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Rip & Go: Iron Mountain Loop – Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

Lose the leaf-peeping crowds on this quiet ramble above Virginia's loftiest canopies of color.
november 09 rip n go iron feathercamp 445x260Feathercamp Branch Trail (Steven McBride)

Key Skill: Loading a pack for varied terrain

This mountainous loop has more ups and downs than a roller coaster. Keep your shoulders and back happy by properly loading your backpack. The gear gurus at Mount Rogers Outfitters in Damascus do this:

1. Keep pack weight under 35 pounds. Water is plentiful on this circuit, so only pack one quart at a time.
2. Load your sleeping bag in the bottom, keeping heavy items above your hips for optimal weight transfer.
3. Add your tent and clothes you won’t need during the day. Then put food, cooking gear, and water higher in the pack, close to your back to create a stable center of gravity. Keep the weight centered on your hips.
4. Pack raingear and extra layers on top, and don’t lash heavy stuff like bottles on the outside of your pack. They’ll sway and throw off your balance.
5. Put sunscreen, headlamp, and snacks in the lid pocket for easy access.
6. Hunters are most active in October and November. Tie a blaze-orange bandanna to your pack’s lid.

Locals Know
In 2004, Virginia established The Crooked Road, a 253-mile “bluegrass trail” celebrating the state’s musical heritage. (The name plays off of old bluegrass slang for a noodling fiddler who takes a tune “down the crooked road.”) This road twists through the Mt. Rogers NRA along US 58 and passes museums and concert venues. Bluegrass originated in this region when the banjo and fiddle music of coastal slaves and settlers moved west, following the Revolutionary War, and mingled with the music of Scots-Irish and Germans traveling south. Head to the Carter Family Fold ( in Hilton, Virginia. Johnny Cash played his last gig here, and there’s a jam nearly every night of the week.

See This: Wild Turkey
In October and November, turkeys cluster in groups of five to 20 to feed on bugs and worms as they fatten up for winter. Flocks are particularly plentiful along the Iron Mountain Trail. To spot likely habitat, look for disturbed ground and upturned leaves in small clearings in the brush, says William J. Cober, a Forest Service recreation manager. Thanksgiving’s favorite fowl is harder to spot in spring, when the birds set out solo for mating season.

Camp Chat
Due to massive budget cuts, Virginia recently closed 18 of its 42 highway rest areas, saving the state $8.6 million. Most are on I-81, the main artery leading to the Mt. Rogers area–so go easy on the coffee. There has been a huge public outcry, and politicians have made campaign promises to reopen them. But the state also plans to axe the number of air-pollution inspectors who oversee emissions from 5,000 sites statewide. Discuss: Which would you cut: potties or pollution control?

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