Sunday, November 22, 2020

Carr Mtn Trail and Snake Hollow Trail, GWNF

This posting is part of my effort to document trails in the North River District of the George Washington National Forest that don't have much in the way of online descriptions. Like much of the North River District north of US 33, this trailhead is tough to find and involves a drive over difficult Forest Service roads. We came in via Broadway, Bergton, and Criders, driving in from the north for the northern portion of this trail and accessing via the rough Snake Hollow Road and tough-to-find Snake Hollow Trail. 

Several weeks later we returned to access the southern portion of the trail via forest service roads from the south, and these roads were in such terrible shape that I would never recommend them to anyone not driving a Jeep. The German River Road's southern section set a new personal record for the worst forest service road I've ever driven on, even surpassing a road on Shenandoah Mountain that basically murdered a Subaru Outback I once owned - that car never made it back to Charlottesville after driving to the Benson Run Trailhead.

In between these two access points, local landowners claim (apparently without legal basis) that there is no public access to German River Road from the north (via Bergton).  One map we found showed a gate on this road, and we did not push the point, though we have since heard that others have made the drive on this section without incident.  Below I recommend the best way to access a trailhead - via the Snake Hollow Road.

The Carr Mountain Trail is likely the most obscure trail in the North River Ranger District.  The only way I found out about it was a reference to the trail in the PATC's guidebook to the Virginia section of the Great Eastern Trail (GET).  It can also be found on a brochure for the proposed Beech Lick Knob Wilderness, as the trail forms part of the Wilderness boundary.  Link. This trail is a part of the long distance GET, and was built back in 2012 - 2014 due to construction of the GET.  Construction was completed by the PATC's Southern Shenandoah Valley Chapter and mountain bike groups. Link.  

Further isolating this trail from any use is the fact that it isn't found on either of the National Geographic/Trails Illustrated maps covering this area, though they do show the Snake Hollow Trail. (Much of my continuing issue with these maps is the mistakes I continually find in their coverage - I am genuinely convinced that the only change to these maps each time one is revised is to increase the price of the map.) 

The North River District also publishes a list of its trails and this one is not on that list.  The list is pretty old - it also fails to include all of the trails that were in the old Deerfield Ranger District, which merged with the Dry River District to become the North River District a couple of decades ago.  But I found this list still publicly distributed by the Forest Service as recently as the Summer of 2020, without updates.

Getting to the northern end of the Carr Mtn Trail is difficult, but I found it easier than reaching the south end.  The best way to do this is to take the Snake Hollow Road.  The SHR is a somewhat rough road that is easy to miss when driving south on the German River Road from the tiny town of Criders. 

This map shows the Snake Hollow Road, but incorrectly indicates that it does not connect to the German River Road.

Follow the Snake Hollow Road to its end at the red mark, where you park.  High clearance vehicles recommended.  There is a gate here, and the road continues past the gate.  There is also a trail marker, as this is where the Snake Hollow Trail (#517) now starts.  

The trail uses the old road for its first mile, until the road ends.  Above the road's end, on a steep slope perhaps 100 feet uphill, is a white shed and an antenna that appears to no longer be in use.  Maps seem to indicate that the road once connected this point with the top of White Grass Knob, about 500 feet above, but the slope is so steep that such a road does not seem to have ever been possible.

From here, a trail heads east along the slope, marked by faded yellow blazes.  

The trail eventually comes out into a flatter area that appears to have once been an orchard.  

It is harder to follow here, but it continues east until it reaches a woods road called the Blue Hole Road (FR 302), 0.7 miles after the end of the old road and 1.8 miles after the gate where you must park a vehicle.  This road is pretty grass covered, and it is hard to believe that it is ever open to traffic.  And it may not be - North River District documents indicate it is open in August of every even numbered year, but I found it gated during August 2020.  This road is part of the Great Eastern Trail, and the guidebook indicates that the road at this point is 6.4 miles from where it is gated, just south of the Forest Service's Blue Hole recreation area.

