With some of the most diverse scenery in the Virginia's; including beaver dams, old growth forest, wetlands, and the magical Laurel Fork, this has to be one of the most beautiful hikes that doesn't have any views. Secluded on the border of Virginia and West Virginia at 4,000ft, the Laurel Fork area can be a break from those hot summer days at lower altitudes.
Trail Notes: All the trails in the Laurel Fork area are blue blazed. In conjunction with the USDA Forest Service HikingUpward.com reblazed the Locust Spring Run, Locust Spring Run Spur, and Slabcamp Run trails in June 2007.
From the right bottom of the picnic areastart down the the Locust Spring Run Trail as it heads through old growth forest for 1.2 miles before arriving at the Buck Run Connecter Trail. Turn right, cross the run, then immediately turn left downhill remaining on the blue blazed Locust Spring Run Trail. Cross over the run two more times before crossing a small side stream and passing an old wooden trail sign in 0.3 miles. In another 0.2 miles cross the run again and arrive at the intersection of the Locust Spring Run Spur Trail.
Turn right very steeply uphill on the Locust Spring Run Spur Trail for 100 yards, then stay right as the trail follows an old forestry road. Pass a beaver dam downhill on the right in 1.1 miles, and in another 0.1 miles turn left uphill following the blues blazes. In 0.1 miles arrive at the ridge, and intersection of the Slabcamp Run Trail and FS106.
Note: The Laurel Fork Trail is hard to follow in places and there are few blue blazes.
Turn left on the Laurel Fork Trail and immediately cross Bearwallow Run. Turn left uphill for 25 yards where the trail turns back to the right. Continue along the the trail as it follows the left bank of Laurel Fork and passes a small camping area in 1.0 miles. From this point the trail becomes harder to follow before you have to ford Laurel Fork in another 1.2 miles. There will be a large area of rhododendron on the opposite bank, and no blazes marking the crossing point as of July 2006. The crossing point long/lat is: N38 33.165 W79 36.816
After fording Laurel Fork turn left on the trail through a Rhododendron tunnel for 0.1 miles, cross a small stream, then reach the intersection of the Christian Run Trail. Continue straight on the Laurel Fork Trail for another 0.5 miles, and passing a rocky section along the river bank before arriving at the intersection of the Slabcamp Run Trail.
Continue straight on the Buck Run Trail as it climbs through the valley. Cross the run in 1.5 miles, then cross back in another 200 yards where someone has set three logs together as a makeshift footbridge. Turn left after crossing the run where a rock cairn marks the trail. The trail makes several switchbacks as it climbs the mountain.
After the last switchback stay right where the trail now follows an old FS road. In 0.9 miles from the last switchback pass a wetland area on the right, then continue through a red pine stand before reaching the intersection of the Buck Run Connector Trail. Turn right on the Buck Run Trail and in 0.4 miles arrive at FR142. Turn left for the remaining 30 yards to the Locust Spring Picnic area and hike start point.
Laurel Fork Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Friday, August 3, 2018
We hiked this circuit along with the Slabcamp/Locust Spring circuit: five experienced hikers with two tents and two hammocks. Arrived Friday evening at the picnic area, which has tables and fire rings and a unisex toilet and could be used for camping for late arrivals. We took the Buck Run trail down to the campsites on Laurel Fork. The trail was easy to follow even in failing light and we made good time to the campsites. We took the smaller site up from Laurel Fork (a SAWtrails crew had the water-side site), which was level and had plenty of room for our tents and hammocks and has a very nice, tall fire ring and rocks placed for seats. Next morning, we ascended the Locust Spring trail, another nice walk in the woods beside a stream, and then took FS106 down to Bearwallow. Bearwallow is marked from FS106 but the trail isn't readily discernible once you get on the old forest road. Be careful not to miss the trail as it veers off to the right from the old road. Otherwise, the trail is easy to follow as it descends to Bearwallow and follows the stream down to Laurel Fork. There are plenty of spots to stop for a meal break and opportunities to refill water bottles/hydration systems. We carried Aquamira drops and a Sawyer Squeeze system that covered our needs. The Laurel Fork trail from south to north is a challenge. Although the trail stays very close to Laurel Fork (which is a beautiful wide and comparatively shallow stream), it does disappear on occasion. After a very wet July, there were numerous patches of mud/bog and a number of spots where the trail has eroded enough that there is only a wet shelf of dirt a foot wide ten feet above the run. Be careful. The article for this hike is accurate in stating that the trail is harder to follow past the campsite. We knew our pace but