Friday, April 24, 2020

Bear Rock Trail, GWNF

The Bear Rock Trail (#635) is located in the GWNF Warm Springs District and ascends Warm Springs Mountain's eastern slope. The trail starts on Bath Alum Ridge Road and ends on top of Warm Springs Mountain.  Years ago, there were other trails up here linking to Bear Rock Trail, and the trail itself is sometimes incorrectly shown as continuing past the summit of Warm Springs Mountain.  This mountain's summit not only shows no indication of other trails, the upper reaches of the Bear Rock Trail are even difficult to locate.  This is pretty much standard procedure in the Warm Springs Ranger District, where I once experienced an inquiry from hikers about a trail I know that the rangers did not. They don't seem to know some of their trails, and the district's trails are seldom kept up.

The trailhead for the Bear Rock Trail is located here:


I came in from the north on Bath Alum Ridge Road.  The trailhead is marked from the road by a brown hiker sign, but no trail sign. There is a wide spot on the road that can hold a couple of vehicles.  Don't worry - there won't be anyone else here!  I came here during the Coronavirus pandemic looking for a hike that would not have me seeing other hikers.  Not only were there no hikers, there were no other cars on the roads for 10 miles before and about 8 miles after this trailhead.  This is remote country for Virginia.

Mile 0.0 - After leaving Bath Alum Ridge Road at the hiker sign, the trail climbs steeply up Warm Springs Mountain to the left of an intermittent stream.  Note that you will never cross that stream bed on the hike, though the trail comes close.  The trail starts out well blazed with blue blazes.

Mile 0.4 - The trail levels off some, but enters into an area with much Mountain Laurel that has overgrown the trail.  Because the area is well blazed, it is relatively easy to follow heading uphill, but it isn't as well blazed on the return - even though I had just been on the trail in the opposite direction, I had more trouble finding the trail on the way down than I did on the way up.

Mile 0.5 - The trail comes very close to the stream bed, which digs into the hillside.  Looking across the stream, it seems that the trail would be much better sited over there, as in April the land under the big trees was open, and the trail goes through thick Mountain Laurel.  It cuts left away from the stream bed, then quickly cuts right through thick Mountain Laurel.  Someone cut through a downed tree here to open up the trail - a little.
Mile 0.8 - The trail comes out of a Mountain Laurel stand just before it merges into an old woods road.  It does not stay on this road for long before cutting left uphill while the road continues level.  Watch for blazes uphill or keep an eye on your GPS track.
Mile 0.9 - The trail cuts right, heading directly uphill.  Starting here, the trail has been cleared out and cleaned up dramatically.  It gave me hope that there were maintained trails at the top - maybe someone had come down from the other side and run out of fuel when they stopped.   At the same time, the blue blazes became much fainter, and disappeared altogether before reaching the summit.

Mile 1.1 - The trail cuts left.  This turn is easy to see, because the trail has been maintained here.

Mile 1.3 -  The trail cuts back right.  This is harder to see from both directions.  It is a straight line from here to the summit, but the trail becomes increasingly faint as you finish the climb.  I'm not sure how anyone would be able to locate this trail from the summit.

Mile 1.4 -  Reach the summit shortly after passing a small boulder with a rock cairn on top, shown  below.  The ridge was wide and flat here. The summit's undergrowth was very open in early Spring, so it appears that it would be very easy to walk the summit southwest to link up to the Piney Mountain Trail where it crosses the summit, approximately 2 miles southeast.  If you plan to return down the Bear Rock Trail, carefully note where you summited.  There are no markings indicating the trail.
Rock cairn near summit.

View of ridge summit.
I walked around at length on the summit looking for blazes, depressions in the land, ribbons - anything that would mark a trail.  But there was nothing.  I had an approximate GPS track showing the Bear Rock Trail continuing west, but it was no help.  I'm not sure why this trail is still on the active list, but it appears to only go to the summit of Warm Springs Mountain and disappear - just as is shown on the Trails Illustrated Map #788. The Forest Service's FSTopo database shows more trails, as you can see from the detail below.  As stated, I found no evidence of the continued existence of any trail other than the Bear Rock Trail between the Bath Alum Ridge Road and the summit of Warm Springs Mountain.

On the other hand, the summit was incredibly and wonderfully silent!

This trail probably makes part of a good 11 or 12 mile long circuit hike that ascends west on the Bear Rock Trail, bushwhacks south along the summit of Warm Springs Mountain, heads west on the Piney Mountain Trail until it meets the Walnut Hollow Trail (not marked on current maps but a part of the Great Eastern Trail and cleaned up by the PATC Charlottesville Chapter over two worktrips in 2019), then back north on the little used Bath Alum Ridge Road.


  1. Trails like this and a few others in the GWNF make you have to be on your toes on your navigation and route finding skills. Try going over to and use a layer over the base map called "Shade Relief" and select normal. Move the slider bar to 50%. If at sometime there were other trails there you should be able to see them with this layer. The Shade Relief layer is LiDAR and will show you details that you might not see.

  2. Thanks - I'll give that a try. I use something similar: an online database of old USGS topographic maps with slider bars. Anything from the 1940's era usually has a wealth of good info.


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