Take a right here onto the road (shown above), and soon the road ends and a trail sign for the Carr Mountain Trail can be found, shown below and at the beginning of this post. The area along this trail has a number of flat spots ideal for camping. 

The trail follows an old road bed while climbing over approximately the next mile.  It then doglegs right and continues to climb.  For about the next 3.5 miles, the trail forms the approximate western boundary for the proposed 6,200 acre Beech Lick Knob Wilderness.  This Wilderness is exceptionally wild for this part of the country, with no trails or roads within its active boundary.  The Carr Mountain Trail ultimately ascends 850 feet over about 2.8 miles before reaching a ridge a little west of Beech Lick Knob and starting to drop down the other side.  The trail never summits the 3280 foot Beech Lick Knob.

In the Beech Lick Knob area is where some mystery still exists for me.  In conversing with PATC members who built this trail, all claim that the trail splits around Beech Lick Knob, with a bike trail on the western slope of the mountain and a hiking trail on the eastern slope.  We found no evidence of the hiking trail, despite looking hard for a decommissioned trail in the same area called the Clay Lick Trail. When I return to this trail, likely in the Spring, looking for the hiking route will be at the top of my list.

We stopped at the ridge just west of Beech Lick Knob (described above) to have lunch.  This was the high point of the trail.  At this point, the views along the trail switch, as the slope the trail followed up to this point is gone, and views change from northwest to southwestern and then southeastern views as the trail heads toward a point near the summit of the 3100 foot high Carr Mountain.

Somewhere between Carr Mountain and Beech Lick Knob the missing hiking trail portion of this route merges back in to the bike trail.  (Note: we followed the bike trail and had no problem following that.  The map included with this posting shows only the bike trail.  Neither trail is used hardly at all.)  As we started to climb Carr Mountain, we had some difficulty following the trail.  Just know that the trail climbs the ridge towards the summit of Carr Mountain before cutting around the summit on the left (east) side near the top.  The trail is easy to see as it skirts the summit of Carr Mountain.

Shortly after the Carr Mountain Summit the trail again rides a ridge for a short time before cutting right, eventually heading compass west.  We had a little difficulty following the trail here, but found our way by searching for blazes on trees.  From this point, the trail drops in elevation until it reaches the German River Road, shortly after passing under some power lines and merging into an old road that appears to access a tower holding these lines. 

At the German River Road, the trail has no sign, but it appears like a road with blazes indicating its trail status.

Despite the remoteness of both trails and the difficulty in reaching them, we found the Carr Mountain Trail to be in really good shape with the exception of a couple of spots where we had difficulty finding the trail.  The Snake Hollow Trail is a little sketchier, but overall not a bad trail.  If you want to hike in an area that is incredibly remote and isolated, this trail is an ideal choice.  The trip is easier with a GPS receiver that has both trails loaded onto the unit.  You can email me at if you want the tracks.

Total length:
Carr Mountain Trail: 6.3 miles
Snake Hollow Trail: 1.6 miles
Blue Hole Road connecting trails: 0.2 miles
Total: 8.1 miles each way.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Little Stoney Trail, George Washington National Forest

This posting is part of my effort to document trails in the North River District of the George Washington National Forest that don't have much in the way of online descriptions. The Little Stoney Trail (#1027) is one of eight trails that ascend the western slope of Shenandoah Mountain.  It is the southernmost of the five trails (of these eight) that are primarily located in West Virginia, as they climb Shenandoah Mountain where the mountain's ridge forms the boundary between Virginia and West Virginia.  All of these trails are relatively short, but have exceptionally steep sections.  This hike, at 4.6 miles roundtrip, left my legs more spent than the average sub-5 mile hike does (or should).

The Little Stoney Trail is listed on the Trails Illustrated Staunton/Shenandoah Mtn Map #791 as a hiker only trail.  It is probably also a winter only trail, given the difference in my experience looking at the trailhead twice in 2020.  Above is a photo taken in November, and below is a photo taken of the same area in July, both looking at the trail's start from the parking lot.  No way I was wading into that back in July!  

