This was a hike we did about a year ago and I’m finally getting around to writing it up. It also breaks up my work on the larger trip reports that I’m still grinding through. We hiked a section on the Appalachian Trail for a view of the James River. It had been raining quite heavily that week and we eager to head outside during a break in the rain on a Sunday afternoon.
- name: Little Rocky Row via the Appalachian Trail (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
- type: in & out
- distance: 7.9 miles
- elevation change: 1995 ft ascent and descent
- time: 3:27 hours (3:23 hours moving)
- location: James River Wilderness near Glasgow, VA (google map directions)
This hike can be completed as a loop (all trails) by continuing on the the Appalachian Trail on the ridge of the mountain over Big Rocky Row to Saddle Gap. At Saddle gap, there is a junction for the little used Saddle Gap Trail (trail #703) that heads down from the ridge for 2.5 miles until it ends on Hercules Road (VA 812). The loop is then completed by turning right (west) on Hercules Road back to where the AT crosses it initially and taking the AT back to the parking lot. Hiking Upwards has since uploaded this loop as Big Rock Row hike.
While I always like loops over in and outs, we decided on just the in and out because end of the loop would involve an overgrown Saddle Gap Trail with multiple reports of downed trees and possible ticks and the road walk of Hercules Road. Also, there no views amongst this section. This was also recommended by others on both All Trails and Hiking Upwards.
There is a second option that you can also loop or treat as a point to point hike after setting up a shuttle. It involves the Little Rocky Row Run Trail that junctions with the AT at Little Rocky Row. However, there is very little information on this trail that follows the ridge down to Elon Rd/Virginia Byway (VA130/US501) further west of the James River Bridge parking lot.
Neither of these trail options (Saddle Gap Trail or Little Rocky Row Run Trail) were on standard OSM maps at the time I wrote this up. I did find them on the USDA Forest Services website, USGS Topo Base Map in wikiloc, and Forest Service Topo on Caltopo.
The hike starts at the James River Bridge parking lot off of Elon Rd/Virginia Byway (VA130/US501), next to the James River Foot Bridge (US Forest Services). This is also the takeout for a popular beginner kayak section on the James River named for the main rapid of Balcony Falls (American Whitewater).
We followed the Appalachian Trail (AT) for the entirety of the hike and starting by following it northbound. The trail continues along Elon Road/Virginia Bypass (US501/VA130) within the trees for a few steps before crossing it at the intersection with Hercules Road (VA 812). You can actually start this hike further up Hercules Road when it crosses the AT again, but the first section is worth doing. After a couple more steps on Hercules Road, the AT turns off to the right of the road.
For the next mile, the AT will follow Rocky Row Run. It was fast flowing on this day after a week of rain.
The fast moving Rocky Row Run isn’t an issue for us since our first crossing of it is over a bridge.
On this day, the Rhododendron were in full bloom.
It wasn’t long until we crossed over Rocky Row Run again with another footbridge.
We continued above Rocky Row Run without too much elevation gain. It was a nice stretch with a nice rushing stream soundtrack. The only issues was that it got muddy at points from all the recent rain.
At 1.1 miles from the parking lot, the AT turns sharply to the left. Even though the AT is well marked, there is a disused fire road that continues ahead so be careful here. The trail elevates sharply here also to cross Hercules Road again.
The trail after the junction increases mildly in elevation with plenty of Rhododendrons and mushrooms blooming.
In just over a half mile, the AT crosses an unnamed stream. This is just before the John’s Hollow Shelter and the last water source we saw before starting the climb toward the ridge.
Immediately, it is about a 10% grade incline climb after the stream for the next mile or so before the the switchback starts. The switchbacks proceed at a more aggressive 16% grade that isn’t the best footing of downed leaves from season past and muddy trail.
Because of the higher grade, we did get to sneak a few peaks of the James River to the west and upriver of the James River Footbridge. You can make out one of the many class II rapids here. The James River was also brown from all the rain runoff we had been getting.
As we rounded the last of the few switchbacks, that covered over a mile and 3.75 miles from the parking lot, we found some cool rock formations.
Once we were on the ridge, we came to the trail junction for the Little Rocky Row Run Trail (trail #518 – I believe it was marked with blue blazes) that can provide an alternative down to the a different point on Elon Road/Virginia Byway. However, we didn’t take it since we didn’t know it was there originally when we planned the hike. There some campsites in this area with a fire ring as well. However, no water sources that I could see.
Continuing along the ridge for a few steps, there were several openings where we saw open vistas of the James River continuing down stream to the southeast.
We turned around after walking a little further on the ridge, but opting not to continue to Big Rocky Row. I believe the reason was that the views wouldn’t be much different and we were suppose to meet up with others that evening. So we retraced our steps down the mountain back to the parking lot.
- views: 2. The draw for this hike along the Appalachian Trail was some nice overviews of the James River at Little Rocky Row and the ridge. An additional bonus was the first mile of the trail next to Rocky Row Run providing for some nice views and soothing vibes. However, the majority of the hike was in the woods working up the switchbacks. So this was typical of Virginia Hikes with a nice vista at the top and some hiking next to the streams. Perhaps in the winter time, you might get better views.
- difficulty: 2. The most difficult aspect of this hike is the many switchbacks in the final push to the ridge under Little Rocky Row. Other than that, the first mile or so was a bit muddy for us since it had been raining non stop for a few days.
- technical: 1. The entirety of the hike was on the Appalachian Trail, so you just have to follow the white blazes.