AT & Golden Winged Warbler Loop

  • Highlights: Views, cows, wildflowers
  • Distance: 8.6 mile loop 
  • Elevation Change 2,012 feet
  • Trail Surface: Dirt with some rocky sections
  • Difficulty Level: Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: AT parking area, Virginia Route 42 Ceres VA, located between Bear Garden Hiker Hostel and the Puritan D’lystery Picnic Area
  • Trail Markings: white blazes on the AT, yellow blazes on Golden Winged Warbler Trail
  • Website: Hiking Upward and AllTrails (note AllTrails only shows the Golden Winged Warbler section of this hike)
  • Beer Pairings: Seven Sisters Brewery—Rosie Porter & Henrietta Schwarzbier 

Trail Map:

The Hike:

This is a great hike if you’re looking for solitude along with some great views. We hiked on a rainy Saturday and only encounter three other hikers. The Golden Winged Warbler has experienced a dramatic decrease in population in the past 50 years. Its namesake trail passes through ideal habitat for this songbird. The Golden Winged Warbler Trail was the path of the Appalachian Trail before it was rerouted in 2018.

Hiking Upward (see link above) provides an excellent review of this trail along with turn-by-turn navigation. We began at the AT trailhead parking on route 42. Crossing route 42 and heading south for a few hundred yards we found the AT on the left and began our hike heading south on the white-blazed AT.

The AT passes through two pastures complete with cows and some amazing views. Even on a cloudy, rainy day the mountain views were fantastic. The cows didn’t seem to mind sharing their views with us as we passed through their pasture. A series of “A” frame steps help hikers climb over the fencing between pasture land and the forest.

The AT begins a steep climb up Big Walker Mountain and at 4.5 miles the AT enters Tilson Gap. Look on the left for a double white AT trail blaze. This is the junction with the GWWT. Bear left here following the yellow blazes. The trail is rocky and can be overgrown in sections. 

Fresh yellow paint helped us find our way as we descended down Big Walker Mountain. After the rocky descent, the trail passes beside a pasture and a ramp helps hikers scale a wire fence. The trail soon leads into an open pasture before reaching route 610.

We crossed the road and climbed the “A” ladder into the pasture. The trail is unmarked in the pasture and finding the AT was challenging. We suggest turning left on route 610 and walking on the side of the road to the AT crossing. Retrace your steps northbound on the AT to return to your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

Seven Sisters Brewing in nearby Wytheville is about 30 miles from the trailhead. Named after a nearby trail, this pet and kid friendly brewery has indoor and outdoor seating, live music on weekends, and a variety of food trucks.

Pete really liked Rosie, a Baltic Porter (7.7% ABV • 33 IBU) combines the richness of an English porter with smoothness from the addition of lager yeast and months of aging.  This porter is ideal for the colder months with rich caramel, chocolate and light roasted notes. Kathy broke from here typical IPAs and tried Henrietta, a Schwarzbier (5.6% ABV • 27 IBU). Schwarzbier is German for black beer and is also known as black Pilsner. Deep in color yet surprisingly light and refreshing, Kathy found a new favorite.  

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe, be responsible, and leave no trace.