Sunrise from Betsy Bell Wilderness Park

June 01, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Last year, someone recommended a location for me to photograph the sunrise in Staunton, Virginia.  There’s an observation deck at the top of the mountain in Betsy Bell Wilderness Park.  They said that I’d need a vehicle that has a higher clearance because the road to the top of the mountain could be in bad shape.  Fortunately, I have an all-wheel drive SUV, so unless the ruts in the road were really extreme, I’d probably be okay.  In my mind, I was thinking of the dirt roads and two-tracks that take you back to Carp River Falls in Upper Michigan.  You definitely need a 4x4 to get back there, and a winch is an excellent idea.  But that’s a story for another time.

I did, however, wonder how much difficulty I’d have since I’d never been to this park, and I would be going up there in the dark.  I was told the same road to the top was the only road back down and that it was narrow.  There is apparently a gravel road that goes down the eastern face of the mountain, but that it’s not open to motor vehicles. 

The night before, I took some time to review a couple websites and mapping programs to make sure I knew just where to enter the park.  I saw a few comments from people saying that the trip to the top of the mountain was a frightening experience. The park’s website does warn that the road to the top is maintained once a year, but that the road is loosely packed gravel, steep and narrow.  They recommend four-wheel drive vehicles.

The weather forecast for that morning was partly cloudy.  As long as it wasn’t raining before sunrise, I knew I’d give it a try.  I found the turn off for the park without any trouble.  The road was narrow, but it was packed gravel and no signs of ruts, so maybe the road maintenance had been done recently.  Mountain Road before SunriseMountain Road before SunriseOne-lane road to the top of the mountain to Betsy Bell Wilderness Park I think I could have still gotten to the top with a regular car.  I don’t think I would have bottomed out on the way up, but I would have had traction problems in the steep areas. The gravel was somewhat loose in some areas, but I’d seen a lot worse.

When I got to the top, the road/path just kind of ended.  I had enough room to turn around, though.  No parking lot up there but there is enough room for a couple cars to park between the trees. Narrow Mountain RoadNarrow Mountain RoadThis is the "road" leading down the mountain from the overlook at Betsy Bell Wilderness Park in Staunton, Virginia

The observation deck is at an elevation of 1,959 feet and has a fantastic view of the Shenandoah Valley.  The view is to the east and looks towards Waynesboro, Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains.  There are some long benches that face the observation deck and a picnic table and grill.  Maybe more people make the hike to the top of the mountain in the summer.

I got up there about 10 minutes before sunrise, so I barely had enough time to get from my vehicle over to the observation platform.  It wasn’t a long distance, but I had to watch my step as the terrain was a bit rocky and there were leaves on the ground that covered some exposed roots.

The view was out of this world!  I was blessed with partly cloudy skies and colors were breathtaking!  I was so glad that I went!  Sunrise in Staunton, VirginiaSunrise in Staunton, VirginiaBetsy Bell Wilderness Park overlooking Staunton, Virginia at sunrise in December.

I walked around a bit before heading back down the mountain.  Mountain RoadMountain RoadJust after sunrise at Betsy Bell Wilderness Park. I didn’t really see the gravel road down the east face of the mountain, but I admit that I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for it. The trip back down was uneventful.  I didn’t pass any cars going up or down the mountain.

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