Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory – Union, West Virginia - Atlas Obscura
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Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory

Union, West Virginia

This former fire tower is now a rustic observatory that offers amazing views of eagles, hawks, and the Appalachian Mountains. 

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Always wanted a birds-eye view of the valleys in the Appalachian Mountains? This wondrous observatory is paired with an amazing journey through the mountains and small towns of West Virginia

The structure located at the top of Peters Mountain was originally built in 1956 as a fire lookout. The lookout was shut down in 1972, and in 1983 the tower and its surrounding land were acquired by the U.S. Forest Service and became part of the Jefferson National Forest.

Even before the tower was built, this spot was popular for birdwatching. The earliest records from Hanging Rock date back to 1952, when professors from Marshall University and Concord College performed annual raptor counts around the site. It proved to be a good location for observing migrating hawks, eagles, falcons, and osprey.

After the Forest Service took over the site, local birding groups helped restore the ailing structure and turn it into a wildlife observation space. The tower was reinforced and a new deck and steps were built to make it more accessible. After vandals set fire to the tower in 1996, it was rebuilt and reopened the following year—though just as rustic as it had been before. 

Recently, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources installed a set of radio antennas at the observatory. These antennas can pick up signals from radio transmitters that have been implanted in animals. Researchers can use tracking software to identify tagged animals and gather data about their movements.

This observatory is for more than just bird-watchers. There is no electricity or running water at the site, but it features an outhouse and a small cabin. A one-mile hike from the trailhead leads to marvelous views. If you are a fan of bird-watching, there are many opportunities to see various species.

Know Before You Go

From Roanoke: Take I-581 North towards I-81. Use the left lane to take Exit 1S and merge onto I-81 South. In 2.6 miles, take Exit 141 for VA-419 toward Salem and New Castle.


Take a left turn on VA-419 N, then turn right onto VA-311 N. After continuing on VA-311 N for 35 miles, turn left onto SR-600. At this point, you will be in West Virginia. Continue to Waiteville Rd for 7.5 miles. Take a right turn onto Limestone Hill Rd and continue for 3.5 miles. Then, turn left toward Firetower Rd and proceed to the Hanging Rock parking area.

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