The Saltlog Gap Trail is not found on any map that I own - including the ATC's map of the Appalachian Trail, the Trails Illustrated map of this area, or the PATC Map 13.* Nobody I knew had ever hiked it, or even heard of it. For me, it existed only as a destination on a photo of an Appalachian Trail sign at a place called Saltlog Gap that I hadn't personally experienced in about twenty years. After seeing the photo, I was curious. The trail must exist, or else why would it be on the sign?
(*Update: since this account was originally published, the PATC has revised Map 13 and included the Saltlog Gap Trail on the new edition, due to this report. Link.)
Although the trail is described in the latest edition of the PATC's Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District, that volume claims that the trail ends at the Blue Ridge Parkway. The latest edition is, itself, over ten years old. The sign on the A.T. indicates a different end point than the book described. And the book's author clearly gave up on the trail when hiking it only a short distance starting at the other end - the end the sign doesn't say the trail goes to. He didn't appear to even try hiking it from the A.T. end.
After confirming with a source from Lynchburg's Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club that the trail does exist and ends at Hercules Road as stated on the sign, I made plans to explore this trail.
I decided to make this a loop hike, ascending the Saddle Gap Trail from Hercules Road to the A.T. just north of Fullers Rocks and Rocky Row, then hiking north on the A.T. to Saltlog Gap, then back down to Hercules Road. (Hercules Road is a paved forest road that ends at U.S. 501 right where the A.T. crosses the James River on the Foot Bridge. It is often used by hikers climbing to Fullers Rocks and Rocky Row. Map and Directions.)
There is one incredibly important warning that my NBATC contact gave me regarding the Saltlog Gap Trail:
It should only be hiked on weekends!
|Trailhead and parking from Hercules Road
This is because the Saltlog Gap Trail actually winds its way through an active quarry. My interest was definitely piqued when I found that out.
0.0 Miles. The Trailhead for the Saddle Gap Trail isn't obvious from the Hercules Road, except that it is a couple of miles up the road and has a small parking area at its start - maybe 3 cars max. I knew I was in the right place thanks to a waypoint I loaded into my GPS and obtained from my GPS software program. There is no hiker sign; only a large boulder blocking an old road. The boulder has a navy blue blaze painted near its base.
|Trail sign near Hercules Road.
2.4 Miles. I arrived at the A.T. after about 55 minutes of hiking - 7 minutes faster than I did 20 years ago when I wrote my time on a map. I felt good about that - I am competitive in that way.
|Saddle Gap Trail ends at Appalachian Trail. Photo shows trail's end.
|A.T. can be a little icy on the western side of Silas Knob
|Saltlog Gap, looking east towards start of Saltlog Gap Trail.
It is a shame the Belle Cove Trail was never rebuilt. The previous edition of the PATC's Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District (from 20 years ago), said that the Belle Cove Trail was one of the prettiest trails in the Pedlar District.
|The Belle Cove Trail is still closed.
|Snow is great for bringing out wildlife tracks.
I am not the only one using this trail. Bobcat?
|Saltlog Gap and Bluff Mountain along the A.T., as seen from the Saltlog Gap Trail.
|View of the Saltlog Gap Trail, with blue blaze on tree.
|The Saltlog Gap Trail winds between rocks.
|Saltlog Gap Trail, on right, merges into old woods road.
|View from Saltlog Gap Trail
The trail then descended to a sharp turn and came out on the edge of an active quarry.
|Trail meets quarry. Decent into quarry on right side of photo.
|Trail's route through quarry. Red line shows trail route.
|Blue Blaze along quarry access road.
|Road is gated, but USFS tells us that Foot Travel is welcome.
|Next to the gate, someone appears not quite as welcoming.
|Parking at the end of the public portion of Hercules Road.
So, do I recommend this hike? I will admit that there was a certain appeal to the hike because I was not sure where the trail would take me, and I have eliminated that uncertainty for the reader. And I think a hike is a good one if it has an occasional view and gets my heartbeat up - others may seek more than that. This is certainly not the first hike anyone should take in the area. Nearby is one of the top ten hikes in the state, as compiled by Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club President Mike Vaughn (Link) - Fullers Rocks - which should be hiked first. Also nearby is the James River Face Wilderness with 26 miles of trails - some really spectacular. This hike presents a nice loop, however, with some unique visuals. I plan on hiking it again during another season; just not during the week.
Difference: 1842 feet