We had to change our original plans for July 4th weekend due to injuries preventing us from doing any backpacking or too much hiking. Though we did still want to get outdoors, so we got out to Shenandoah for a Friday hike. Have to get rid of that steak, hotdogs, and beer somehow. #merica
Chris and Tori recently adopted a new dog, Basil. So they joined us for his inaugural hike. He even found a bear.
Spring had arrived when I headed up to hike Hoop Hole. Flowers were in full bloom at lower elevations around Roanoke, so I decided to go for a hike one Sunday afternoon to see the bloomage on the mountains. Since I was by myself that day, I also was looking to explore something new. Hoop Hole is a well known local hike, but it was one that never really sounded that interesting to me before. Having put it off all these years, it did serve my explore mentality.
The fall foliage hiking season seems to be getting shorter and shorter each of the last couple of years. This year it was nearly all green one week, peaked for one week, and gone the next. During the beautiful and fleeting peak weekend this year, Whitney and Matthew joined me for a hike and scramble up Devil’s Marbleyard. For future updated foliage report for in SW VA, check out Virginia Department of Forestry Report.
This report is supplemented by pictures of my past hikes.
Maryland? Yes, this is a hike report about a local Maryland hike as we start to transition to the D.C. area.
One aspect of my hike and trip reports is that I keep my personal ratings of the hikes, mostly for myself as part of the reflection process. Well, my whole purpose of this blog serves as an outlet for reflection, but the need to quantify the experience serves as a nice short cut for me to sum up the experiences and compare them for future planning. So my rating system developed meticulously with the rating representing an exact meaning. Of Course, just reading a definition of a rating can be hard to nail down the exact meaning and examples are always nice. So I present to you the perfect example of a 2 rating in views category, the little known Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop.
Note to self, I really should change “views” to “experience”.
Last weekend, we traveled up Boston to help celebrate Juan & Rose’s wedding. Rose, who is one of Meg’s best friend, reminded me that I still had not written about the hike we did together when she visited the D.C. area in the spring. So here is the report and the pictures on the the first of our hikes that weekend.
Previously, I had covered Sharp Top, one of the two peaks making up the Peaks of Otters. This is one of the more popular spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Earlier this year, Meg, Mark, and I headed up the second peak, Flat Top (FT) and tacked on an addition loop to the Fallingwater Cascades (FWC).
- Flat Top (FT) & Fallingwater Cascades (FWC)
- type: FT – in & out; FWC – loop
- distance: 6.8 mi
- FT – 5.4 mi
- FWC – 1.3 mi
- elevation change: 2443 ft ascent and descent
- FT – 1954 ft
- FWC – 489 ft
- time: 2:45 hours moving (3:15 hours with breaks)
- FT – 2:10 moving (2:30 with breaks)
- FWC – 0:35 moving (0:45 with breaks)
- location: Jefferson National Forest
- This hike can be broken up into 2 separate hikes. There is also an alternative way up to Flat Top from the Sharp Top parking lot, see this recording from Alltrails.
We started from the parking lot that is shared by both Flat Top and Cascading waterfalls. It is a few minutes east of the information center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The beginning of the trail starts upwards right away through the green tunnels that’s typical of Virginia Mountains. Similar to Sharp Top, the hike is pretty much a climb up to the peak. However, the trail for Flat Top continues upwards with a series of switch backs rather than a straight up winding around the mountain.
At the end of the switchbacks, there is an outcrop with your first view of the valley to the east.
The trail continues along the ridge of the mountain passing a set of large rock formations before a split. The right trail heads to the true peak of Flat Top, which is shrouded by trees.
We bushwhacked further on toward the endpoint of the other trail to find the large outcrop rock
with a view out toward Bedford and Lynchburg.
After returning to the car, we decided to hike the additional short loop to the Fallingwater Cascades. We headed clockwise on the loop heading down hills at first until we reached the lower crossing of the cascading stream.
The trail then follows the stream upwards
with a couple points where you can cool your feet.
The trail crosses the stream once again at the top with a wooden bridge before looping back. It will first pass the separate dedicated parking lot for Fallingwater Cascades before reaching the shared lot.
- views: 2. For the most part, the hike is among the green tunnels of VA with not much to see. Of course, it may be different in the other seasons, but the leaves were completely in during that spring day. There were a couple vistas at the top of the Ridge, but most of the views were out toward the flat regions of VA. The Fallingwater cascade mixed it up with a nice running stream, but it was very small.
- difficulty: 2. The way up Flat top were purely switchbacks. Some endurance is needed for the elevation change.
- technical: 1. The trail is well marked with no technical aspects.
Living in Southwest Virginia and around Virginia Tech, majority of the day hikes we can feasibly do are around a 3 hour radius. We don’t get to the trails out in Northern Virginia much, but recent events will have us exploring there more often now.
