Sunday, July 23, 2023

Little Mare Mtn Trail/Brushy Ridge Trail

Trails in the George Washington National Forest's Warm Springs District can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes, a trail is virtually non-existent.  Other times, a much more remote trail can be in really great shape.  Trail maintenance out this way appears to be accomplished mostly by a mountain bike group called the Alleghany Highlands Trail Club - they have my thanks. If a trail is useful to mountain bikers, such as it has been used for an event, the trail will be in great shape. This is one of those trails, as I confirmed several weeks after hiking this trail - I ran into the guy who directed this trail's renovation while I was hiking another trail, and it was the Alleghany Highlands Trail Club which opened this trail back up.

This description covers the Brushy Ridge and Little Mare Mountain trails, which connect to each other and combine for a generally north/south route extending from a little north of Douthat State Park to a little south of Virginia Rt. 39.  They are found on the eastern side of Warm Springs Mountain, east of the Homestead Resort.  Hiking these trails is best done using a car shuttle. Hiking these trails on a couple of Spring weekends, I saw no other users on the trail.  Strava's heatmap shows that these trails get a moderate amount of mountain bike use and low hiking use.  Because of the mountain bike use, the trails were in relatively good shape: obstructions like down trees were often cleaned up, however growth encroaching on the trail was often an issue.  This meant I had to push through wet vegitation on this hike.

I hiked this trail with a small group, heading south to north.  We parked in a parking area just off of Smith Creek Road, which is a forest service road that cuts west just north of Douthat State Park. 


There is a house at the turnoff from the Douthat State Park Road that was made out of a railroad boxcar, which is my landmark for the road.  The Brushy Ridge Trail actually ends at Smith Creek Road, but there is direct access from the parking lot and most people clearly start from there.  The condition of the trail between the parking lot cutoff and the road is noticeably inferior.

Mile 0.0: The trail access is via a short side trail in the southeast corner of the parking lot. The actual trail is about 50 feet from the parking lot.  You turn left onto the trail, which is blazed twice - blue is for the Brushy Ridge Trail, and yellow is for a longer equestrian route.  On your left, the forest is very thin - I believe this area was logged at some point.  On the right, the forest is much less thin, making me think that the trail was a boundary for a tree harvest. The trail itself starts out wide and grassy, following an old road bed.

Mile 0.4: The trail soon cuts right off of the old road bed.  Keep an eye out for this turn.  

Mile 0.6: From there, the trail drops down to cross over a stream.  This was the hardest part to follow over the first half of the hike.  The trail cuts right after the stream, though some of the stones seem placed to look like the trail cuts left.  

It continues to climb through a section of forest that was not very thick, but I found very pretty.

Mile 0.9: It curved to the right and came out on a woods road.  Be sure to turn left on this road, as the trail follows the road for a ways.

Mile 1.5: Keep an eye out on the left as you progress, as the trail drops back off of this road without a sign telling you that you have reached an intersection.  The road straight ahead is the Lasso Loop Trail - primarily for equestrians and not very interesting - and to the left the Brushy Ridge Trail continues.

The trail through here is somewhat overgrown, with vegetation growing tight on the trail's route.  The trail ascends through some very sparce woods, leading me to believe that this would not be a good trail to attempt between July and the first frost - too much sunlight and lots of undergrowth. Notice that the yellow blazing is now gone - those blazes continued straight on the Lasso Loop Trail.

Mile 2.4: The next landmark is the intersection with the Salt Pond Ridge Trail, which forks right.  There was a sign here, but it was on the ground. Take the trail to the left. The Salt Pond Ridge Trail decends to the northern end of the Lasso Loop Trail (the uninteresting equestrian trail described earlier in this post), and then continues on to FR 194, which provides car access to the eastern end of the Salt Pond Ridge Trail. 

Mile 3.2: The hike reaches its high point here, though it is not the summit of Brushy Mountain.  The trail then descends until it reaches the upper end of Little Wilson Creek.

Mile 3.7: Where the trail meets Little Wilson Creek, things get a little confusing. The Brushy Ridge Trail ends here. At the terminus, there is a trail that intersects here and travels into land owned and administrated by The Nature Conservancy, which they call the Warm Springs Mountain Preserve.  A sign dscourages hikers from continuing, but we knew that there is a cabin back there, called Trapper's Lodge, that mountain bikers have stayed at.  Apparently, this is not a public lodge, but if you are connected to The Nature Conservancy, this is a perk you can get, and you bring your friends.  Nobody was there when we visited, but it looks like a nice cabin.

We hung out on the porch during a drizzly rain for a few minutes and had a snack before retracing our steps back to the GWNF and looking for the south end of the Little Mare Mountain Trail.  It wasn't easy to find!  We eventually found it, along with a sign, and climbed steeply from Little Wilson Creek on an overgrown section of trail.  

That trail soon ended at a T intersection with a relatively wide trail that was much better maintained.  We followed this trail to the left (west) for a short distance, but figured that it was headed back to Trappers Lodge and didn't continue.  I asked the trial maintainer I encountered a couple of weeks later, and he confirmed that it comes out of a parking lot just to the west of Trappers Lodge.  So the best way to get through this section is to walk past Trappers Lodge to a parking area, then look for the trail on the north end - take that.

Mile 4.8: A short distance after the two trails meet (described above), there is a short drop then a short, steep uphill.  After this point, the hike is generally downhill, dropping over 1900 feet over the final 5+ miles.  The descent is more gradual than the ascent was, and the trail passes through a canopy of trees with few views, following a ridge as it descends.

Mile 7.4: Reach an intersection with the end of the Little Mare Mtn Spur Trail, which heads off to the west (left).  That trail has not been renovated, and is very overgrown.  Attempting to hike it would not be impossible, but it would be a lot tougher than the main trail.  There appears to be no use on the Spur, according to Strava.  So, while technically still a commissioned trail, the Little Mare Mtn Spur Trail seems pretty unusable.  

Mile 10.0: An old woods road merges into the trail, coming from the right (east).

Mile 10.7: The trail drops off of the ridge it had followed for the past five miles and drops more steeply.  

Mile 11.0: The trail follows an old road and levels off.  There are structures in a field to the right as the trail's route takes it near private property.

Mile 11.4: The trail ends at a small parking area on Blue Grass Hollow Road.  

Despite a lack of views, my group found this to be a very enjoyable trail.  Recommended, though it probably a better mountain bike trail than hiking trail.  I was glad to be able to explore it.

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