171262

Link up to Henley Hollow Trail at mile 14.8 to close the loop. You'll descend nearly 1,300 feet in four miles to return to the trailhead.

LDR Trail to Comers Rock

Location: 36.767441, -81.22348

Comers Rock Summit

Location: 36.7644, -81.22855

USGS on Comers Rock

Location: 36.764432, -81.22849

View East from Comers Rock

Location: 36.764467, -81.228361

View South from Comers Rock

Location: 36.764501, -81.228189

Virginia Highlands Horse Trail

Location: 36.771824, -81.211624

Iron Mountain Trail

Location: 36.768283, -81.15695

Iron Mountain Trail

Location: 36.765464, -81.146178

Descent on Divide Trail

Location: 36.768317, -81.130471

Horse Heaven Meadow

Location: 36.785057, -81.145105

Henley Hollow

Location: 36.78791, -81.179824