It was two hours until sunset but the campground was already plunged into the shade of a mountain. The summer heat evaporated almost instantly. A few cars buzzed by on the main highway beside my campsite but only a few. By the time the sun hit the horizon the lightning bugs had come out for nightly entertainment and I was perfectly settled for the night.
Just outside the tiny country town of Sugar Grove in the Southwest Virginia mountains is one of the tiniest, cleanest, most charming campgrounds. Raccoon Branch Campground is maintained by the U.S. Forestry Service in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. It’s one of those campgrounds that will only keep you occupied for a night, two at the most, but those will be some peaceful nights.
The 20 camping sites are situated around a paved loop road with paved parking spaces and tent pads. Amenities include electrical hookups at about half the sites, flush toilets in a centrally-located bathroom, and picnic tables. There is a dump station and a volunteer campground host during the operating season.
Dickey Creek runs along the back of the campground. Campsite 010 in the campground (my favorite) is right beside a paved road that used to be a levy crossing the creek and leading into the forest. Today it’s just a great place to sit by the creek and listen to the bubbling water.
The Dickey Knob Trail is a strenuous 5.5-mile out & back trail that ascends the summit of Dickey Knob beside the campground. It’s a physically exerting trek with a total 951′ ascent to the summit that will leave you feeling somewhat accomplished if you survive the journey. At least you have a peaceful campground for the recovery when you return.
The campground is fully covered in the shade of thick trees, surrounded by lush rhododendron that never fades, and sits in a bit of a valley alongside Highway 16. The area is usually swallowed by the shadow of mountains a couple of hours before sunset. There is very little traffic on the highway even on a busy day so the nights will be quiet.
For just $14/night it’s the kind of national forest campground that doesn’t come along often so enjoy it when you can. I certainly have. In fact I might just book another trip there now. It’s only twenty minutes away from my favorite state park in the country.