Hiking Three Ridges
© by Bill and Mary Burnham
Thirteen-plus miles of the AT link vistas atop Three Ridges and The Priest. The five-mile Mau-Har Trail makes a loop hike possible within Three Ridges.
This isn't the place to break in a new pair of boots - unless you bring lots of moleskin. The well-marked AT is easy to follow, but the terrain - elevation gains of more than 2,900 feet, coupled with rocky treadways - make this trip a workout.
Impressive describes the incomparable views from Chimney Rocks near the summit of Three Ridges. Breathles describes how you feel getting there.
With another 774 feet to climb before reaching the real summit of Three Ridges, Chimney Rock is a popular spot to soak in the scenery while catching your breath. The Blue Ridge Mountains rise like broad shoulders, lifting the forest high above farms of the Shenandoah Valley.
Under the tree canopy, the AT follows steep-sided hollows cut by Harpers Creek and Cripple Creek and links Three Ridges (3,970 feet) with The Priest, a neighboring 4,063-foot bare-rock summit.
There is much to appreciate in this forest: cold, clear streams stocked with trout; rhododendron, flame azalia and mountain laurel that color the understory with white, red and pink blosssoms.
At an overlook one a mile shy of The Priest summit, small white flowers release a strong perfume-like fragrance, a delicate reward for the brute physical endurance these climbs demand.
Getting there: Exit I-81 at Steeles Tavern and drive 5.5 miles east on VA 56 to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The AT trailhead at Reeds Gap is 13.5 miles north on the BRP. To reach the AT south trailhead, continue east on VA 56 for 3.6 miles, turn left onto VA 826 and follow it to the end. For the Tye River trailhead, follow VA 56 east 11 miles from the BRP (or 7.4 miles past the junction of VA 56 and VA 826) to a gravel parking area on the right.
Contact: George Washington National Forest, Glenwood-Pedlar District
Map: USGS Massies Mill, VA; Horseshoe Mountain, VA; Sherando; Big Levels, VA
A great place to stay when you get off the trail: Wintergreen's mountaintop spa resort.
We wrote the book!
Three Ridges is fully described with mile-by-mile cues, history and map in the Burnhams' award-winning book, Hiking Virginia.