There are two trailheads for this hike, on the trail's eastern and western ends.  From my home in Central Virginia, the eastern trailhead is much closer.  I also believe, however, that the trail is easier to follow from the summit than it is from the lower part of the trail.  Below is a hike description that attempts to guide a first timer coming from either direction.  Overall, I did not find the trail that hard to follow - a surprise, because an experienced hiker I know told me that he and a colleague gave up when trying to hike this trail, due to inability to follow its route.  I had a route in my GPS which helped resolve any questions I had when hiking.

Mile 0.0: The eastern end of the Little Stoney Trail is on the ridge of Shenandoah Mountain, a couple of miles south of the summit of Reddish Knob.  The Trails Illustrated map shows that the trailhead is also a Forest Service picnic area with privy.  This is another example of these maps being wrong - if you show up here with a full bladder, you are going to be using the woods!

What is there now is a parking area.  The trail marker shown in the photos above is at the beginning of the parking area.  Beyond the parking area is likely the old picnic area.  It would make a good camping area today, even without the privy or tables.  At trail's start, look for several trees marked with yellow paint forming an "i."  Facing the trail in the parking lot, the trail drops down then cuts left towards a ridge.         


Mile 0.2: After riding the side of a ridge as shown in the photo below, with higher elevations on your left and lower on your right," the trail takes a slight right angle to descend along the ridge. 

The trail enters into an area of Mountain Laurel that is 3-4 feet high.  The trail is relatively easy to follow through here, even though the Laurel sometimes pushes into the trail and the yellow blazing that was prevalent early in the hike is now gone.

Mile 0.5:  The trail takes a sharp left off of the ridge, then a couple hundred feet later cuts right to follow a little valley, on the right side of the stream bed.  It should be obvious, but if you drop down into the stream bed, you have gone too far.  The trail here is very nicely constructed to hug the slope, and there are some pretty views thrown in for good measure.  In the valley to the north, the Navy's satellite dish installation should be visible in winter.

Mile 0.7: The trail reconnects with the ridge and follows the ridge downhill for quite a while, entering in and out of groves of short Mountain Laurel.  The trail remains easy to follow, despite a lack of yellow blazing.

Mile 1.2: Exit from the last set of Mountain Laurel.  If heading uphill, you can find where to enter the Laurel by looking for a tree with a yellow diamond (see below).

The trail gets harder to follow here.  Stay on the ridge until a field becomes visible downhill to the right at about 2 'clock, then cut down to the field.  It was this section that I used my GPS track the most, as this area could have used more blazed trees.

Mile 1.4: Come out in an open field that is likely kept open by the Forest Service to attract wildlife.  

Hike through this, staying to the left.  On the opposite side to the left, under the large pine tree grove in the center of the photo below, is where you want to go.  You will find a road there, which you follow for the rest of this hike.  

Mile 1.7:  Cross the first of two streams.  The second stream is at the 2 mile mark.  Note along the way that the road merges into a couple of other woods roads.  Remember which way you came, though I didn't find this at all confusing.

Mile 2.3: Reach the end of the trail, at a closed gate.  The trail is marked by a metal marker, shown in the third photo below.  The road is a forest service road (#61) that heads west to Sugar Grove, West Virginia. Turn around here to return to your vehicle.


Length: 4.6 miles

Time: 2.5 hours

Ascent:  1500 ft

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Rader Mtn Trail, GWNF

This posting is part of my effort to document trails in the North River District of the George Washington National Forest that don't have much in the way of online descriptions. Like much of the North River District north of US 33, this trailhead is tough to find and involves a long drive over difficult Forest Service roads.  Don't be coming up here in your Miata!  To give some perspective, the 37 miles from the US 33/I-81 intersection in Harrisburg (via the town of Broadway) took me an hour-and-a-quarter.

