The only current trail map for the area south of the James River Face Wilderness is the National Geographic/Trails Illustrated map (Link). This map is getting a little old - copyright 2007, and it shows the Terrapin Mountain Trail as a simple out-and-back. Not interesting enough to make the trip from Charlottesville. But when my friend Dave from the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club announced an RATC group hike he called the "Terrapin Mt - Reeds Creek Loop," I was on board. Dave lives nearby and knows these mountains really well, so I figured that he could take us on an interesting journey, even if it meant some bushwacking. No bushwacking necessary, though! There is a nice loop hike here on established trails and closed forest roads - the route just isn't found on the Trails Illustrated map.
This hike definitely falls within the blog's mission to uncover Virginia hikes not found anywhere else. Hardly anybody knows about this loop, and I couldn't find anything about it online. [Note: this hike has since shown up on a local trail site.] In order to complete this hike, I needed a local to show me the way. Here is a topo of the route (loads slow): Link. This is your best map option if you want to try this hike. The loop itself is in good shape; well maintained with only a couple of "scratch your head, wonder where you go next" points - those points are described and explained below.
|Tough morning for one driver I passed on my way to the trailhead.
This was at the intersection of U.S. 501 and Va Rt. 122.
|Terrapin Mountain from the road.
|Blurry photo shows what the parking area looks like.
It is just behind the "End Road Maintenance" sign.
|A Boy Scout Eagle Project give us this kiosk,
with a map of the area. Kiosk is just off of the parking area.
|The first portion of the trail can be rugged and steep.
At 1.4 miles a rocky spot on the right provides this wonderful view.
|The payoff is a nice overlook, looking southwest towards the
Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, and James River Face Wilderness.
|Author gets in the way of a landscape with the
Blue Ridge Parkway faintly visible on the mountain in back.
|Beautiful autumn colors on the mountain.
|The trail can drop fast at times.
|Second overlook, looking WNW,
just after the summit of Terrapin Mountain.
|This sign makes you think the trail turns here, but it goes straight.
It wasn't going to swivel into position, though Dave did try!
|The trail meets a forest road at Camping Gap.
Follow the road to the left for 200 yards to continue on the trail.
|I was lagging behind.
The others were ready to continue down the trail.
|Stream crossing about half way through the hike.
This entire loop is part of a trail run known as the Terrapin 50K, which is run in March. (Map.) One member of our hiking group, Steve, is a trail runner who has run this race. I am told that the race route goes left at the summit, missing the steep downhill before the second overlook but going instead through a very tight space between two rocks called the "fat man's misery" (Link). Personally, I'll take the overlook, but you can decide for yourself.
The RATC hiking group in general broke into a fast group and a slow group, and I did my best to keep up with the speedier hikers, despite a desire to stop and take photos. I think the slow group struggled, as the first three miles of this hike is a demanding climb. Keep that in mind if scheduling this hike. I liked the challenge, and hope to return here during another season to try the loop again.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 257.8
Total Distance: 9.6 miles
Total Time: 4 hours, 38 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 0.3 miles to 0.9 miles; 23.2% average grade.
Starting Elevation: 1286 ft.
Low Point: 1286 ft.
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