Walker Mountain (AKA Big Walker Mountain) is a long, typical Blue Ridge peak that runs northeast to southwest in the southwestern part of Virginia. Its highest peaks along the narrow ridge are around 3800 feet. The peaks are clothed in hardwood forests containing lots of Northern white oaks, Sugar maples, Bitternut hickory, Shagbark hickory, and hundreds of other dominant southern species. A hike along this mountain will reveal a treasure trove of botanical variety.
Walker Mountain is well known in the area due to a private lookout tower.
Located on VA 52, which is part of the “Big Walker National Scenic Byway”, this tower is an impressive 100 feet tall. It’s locked and gated, but access is granted for a ticket price of $5.00. Personally, I didn’t feel like paying the five bucks to climb a tower, so I just looked up while others climbed. Instead, I chose to hike the Walker Mountain Trail whose northern terminus is located just beyond the tower base.
Most of the Walker Mountain Trail is situated along the highest part of the ridge. This makes for some interesting hiking, but not very challenging. The trail is mainly a series of mild ups and downs, traversing shallow gaps and easy saddles between peaks. If one is hungry for something tougher, you have to bushwhack off trail. There are many opportunities for short bushwhacks, as the trail misses a number of the higher peaks as it slabs along the summits in favor of an easy grade. The terrain is very rocky in these places, and there are lots of crevices covered in thick blankets of leaf detritus. Be careful, especially if you’re hiking alone.
Another nice feature of this trail is that it doesn’t seem to be heavily used. I didn’t encounter a single person as I hiked it, and saw very few signs that it’s hiked very often. That said, the trail is well marked and in good repair, so one needn’t worry about wandering off course.
From the trail’s intersection with the Appalachian Trail, to its high point near Big Walker Lookout, there’s roughly an elevation gain of 1400 feet. But this is over quite a few miles, so overall a traverse of the ridge is an easy to moderate undertaking.
I-81 N or S: take Exit 70 onto U.S. 52 North - travel 12 miles to Big Walker Lookout.
I-77 S: take Exit 52 onto U.S. 52 South - travel 8 miles on the scenic byway to Big Walker Lookout.
I-77 N: take Exit 47 onto State Route 717. Follow 717 for 4 miles to U.S. 52 North, turn right and drive 4 miles up the scenic mountain highway to Big Walker Lookout.
The trailhead is located just beyond the Big Walker Mountain Lookout Tower. There's parking along VA 621 just past the lookout and store.
None. National Forest Land administered by Jefferson National Forest.
Back country sites are plenty along the trail on National Forest lands.
Anyway, here is why the Walker Mountain Trail gets little use: The Walker Mountain Trail (including a section that overlaps the Monster Rock Trail) was once a part of the original Appalachian Trail. However, the Walker Mountain section of the Appalachian Trail was bypassed starting in 1977, due to lack of water sources along the Walker Mountain ridgeline. The Appalachian Trail was instead redirected through Rich Valley to Garden Mountain and along the southern edge of Burke's Garden, where multiple water sources are available during that stretch of the trail. However, the Walker Mountain Trail/ Monster Rock Trail can still be followed to the redirection point at Crawfish Valley. The Walker Mountain Trail does not get much use, but is still easy to find the route and some hiking groups occasionally try to maintain it. I also provided this explanation on the "Monster Rock" SummitPost page.