The really great thing about the JRF Wilderness is that every time I return there I find something that has me itching to return again to explore. This place is like a proverbial onion, with layer upon layer of places to explore. First, there was the Appalachian Trail. Next there were the other official trails in the Wilderness, which ascend like wagon spokes from disparate locations outside the park to a central core at higher elevations inside the wilderness. Now, I am excited to continue exploring trails that used to exist and are no longer recognized by the Forest Service.
On January 16, 2016, I led a group hike through the JRF. There were too many hikers for a single group, as Forest Service regulations limit a hiking party to 10 or fewer people, and we had 16. So we broke into two groups and one group ascended the Sulphur Springs Trail, while the other (my group) ascended the Petite's Gap Road and entered the JRF on the old Sulphur Ridge Trail.
This is a great time of year to use the Petite's Gap Road as a hiking trail. The Blue Ridge Parkway was closed due to ice, which meant that Petite's Gap Road was a dead end. We could tell from the undisturbed snow on the road that no vehicles had passed by our starting point, so we were safe from vehicles uphill of our hike. Since we parked at the trailhead for the Sulphur Springs Trail, our first 2.2 miles was hiked on the Petite's Gap Road.
|Hiking the Sulphur Ridge Trail.
Despite not being on the current list of trails, this old trail is in good shape and has a gentle grade. I chose this loop for the group's hike because there is not a steep grade in the entire hike, and it is a great way to easily ascend to the upper reaches of the wilderness. It is slightly steeper if you hike it counter-clockwise, taking the Petite's Gap Road first, than if you start off hiking the Sulphur Springs Trail.
We hiked the old Sulphur Ridge Trail until it ended at the Appalachian Trail - where that trail takes a sharp turn. We left a pink marking ribbon here so that the group hiking in the opposite direction wouldn't miss this turn, but it really wasn't a problem, as there was a dusting of snow on the ground and no footprints on the A.T. In fact, we never saw evidence of another hiker in the wilderness all day. The other group followed our footprints and knew when to turn off of the A.T.
|The site of the former Marble Spring Shelter, along the A.T.
|2012 photo of Cove Mountain Shelter, formerly the Marble Spring Shelter.
|Old trail to Blue Ridge Parkway from Marble Spring shows clearly in the
dusting of snow.
|Old topographic map shows trail connecting BRP to Marble Spring.
Shortly after turning onto the Sulphur Springs Trail, we came to a rock which provides, for my money, the single best viewpoint of the entire JRF Wilderness. The view is southwest down the valley we drove to get to this hike, and it looks like there has been no human activity anywhere, other than the road we hiked in on.
|View from a rock on the Sulphur Springs Trail.
The Petite's Gap Road is visible climbing on the left-center.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 175.2 (this is really a pretty easy loop.)
Total Distance: 7.8 miles
Total Time: 3.5 hours
Total Elevation Gain: 1957 feet
Starting Elevation: 1470 ft.
Low Point: 1470 ft.
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