Whitetop Mountain and Elk Gardens, both in Virginia are two of the prettiest and wildest places, yet they are unknown to many. I was fortunate enough to run into a photographer a couple years ago that shared this information with me. Most of the people I run into that are familiar with it are hikers that went through the area on the Appalachian Trail.
Mt. Rogers is the highest point in Virginia and Whitetop Mountain is the second highest. Elk Gardens is located at the intersection of State Road 600 and the Appalachian trail and falls in between Mt. Rogers and Whitetop Mountain. It features open balds and pasture land with long range views making it an ideal place for sunrise and sunset pictures. A trail from Elk Gardens will take you to the top of Mt, Rogers, but the views are impacted by the dense forest. This area is a great place to hike in July because of the wild blueberries and blackberries, but please only take a few and leave them for the wildlife and others. A short video taken from Elk Gardens can be viewed on youtube by clicking here.
If you leave Elk Gardens and head south on State Road 600 there will be a turnoff to the right that will take you to the top of Whitetop Mountain. You will also intersect the AT trail on your way to the top of Whitetop Mountain. The area southwest of the intersection is one of my favorite places to photography wildflowers. If you go to this area please respect its sensitivity and stay on the trail. Use a telephoto lens to photography flowers off the trail instead of walking through the area. If you travel a little further down the trail you will reach a spring that is an excellent water source, but I think I am supposed to say here that you need to filter the water before drinking.