Bear Loop overlook at Warm Springs Mountain, Virginia.
Endless Mountains Bear Loop overlook at Warm Springs Mountain, Virginia. © Jennifer Dalke / TNC

Places We Protect

Warm Springs Mountain Preserve

Virginia

Warm Springs Mountain Preserve features one of the most ecologically significant forests in the Central Appalachians.

Warm Springs Mountain Preserve helps stitch together thousands of acres of forest and conservation lands in western Virginia’s Allegheny Highlands. The preserve anchors our efforts to protect and restore a key wildlife corridor and habitat for an amazing diversity of natural communities, plants and animals.

Situated within a 77,000-acre unfragmented, largely roadless forest block, the preserve helps maintain healthy, breeding populations of interior-forest-dwelling songbirds, provides key habitat for wide-ranging mammals, and protects headwater tributaries of both the Jackson and Cowpasture rivers.

The preserve features Virginia’s only substantial montane pine barren, a globally rare, arid, fire-dependent landscape. The mountain harbors at least two other rare natural communities, three rare plants and eight rare invertebrates.

Ongoing Conservation

Through diverse conservation partnerships, TNC continues to research, protect and—in certain areas—restore the rich ecology of Warm Springs Mountain and the Allegheny Highlands.

Our key strategies include:

  1. Collaboration with federal and state agencies to restore the historic fire regime of fire-adapted and fire-dependent pine and oak forest communities
  2. Inventory, monitoring, and control of non-native invasive plant species
  3. Working with the George Washington National Forest to build and manage a network of resilient forest sites critical to the preservation of biodiversity within the Central Appalachians

What to see

Spring is prime time for wildflowers and bird watching. Summer is peak season for wildlife sightings, especially during morning and evening walks. And autumn offers beautiful displays of forest foliage.

Access

The Ingalls Overlook, Sandy Gap and Bear Loop hiking trails are open daily. These three trails offer distinct experiences, from expansive mountain views to a close-up look at a globally rare pine barren, along with opportunities to extend your hike on adjoining public lands.

Scroll to the bottom of this page to find a preserve guide and trail maps for download.

Bear Loop Trail - From the village of Hot Springs, travel US 220 South for 7.7 miles, turn left on State Route 606 and travel 2.6 miles to the crest of Warm Springs Mountain. Turn left onto State Route 703 (Airport Road) and travel 6.2 miles to the trailhead, just left of the entrance to Ingalls Field Airport.  This 3-mile loop trail is relatively flat and with several overlooks offering stunning panoramic views.  Interpretive signs highlight the mountain’s diversity of wildlife species and habitats in addition to the Conservancy’s efforts to restore the region’s fire-adapted oak and pine forests.

Ingalls Overlook Trail — At the northern end of the preserve, park at the Dan Ingalls Overlook, located on Route 39 just outside the village of Warm Springs. Here you will find the trailhead for the 2.4-mile (round trip) Ingalls Overlook Trail. Interpretive signs along the first mile provide an excellent introduction to Warm Springs Mountain and the region’s natural history. The trail then climbs among a series of scenic rock formations with views of Shenandoah Mountain and the Cowpasture River valley before looping back to the main trail and returning to the overlook.

Sandy Gap Trail — At the southern end of the preserve, park at the small gravel lot on Route 703 (Airport Road) just past the south entrance to Bald Knob. Cross the paved road to the gravel Bald Knob service road and you will find the trailhead for the Sandy Gap Trail.  Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, this 3.2-mile trail (one-way trip) features tranquil vistas and unique stone work, travels through the George Washington National Forest, and connects to the Douthat State Park trail system. This trail can be accessed directly from State Route 703 or from Forest Road 125, in which case the views of the Falling Springs valley from the trailhead overlook make this a truly rewarding climb.

View of Warm Springs Mountain from Bear Loop overlook.
Warm Springs Mountain
Explore this 10,000 acre preserve in the heart of the Allegheny Highlands.