- Old Rag Mountain (NPS)
- gps – alltrails
- type: loop
- distance: 9.5 mi
- elevation change: 2438 ft ascent and descent
- time: 3:15 hours moving (4:20 hours with breaks)
- location: Shenandoah National Park (directions to trailhead)
- Pet are not allowed on the entirety of Old Rag Mountain loop.
On our way back from D.C., we were up for a Sunday hike to break up the drive. Old Rag is one of the most popular loops in the area said to include some fun scrambling. Expect the trail to be heavily trafficked and a busy time at the parking lot on a nice weekend day, especially after a period of hard rain.
*EDIT 2020/6 – The new parking lot is now complete. See this sub-Reddit for descriptions and detail.
There is a National Park fee of $10 each person or $25 a vehicle to be paid at the lower Old Rag parking lot, unlike the National Forests along the I-81 corridor that don’t. I’d recommend picking up the $80 NPS Annual Pass to save money and support the National Parks.
There is an alternative trail head you can take up to Old Rag at Berry Hollow parking lot and Whiteoak Canyon parking lot should you suspect the lower Old Rag parking lot to be full. The fee station is located at Whiteoak lot.
The first 0.8 miles of the hike is hiking up to the original Old Rag trail head along Nethers Rd. for about a half mile before turning left. At upper Old Rag parking lot, the typically recommended route is in the clockwise direction, so turn left onto the Ridge Trail. *EDIT 2020/6: The initial portions of the trail was rerouted to directly head up from the parking lot and no longer follow Nethers Rd.
For a little more than 2 miles, the trail is a typical uphills climb among the green tunnels of Virginia with a few switchbacks gaining majority of the elevation for the day. The next section is the a scramble section where no dogs and camping are allowed and
followed by the first vista of the day.
The initial scramble takes on upward slanting rock slabs with views toward the summit, north, and south from the valley that we drove in on.
The scramble continues and was surprisingly different as the drops you into a slot.
The unique scramble continues up not by taking you over rocks but into caves and more slots.
After passing a pretty cool overhanging rock,
there are a couple more difficult sections between more slots.
The next area opens up as you get a look down toward the scramble you’ve come up on.
The large flat surfaced rocks here are a popular stop and lunch place for many folks on the trail.
However, the summit is a little scramble and walk along the ridge further as indicated by a sign about a mile and an hour after the scrambling section began.
The summit consists of a field of large boulders to climb up on.
With 360 degree views of the area.
We definitely had to sit on the high point.
We saw several hikers double back from here because it was shorter distance, but the quicker route is to continue on the loop. Of course if you want more scrambling, but in the downwards direction, doubling back is the way to go.
The Ridge Trail become the Saddle Trail as we continue down the other side of the mountain with a couple more vistas.
Shortly after the summit, we arrive at the Byrd’s Nest Shelter.
We didn’t explore this are much since we thought it was just a shelter, but Hiking Upwards points to his area as an additional scrambling area as you can see the rock formations up the mountain in the picture below.
The rest of the Saddle trail switches back among the trees until
the Old Rag Shelter. Both the Old Rag Shelter and Byrd’s nest Shelter are for day use only.
At the Post Office Junction, an intersection of the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, Berry Hollow Fire Road, and Old Rag Fire Road. As mentioned earlier in the post, the Berry Hollow trail head is down the Berry Hollow Fire Road. This junction use to the be town of Old Rag as the poster mark explains. The way back is on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.
The fire road can be a little boring as green tunnel continues. After the intersection of Robertson Mountain Trail and Corbin Hollow Trail, the Brokenback Run crosses and accompanies the fire road until the Saddle Trail intersection. Around the intersection of trails, there seems to be a few camping spots, which can provide a multi-day trek that includes Old Rag Mountain, Robertson Mountain, and even out to the Skyline Dr.
One the road portion back to the parking lot, there was a smoothie stand set up by the locals should you want a refresher for $4.
- views: 3. The vistas for this hike are your typical Shenandoah views of farm land and small tree covered mountains. The latter half of the hike is composed of green tunnels of trees and streams typical of Virginia as well. The cool thing on this hike is both the added views the large boulders provide in contrasting the green mountains and the fun they provide in the mile long scramble. The scramble itself isn’t just the same thing throughout, but varies as you go along to keep it engaging. This is one of the my favorite hikes in Virginia and I can see the reason for its popularity.
- difficulty: 3. There is only one major uphill to get up onto the ridge on the Ridge Trail. However, the scrambling is a workout under the sun and will be way more difficult if it is raining.
- technical: 2. The technicality would be the scrambling involved on this trail, and it’s not a small section either, around a mile from the start of the Ridge Trail to the summit of Old Rag. If you aren’t familiar scrambling take, do take your time.
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
- gps – alltrails
- 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.
- 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.