Hanging Rock (WV) Observatory

  • Highlights: Great views, bird watching, Allegheny Trail
  • Distance: 2.1 miles out and back
  • Elevation Change 465 feet
  • Trail Surface: dirt with a few rocky sections
  • Difficulty Level: Easy 
  • Trailhead Parking: Hanging Rock Observatory, route 15, Limestone Hill Road, Waiteville, WV 37.509628144618944, -80.44344232832307
  • Website: AllTrails  and US Forest Service
  • Beer Pairings: Mountain Lake Lodge: Red Molly Irish Red Ale & JH Bards Virginia Bourbon

The Hike:

This short hike has some great views with minimal hiking effort. Located in the Potts Creek Wildlife Management Area in West Virginia, this hike climbs up Peters Mountain on the Eastern Continental Divide to a raptor observatory. The hike travels along the Allegheny Trail a 311-mile long trail stretching from Pennsylvania to West Virginia.

The trail is well marked and well maintained. From the parking area, follow the yellow-blazed Allegheny Trail south. The trail is rocky in sections and is a bit steep at times; however, it is an easy hike and ideal hike for families with young children. A few benches are located along the trail providing a nice resting spot.

At 1 mile, reach a well-marked junction with a blue-blazed spur trail on the left leading to the observatory. A sign warns the spur trail is rocky and steep. We didn’t find it any rockier or steeper than earlier sections of the trail. The blue-blazed spur trail loops past the observatory and reconnects with the Allegheny Trail a few hundred yards further south. Follow signs for the easier option to the summit.

Raptor Observatory:

The observatory is a former fire lookout tower and has panoramic views of West Virginia and Virginia. We visited on a cloudy, windy, rainy day in late March and the views were still stunning.

The observatory is situated along a popular, southern migration path so raptor viewing is best in the autumn months. Inside the observatory, records are posted of the highest daily and annual counts for all raptors including eagles, hawks, osprey, and falcons. September and October had the highest records for daily raptor sightings.

We continued on the blue trail past the mountain-top rest room and came down the alternate route which soon joins the yellow-blazed Allegheny Trail. Turn right and follow the yellow blazes north to return to the parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Trail Map:

Beer Pairing: 

The trailhead near Waiteville WV is a long way from the nearest brewery. It’s over one hour to Blacksburg VA and nearly 1.5 hours to Beckley WV. A quick search on Google Maps shows Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke VA to be just 19 miles from the trailhead. This is the same lodge where the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed. The lodge is home to Stony Creek Tavern with six taps of draft beer and it was open on a Friday afternoon in late March. What could go wrong? Plenty. 

It seems Google Maps doesn’t have a problem with dirt roads. Even narrow, winding, somewhat unmaintained dirt roads. Nearly one hour after departing from the trailhead, we arrived at Mountain Lake Lodge. Over nine miles of our route were country dirt roads of which John Denver would have been proud. Mountain Lake is one of two natural lakes in Virginia. Truth be told, Mountain Lake has been a dry lake bed for several years, so as of 2023, there is only one natural lake in Virginia.

On a cold, rainy afternoon in late March, the lodge greeted us with a roaring fire in the fireplace and a friendly bartender. Kathy enjoys an Old Fashioned and our friendly bartender suggested JH Bards Virginia Bourbon. JH Bards is located near Radford VA and they have been distilling spirits since 2020. Their bourbon is aged for 3+ years and Kathy thought it was a decent first attempt. She prefers a little more barrel aging. Pete found an old standby, Red Molly Irish Red Ale (5.6% ABV • 20 IBU) from Pale Fire Brewing in Harrisonburg VA. Brewed with Crystal and Munich malts and mild British hops, Red Molly is a flavorful and refreshing pint.

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