I found the PATC's publication entitled "Trail Guide to Great Eastern Trail, 2018 First Edition" to be invaluable in getting me here, as some of the unmarked Forest Service roads near the trailhead are also parts of the Great Eastern Trail.  The trailhead is actually on the Great Eastern Trail, though I use the guidebook to tell me how to negotiate the roads where my driving is over roads that constitute the route of this trail  The trail itself is not marked within the GWNF, and road signs are sporadic, at best, in this area.

I am not sure that the Rader Mtn Trail even exists anymore.  I only know about it because I've come across a list of trails in the North River Ranger District, which oversees the area that includes the trail.  But the list is old (even though I picked up a copy this Summer), and I know at least one trail on the list was decommissioned nine or ten years ago.  It is not found on my copy of the Trails Illustrated Shenandoah Mountain map, which has a copyright of 2001.  It is not listed in my bible, The Trails of Virginia: Hiking the Old Dominion, 2nd Edition, copyright 1995.  And its southern end passes into private property, which the USFS seems to decommission to avoid issues with landowners. 

So I didn't head out with high hopes, but figured that if it is still visible, I'd check it out.  I parked where the Radar Mtn Road meets the main road, which at this point is called Hall Springs Road, nearly within spitting distance of the West Virginia state line.   (GPS: N38° 39.341' W79° 06.150')

I parked on the main road because, even though the gate was open (the Rader Mtn Road is open September 1 through December 31 each year), the road looked rough and there were multiple puddles in view from the main road.  I didn't want to risk needing a tow in an area where I could not get a cell signal!

So the first 2.5 miles of the hike was on the road.  But the road was occasionally blazed with yellow plastic diamonds and there was no traffic.  (In fact, I saw no one for the entire time I was off pavement this day, on a beautiful Tuesday in late October.)  It passed multiple open fields that are no doubt maintained as a wildlife attractant.  And the road dropped in elevation at an almost imperceptible rate. (The trailhead is the high point of this hike.)

At about the 2.5 mile mark, the road ends in a large field.  Trees are blazed indicating where the trail continues, and multiple national forest signs signal that no vehicles should continue.  For a while, the trail continues straight and wide, making me think that it may have also once been a road.  The trail itself has been around a long time, as I found it shown on USGS topographic maps dating back to 1947, however even the most recent topos show the entire route as a trail, without any being listed as a road.

At about the 3.25 mile mark the trail has narrowed to a legitimate trail and it hugs the side of the ridge on its way steeply down.  The last 0.6 miles that I hiked the trail dropped 440 feet, at an average grade of 13.5%.  I reached a point where I would drop very fast over a trail that was now composed of loose rocks, so I turned around - knowing getting hurt here would make for a difficult return and not knowing when I was going to reach private property.  There's no cell service, so I hope to return when I have a friend or a satellite communication device.  

Total distance: 8.1 miles

Hiking Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

Ascent: 1136 feet

Min elevation: 2948 ft.

Max elevation: 3723 ft.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Anthill/Slate Lick Loop, GWNF

This posting is part of my effort to document trails in the North River District of the George Washington National Forest that don't have much in the way of online descriptions. The Slate Lick area, northwest of Harrisonburg in the George Washington National Forest, is tough to find - I had to stop the car in multiple church parking lots to review my map.  Once you are in the area however, it is a delightful place surrounded by mountains. You will pass many dispersed, stream-side car campsites as you approach the trailhead within the National Forest, so it is easy to make this into a relaxing weekend trip with a basecamp and a nearby loop day hike.

Directions: Link.  

This loop features two very different trails.  The Anthill Trail climbs over 2,500 feet (leaving you to wonder who came up with that name because it is no anthill!), while the Slate Lick Trail slowly loses elevation in a forested stream valley.  They are connected by the Gauley Ridge Road (FS #240), which drops steeply between the two trails.  A nicer hike is to follow the loop clockwise, hiking the Anthill Trail first, as it avoids a steeper climb that is open to the sun on the Gauley Ridge Road.

