A couple of months ago, I hiked the incredible House Mountain Trail with some of my favorite hiking companions - folks with the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club. During that hike, we talked about "hard to hike" trails. Since this year is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, we decided to hike the Crane Trail. Nobody else had ever hiked the trail; I am not sure they had even heard of it. But my fellow hikers were intrigued by the challenge this hike presents, and we ended up with 8 strong hikers exploring the Rough Mountain Wilderness.
|This appears to be a Marbled Salamander, and was found on the railroad tracks.|
After parking in the small lot - it probably holds 5 vehicles - it was a little bit of a puzzle trying to get up to the railroad tracks while avoiding some wet, swampy spots. After you get up to the tracks, you head north for a mile. You will know when you have reached the trail's start when you reach a small bridge taking the tracks over Pads Creek. It is the only bridge on the walk. Look in among the brush to the left (West) and you will see a trail sign and an old kiosk.
|Once it starts climbing the mountain, the trail is very easy to follow.|
By the time the trail really climbs Rough Mountain, it is easy to follow and really nicely constructed. Our group did some vegetation clipping, doing our part to keep the woods from totally reclaiming this trail. The trail takes a couple of switchbacks and, 3.1 miles from the parking lot, crests Rough Mountain.
|Looking west from the Crane Trail. Douthat State Park in the distance.|
|The Crane Trail west of the Rough Mountain summit is in nice shape.|
|No sign saying "private property," just some red banded trees showing the boundary.|
After the requisite mile return along the railroad tracks, the two groups piled in cars and headed back to our respective meeting places. For the Charlottesville group, it was a 95 mile drive taking 2 hours. The first 12 miles were off pavement, and we averaged 20 mph over these roads, taking a little over 35 minutes. The rest of the drive averaged 65 mph.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 244.6 (out and back)
Total Distance: 8.9 miles
Total Time: 4 hours, 35 minutes, including stops.
Low Point: 1320 ft.
To get to the trailhead: Take Interstate 64 West past Lexington to the Goshen exit, Exit 43. Follow signs towards Goshen, staying on Rt. 780. Just as you come to a little burg named with a sign, "Little California," take a left onto Rt. 633, Rockbridge Alum Springs Rd. There should be a sign for a religious camp here. You'll pass the camp and lose hard pavement. The forest road will snake its way through a gap in Mill Mountain, then drop down to an intersection with Pads Creek Road. Take a left here and go past the Bubbling Springs campsite (privy). You will have to ford Pads Creek before coming to a road to the right that heads uphill off of Pads Creek Road about 0.8 miles after the stream ford. Follow this side road 1.4 miles until it ends at a small parking area. Leave your car and head north next to the railroad tracks for a mile until you come to a small railroad bridge over the creek. The trailhead is just west (left) of this bridge.
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