Where the Wild Things Are

A guide to VDGIF’s Bird & Wildlife Trail in Southwest Virginia.

Illustration by Aldo Crusher

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ Bird & Wildlife Trail provides a blueprint to exploring flora and fauna across the region. Map out an itinerary from these loops to hike among native species.

For avid birdwatchers, the Appalachian Wonders loop (1) in Wise County offers a vantage point for multiple species of thrushes and warblers, including the rare Kirtland’s warbler, while the Turkeycock loop (2) near Martinsville serves as breeding grounds for bobwhite quail, indigo bunting, and more. Waterfowl can be spotted at Lake Keokee along the Big Stone Gap loop (3), as well as at the Saltville Well Fields on the Clinch Mountain loop (4). Plus, Big Walker Mountain in Wythe County is along the path of hawk migrations. Burke’s Garden, on the Mountain Heritage loop (6) in Tazewell County, is a sunken valley created by a collapsed limestone mountain, now filled with meadowlark, wood duck, and golden eagles. Nearby, Monster Rock Trail is lined with blackberry bushes, mountain laurels, and wildflowers such as fire pink and colicroot.

For sightings of the endangered hellbender salamander, head to Big Cedar Creek on the Saint Paul loop (7)—which also provides access to Oxbow Lake Park, where butterflies such as black swallowtail, zebra swallowtail, and clouded sulphur can be found. To roam with wild ponies, take a hike on the Mount Rogers loop (8) through Smyth and Grayson counties. Also along this loop, Elk Garden is home to black bear, white-tailed deer, and wild turkeys. 

Other sites include the Roanoke Star atop Mill Mountain along the Star City loop (9) and Fairy Stone State Park (10) in Patrick County, where the pinkish-brown staurolite crystals known as fairy stones naturally occur. DGIF.Virginia.gov/VBWT


This article originally appeared in our Best of Virginia 2019 issue.

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