A recent re-design of the Appalachian Trail maps that come with the guidebooks shows that two trails I'd never taken in JRF could be done as a loop hike when combined with the Glenwood Horse Trail. Despite visions of a rutted, rocky pit full of manure (as I have experienced near Mt. Rogers on horse trails), I decided to give this loop a go. I needed to measure one of these trails for the PATC - the Balcony Falls Trail - so I had more incentive to make the trip. My plan was to hike up into the wilderness on the BFT, take a trail I had never taken before that parallels the Appalachian Trail, then return down via the A.T. and the Gunther Falls Trail. Then I would take the Glenwood Horse Trail back to my car.
|Locher Tract Parking|
|Carpenter bees have gone after the JRF Wilderness sign on the|
Balcony Falls Trail.
|Sign found at the end of the former fire road,|
now in the middle of the woods.
|View from the A.T. looking south at Thunder Ridge Wilderness.|
At the first A.T. intersection, a hiker has a choice. The Balcony Falls Trail ends, and the old fire road becomes the Sulphur Springs Trail (SST). You can take the SST to explore more of the JRF Wilderness, or you can take a right (south) on the A.T. hike a half mile to the Belfast Trail, and head back down to the car on the Gunter Ridge Trail.
|I packed out this trash.|
|Hickory Stand as seen from the Gunter Ridge Trail.|
|Panorama looking west from Gunter Ridge Trail.|
|New trail sign at end of Gunter Ridge Trail.|
|Glenwood Horse Trail|
Bottom line on this hike - It is a great workout, though it is not the first hike I would recommend in the JRF. Most hikers head towards the Devil's Marbleyard on the Belfast Trail or the highest point in the Wilderness - Highcock Knob, or hike the portion between the James River Foot Bridge and the Matt's Creek Shelter. If you have already done those and are looking for something different, this is a good loop to take. And between the Balcony Falls and Gunter Ridge Trails, the Gunter has more views.
Hike details - Hike as taken.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 386.0
Total Distance: 16.4 miles
Total Time: 5 hours, 57 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 1.6 miles to 3.2 miles; 11.8% average grade.
Starting Elevation: 724 ft.
Low Point: 724 ft.
Hike details - Shortcut version (take A.T. directly from Balcony Falls to Belfast Trails).
PATC Difficulty Factor: 286.9
Total Distance: 12.5 miles
Total Time: 4 hours, 34 minutes, including stops.
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