Older trail maps and hiking guides list several trails in the Pedlar District of the GWNF ascending from two different streets in the city of Buena Vista, and ending at either the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), the top of Elephant Mountain, or U.S. 60 about 2/3 of the way towards the BRP. These trails consist of the Reservoir Hollow Trail, the Elephant Mountain Trail, and the Indian Gap Trail, and are collectively known as the Elephant Mountain Trail System.
South of St. Mary's Wilderness, these trails and the Whetstone Ridge Trail are the only choices in the GWNF Pedlar District west of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I had tried hiking the Indian Gap Trail last July. Here are examples of what I encountered.
|Most of the trail was laid out in an open area due to a power line cut.|
This shot shows hanging cables and totally overgrown vegetation in July.
|In the trees, an easily followed trail. Too little of the trail was like this.|
I later inquired with the Forest Service about the Elephant Mountain Trail System, and received the following reply: "As for the trails listed below – I can confirm that the Elephant Mountain System is not active."
So these trails were not on our list to explore. Until, that is, we drove up U.S. 60 towards the BRP and came across a big brown hiker sign, at a point where the maps indicate the Indian Gap Trail ends (N37° 43.722' W79° 18.859'):
|Hiker sign on U.S. 60.|
|Parking on U.S. 60|
|Mileage sign, near U.S. 60. Here is what the sign used to look like: LINK.|
Since my attempt to get here by trail last summer started at 21st Street and not, as stated on the sign, at 12th Street, we dropped a car here and drove back down to Buena Vista to find 12th Street and the other end of this trail.
We returned west on U.S. 60 until we came to U.S. 501, and we headed south on 501 looking for 12 Street. Complicating our journey was the fact that 12th Street has a gap in it, so the trailhead is actually accessed using 13th Street. But we eventually found our way to the trailhead, which was marked by another new mileage sign:
Parking seemed a little sketchy on this end, as we passed numerous "No Parking" signs (we interpreted those to mean "No Parking right here.") And we passed another sign that said "Public Right of Way... Foot Travel Only." But the best parking spot was off the road just beyond that sign so we parked there, just before the city police shooting range.
|Gates and signs greeted us, though we parked back behind all this.|
|We saw no shooters at the range.|
|Larry waypoints one of several stream crossings in his Garmin GPSmap 62S.|
|View from the trail. We started back in the gap in the mountains.|
|Trail sign on the Reservoir Hollow Trail, as seen from off the trail.|
|Elephant Mtn Trail shown leaving the Reservoir Hollow Trail.|
|Elephant Mountain, as seen through the trees on the trail.|
|An old trail marker on the Elephant Mtn Trail.|
|The Elephant Mtn Trail becomes very steep and hard to follow.|
Because the trail is relatively short, it is easily done as an out-and-back, particularly if you stay on the established Reservoir Hollow Trail and not the inactive Elephant Mountain Trail. An out-and-back on the Reservoir Hollow Trail is around 8 miles total. And the U.S. 60 trailhead is only 7 miles west of the turnoff on 60 for the Cold Mountain/Pleasant Mountain Trails - less than 10 minutes in the car.
|A power line cut provides a little bit of a view as we approach U.S. 60.|
Hike details, from my GPS:
USGS Topographic Map of trails: MAP.
Just the Reservoir Hollow Trail
PATC Difficulty Factor: 119.9 (one way)
Total Distance: 3.7 miles
Total Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Low Point: 908 ft.
Both the Reservoir Hollow Trail and Out-and-Back on the Elephant Mtn Trail
Total Distance: 5.7 miles
Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
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