In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps began construction on the trails of Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia. In 2012, the trails still provide hikers, runners and mountain bikers great recreation opportunities.
In late October 2011, my son Isaac and I (with my daughter Josephine in a backpack carrier) hiked up to Molly’s Knob, the highest point in the park. This is a classic day hike in Southwest Virginia. Molly’s Knob is a sharply rising promentory knob that is about 3500′, rising slightly over 1000′ from the lake. The hike from the lake is about three miles, making for a six mile round trip.
Over the years, Hungry Mother State Park has been a major training ground for me, particularly for running, mountain biking, and kayaking. The trails are not your typical Southern Appalachian foot trails—we’re not talking root-laden, AT-type trails.
As you would expect for trails constructed by the CCC, these are similar to the U.S. National Park trails across the country. The trails are wide enough in most places for two people to walk abreast together, especially the main trail around the lake (appropriately named the Lake Trail). (If you add about a hundred yards to a run around the lake, you have almost exactly 10k.)
Other than the Lake Trail, the trails weave up and down the mountainside, mostly on the backside of the lake. The map of all the trails is located on the state park website, here.
The first time I ascended to the top of Molly’s Knob, sometime in the mid-1990s, it was on a mountain bike, and I was huffing and puffing attempting to follow my brother-in-law up the trails. While I still see mountain bikers on these trails, the climb to Molly’s Knob is more enjoyable, in my opinion, as a regular hike.
View of Molly’s Knob from the trail. The knob is about 1000′ feet above the Lakeside Trail.
Most of the trail is a steady climb along ridgelines that gradually ascends the mountain. The last half-mile of the trail is a spur that circles around to the backside of the top of the knob and is quite steep. If you are on a mountain bike, it is probably best to dismount and just hike-a-bike up to the top.
The photos above and below show the start of the final, steep climb. It gets considerably steeper than in these photos in the final section.
As you climb the mountain, the views of the surrounding mountains begin to open up. Below is one of the first views of Mount Rogers and Whitetop to the south.
The view from the knob looks southwest, directly down the valley-and-ridges. There is, however, a prominent smaller mountain that rises adjacent to Big Walker Mountain. This is the mountain shown in the photo below.
In the photo below, you can see the view of the valley below. I-81 runs down there somewhere, thankfully hidden in the folds of the hills, along with the Middle Fork of the Holston River.
Below is another view looking south. From this point, at the top of the mountain, you make out Mount Rogers (to the left) and Whitetop (to the right), with Iron Mountain rising about 3/4 of the way up in front of those two peaks.
Below is another view looking out from the top of the knob. There was smoke from a fire in the photo.
To the left of the fire, probably too small to be seen in the photo (unless you click and enlarge it), there was a hawk soaring on the thermal upwind currents. It is easily seen in the close-up photo below.
This hike was toward the end of October, and while the brightest fall colors had already peaked and passed, there was still some wonderful auburn and golden foliage on the mountainsides.
Depending upon your level of fitness, this may be considered a moderate or a strenuous hike. It’s definitely one that reasonably fit children over the age of 10 or so are capable of, especially if you pack water, some goodies, and take some breaks.