Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Crawford Knob 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.  The Crawford Knob Trail (#487) climbs from Lone Fountain near Churchville to Crawford Knob before connecting with the Crawford Mountain Trail (#485) and the Chimney Hollow Trail (#489).  These trails are about 5 miles north of Elliott Knob.

To get to the trailhead, drive west on US 250 about 1.5 miles past the VA 42 north intersection in Churchville to the town of Lone Fountain.  Take a left on Rt. 720, Jerusalem Chapel Road, and stay on this road until you get to the namesake church on your right.  Immediately after the church is the gravel McKittrick Road (FR 1269).  This road takes you to the trail, though a USFS North River District document I've received indicates that the gate near the church is only open from April 1 to May 16 every year.  I was lucky - had no idea when it was open when I hiked here but I was able to drive right to the trail. Since about 90% of the road goes through private lands - Forest Service property is at the very end - it is curious why this road would be gated at all.  From the church to the trailhead was 2 miles on McKittrick Road.  Trailhead parking is at the end of the road in a circular turnaround.

Trailhead parking at the end of McKittrick Road

Trail viewed from McKittrick Road.
Mile 0.0 - The trail starts with a metal marker on McKittrick Road about 100 yards short of the trailhead parking.  The trail's first half mile climbs 130 feet before dropping again to cross a stream known as McKittrick's Branch.

Mile 0.6 -  After crossing the stream, ascend steeply for about 20 feet to an old road.  This road bed is actually the original trail from McKittrick Road, but the trail was re-routed decades ago due to private property along the road.  Take a right on this road, and after about 50 yards, cut right and begin a series of ascending switchbacks.

Mile 1.1 - The trail reaches a ridge and climbs the ridge line.

Looking back downhill.
Mile 1.6 - A stream intersects with the trail as it moves downhill, using the trail as its stream bed for a brief period.

Mile 2.0 -  At the time of this hike (April, 2020), the trail becomes very overgrown.  The trail is easy to follow because the growth remains shorter than the surrounding areas and the trail ascends in a straight line.  But this part of the trail is open to the sun, and growth is thick here.

Note the yellow blaze on the tree to the left of the "trail."
Mile 2.8 - The trail opens up again as someone has been trimming vegetation coming from the west.

Mile 3.0 -  The trail reached the summit of Crawford Knob.  There are some social trails that head right (north) but do not appear to reach anything worth exploring.  After this, the trail drops in elevation again, with winter views north towards Elliott Knob, Shenandoah Mountain, and the Deerfield Valley.

Mile 3.8 - After recovering most of its lost elevation, the Crawford Knob Trail ends at a signpost indicating its intersection with the Crawford Mountain Trail.  To the left here, it is 0.2 miles to the intersection with the Chimney Hollow Trail, which continues west to its terminus at U.S. 250. There was a lot of Greenbrier here when I hiked this area six months previous, but much of it had been clipped back in the meantime.  Further south, the Crawford Mountain Trail connects with the North Mountain Trail, which leads to Elliott Knob and beyond. To the right, the Crawford Mountain Trail has been decommissioned by the Forest Service after a local landowner rescinded access through his property on U.S. 250.  It may still be followable further north, but this section, which is fairly flat, does not easily indicate the former trail's route.

Crawford Knob Trail is in bright red.  Public lands are shaded green.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Blueberry Trail/Mud Pond Gap Trail 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.  If you are interested in hiking trails in this area, I recommend obtaining the book, "Shenandoah Mountain Trails: A Guide to Trails on Shenandoah Mountain in Rockingham and Augusta Counties, Virginia." The book is written by Timothy Hupp of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and can be ordered from the Club's online bookstore.  (Recently re-opened during the pandemic.)

The Blueberry Trail (#544A) and Mud Pond Gap Trail (#544) are located between U.S. 33 and the Hone Quarry area of the GWNF, west of Harrisonburg.  These trails can be hiked as a 4.2 mile loop when combined with the Union Springs Road.  The two trails meet at the eastern end of the Meadow Knob Trail (#428).  Access is from Union Springs Road, FS 225, which is a big attraction for Jeeps and high clearance vehicles because it is very rough further to the west.  It is also narrow in spots, so it can be a somewhat hair raising ride to this trailhead.  

The loop can also be accessed from the Hone Quarry area, via the Cliff Trail #429 and the Meadow Knob Trail #428.  It is about 4.2 miles each way from the Hone Quarry Road to this loop, via these trails, making for a much longer hike.

There are parking areas where each trail meets the Union Springs Road.  I parked at the first lot driving in from the east, which is the Mud Pond Gap trailhead.  The lot can hold 3-4 vehicles, though the odds of seeing another vehicle is probably pretty low.  

Mile 0.0 - The trailhead is marked by a signpost designating this as the Oak Knob Road, FR 225D.  The entire length of the trail is an old woods road, which Trails Illustrated Map #791 states is always gated shut to the public, though you should not block it in case USFS personnel need to use the road.

Mile 0.2 - Almost immediately, the yellow blazed trail crosses a stream that was flowing when I hiked this in early May.  At Mile 0.2, a second, larger stream passes over the trail.  After this, start a climb that continues for the rest of the trail's length.

