Driving south along I-81 in Wythe County, you cannot help but notice that there is one aesthetically appealing mountain on your left that notably rises from the valley floor much closer to the interstate than the surrounding mountains. This is Glade Mountain.
The mountain becomes visible to the south of the interstate just past Rural Retreat (Exit 60). Glade Mountain parallels the interstate for almost 10 miles, receding only as you approach Atkins (Exit 50).
Glade Mountain is part of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and lies entirely in the Jefferson National Forest. It is distinctive in that it is separated from the main part of the recreation area, yet is one of the largest mountains in terms of mass within the area. Despite its proximity to I-81, it is seldom visited other than by local Wythe and Smyth County residents and Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. Thru-hikers get their first view of Virginia’s valley and ridge mountains when they cross the mountain. Glade Mountain affords views of Big Walker Mountain, Clinch Mountain, and even part of East River Mountain (the West Virginia state line) to the north.
Most out-of-the-area hikers pass up Glade Mountain for other more written about and better known mountains further down the interstate. This leaves Glade Mountain to those of us who appreciate its solitude. I have hiked this mountain on several Saturday afternoons, and the only other hikers I have ever met on the mountain are a handful of thru-hikers in spring and early summer on their way north. I also once met a single thru-hiker on his way south in the fall.
The AT crosses Glade Mountain on a north-south axis. The base of the trail leaves the Settlers Museum of Southwest Virginia in Groseclose, and after about ½ mile through the forest heads up the mountain in a due south direction. Once climbing the mountain, the trail parallels a very small creek (about 1-2 feet in width). In June the mountain laurel on the north side of the mountain bloom profusely.
The northern section of the trail (the side closest to the Settlers Museum) has huge rhododendron thickets and mountain laurel thickets. At some points you travel through a tunnel of rhododendron that barely allows room for a backpack.
The trail travels uphill for about 3 or 4 miles, crossing Forest Road 86 (identified on some maps as Forest Road 644). The trail continues south and higher up the mountain to the Louise Chatfield Shelter, a fairly nice shelter on the mountainside close to a year-round creek.
The trail then continues for another approximately 1 ½ to 2 miles to the top of the mountain. There are a few places on the trail where the trees open up enough for a brief view of the valley and to the north. The views are much better in winter, when the canopy does not obscure the view. Towards the summit there are expanses of ferns over four feet in height under the trees. There is no designated spot or clearing that identifies the location of the summit.
The trail then descends the south side of the mountain until it crosses Forest Road 86 again, eventually crossing Route 16 approximately 4 miles further.
Forest Road 86 forms a band around the entire mountain about ½ way up from the base. Forest Road 86 is open to mountain bikes (and even off-road vehicles), and can be combined with the AT to form a large loop run (approximately 12 miles).
Access to the trailhead of this mountain is easy. Simply take Exit 54 off of I-81 and follow the signs to the Settlers Museum. The trailhead is about 6 miles from the interstate. More detailed directions are here:
From I-81 South (follow signs to the Museum):
1. At bottom of exit ramp at Exit 54 on I-81, turn left
2. Continue about 0.1 mile to Rt 11
3. Turn left on Rt 11, travel 1.3 miles to Rt 679
4. Turn right on Rt 679, travel 0.8 mile to Rocky Hollow Road
5. Turn right on Rocky Hollow Road, continue 1.2 miles to Museum
6. The Settlers Museum is on your left.