sw virginia hikes: Dismal Creek and Sugar Mountain Loop, June 25 2017

Recently, the focus of my effort on travel2walk have been on getting the many backlogged large trip reports out. I still have the two trips from this year that I’m working on. A side effect of my focus on trip reports is that other sections of my page has been neglected, such as my local Virginia hike reports. A poor fall 2016 foliage season due to the warm weather wasn’t very motivating for me to work on the section either. A second side effect of the long trip reports is that I don’t get as much content out as quickly.

With that in mind, I’ve revamped the sw virginia hiking page and you’ll see more quick hiking reports like this. The thesis length trip reports will still come, but at a slower rate. I’m hoping I can get those out in time for you to reference while planning for the following season.


  • Dismal Creek and Sugar Mountain Loop via the AT and Ribble Trail
  • type: loop
  • distance: 10.8 mi
  • elevation change: 2001 ft ascend and descend
  • time: 4 hours moving (5 hours and 41 minutes with breaks)
  • location: Jefferson National Forest near Pearisburg, VA (directions to trailhead)



You can find this loop listed under Hike #12 on the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) webpage. A good swimming hole to visit after the hike and on the way out is Dismal Falls. The AT continues southbound to Dismal Falls from this loop as specified by Hike #13 here so you can make it a 19ish mile loop if you start at the Dismal Falls lot. There are plenty of camping spots along the way as discussed below, so not hard to make a weekend out of this loop.



With majority of the lab gone for conferences and workshops, the rest of us decided to hike a section of the AT near Virginia Tech’s campus I’ve yet to do. This was also the first hike for our new research coordinator Doug.

To reach the trailhead, follow RATC’s instructions: “(From Roanoke) Take I-81 south to exit 98. Go right onto Route 100 and go 11.7 miles to Route 42. Go left and drive 10.3 miles to Route 606. Make right on to Route 606 and go 1.3 miles. Make right on Route 201. This will become a Forest Service road. Continue for 5 miles on FS 201 to Ribble Trail parking area on right. (Note: parking area is located where road makes sharp left turn and begins to climb Sugar Run Mountain)”


As mentioned above, this hike can be made longer if you start or end at the Dismal Falls parking area on FS201.

The beginning heads right (both in the timing and direction sense of the word) into the forest on the muddle Ribble Trail.


At the intersection with the AT, turn left and head northbound. The trail is much less muddier and it’s a nice stroll crossing Dismal Creek a few times.


Before the uphill begins, you come to a large pond with several camp spots around and where we saw a deer across the way.


The AT then starts to ascend first through a tunnel of small trees before the steepest uphill section of the hike.


Once the AT reaches the ridge, the trail flattens out again with only slight inclines and declines. Zhouya and Shengchuang was happy about that.


Along the spine of the mountain, there were a couple of nice camping spots.


Around the 4 mile mark, there is an rock outcrop where you get a view of the valley and the ridge that the AT continues on over to Angel’s Rest over Pearisburg. It was a good place to stop for lunch.


Continuing on, you come to an intersection with a spur to the right for the top of Sugar Run Mountain while the AT bypasses to the left. This is for a good reason as there are several cell phone towers out here. Just past the first tower is a nice camping spot


and another opening.


Continuing along a dirt service road, you’ll reach the peak of Sugar Run Mountain with another cell phone tower.


After a slight downhill, the blue blazed Ribble Trail intersection is on the left


and a bit overgrown. Watch for those ticks.


Shortly crossing the AT again,


the (g)Ribble Trail starts it’s steep and overgrown descent.


It would have been a bit harder going the other direction as the Ribble trail isn’t heavily trafficked. We did see a cool toad.


After a road crossing, the trail flattens out but again becomes super muddy.


We passed another campsite before finally reaching the opening to the parking area with our feet caked in mud.



On the way out we stopped by Dismal Falls where I got to chill my feet in the creek and wash off all that mud. Oh yea, the falls are pretty awesome too.


There was another campsite located just pass the falls. I imagine that’s a popular car camping spot.

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 2. Overall, this hike was a pretty typical Virginia hike as it wasn’t the most interesting for views. While hiking next to Dismal Creek, you don’t see it much other than a few crossings. The vistas are pretty typical of the Virginia valleys with majority of trail among the green trees. The Rhododendron were in full bloom in the area, which added some variety. We were the only ones on the trail since it’s not a well know section of the AT, which added to the experience. Also, a short jump to Dismal Falls was a nice end to the day.
  • difficulty: 2. There was one uphill to the spine of the mountain and a steeper down on the Ribble Trail. The 10.8 miles is a little bit longer, but few of the crew that don’t hike often at all did just fine. The mud was probably the most difficult part of the trail.
  • technical: 1.5. The Ribble trail isn’t the best marked and is not trafficked much, so know where you need to go before heading in.

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