The trail climbs through a pine forest before opening up when it passed several open fields likely maintained as wildlife attractants.  Twice, these fields were marked with posts that appeared to once have signs, but the signs were gone.

Mile 1.0 - At the 1 mile mark is a large, flat boulder that has been turned into a mountain bike ramp; likely the major attraction on the trail for that demographic. The trail remains wide and grassy through this area.

Mile 1.6 -  The trail splits as it meets the Blueberry and Meadow Knob Trails, with a triangle-shaped wooded area in the middle.  On the other side of the triangle you can find Mud Pond.  Turn right here to take Blueberry Trail.  This is the high point of the hike; you will descend over most of the Blueberry Trail.

Mile 1.7 - Blueberry Trail starts out as an old woods road before entering a large open area and leaving as a trail.  Stay somewhat to the left in the field and find the trail on the other side. Over most of its remaining length, the trail is wonderfully grass covered.

Mile 3.5 -  Blueberry Trail ends at a permanent gate just before the Union Springs Road.   There is space for several vehicles to park here.  Turn right onto Union Springs Road to return to your vehicle.

Mile 4.2 - After 0.7 miles, you will come to your original parking area and your vehicle.  Use care on Union Springs Road, as you will likely encounter vehicles - especially if hiking on the weekend.

There aren't any vistas on this loop, and this hike is not the first one I would recommend in this area - there are others that are more interesting, especially those coming out of Hone Quarry just to the south.  But this loop offers great solitude and is an easy hike.  I'd definitely consider returning.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Short Ridge 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.  This trail is in the southwestern portion of the District, and was part of the old Deerfield Ranger District.  Descriptions and photos are from explorations occurring in May, 2020.  Conditions on trails are subject to change.

The Short Ridge Trail connects a parking area on the Deerfield Road (SR 629) south of Deerfield with FR 399, the Jerkemtight Road.  (Some maps refer to this trail as the Jerkemtight Trail.) Hikers can then ascend the Jerkemtight Road to the Shenandoah Mountain Trail, reaching that trail at its intersection with the Marshall Draft Trail.  A distance hiker, therefore, can use the Short Ridge Trail as part of a connection between Shenandoah Mountain and Walker Mountain to the east, by crossing the Deerfield Road and connecting to the Brushy Ridge Trail and the Back Draft Trail.

The trailhead for the Short Ridge Road is south of Deerfield just off of SR 629 on FR 392.  FR 392 is also known as either Short Ridge Road or Fowler Springs Road.  There is parking for two or three cars here.  

The area was a little muddy, as you can see from the photo below, but it was easy to negotiate.  The photo shows the FR 392 coming from Deerfield Road.

FR 392 is gated just after this parking area.  When I arrived, there was another vehicle here, parked in front of the gate.  Not recommended - this road is still used and is open from October 1 to December 31 every year.

The Short Ridge Trail angles off of FR 392 not more than 50 yards after the gate.  This is a critical piece of information!  The trail is not signed at either end and is hard to see without knowing this. I had a GPS track that I followed, but they aren't always spot on so I missed the turnoff and ended up on deer trails for a while thinking that I was on the trail.  Below shows the trail leaving the road, about 50 yards after the gate, before I turned off.

Eventually, I bushwhacked up a ridge to find the trail, and I followed the trail the entire way on my return.  I found it in great shape and well blazed in yellow - just not in a few critical places (like here).

Once on the trail, it climbs for the next 0.4 mile, ascending 225 feet at about a 10% grade until it reaches a ridge.  It follows this unnamed ridge (Short Ridge is actually further west and this trail never touches that ridge) for the next half mile.  It is usually very easy to follow except for a couple of spots.

At about the 0.7 mile mark, the trail appears to split.  To the left it heads up about 8 feet to a flat area that may have been the end of an old road.  To the right is another trail.  Go to the right, as this will take you directly to the old roadbed that becomes the trail.

At 0.9 miles, another road merges in from the right and, 100 feet later, splits off to the left.  Make sure you stay on the trail here and don't end up on the old road.  The photo below is a southbound view of the first road merge - the trail came in from the right and did not use the road with trees down on the left.  There are no blazes here and I had no issues following the trail when coming from the south, but if you are coming from the north this could pose problems.

After these two road intersections, the Short Ridge Trail descends to Jerkemtight Road.  The trail ends here, and there is no parking on Jerkemtight Road.  At Jerkemtight Road, the trail is also unsigned, and is even harder to locate than the southern end.  Hikers descending from the Shenandoah Mountain Trail would need to know where they are - they have passed the Tom Lee Draft Road (the only major intersection on the descent) and crossed Jerkemtight Branch on a low water bridge (shown below looking west).

The trail comes into the road about 0.4 miles east of the low water bridge and is virtually invisible unless you are looking on your right (heading east) for an old woods road.  There is a trail that cuts up 20 feet to that road.

Looking carefully into the woods at this point, it is possible to see a blazed tree trunk on the old woods road.  Unfortunately, no trees closer to the road are blazed.