even so got fooled when we came to a tripod of logs topped by a stone (looking like a small stool) and took that as the place to cross to the right bank, even though it was way too early. Turns out it was a warning not to go further on what looks like the trail but was only a spur into a rhododendron patch suitable for one-tent camping. The trail actually veered off the left before that patch, through a fern field, and across a gully, although there was no trace of the trail until we got to higher ground across the gully. Further up, the trail (unmarked) follows a seriously steep, rocky shore that can be treacherous. An option is to cross the run to a small island and navigate past a huge fallen tree to re-cross and climb the tall bank back on the left side. Otherwise, take it slow and easy on the rocks. Eventually, we came to a sizable cairn where the trail crosses Laurel Fork into the rhododendrons (must be spectacular in spring!) to intersect with the Christian Run trail and leads back to the campsites. (We discourage anyone from attempting the Slabcamp Run trail that also intersects here - it's a mess). Overall, a beautiful spot but don't look for an easy time on the Laurel Fork portion. Nonetheless, there were plenty of times when we stopped just to appreciate the beauty of the woods and streams. If you like solitude, creeks, deep forest, and a bit of a challenge, this is a fine circuit.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 5, 2015
We did a shorter variation of the hike in the guide over Labor Day weekend. Day 1 we hiked in on the Buck Run trail and stayed at the large campsite at the base of Locust Spring run. Beautiful site right on the river! Day 2 we did a day hike down Laurel Fork and up Cold Spring Run and back down Christian run and back to camp. Some good campsites along Laurel Fork and great fishing holes. Too bad I didn't bring my fishing pole. Warning, the Cold Spring and Christian Run trails were dense in stinging nettles. Ouch. They can be easily removed with the swipe of your walking stick but this made the hike less enjoyable and much harder than it would have otherwise been. I cleared as much of the trail as I could which took time. At the top of Cold Spring Run trail we hiked along a ridge that would have provided awesome views if the leaves on the trees weren't there. Should do this hike in the fall or winter for the views. The large meadow at the intersection of Cold Spring and Christian Run was absolutely spectacular bursting in yellows and full of honey bees. Day 3 we hiked out Locust Spring Run trail back to the parking area. The bottom half of the trail was filled with nettles. The upper half was spectacular in the pine forests. Overall the entire weekend we only saw one other couple. Despite some poor trail conditions (downed trees, nettles), this hike was awesome and highly recommended. We removed some trash we found at our campsite but otherwise it was cleaner than some sites we've been to. If you like solitude in a diverse and spectacular natural setting, give this hike a try.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 26, 2014
I've hiked this area numerous times, although always skipped this hike because the lack of views and my choice of hiking partners. Well, this weekend I was able to convince someone they didn't need huge views to have a rewarding trip, and not long into the hike, he fully agreed.
First thing is first - Wilderness Areas: Wilderness areas are not national parks or national forests. Here's their legal definition: "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Therefore blazed trails are really, really rare. These areas aren't for you every day hiker but one who is prepared for any situation and is skilled in navigation and general woodsmanship. Additionally, there tends to be no trail maintenance, no infrastructure, and no people... it's the best!
1. This is a great entry level Wilderness because of the abundant blazes marking the trails. I've hiked many, many wildernesses, and this is the easiest navigation I've ever had. Yes, all the blazes are the same color, but the trails for the most part follow old roads and runs, making it fairly easy to navigate.
2. There are a lot of Timber Rattlesnakes. I came up on one who was still digesting a nice meal, and so with his lethargy he was no concern. Down on the Laurel trail though, I came across a very aggressive one who coiled instead of striking as I barely missed him. My view of him was very short lived, as I was able to jump out of his reach. I've hiked a lot, and never had such a close scare with any animal (not to say I haven't encountered many, but this guy would've had me down for the count had he struck and I believe I was just too close for him to instinctually strike luckily he chose flight no fight)
3. People - we saw people on one occasion, and they were driving down the service road, and stopped to ask how "to get out of wherever we are". Additionally, I normally have a bag full of other people's garbage on trips this time I didnt find anything other than cigg butts!
