Southwest Virginia is full of amazing outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the Appalachian Mountains, including the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway, seven state parks, and countless campgrounds, trails, and rivers. Deep in these mountains you will find the city of Norton. Despite being the smallest city in Virginia, this area is big on beautiful scenery including Norton’s Mountain Masterpiece: Flag Rock Recreation Area. Karl Matuszczyk was a German immigrant who loved the United States. In the 1920’s, he decided to demonstrate his love for his new home by climbing the mountain near Norton to a rock outcropping and planting an American flag. The flag is visible from all parts of Norton, especially from a rocky outcropping behind the flag about 100′ higher. In 1974 the city of Norton dedicated a 25-acre site around the rock as Flag Rock Recreation Area, opening it to the public on June 12, 1976. Today the city of Norton Parks & Recreation Department changes the flag seasonally to keep the patriotic act of a German immigrant alive and thriving.Visitors can easily see the flag rock from a scenic overlook built on a rocky outcropping, a view that is more breathtaking than just the flag. From this vantage point you can see the entire city about 1,000′ below, and a full 180-degree vista along the Appalachian Mountains and Highway 23.
But Flag Rock is only one part (but perhaps the biggest attraction) of the greater recreation area. The area also includes a small campground with 18 camp sites broken up into two different areas. The upper campground area features five sites with a stunning view of the nearby mountains. The lower campground is more secluded and surrounded by nature. Anyone hoping to score a few nights away can find gold in this little campground. The upper campsites are large enough for small RV’s and both campsites can accommodate up to about 20′ travel trailers. However, the road leading up to Flag Rock is steep and includes several hairpin turns, making it difficult for very large RV’s and fifth wheel trailers to make the climb. Both campsites include bathhouses with hot showers and run $15 per night, regardless of the type of vehicle you bring. You can visit the Norton, Virginia Official Website to learn more about the sites and make reservations, which are on a first come, first serve basis. If you’re just looking for a short afternoon trip to the recreation area, bring a full picnic supply with you. Two picnic shelters offer a great place to enjoy a meal with the family, or you can reserve the shelters for larger gatherings and take advantage of the grills and large fireplaces. Each covered shelter runs $50 per day. You can use the above link to the Norton website to make reservations for these shelters.
Another outdoor recreation opportunity can be found at the Upper and Lower Norton Reservoir. It is a small reservoir, but offers a big chance to enjoy some fishing or a quiet picnic. The area sits just a few hundred feet higher on the mountain, about a five minute drive from the campground, offering visitors an easy escape if they want to catch their own dinner. You can also enjoy a bit of hiking on a vigorous trail from nearby Legion Park. The public park is located at the base of the mountain near Highway 23. The 1.5-mile trail climbs about 1,000′ in elevation to the overlook at Flag Rock, ensuring even the most seasoned a hiker a strenuous climb. Although the trail is well-marked (look for the yellow blaze) and family-friendly, it is a very difficult climb, especially for younger children. The climb should take an average hiker about two hours to complete, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time and good weather. The area is easily accessible by two different routes. You can drive through Abingdon, Virginia via Highway 19 and Highway 58-Alternate, both four-lane highways that will take you through coal mining towns like St. Paul and Coeburn. You can also take Highway 58 from Bristol through Gate City, then Highway 23 through Big Stone Gap to Norton. This section of highway is full of beautiful scenery and takes you past the Powell Valley Overlook. Flag Rock is one of those hidden gems of Southwest Virginia that would make you feel like a giddy explorer when you discover it. The views are breathtaking year-round (I’ve only been able to visit during the summer), the fishing is pretty good, and the nature is, well, natural. Whether you’re looking to get away for a few hours, stretch your legs on a vigorous hike, or hoping to escape for a few nights, Flag Rock Recreation Area can fulfill your hope and dreams while providing you with much more.