Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory

This former fire tower located on a mountaintop in Waiteville, West Virginia, is now a scenic lookout point along the Appalachian Trail where volunteers track the migration of raptors. 

People looking out of Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory in Waiteville, West Virginia (photo by Sharyn Ogden)

Several species of raptors, pass through southeastern West Virginia each fall, and since 1952, they have been faithfully cataloged during their migration season by volunteers at Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory. Although their majestic flights happen in the autumn, the observatory is open year-round. During the summer, it is the best place to get unobstructed, 360-degree views of the region. The observatory structure was originally built in the 1930s and used as a fire tower before it was replaced in the ’50s and later decommissioned in the ’70s. 

Start the journey at the trailhead for Hanging Rock, found atop Peters Mountain. The trail to the top is a portion of the larger Allegheny Trail, which has its northern terminus along the Mason-Dixon Line and stretches south through West Virginia to the Appalachian Trail along the Virginia border, covering 311 miles. 

The trail that goes to the observatory is a moderate, 1-mile, natural-terrain path that takes visitors 350 feet up. At the top, the observatory and its deck provide a spot to enjoy the view or serve as an overnight stop for those hiking through the Allegheny Trail. Due to the height of the surrounding mountains and the region’s remote setting, views on a clear day span more than 50 miles, offering glimpses of the Peaks of Otter in Bedford, Virginia. 

Because the observatory is open all the time, it is also a prime spot for summer stargazing, and during meteor showers, a small group of avid stargazers are frequently found on the deck all night. Back at the bottom of the mountain, hikers will find restaurants and bed-and-breakfast lodging 20 minutes away in the town of Union, while about 50 minutes northwest, the larger city of Lewisburg has commercial lodging options. Trailhead: Limestone Hill Rd., Waiteville, West Virginia 24984, 540/552-4641, fs.usda.gov, hangingrocktower.org