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Three Top Mountain – Three Top Mountain Game Land, NC

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
4.7 mls N/A N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
3 hours and 30 minutes with 1 hour and 15 minutes of breaks
1,492 ft
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Small parking area at the top of the road. See notes below. 36.42188, -81.59793

By Trail Contributor: Zach Robbins (Contact Zach)

Three Top Mountain is a remote, craggy peak in the Amphibolite Mountains that offers solitude, premier rock scrambling, and outstanding views of the region. Although there are 11 peaks on the 6-mile long crest, the mountain is aptly named after the three prominent rock summits on the central spine. This hike follows a steep, rocky forest road from the Three Top Mountain Game Land parking area to Huckleberry Rock, the 2nd tallest peak on Three Top Mountain at 5,035 feet. Huckleberry Rock has fantastic 360° views of the Amphibolite Mountains and the Iron Mountains to the north. You can decide to head back down for a 3.4-mile hike, or try the half-mile bushwhack along the mountain crest to Big Rock. There are a few faint paths along the ridge, but you’ll still have to crawl through shrub/thorn tunnels and scramble up rocks to reach the destination. Big Rock is the tallest peak on Three Top Mountain at 5,044 feet, and features precipitous drop-offs and fantastic views. The views are similar to Huckleberry Rock, but you can also gaze upon the intimidating knife-edge row of rocks leading southwest to Peak 4880’. After taking a break on one of Big Rock’s grassy perches, turn around and make your way back to the forest road, or continue exploring the crags of Three Top if you are up for the challenge.

Parking and Accessibility - The condition of the game land entrance road has deteriorated to the point that it may be difficult for some low-clearance 2WD vehicles. If you are not experienced driving on gravel and dirt forest roads then you may consider skipping this hike. Additionally, the parking area can fit 6-7 vehicles with turnaround space.

  • Mile 0.0 – Finding the parking area can be confusing. The Three Top Mountain Game Land access road is located at the upper end of Poplar Trail between private homes. At the top of the road you’ll see the game land sign at the small parking area. Begin the hike by following the gated forest road.
  • Mile 0.2Pass by a small waterfall upstream from the road.
  • Mile 0.5At a Y-junction turn right following the forest road uphill. The old, rocky roadbed now plows uphill along a very steep grade. You’ll see occasional flagging tape along the main forest road to the summit. There are multiple old, overgrown forest roads branching off in every direction as you climb, pay attention to the GPS track and the flagging tape to stay on the right path.
  • Mile 0.8Right turn on the main forest road.
  • Mile 1.4Left turn on the main forest road, you’ll probably see flagging tape here. In 150 feet the forest road will turn right, an overgrown forest road branches left.
  • Mile 1.6 – Pass by the highpoint of the ridge leading to Big Rock on the right, you’ll return to this spot later.
  • Mile 1.7 – The forest road ends at Huckleberry Rock, the second tallest peak on Three Top Mountain at 5,035 feet. This summit is a long series of rock outcrops with outstanding views in every direction. The smaller knobs of Three Top Mountain unfold to the northeast, with Phoenix Mountain and Mt. Jefferson rising above the towns of West Jefferson and Jefferson. The Iron Mountains are located due north across the North Fork New River Valley. The smaller Pond Mountain and Stone Mountain are located on the left at the tri-state border. The tallest peaks in Virginia, Whitetop Mountain and Mt. Rogers, are the immensely broad peaks on the right. Bluff Mountain is the broad, craggy peak due south. The imposing summit of Big Rock is immediately southwest, framed by the tallest peaks in the Amphibolite Mountains behind. Elk Knob is directly behind Big Rock with Snake Mountain on the right, and Grandfather Mountain on the distant left.
  • Mile 2.0 – Before the trail begins descending, make a left into the open woods following the ridgeline south. This is an OPTIONAL bushwhack through relatively open forest to the summit of Big Rock. During some stretches there is a faint path, but most of this half-mile trek is a bushwhack. As you get close to the summit you’ll encounter dense undergrowth, thorns, and some open rock faces to negotiate. None of this is difficult or dangerous, but a GPS device or phone app is recommended. (If you wish to bypass this section follow the trail down to the parking lot for a 3.4-mile hike.)
  • Mile 2.5The scramble tops out at Big Rock, the tallest peak on Three Top Mountain at 5,044 feet. Below the main summit are multiple grassy perches with precipitous drop-offs on both sides. The tallest peaks in the Amphibolite Mountains spread out before you from southeast to southwest. Bluff Mountain is the broad peak due south. The cliffs drop sharply southwest to a knife-edge row of rocks leading down and up to Peak 4880'. Further to the southwest are Elk Knob and Snake Mountain, with Grandfather Mountain to the left of Elk Knob in the distance. The long ridge to the south of west culminates in The Peak above the Long Hope Creek Gorge. You also have an expansive view north of the Iron Mountains around the Virginia border. Huckleberry Rock is the prominent, flat peak in the foreground. The Iron Mountains are visible further north beyond the North Fork New River Valley. Turn around here and head back to the forest road. Adventurous, experienced rock scramblers could explore the ridge to Peak 4880’.
  • Mile 3.1 – Return to the forest road and turn left heading downhill to the parking area.
  • Mile 4.7 – Hike ends at the parking area.
Mid April
Three Top Mountain Hike Comments
Archived Comments

By: Zachary Robbins Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 8, 2019
I hiked this in the afternoon with 3 peakbagging friends. The road seems to be in rougher condition than when I drove it 2 years ago. There were 2 sections that seemed like they may be trouble for cars, you may have to drive up in the bushes to get around them. The hike up the forest road is just as brutal as I remembered. It's going to suck, but at least it is short. We briefly stopped at Huckleberry Rock since someone was sitting on the prime real estate, and began the bushwhack over to Big Rock. I think the bushwhack may be easier in the summer. The manway was easy to follow and was not overgrown with weeds. In the winter the forest on this ridge is open and you can wander off track. When you follow the narrow ridge close to the summit you will encounter some rock faces and decisions. I opted for tough scrambling, but if you stay high on these rock faces you will find manways connecting them that lead you directly to the summit. Big Rock is an incredible peak, one of the finest in the state. However, if you hit this late afternoon as we did the best views southwest will be hampered by direct sunlight. It is best to hike Three Top in the morning to get better south and west views/pictures.

By: Monte Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, July 25, 2019
Allow travel time for the small roads coming into the area. This is also a Game Land, I noted a blind on one of the hillsides overlooking the trail. Blaze orange is a necessity during any of our local hunting seasons. Access road was formidable for my sedan. More ground clearance and 4 wheel drive would have been wiser. If there were recent rain it would have ended badly. Found the trail to be very difficult. Quite rock strewn and with several washouts. As the canopy thinned at the top the trail became very overgrown and was nigh invisible. Zach's ranking of difficulty at '4' was well warranted. Nice summit views from several directions. Quite the workout for this 60 year old.

By: Jim Hayes Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, July 9, 2017
Absolutely one of the most scenic hikes around!

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