On Thursday, February 27, 2014, I lead a diverse group of folks on a group hike in the James River Face Wilderness, through the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. We started by ascending the Piney Ridge Trail into the Wilderness until it ended at the Appalachian Trail. We then took the Appalachian Trail north to the Matt's Creek Trail. We hiked the Matt's Creek Trail back to a car drop and then shuttled about 2.5 miles back to our original trailhead. Topo map of hike: Link.
|Parking lot off of Hunt Club Road
I have read that the Piney Ridge Trail was the original alignment of the Appalachian Trail, so it has been around a while. It was a very scenic trail, with many wintertime views south toward Highcock Knob in the JRF Wilderness. The trail ends at the Sulpher Springs Trail, after about 3.4 miles, at about 2550 feet elevation. Forty yards from here is the Appalachian Trail, which we took northbound. We could have taken the Sulphur Springs Trail in the same direction, but the A.T. seemed like more of an adventure.
|Piney Ridge Trail ends here.
Sulphur Springs Trail is to the left.
|View of Thunder Ridge Wilderness and
Petites Gap Road from the A.T.
|Parts of the A.T. were quite slick.
|Winter views of the James River and Balcony Falls.
|On the other side of the James River, the A.T. climbs back up to Rocky Row.
|Crossing Matt's Creek. There used to be a bridge over the creek.
It is gone now - must have been washed away.
|Much abuse shown on this shelter.
We hiked back to our cars on the Matt's Creek Trail, which was the A.T. before the James River Foot Bridge was built. Earlier hikers crossed the James on the U.S. 501 bridge, and there isn't a lot of room there for hikers. Matt's Creek Trail is still maintained, so A.T. thru-hikers can continue north even if the James River is experiencing Spring flooding. There are a few nice views through the trees on the Matt's Creek Trail, and a lot of mountain laurel that blooms around Memorial Day. That is the best time to hike this part of the trail.
|The Matt's Creek Trail ends at U.S. 501.
USFS Information on the Piney Ridge Trail: Link.
Difference: 1970 feet