A fairy tale of a trail system
Kevin Myatt | The Roanoke Times
The signage on Fairy Stone State Park's trails is excellent -- such as the halfway point sign on the leaf-covered Little Mountain Falls Trail.
- Location: Just off Virginia Highway 57, about 8miles west of Bassett, which is on U.S. 220 about 45 miles south of Roanoke. Follow the signs, turning right (if headed west from Bassett) on Virginia 346. The Little Mountain Trail system is not far past the park gates -- turn left at the fork past the gate, and park near the amphitheater. The Stuarts Knob trail system is within a part of the park outside the gates, on highway 623, which turns left off of 346 before getting to the main part of the park.
- Length: There are 15 miles of trail in the park, which can be hiked in various combinations.
- Elevation: Park elevations range from 1,000 to 1,400 feet above sea level
- Gottasee factor (scenery, scale 0 to 4): of 3. Rich forests and inviting vistas, some over Fairy Stone Lake, will greet you on any of these hikes.
- Gottabreathe factor (difficulty, scale 0 to 4): of 2: Rumors of trails being "strenuous" in park literature are exaggerated. The toughest trails in the park -- Little Mountain Falls and parts of the Stuart Knob system -- would rate moderately difficult, a 2.5, in my book. Most trails are pretty easy.
- More information and a map
I did not come to Fairy Stone State Park to look for any of the namesake rocks, nor did I even come here looking for a spectacular hike. Merely seeking a pleasant diversion from the chaos of life one early November weekend, I walked into a royally cloaked forest palace worthy of any fairy princess.
This stone is a jewel. It gleamed in my eyes so much I returned a week later.
Fairy Stone State Park gets its name from the cross-shaped "fairy stones" found there. In a legend that mixes traditions, these stones are the tears of fairies, crying 2,000 years ago in mourning over the death of Jesus Christ, which is why they became crystallized crosses. In more recent times, people have believed the stones capable of warding off all manner of evil, disaster and illness. The stones are staurolite, a combination of silica, iron and aluminum that under great geological heat and pressure forms a crosslike crystal structure. Similar stones are found in North Carolina and Switzerland, but not in the abundance they are found in this state park.
The state park, located west of Martinsville, was born during a dark time in our nation's history, the Great Depression. It was a project of the Civil Conservation Corps, one of Virginia's first six state parks. Junius B. Fishburn, publisher of The Roanoke Times newspaper in those days, donated the 4,868 acres that make up the park. It opened on June 15, 1936.
Fairy Stone has some 15 miles of trail to choose from, much of it multi-use, allowing hiking, biking and horseback riding. The trails are accessed from two main areas: the Little Mountain trail system near the amphitheater along the left fork of the road that enters the park, and the Stuarts Knob trail system along highway 623 across Fairy Stone Lake from the main body of the park.
The Little Mountain trail system includes the namesake trail, Little Mountain Falls, plus the Turkey Ridge, Lakeshore and Beach trails. Across from the amphitheater, these trails branch out in many directions, all well blazed in various colors. The orange blazes mark the Little Mountain Falls Trail, the longest trail in the park at 4.2 miles.
It winds up and around through the campground area for the first half-mile of walking, but even this is a pleasant walk amid pine saplings and much taller oaks, poplars and maples. It was a kaleidoscope of colors as I hiked it, the green of the pines, the brown of leaves ready to fall and the gray of bare trees mixing with the bright reds, oranges and yellows of the mixed forest still wearing its fall glory. The trail will pass a point
where the Turkey Ridge loop (blue blazes) splits off, another point where the paved Mountain View Hiking and Bicycle Trail (a closed road) is accessible, and then where the Little Mountain Falls Trail itself splits into two ends of loop. Don't worry -- all of this is well marked by the park's wonderful blaze and sign system. In order to keep the numbers on the occasional signs matching your actual mileage, follow the right split when the loop begins.
As the trail weaves up and downs through gullies and ridges, it parallels the Mountain View Trail, which occasionally comes into view. This does little to detract from the beauty of this mixed forest. After its last rendezvous with the Mountain View Trail a mile and a half into the hike, the Little Mountain Falls Trail begins a steady climb that will open many views behind you over the hills and dales of the western Piedmont and the Blue Ridge. A wooden bench overlooks one especially spectacular vista, which the fall colors and bright sunshine gave an almost heavenly glint the day I hiked it.
The trail rides the ridge for a while, undulating through small creek drainages and over hills. Eventually, the trail begins working into a more serious creek drainage, and actually cross the small stream a number of times. A wooden handrail marks the spot of the Little Mountain Falls themselves, which on the day I hiked were very little, indeed. Weeks of total dryness on the heels of years of general drought left only a trickle, but there is still something soul-stirring about a dribble of water tinkling through fallen leaves over polished stone. This would be a decent little mutli-level waterfall in rainier times, I could tell.
The trail keeps following this pleasant little stream, neatly tucked in a forested, boulder-lined valley for about a mile, passing a hike-in campground with picnic tables. (Call or visit park headquarters for information.) Then it works its way through the forest back to the point where the loop began. Return on the original trail to the trailhead.
The Stuarts Knob trail system is a neat little network of loops entered on the namesake hill. These trails circle around past abandoned iron mines and amid a hardwood forest that, in this late fall setting, had deposited a substantial accumulation of fallen leaves. With this layer of mulch up over my ankles in spots and up to my dog's belly, it was a little slippery.
One good thing about the newly denuded trees is the many views that open up through them. From the top of Stuarts Knob, a 360-view of rolling ridges and valleys opened up through the gray spikes poking the sky. Interpretive plaques along the way tell about the old town of Fayerdale, once a happening place focused on iron mining. Fairy Stone Lake, which sprawls below a couple of the overlooks, now covers over most of what was Fayerdale, defunct for a century.
I did not get to the Turkey Ridge Trail, a 2.6-mile loop that's part of the Little Mountain System, or the Oak Hickory Trail, a 1.1-mile loop that's just off the east fork of the road past the park gates, during either of my trips to Fairy Stone. I can savor those jewels another time.