Trips & Trails: Reddish Knob and the Blue Ridge Mountains

Photo By: Matthew Sieber

It’s sometimes tempting to think that the eastern United States has inferior overlanding opportunities compared to the southwest, the Rocky Mountains, and other wide-open spaces. While the trails in the East might not be as long, there are still plenty of opportunities to explore. Fortunately, Overland Expo East is within easy driving distance of many of the best areas to spend a few nights traversing the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains.

A campsite near Reddish Knob, Virginia.
Image by Matthew Sieber

One of these areas is nestled between the Allegheny Highlands and Shenandoah National Park in an excellent section of the George Washington National Forests. If you’re traveling to Overland Expo East from the north, you will most likely be on Interstate 81 for at least part of your journey. This route lies just west of the interstate and makes for a great backwoods alternative for the journey to Overland Expo or a detour on your way home.

The southern end of this route enters the national forest off of Hankey Mountain Highway at State Route 715. If you’ve started the trail late, or you’re ending your day at this end of the route, campsites are available at Braley Pond. The route passes through an area with private homes before tracing the North River before turning east. At approximately 8.5 miles from the highway Leading Ridge Road provides seasonal access to Todd Lake Recreation Area where you can find a few more campsites. After leaving FR95 and turning onto the FR85, the route traces the border of Virginia and West Virginia. The next available campsites are near the Shenandoah Mountain Picnic area 10 miles north of Leading Ridge Road.

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As the route approaches nearly 4,000 feet of elevation, you’ll find numerous overlooks, including the Instagram famous Reddish Knob. This former fire tower site provides 360-degree views, including Shenandoah National Park, Harrisonburg, Sugar Grove Naval Base, and countless rolling hills. Unfortunately, the popularity of this spot has led to an overwhelming amount of graffiti on the asphalt and guard rails, and reports of excessive litter are common. 

Tacoma at Reddish Knob
Image by Matthew Sieber

On a lighter note, fearless mountain bikers can descend directly from the Reddish Knob parking lot and enjoy an eight-mile ride that features technical riding, downhill trail, and flowing single track. 

Approximately two miles past Reddish Knob, you can return to I-81 via State Route 924. However, you can also continue north further into George Washington National Forest, but we’ll save that route for future Trips and Trails. 

What to Know:

  • Time: 3-5 hours
  • Distance: 23 miles
  • Fuel: The Mountain View General Store is just past the southern end of the route near Braley Pond along Hanky Mountain Hwy. Gas is also available in Staunton and Harrisonburg. 
  • Highest elevation: Reddish Knob 4,397 feet
  • Water: Seasonals streams are available with proper filtration. Water is available to purchase at local gas stations.  
  • Camping: Multiple camping options are available at Braley Pond, Todd Lake Recreation Area, and Shenandoah Mountain Picnic Area. Dispersed camping is also available. Please check Forest Service regulations and practice Leave No Trace principles. 
  • Other considerations: The southern terminus of this route is just over an hour away from the location of Overland Expo East, Oak Ridge Estates. While most of this route is open year-round, be mindful of the possibility of closures in the winter.

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