If you’ve read enough of these hike reports, a common theme you’ll find is that I love hiking next to running creeks, streams, and rivers. As we get into the summer in Virginia, they can also provide a perfect respite to the hot and humid weather in the form of swimming holes. So after a week of none stop rain, I was excited to go check out a hike featuring some swollen creeks and wide swimming holes.
- name: Fridley Gap loop (gps track – alltrails wikiloc)
- type: loop
- distance: 6.3 miles
- elevation change: 1850 ft
- time: 3:08 hours (2:52 hours moving)
- location: Lee Ranger District, George Washington National Forest, near Harrisonburg, VA (google map directions)
We started our hike on the western side of the Massanutten Ridge, however there are couple other access on the eastern side of the ridge as well.
The best known access on the east side is at Runkles Gap near Elkton, VA (google map directions) and starts on the southern end of the Massanutten Mountain South Trail (416) following Boone Run. This option is over 3 miles longer at 9.5 miles (alltrails).
The combination of non-stop rain over the course of the past week and the first stage of COVID-19 restrictions being lifted in Virginia, everyone was out and about. This highly rated hike for solitude (via Hiking Upwards) was busier than anticipated.
The trail starts off to the right as the road curved left after the parking area as a private road. The sign was missing, but the trail is the Fridley Gap trail (419, marked by purple i). The trail starts off on a lollipop approach before starting on a loop. It starts of with a 10.3% graded uphill requiring you hop on a few rocks. We could hear Mountain Run rushing already through the trees, but there wasn’t much of a view upon it yet.
The trail comes to a junction with a wider trail a short 0.2 miles after the trailhead. The left direction heads back toward the private road, so turn right to drop down to Mountain Run, which we followed upstream.
Along the way, we came across some Mountain Laurels that were just starting to bloom. This hike would be splattered with wildflowers.
Once the trail meets up with the stream, the trail resumed uphills at a 7.9% grade until the trail junction with the loop in a quarter mile.
As we came to a rocky area along the trail, we finally got a full look at Mountain Run and the a cool cascade section.
With the continues rain over the past week, Mountain Run was swollen and running onto the rocky trail at points. All together, this was a very soothing start to our hike.
The swimming hole just before the junction. A large family or multiple families with several kids were enjoying the cool stream in what was turning out to be a hot and humid day. They had a massive tent set up at the first camping spot just upstream of the swimming hole. I would guess half or more of the cars from the parking areas were to solely visit this spot. We would see them still slashing around a couple hours after we returned to this spot later in the day.
Just upstream of the swimming hole, Fridley Run confluences into Mountain Run. The trail would first cross Mountain Run just above the confluence point to reach a somewhat confusing junction.
To do the trail counterclockwise, turn right at the junction and cross over Fridley Run and continue uphills on the Massanutten South Trail (416, orange marked). Since we were planning to hike clockwise, we would return from that direction.
Hiking clockwise meant taking on the steep portions of the hike on the uphills, something we prefer as to save our knees. For us, the Massanutten South Trail (416, orange marked) and the Fridley Gap Trail (419, purple marked) merge for the next section. Turning left at the junction, the correct trail follows Mountain Run and the wrong one is a dirt trail heading straight up the mountain here, which dead ends in the woods.
The merged trail only lasts for 0.1 miles uphill at 16.4% grade. Then our trail, the Fridley Gap Trail (419, purple marked trail), heads up the side of the mountain.
We would continue on it for 0.4 mile toward the turn off for a viewpoint. The average grade was a steep 26.8%, starting about 17.6% and topping out around 37.2% grade. It’s not sleepest we’ve seen in Virginia, but it’s a bit of work.
There is no marking for the turnoff to the viewpoint, having a gps was helpful. The viewpoint was marked on the OSM maps used by many gps apps have it. The turnoff was when the trail flatted out and curved to the left. There is a tree with a clear purple blaze on both sides. Turn right and bushwack out to a set of rocks.
A short scramble onto the rocks will bring you a viewpoint.
We returned to the trail and continued to ascend to the ridge. The grade was less at 21.5% for 0.15 miles and then a misly (in comparison) 8.7% grade for the last 0.15 as the trail started to go along the ridge of the mountain. There wasn’t much to see at the crest of the ridge belonging to Third Mountain as it was covered.
Then the trail may seem a bit discouraging following the lack of views by dropping back down immediate for a third of a mile at a -19.2% grade. At the bottom of the downhill, we came to a trail junction with a old fire road. Turning right is the continuation of the Fridley Gap Trail, which we took. We took the trail for 2/3 miles with a moderate grade of 7.3% crossing most likely temporary streams from all the rain.
Afterward, we came to a 4 way junction with a camping spot marked by a fire ring. This is where we leave the Fridley Gap Trail, which actually turns left. We turn right onto the Massanutten South Trail (416), which we will take to complete the loop. The direction straight ahead is the Massanutten South Trail leading to the main alternative start on the east side of the ridge at Runkles Gap.
Turning right on the Massanutten South Trail, it gain elevation for a quarter mile at a 11.4% grade before curving left and heading downhill for the next mile at -5.7% grade into the Fridley Run drainage. The trail stays in the forest mostly the entire way except for one opening on the way down.
The spring wildflowers made the otherwise unremarkable section more interesting. I would guess Wild Azaleas, but I’m not a botanist Jim.
Near the bottom of the downhill, the trail crosses Fridley Run before turning and starting to follow it downstream for a few steps. The swollen Fridley Run over ran the trail here for a little bit. Just before the trail starts uphill again, there are is a camping spot across the stream. There seem to be a trail continuing pass the camp, but I thought it would lead to other camps. However based on other’s recordings, you maybe able to follow Fridley Run all the way to its confluence with Mountain Run (alltrail). Be aware this is off trail and may involve bushwacking.
For us the trail turns uphills once again for the next 0.4 miles and isn’t too nice about it with an average 18.9% grade with the final push being a little steeper at 21.9%. The trail doesn’t summit the Grubbs Knob, instead curing right to start the 1.5 mile descent down to the junction with Fridley Gap Trail we started at. The grade is pretty even at about -13.8%.
There is a clear campsite on the trail shortly after you start downhill near the high point of Fourth Mountain.
Take the off shot trail behind the campsite and scramble up the outcrop rocks for a view of the I-81 corridor and the Little North Mountain Ridge on the far side.
Looking northeast, we could also see the Massanutten Ridge curving onwards.
We continued downhills through the forest until we could hear the Fridley Run once again. We caught peeks of cascades, but never could get a full view. Soon enough, we came to the crossing of Fridley Run.
There were a few more campsites here. We were also back at our original junction where we started on the loop. So we turned left onto the Fridley Gap Trail and leaving the Massanutten South Trail back to our car.
ratings (1-5; see detailed breakdown)
- views: 2. My favorite section of the hike was before we even started on the loop, which was the swollen Mountain Run along Fridley Gap Trail. I can see the appeal of just camping out in this early section. After that the views were mediocre, but had a little of everything from vista views of the I-81 corridor and a few more stream. The blooming wildflowers did make the most unremarkable sections more enjoyable.
- difficulty: 2. The continuous up and down nature of the hike with the steeper trail makes the 1850 ft elevation change seem a bit more tedious.
- technical: 2. The first junction of the Fridley Gap Trail and South Massanutten trail at the confluence of Mountain Run and Fridley Run can be a little confusing. So some navigation skills or a gps can be useful. Also to reach a couple of outlooks, you have to go off the main trail, so more navigation knowledge. Lastly, the vistas require minor scrambling onto the outcrops.