It’s nearing that time of the year again, fall foliage season along the Appalachian Mountains. I was eager to head out to see how the colors were coming along. Based on this initial hike, it seems like 2018 is another year of delayed foliage (Virginia Department of Forestry Report).
- name: Terrapin Mountain & Reed Creek loop (gps track – wikiloc alltrails)
- type: loop
- distance: 10.23 miles
- elevation change: 2602 ft ascent and descent
- time: 5 hours (4:30 hours moving)
- location: Jefferson National Forest near Big Island, VA (google map directions)
- There are a couple two additional access points to the loop, the first is at Camping Gap accessible via Hunting Creek Rd (VA 602) and the other at the end of Reed Creek Road (VA 764). Both are some sort of dirt roads of which I don’t know their exact conditions.
- Additional resource on the trail can be found at Hiking Upwards.
I was on my own for this hike and was at the trailhead just before 11 am. The parking area at the trailhead had enough space for around 5 car. There is also a detailed map at the trailhead.
The initial trail continues on the disused fire road until the junction for the loop. To head up for the Terrapin Mountain the trail continues ahead. Directly after the sign, the fire road turns right but the trail continues straight marked by a decent sized cairn. Additionally, there are faint yellow markings for the trail. The steep uphills begins shortly after that. Going left at the sign and counterclockwise starting with Reed Creek may be easier for some with a slower increase in elevation until Camp Gap junction. However, the downhill from Terrapin Mountain will be brutal.
The aggressive climb to the ridge toward Terrapin Mountain is one of the more difficult ascends I’ve encountered in Virginia. The trail is not heavily trafficked consisting of dirt, small rocks, and dead leaves which in conjunction with the high grade of incline can make your footing difficult. It was here that I encountered an elderly couple that decided to turn around. The trail turns to the right as I neared the the top of the ridge and flattens out briefly. Afterwards the trail turns left and starts uphill again to the top of the ridge. Once the ridge was gained, a vista opens up on a outcrop to the right of the trail. The ridge across Hunting Creek Basin is Apple Orchard Mountain, Thunder Ridge, and the Blue Ridge Parkway cutting across the mountain side.
The trail continues on the ridge sometimes through thick brush at times and loose trees at others. There is a small side trail diverging from the left of the trail followed by a rock outcrops on the right of the trail that will provide views of vistas to the east, to the west, and Terrapin Mountain itself.
Near the peak of Terrapin Mountain, there is a well signed intersection with the summit trail to the left and the Terrapin Trail continuing to the right. The trail to the summit initially threads through a rock steeply and continues aggressively to the top. The summit itself is covered in trees like many peaks in Virginia. However, continue to the left of the summit rock and there is a opening with a outcrop rock…
with a grand 180 vista. From here, the Peaks of Otter, Apple Orchard Mountain, and Thunder Ridge among several other peaks can be seen in the distance.
Returning to the summit, there is a steep dirt trail heading west by northwest that connects back to the Terrapin Trail, the intersection is marked by another sign. The initial portion can be slippery and I did fall on my butt as a loose rock went flying from underneath my foot. After the intersection, the Terrapin Trail continues through overgrown trails at a slightly less gradient.
The steep portion ends at Camping Gap, the intersection with Hunter Creek Road. There is a fire ring here, but no water source making it a poor campsite. To continue on the loop, turn left on Hunter Creek Road for a few feet before another left turn onto the disused fire trail called the Reed Creek Trail marked by a sign.
The fire trail descends before it intersects another fire trail, the Reed Creek Trail takes a left turn marked by a double yellow blaze.
The fire road continues to descends until it comes to campsite with a large fire pit just before the first crossing of Reed Creek. Looking upstream, I was able to hop a few rocks to avoid getting my feet wet at the the stream crossing unlike previous reports on alltrails.
The Reed Creek fire trail continues along Reed Creek with run offs trickling across the trail at points into the creek. A bit further, there another fire trail leading down to the creek to the left. The view of a series of cascades cutting through the boulders provided a nice view. I imagine this would be a nice place to dip your toes in on a hot day.
There are some nice zen inducing rocks to sit on here should you be in a mediating mood.
Further down Reed Creek Trail fire road, there is another intersection with a sign pointing the second crossing of Reed Creek. Just before the crossing, there is another large fire pit. If you continue down the original fire road along Reed Creek, it comes out on Reed Creek Road.
After the Reed Creek, the trail gains a little elevation before flatting out and continuing for the next few miles on the ledge crossing small streams and tributaries of Meadow Creek. The trail here is again another fire road and wide. At one of a tributaries, a small waterfall can be found.
The rest of the trail continued among tree covering and not of much interest. Many trail reports say the loop seems longer than it is, which may be cause the long stretches of fire road through the trees. At the original intersection that makes the loop, turn right for the trailhead parking lot.
ratings (1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)
- views: 2. Between the several 180 vistas along the ridge of Terrapin Mountain and the cascades of Reed Creek, I was very close in boosting this trail to a 3 rating. However, they were far in between with majority of the trail in the shroud of trees with long stretches on former fire roads.
- difficulty: 3. The aggressive elevation change around Terrapin Mountain is unlike majority of the trails I’ve encounter here in Virginia. This trail would not what I’d recommend to take your virgin hiking friends or even those that have been on a few trails. The combination of steepness, lesser groomed trails, and many small round rocks that make up a majority of the trail can make it a more difficult affair, you have to be careful with your footing and it can make the elevation change harder. The steepness was enough to convince an elderly couple to turn around on my initial uphill.
- technical: 2. Unlike previous reviews written on alltrails, the NPS rangers seem to have put in several signs at the major junctions. There are also a few faint yellow blazes here and there. However, due to the lesser foot traffic, some of the trail may not be apparent to novice hikers. I saw reports of downfall from a week before I hiked the trail, but did not encounter any on my hike so either the rangers cleaned them up very very fast or the previous hikers may have taken one of the several disused fire road offshoots. Having a gps is recommended if you are not comfortable with it and experienced hikes should be able to find their way.