At 5,520 feet above sea level, Whitetop Mountain is the second highest mountain in Virginia and the highest point that can be publicly accessed by a motor vehicle. Not far from Virginia's highest mountain, Mount Rogers, Whitetop Mountain offers breathtaking views of southwest Virginia's Grayson Highlands and towards the mountains of neighboring North Carolina and Tennessee. Using Whitetop Mountain Road (Forest Road 89) from Virginia Secondary Route 600, it is a climb of roughly 1.6 miles with plenty of switchbacks and an elevation change of roughly 1,000 feet towards the summit. Whitetop Mountain is also fairly close to I-81, about a 20 minute drive from Chilhowie, and even closer from US 58.
Whitetop Mountain Road itself is a sturdy gravel road. There are some ruts and rocks that you will need to keep in mind as you drive up the road, but I would say that most vehicles with some clearance can clear their way around the dips on their way to some unforgettable scenic vistas towards the mountaintop. While the road itself doesn't get you to the weather station that sits on the mountain summit, it does get you close enough to where you can take the short walk to the summit. I would say that the views are the main attraction of Whitetop though, and they are not to be missed.
The Whitetop Mountain Road winds its way through a variety of habitats on its journey, including eastern and northern hardwood forests, open meadows, mountain balds, birch forests and spruce forests, including a northern red spruce forest that you don't commonly find this far south in the Appalachian Mountains. As Whitetop Mountain is considered to be an ecological island, some plant species have their northern or southern limits at this mountain, and the mountain is being managed for ecological concerns from things such as destruction by invasive insects. You may even spot various types of fauna, as Whitetop Mountain is known for its excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. While overnight car camping is not allowed on Whitetop, you can be treated to excellent sunsets and night sky viewing if you decide to stick around as the night falls. Of a historical note, Whitetop Mountain was the location for the annual Whitetop Folk Festival from 1932 to 1939.
Whitetop Mountain is part of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia's George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. For those who are looking for a good hike, the Appalachian Trail whisks right by Whitetop Mountain, or for those who are looking for something shorter, you could hike up the road or from Elk Garden to Whitetop Mountain. While I enjoy hiking, given the time constraints I had on my trip, I was happy enough to be able to drive up the Whitetop Mountain Road and catch a glimpse of the wonderful surrounding scenery.
|Starting the drive up Whitetop Mountain means going through a hardwood forest.
|But soon the trees grow to a lower height and the surroundings open up.
|It's not far until you get to see some incredible mountain vistas in the distance.
|Most of the views are from the south side of Whitetop.
|But as we climb further up Whitetop Mountain Road, there's more to be seen.
|Looking towards Tennessee and North Carolina in the afternoon.
|Whitetop Mountain can be a little bumpy and narrow, but the views are worth it.
|I believe this is looking in the direction towards Mount Rogers.
|Mountain views for days...
|I enjoyed the blue haze that the nearby mountains seemed to be making.
|Looking down towards the winding switchbacks of Whitetop Mountain Road below. Kudos to whomever thought it was a good idea to build a road up this mountain.
|But what comes up, must go down.
|Time for a parting shot of the scenic views before leaving Whitetop Mountain. It is said on a clear day, you can see Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina from Whitetop.
How to Get There:
Sources and Links:
SummitPost.org - Whitetop Mountain
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources - Whitetop Mountain
George Washington & Jefferson National Forests - Whitetop Mountain Observation Site
The Outbound - Whitetop Mountain: Virginia's Overlooked Peak That Should Be on Your Bucket List
Road Trips & Coffee - Reaching the Summit of Whitetop Mountain – the Second Highest Mountain in Virginia