Sweet 21 mile ridge ride in the Blue Ridge mountains. Not for the faint of heart. It’s not really near Staunton…closer to Raphine / Steeles Tavern, but MTBR doesn’t like those cities as starting addresses.
Directions to get there are pretty simple:
From Staunton, go 81S to exit 205, and take 606 East. Left on 11, immediate right on 56, and then go 5 to 7 miles up the mountains to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Make a left off 56 to get on the parkway, and then a left to go south on the BRP. 2 miles later, there will be a rest area on the right. Trail starts off that rest area, on the opposite end from the building.
First 3 miles are a good warm up…then it gets tough. Lots of steep ascents and descents, gnarly rocks, and great single track up, down, and around ridge peaks. Depending on who you are, there are anywhere from 3 to 8 hike-a-bike sections. They are all rideable, per se, just tough. The downhills coming off the ridge peaks will test your courage…they aren’t long descents, just very technical.
The trail is blazed with yellow diamonds, so it’s relatively easy to follow. There are two sections that warrant further explanation:
1)About 4 or 5 miles in, there is a split where you can go up to the left or down to the right. Make sure you go down to the right. It is marked, but easy to miss if you’re flying down the fire road
2)At mile 9 or so, you’ll come up on a deer stand. Less than a ½ mile later, the trail goes down to the left, but it is a bit tricking to see if you aren’t paying attention. I believe there was a wooden sign pointing to the left, and it had a yellow bag on it to get your attention. This is the start of the relatively easy downhill. Stay on your toes, because it’s still riding on the side of a mountain.
After a total elapsed distance of 11.5 miles, the downhill finally dumps you on to Route 803. Take a left, and make the 9 mile, 1200+ foot ascent back up to the parking area. The road is paved for a while, and then turns into gravel. It is a quiet road, and it follows a nice stream, so it’s as scenic as you can get on pavement. When you are almost at the top, you’ll pass a Church that you can see from the BRP, and you turn left onto Whetstone Ridge Road. This leads you straight to the parking area (in less than a 1/10 of a mile).
Overall a great ride….definitely more demanding than Sherando, but more isolated and better views. Well worth the pain. There looked to be at least one area on 803 where you could fill up with water (well spout). Rest area has water and restrooms.
Depending on skill level, the ridge ride takes approximate 3 to 3-1/2 hours, with the road ride taking between 1 and 1-1/2 hours. I want to say we did the whole ride in an elapsed time of 4:30. Bring lots of food and water. If you want to eliminate the road ride, it’s fairly straightforward to park a car at the bottom of 803. Just go straight out of the rest area onto Whetstone Rid
Summary: Rode the trail this past weekend. Parked at bottom on Irish Creek and did the road climb first. The trail was great and well marked. The part on Whetstone Ridge is straightforward, then you drop to the right across a saddle and get onto the ridge of South Mountain, where you go up and down over a number of humps - I lost track of how many, but you go up and down, as low as 2400 and as high as 2800 feet, multiple times. Most of the trail is ridable though I walked some parts.
Views are wonderful. Ride is isolated - not the best solo ride. Significantly harder than Dragon's Back or Sherando to ride it all.
Summary: MTBR cut off my description a little. I was going to say that to park a car at the bottom of the ridge section, all you need to do is go straight out of the rest area onto Whetstone Ridge, take a right on 803 (Irish Creek Road), and go 9 miles.
Great trail...will do again sometime once I'm in a little better shape.
Other recommended trails in the same area: In Charlottesville - Walnut Creek, Mint Springs, OHill