I was back in the area in early April hiking the Thunder Ridge Wilderness, and used some extra time after exhausting that wilderness's trails to check out the abandoned trail in James River Face Wilderness. I found it mentioned in only one guidebook, Mark Miller's "Wild Virginia," where it was called the Sulphur Ridge Trail. (This trail should not be confused with the nearby Sulphur Springs Trail, which is a current trail and is found on trail maps of the wilderness.)
I followed the Sulphur Ridge Trail from Petite's Gap Road to its end at the current A.T. alignment and found it to be in surprisingly great shape. There were very few trees down over the trail, and some of the bigger ones had been sawed to provide access. It is a very level trail, with less than a 6% grade over its entire length, and was clearly a road at one time - prior to the area's designation as Virginia's first wilderness in 1975.
|The Sulphur Ridge Trail leaves the Petite's Gap Road at this point, where the road
takes a hard curve. You can see the trail in the center of this shot.
Not much parking here, so you squeeze off the side of the road as shown.
|Directly across the road from the Sulphur Ridge Trailhead is the Glenwood
Horse Trail. It is easier to see from the road as it is marked.
This location is almost exactly 1/2 mile downhill from the A.T. crossing.
|This shows that someone has maintained this trail in the past.
So what use is this trail? First, it provides the easiest access to the interior of the JRF Wilderness of any of multiple trail options. Petite's Gap Road at the trail's start has already reached over 2200 feet elevation, so there is little climb needed to get to the interior using this trail. (Starting at the James River, you are at 900 feet, 1300 feet lower than this trailhead.) In addition, the A.T., though starting at a higher point on the road, climbs steeply over Highcock Knob before getting to the same point as the end of this trail.
The trail second provides a really nice and easy shuttle hike, starting on the Sulphur Ridge Trail, then taking the A.T. to the Sulphur Springs Trail (shown on trail maps), and taking the hikers back to the Petite's Gap Road. About 6.5 miles, with only 550 feet elevation gain.
Third, if you want to introduce a young person to the joys of wilderness backpacking, this would be an easy out-and-back to the nice level campsite at the site of the former Marble Spring Shelter, about 3 miles each way. There is no privy there (bring a trowel!), but Marble Spring provides a pretty constant water source.
|This photo shows how the trail is level and wide.
Hike details, from my GPS:
USGS Topographic Map: Map of Sulphur Ridge Trail.
Total Distance: 2.5 miles, round trip.
Low Point: 2233 ft.