The Cellar Mountain Trail is located in the St. Mary's Wilderness, just up the road from the trailhead for the uber-popular St. Mary's Falls hike. It is about an hour drive from Charlottesville (Map). The trailhead is a small parking area off of the locally infamous Coal Road, also known as Forest Service Road 42.
A side note. Locally infamous? A friend who is a prosecutor in Augusta County has warned me away from this place, saying he prosecutes a lot of incidents occurring on the Coal Road, a dirt Forest Service Road which links St. Mary's Road with the Mt. Torry Road in Sherando. And on the way back from this hike I came across a USFS Ranger, so I stopped and asked her about her knowledge of a trail that I don't believe officially exists anymore. She didn't know the trail, as she said she was law enforcement. But she said the Coal Road "is the single most crime infested forest road in the entire state of Virginia." "Lock up your car and hide your valuables when you hike off of this road," she told me. As a result, a notice at the trailhead states that alcohol is prohibited within 500 feet of the Coal Road and St. Mary's Road.
Consider yourself warned!
The parking lot holds maybe 6 cars, but I have never seen another car in the lot. And it is somewhat hidden from the Coal Road.
There is a kiosk at the trailhead giving this information and warning folks that break-ins have occurred at this parking lot. If you are still willing to risk going further, the trail continues past a livestock fence and a sign telling you that you are entering St. Mary's Wilderness - the part nobody travels. The trail passes the only water source on the trail .04 miles into the hike - a spring next to the trail.
At 0.7 miles you come to the singular highlight of the Cellar Mountain Trail, an overlook that looks southwest along the ridgeline. Sublime.
|The view from the best overlook.
There are other views after several switchbacks, including the one below from the trail, looking west across the Shenandoah valley to the Goshen Pass area.
|View from the trail at about a mile into the hike.
|Campsite at 3500 feet.
My GPS read 3.4 miles when I reached trail's end, though the 10 year old Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District claims the trail is only 2.8 miles long. This same guide doesn't even seem to recognize the Cold Spring Trail, however, calling it only an "unmarked trail," despite being labeled on the PATC maps. At trail's end, just outside the Wilderness boundary, is a much larger parking area than where I parked. But it is a rough road to get here and is best only accessed with a high clearance vehicle.
The Cold Spring Trail starts right where the Cellar Mountain Trail ends. It becomes overgrown immediately, as can be seen by the photo below indicating the state of the trail just inside the wilderness boundary.
|This photo shows the Cold Spring Trail near its highest point.
|Another Cold Spring Trail photo.
After the stream crossings and passing another campsite, the trail uses an old road bed that was very wet. It was difficult navigating the low branch cover and keeping dry feet. The road heads straight into somebody's backyard at the 5.0 mile mark. While there were no "No Trespassing" signs and while I believe Virginia law allows me to use easement represented by the roadbed, I wasn't going to test my understanding of Virginia law in the face of a landowner.
|The trail continues past this shed. Or not.
|Trail sign near the Wilderness boundary with private landowners.
It had moved since the last time I took this trail.
Here is a map of my hike, including the bushwack at the top of the circle. I think combining the two trails with a bushwack is the best way to accomplish this trail. MAP.