In many people’s opinions, Breaks Interstate Park, on the Virginia/Kentucky border, has the most beautiful and dramatic setting of all of the commonwealth’s state-run recreational facilities. Blessed with an abundance of hemlocks and rhododendron, it’s perched on the edge of Russell Fork Gorge, the largest canyon east of the Mississippi River.
My choice outing, which makes an almost five-mile circuit, follows the Loop Trail through rhododendron and mountain laurel to the Tower Tunnel Trail for a view into the canyon. You can also see how Breaks came by its name, as it refers to the “break” in the mountain created by the erosive action of the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River. More resistant to erosion, the Tower, a half-mile long and one-third mile wide sandstone formation, stands high above everything else.
Following the Prospector’s Trail, I go beside overhanging rocks and small caves and drop quickly along the River Trail to begin walking beside Russell Fork. During October, when Flannagan Dam is releasing water, the stream becomes the most technical and challenging commercially-rafted stream in the East, with a gradient of 200 feet per mile and nearly five miles of continuous Class V+ whitewater.
The Grassy Creek Trail starts the climb back to the heights, which is completed along the Laurel Branch and Ridge Trails. Turning left onto the Overlook Trail, I enjoy various views into the gorge before returning to the car.
“50 Hikes in Southern Virginia” contains a detailed description of the outing.