Mile 0.0 – Start the hike in a parking area at the end of the public access portion of FS #230.  This parking is primarily used by fisherman accessing Slate Lick Lake, a forest service lake about a half-mile west of the parking area.  At the end of the parking lot is a closed gate for a Forest Service road you will take back to your vehicle.  Do not take this, but instead retrace your route briefly back the way you drove in.

Mile 0.1 – Take a right onto FS #1279.

Mile 0.3 – Pass a car campsite off of the road on your left. 

Mile 1.1 – A rough road that quickly turns into a trail enters from the right.  Continue on the main road.  Shortly after this, the road fords Buck Lick Run.

Mile 1.2 – Come to a closed gate.  A sign here says that the road beyond is open by permit only for permanently disabled hunters.  Continue on the road, heading uphill at a moderate clip.

Mile 1.8 – The road levels off at a point where multiple forest roads that are more overgrown converge. A small sliver of private property connects on your left (east). Although the road here continues downhill to a small lake you cannot see from this location in summer, look to the right for a metal marker signifying Trail #422.  Follow this, traversing on a grass covered old woods road.

Mile 2.6 – Reach a point where the old road ends at a turnaround.  Years ago, the trail started here, and it is still possible for those with a permit to drive to this point.  Beyond this, you will not be following a road but will be on a singletrack trail, occasionally marked by faded yellow blazes, that rides a ridge as it ascends heading west.

Mile 4.2 – On your left is an opening in the trees allowing for a partial vista southeast, where the southern end of Massanutten Mountain is clearly visible.  After this, the trail drops off the ridgetop and climbs the north side of the ridge.

Mile 4.8 – The trail travels through a section of forest that appears to have experienced a fire at least 10 years ago.  The taller trees here are dead, and the undergrowth is heavy in summer.  The trail is still easy to follow, but you are sharing the trail with many plants.  Unlike National Forest trails to the south and north of here, the trails on this loop are not maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  Without maintenance, the trails can get somewhat overgrown. 

Mile 5.0 – The trail breaks out of the forest and greets the Gauley Ridge Road (formerly known as Vepco Road), FS 240, which is open to the public from April 1 to December 31 each year.  There is a small wildlife pond on your left.  You will descend this road to the Slate Lick Trail, but before you do you should ascend the road to the nearby power lines for the best view of the hike.  This adds 0.3 mile each way to your distance, and passes by a very nice car campsite with a big view.  Once you have gotten up to the cut created for the transmission lines, turn around and descend on the Gauley Ridge Road via several switchbacks after passing the spot where the Anthill Trail ended.

Mile 6.2 – The road passes under the power lines again, with a tower access road on your right. Stay on the main road.

Mile 7.1 – Reach the bottom of the ascent.  Maps may show a small pond on your right, but that does not exist. On your left is a large car campsite that a family has clearly adopted as their own, even placing memorial plaques on the site for deceased family members.  Pass another campsite on your right shortly afterward. 

Mile 7.4 – Just after crossing Slate Lick Branch, look to the right for a small, open, grassy area.  The Slate Lick Trail starts here, though there is no sign at the road.  You have to walk past the grass to the edge of the woods to find the trail sign.  Follow the Slate Lick Trail, blazed occasionally yellow, which slowly descends through stream bottomlands and crosses the stream several times.

Mile 10.5 – The trail connects to an old gravel road that runs along Slate Lick Lake, a dammed lake that had no one fishing it on an August Saturday afternoon.  Follow the road along the south end of the lake, passing over the dam and a sign with fishing regulations.

Mile 11.5 – Continue on the road until you return to the parking area, just after a closed gate.

My Details: 
Distance: 11.5 miles
Time Required: 4:55
Moving Time: 4:21 (I stopped and talked to a camper near the high point)
Minimum Elevation: 1340'
Maximum Elevation: 2931'
Total Ascent: 2000'
Elevation Profile: