Hidden in Virginia: The Powell Valley Overlook

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
March 14, 2017
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Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
March 14th, 2017
Share story

The Powell Valley Overlook is proof that not all scenic overlooks are the same. This overlook stands high on the side of a mountain range overlooking the lush valley below. Farms, homes, and wide open fields cover the valley floor. Day or night this is a place to visit for an amazing view.

The Powell Valley Overlook along Highway 23/Orby Cantrell Highway in Norton, VA on Friday, July 26, 2013. Copyright 2013 Jason Barnette

A gentle paved path leads to the top of a little hill with a big view.

The overlook is located just outside Norton, Virginia on US Highway 23. However, visitors can only access the overlook from the northbound lanes, making it a little tricky to get there in the first place. Anyone coming through Norton must drive down the mountain to Big Stone Gap, exit, and then reenter the highway heading northbound. But once you arrive you’ll see the few miles you’ll drive out of your way was entirely worth the effort of your car’s engine.

The overlook is a paved sidewalk on a little hill beside the bridge on the side of the mountain. Thick wood rails are better at providing a place to sit than they are at keeping anyone from falling off the overlook (don’t worry, it’s not a sheer drop off so it’s not really possible to accidentally fall off this overlook).

Sunlight breaks through the clouds at the Powell Valley Overlook on Highway 23 in Norton, VA on Saturday, October 25, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

Deep shadows and textures appear on the hill at the Powell Valley Overlook on Highway 23 in Norton, VA on Saturday, October 25, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

Above: Partly cloudy or stormy days are a great time to visit the overlook. Below: When the sunlight breaks through the clouds it will highlight the contours of the valley below.

The day time view from this overlook is simply amazing. A long mountain chain on the opposite side of the valley trails off into the distance. Below you can easily make out large farms, wide open fields, and individual homes. The valley is lush and inviting and as you stand up there you can understand why people would move here and never leave.

The overlook is handicap accessible, making it a joy for anyone who wants to enjoy this view. The paved path is a gentle incline and wide enough for a wheelchair without blocking the path for others. Unfortunately the wood railing is just a bit high so you may not be able to enjoy the entire view from a seated position.

The Powell Valley floor is lit from dozens of house lights under a clear night sky, seen from the Powell Valley Overlook on Highway 23 in Norton, VA on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette SPECIAL DONATION TO THE INTERNATIONAL DARK-SKY ASSOCIATION: I will donate 20% of all print sales of this photo to the International Dark-Sky Association to help with their fight to preserve the night!

Brilliant stars peak out through a gap in the clouds at the Powell Valley Overlook on Highway 23 in Norton, VA on Saturday, October 25, 2014. Copyright 2014 Jason Barnette

It’s not exactly the darkest location, and I’m not sure how well you could see the Milky Way from here, but nights at the overlook are still pretty amazing.

The night time view is just as amazing. Once the sun goes down and the lights turn on the valley is littered with small porch lights and overhead farm lights. It’s a mostly dark valley with the exception of a state prison high on a mountain top near Big Stone Gap. At night you can watch the headlights of cars driving through the valley twist and turn on the two lane road.

After you tear yourself away from the overlook you can take a scenic drive through the valley. Take the very first right turn on US 23 onto Powell Valley Road. A steep decline and a few switchbacks you’ll be on the valley floor you saw from high above. In a sharp turn Powell Valley Road will continue to the left while Back Valley Road heads to the right; you can take either road for a scenic view, and I would actually recommend doing both.

Once you leave Powell Valley behind you won’t soon forget it. Sunrise, sunset, and starry nights are amazing at that little-known scenic overlook. Stormy days lead to dramatic lighting. Clouds leave shadows racing across the valley floor. Early morning fog is mysterious and thrilling. Bring a picnic, take a few pictures, and be sure to return again some day just to remind yourself how breathtaking this world can be.

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