On my hike, I turned around at the low water bridge.  The water was moving faster than the photo indicates, and there were no easy rock crossings nearby.  I was nursing a knee injury, and did not want to risk the crossing.  So completing the hike to the Shenandoah Mountain Trail and possibly the Wallace Peak summit will occur another time.  Spring is not the best time to test water crossings, but this is likely an easy crossing in the Summer and Fall.

I found the Short Ridge Trail to be in surprisingly good shape, and I cleared some brush along the way, which improved it further.  It offered wonderful solitude and wildlife viewings over its short distance, as we flushed a couple of deer and were entertained by a very noisy turkey who ran down the trail away from us.  As long as you can find the trail, it is worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Sam Judd Ramsey 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.  This trail is in the southwestern portion of the District, and was part of the old Deerfield Ranger District.  Descriptions and photos are from hikes occurring in late March, 2020.

The Sam Judd Ramsey Trail ascends both Walker Mountain and Sideling Hill south of Deerfield.  The SJR Trail is a useful trail for connecting with other trails, but it has some aspects that limit its usefulness. The trail leaves the National Forest in its easternmost mile. Although some reports indicate that it continues thanks to an agreement with the landowner, the trail is not marked outside of the National Forest and several roads intersect with the trail, making it impossible to know for sure if you are on an acceptable path. The trail leaves the National Forest right at an elbow curve shown on trail maps, but that section of trail no longer exists. The safest choice is to turn around at the end of the public lands.

Map shows the SJR Trail to the north, along with an unmarked, but maintained trail, connecting
to the Mill Mountain Trail to the southwest.
Heading west towards Walker Mountain from this trail's one road crossing - Clayton Mill Creek Road, FS 61, (which is the trailhead for both sections of trail and is marked in the map above next to "Tank Traps"), the Sam Judd Ramsey Trail follows an old road that crosses through an area that has recently been logged on both sides of the trail.

Western portion of SJR Trail as seen from access road.

The trail crosses three roads, and the third crossing is important - about 100 yards after that crossing, the trail leaves the old road, cuts left, and angles up the mountain. This is not obvious, so if you aren't careful you'll find yourself climbing the mountain on an old road at an insanely steep 33% grade.

If you are looking for the trail's eastern end from the top of Walker Mountain, load a waypoint in your GPS first - the trail is not marked by a sign. Instead a faded yellow blaze is on a tree and a ribbon may encircle that same tree. It is not an obvious intersection.

There are no vistas on this trail, though descending from Sidling Hill there are some nice views of Walker Mountain to the west.  Because it summits the old woods road on the ridge of Walker Mountain, it is possible to hike Walker Mountain from the Back Draft Trail, which connects west, ultimately to the Shenandoah Mountain Trail.

You can also connect with the Mill Mountain Trail without walking several miles on the gravel road.  By taking the SJR Trail east to the top of Sideling Hill.  Just before the SJR Trail starts dropping down the eastern slope, cut right on an unmarked trail.  The trail becomes more obvious as you trace the eastern edge of the ridge.  It is clearly maintained to this day, and looks like it was once an official trail, though I cannot find it on any maps. The photos below comes from the trail connecting the SJR Trail to the Mill Mountain Trail.

If heading east on the SJR Trail to summit Sideling Hill, you start out on an old road and cross several tank traps.  Keep an eye to the left for the trail leaving the road.  It is shown on the photo below; note the yellow blaze on the tree.  

After that, the trail is obvious and even offers some nice views west towards Walker Mountain during the descent.

Brushy Ridge 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.  This trail is in the southwestern portion of the District, and was part of the old Deerfield Ranger District.  Descriptions and photos are from hikes occurring in late March, 2020.

The Brushy Ridge Trail (#718) connects the western end of the Back Draft Trail (#546) with Deerfield Road (Va 629) just north of a parking area that serves as the trailhead for the Short Ridge Trail (#717).  The Brushy Ridge Trail is a one mile long connector trail, allowing a resolute hiker to travel from the Shenandoah Mountain Trail (#447) and/or the Marshall Draft Trail (#547) near Wallace Peak to the top of Walker Mountain or the Mill Mountain Trail (#492) when combined with a couple of other trails. It can be considered a "low use" trail. 

Eastern Trailhead location:

Western Trailhead Location:

From the western end of the Back Draft Trail (#546)walk the Forest Service road away from the gate downhill.  On the other side of Bright Hollow Road is a trail sign and a tree with three yellow diamonds.  This is the beginning of the Brushy Ridge Trail.

The trail climbs up a ridge with a nearby house in view.  This house has built a trail from their property to this trail, so be careful on your return not to absentmindedly end up in their property.

Once you reach the ridge, you will encounter the defining portion of this trail.  The trail crosses a clearcut made in anticipation of a natural gas pipeline that is currently in the courts.  You get some views from this clearcut, but it is a pretty awful place to cross.  The trail is not hard to follow, despite the carnage.

The mountain in view to the south is called Chestnut Ridge.

The trail returns to the forest, and cuts downhill to an old woods road.

The woods road leads west to the Deerfield Road.  Turn left here to get to the western trailhead, just off of the Deerfield Road to the south - behind the orange pole in the photo below on FR 392.