4. The crossing of laurel fork is now marked very very well with a big cairn on each side. Just follow the blazes and you cant miss it
5. There are signs warning of the water not being tested, recommending chemicals or boiling. I used a sawyer squeeze filter and neither I nor my buddy had any problems
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 28, 2014
We wanted to do part of this trail as an out and back starting at the Laurel Fork Campground. It was awful. Unmarked and unmaintained. We gave up after about mile 2 when it was just a large patch of briars and raspberry bushes. There are so many other wonderful hikes in the area (try Chimney Top!) it's not worth the hassle of no view and prickers.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Hiked this with my son for two days. Thought there would be some place to fish but that was not the case. Woods were soaked as it has rained everyday. Not one piece of wood on the ground was not completely rotted. Everything to be said the others have said. Where the trail is washed out it can be a little tricky with a heavy backpack. Watch out for rattlesnakes as you get between the first ford and the campsites. There was a big one sunning on the rocks and it rattled at my son when he walked within two feet of it. Beaver work is amazing to look at and the wetlands were great. Lots and lots of bugs in this wet early summer.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 29, 2013
Three of us did the hike as described the last weekend of June, 2013. The area was beautiful and like much of that area looked more like Cananda or New England in places. For the most part the trails were in good shape. The two exceptions were the Bearwallow Trail and a few parts of the Laurel Fork trail itself. The upper portion of the Bearwallow was hard to follow. The blazes were faint and the path was almost non-existent in the beginning. The trail does improve once you get on the grade by bearwallow run but be prepared to spend some time in the beginning looking for blazes. The Laurel fork trail was for the most part in great shape as it was worked on a couple years ago by the student conservation association. It had nice fresh blazes and they cleared out the rodos. The only bad part was a couple sections where the side hill had washed out forcing one to walk in Laurel fork a little ways. The campsite by the intersection of the Laurel fork and locust run trail was great though.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 4, 2012
My husband and I did this hike as an overnight anniversary hike. It was nice to have a bathroom at the beginning and the end! The trail was mostly fairly easy to follow. The worst part was the Bearwallow Run part of the trail. There were trees down, and we got a little off course in one section, but it didn't take long to get back on course. There is a wetlands area in this section, so the trail heads up on the mountain for a little while then comes back down past the wetlands. It is obvious that they have been doing some repairs to parts of the trail because it had freshly marked trees. We camped next to the water after doing almost ten miles on the first day. It was a great spot! This is definitely a very diverse area. My favorite part was between Locust Spring Run and the zigzag section. We also saw many, many different kinds of mushrooms on the first part of the hike. We only saw three people the whole time, and none of them were on the trail. Two were forestry service people in a truck on the forestry service road (which is two miles of the hike, but very quickly done). The other was when we got back to where we parked he had also been somewhere on the trail, but we never saw him. Sadly, we didn't get to see any critters bigger than a salamander. Great hike! I can't wait to do another in this area!
Date of Hike: Friday, August 12, 2011
This time I went down to the river via Slabcamp Run Tr and up via Buck Run Tr. IMO, Slabcamp Run Tr offers more diverse landscapes than Bearwallow. In some places there are no blazes, but you don't need them because the remains of the old grade are obvious. According to the maps, Laurel Fork Tr continues downstream past the intersection with Christian Run Tr, but in about half a mile I gave up and returned. I wonder if I missed it, or it has been washed away? At night 2 racoons explored my campsite...they were not happy that all the food was hanging out of their reach.
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 2, 2011
We did a backpack trip on the Laurel Fork loop and up Slabcamp and down Locust Spring. I thought it was a great backpack trip. At least half of the mileage on these trails is along old logging tram lines with no or relatively easy grade. Other sections were steeper climbs and criss-crossed streams (specifically up Slabcamp and a couple of times on Laurel Fork). Bearwallow Trail is a little hard to follow in some spots, but we only lost the trail for a couple of minutes (probably distracted by the blueberry bushes). The water was a little low (I guess expected for July). Not enough water to swim or fish in, but almost always enough flowing water for drinking and it was easy stream crossing. No big views anywhere, but hiking along the streams and occasional beaver ponds made for a very nice couple of days. Saw lots of birds, a couple of rattle snakes, a black bear and tons of salamanders. I will definitely go back at least twice - once in the spring to hike with the streams full and once in the fall to hike with the fall colors.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 2, 2010
Nice overall overnight hike. We camped near Laurel Fork river. Most of the loop looks like they have been worked on over the past summer, with the exception of the Bear Wallow Trail. If you plan to take this trail be sure that you have adequate time as there are very few markers on the tree and in most places no obvious trail. It was more of a bush-whacking expedition than a hike :) They do have orange markers in the ground noting future maintanence start and stop points. Hopefully they will do that soon so people can get to see the 3 beaver dams that I counted while on that trail. (The beavers have also assisted in the hiding of the trail)