Warm Springs Mountain Preserve The preserve anchors our efforts to protect and restore a key wildlife corridor and habitat for an amazing diversity of natural communities.

The Nature Conservancy’s preserves are set aside to protect natural plant and animal communities. We invite you to experience and enjoy preserves where we provide public access, but remember that every visitor has an impact. Please follow our visitation guidelines to protect yourself and nature.

  • Preserves are open to the public during daylight hours. 
  • Passive recreation such as walking, bird watching, and photography is welcomed. 

The following activities are not allowed:

  • Bringing dogs onto the preserve.  Dogs are not permitted at any Conservancy preserve except as noted below.
  • Picking flowers, mushrooms, etc.
  • Removing rocks or other parts of the landscape
  • Smoking
  • Camping
  • Fires or cookouts
  • Driving motorized vehicles, including ATV’s, except on designated access roads
  • Biking, except at Brownsville Preserve
  • Fishing, trapping or hunting, except as otherwise posted
  • Horseback riding
  • Feeding wildlife
  • Releasing animals or introducing plants
  • Disposing of trash or other waste, including biodegradable materials

Leashed dogs are allowed on Brownsville Preserve's William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail.

  • Dogs on the trail must be leashed at all times.
  • Dogs are not allowed on any of the Virginia Coast Reserve islands.

To minimize your impact, we ask that you please also observe the following: 

  • Stay on trails.
  • Avoid walking in wet, boggy areas.
  • Inspect pant legs and shoes to remove seeds before entering and when leaving the preserve. Failure to do so could introduce invasive weeds to new locations.
  • If you flush a ground nesting bird, stop and avoid walking near the nest area.
  • Observe all posted signs.
  • Please do not remove stakes, signs, flagging, tape or similar objects. These may be markers for a research project.
  • Please do not trespass on private property adjacent to preserves.

For your own comfort and enjoyment, come prepared. Wear comfortable shoes for hiking, pack rain gear, and wear long pants with socks over them to protect yourself from ticks and poison ivy. Always remember to bring water, as dehydration is a serious year-round threat.

If you observe any illegal activity on a preserve such as ATV use, do not confront the offenders yourself. However, do feel free to call local law enforcement.

A note about wildlife: while black bear populations are healthy in the western part of the state, you are unlikely to encounter a bear while visiting one of our preserves.  More often than not, a wild bear will detect you first and flee from the area. However, black bears that have become accustomed to humans and their foods may not run away. In these cases, certain precautions are offered for consideration (source: USFS):

  • Do not run. Remain calm, continue facing the bear and slowly back away.
  • Keep children and pets close at hand.
  • Make lots of noise. Yell, rattle pots and pans, whistle and break sticks.
  • Travel in groups.
  • Stand upright. Do not kneel or bend over. Wave arms, jackets or other materials.
  • Never approach or corner a bear.
  • Never offer food to a bear.
  • Be aware of the presence of cubs and never come between a bear and its cubs.
  • Fight back aggressively if a bear attacks you.

Enjoy your visit and please report any problems you encounter at a preserve to the Virginia Chapter at 434-295-6106.

Geocaching is a fast-growing hobby that provides an exciting way to explore the landscape and share special places with other outdoor enthusiasts. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS, and can then share their experiences online.

A geocache can be found at Warm Springs Mountain Preserve, part of the geocaching trail along the Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway.  Log on to www.geocaching.com to set up a free account.

Please review our preserve guidelines before your visit, and keep these tips in mind during your outing:

  • Caches are only accessible during normal hours of operation.
  • Stay on marked trails at all times.
  • Please leave pets at home.  Dogs are not permitted at any Conservancy preserves.
  • Do not litter; used marked receptacles to dispose of any trash.
  • Please respect the land; do not remove plants, animals, artifacts, or rocks.
  • For your safety and comfort, bring drinking water, hats, sun protection, bug repellent and use appropriate footwear.

New geocaches are not permitted on Conservancy preserves. These sites were carefully selected for their accessibility and low impact to the environment.