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Falls Ridge - Columbia Furnace, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
11.7 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
6.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
2,390 ft
George Washington National Forest
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e.g.. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
From VA701: Turn right (T-juntion with church directly ahead) onto VA701/Dellinger Gap Rd. for 1.5 miles where the road will turn left and become gravel, Continue for 0.5 miles and park where the road ends. 38.87295, -78.75547

This hike is long and steep both up and down. The main attraction, for us at least, on the High Falls Hike is the solitude. This is one of the few hikes where we didn't see another sole the entire day. At 11.7 miles and 6.5 hours that's saying something. The descent, following one of the two underground gas pipelines down Great North Mountain is extremely steep. Also, as the pipeline swath is clear cut, at least 50ft across, there isn't any cover from the sun, so on a warm sunny day make sure you bring a hat.

Start by turning right, crossing the steam, and following the yellow blazed trail. In 200 yards arrive at an old bus where the trail splits. Bear right on the yellow blazed trail and continue uphill as it passes through a grassy area and thicket before becoming steeper and crossing a blue blazed forestry service road in another 0.5 miles.

Cross the FS road and continue uphill on the yellow blazed trail as it becomes increasingly steeper and then traversing High Falls Ridge arriving at the main ridge line of Great North Mountain and the orange blazed trail in another 2.0 miles

Turn left on the orange blazed Great North Mountain Trail continuing on the ridge line for 4.1 miles, with several great views on both sides of the mountain, before arriving at a transmitting tower installation. Cross the FS road and pass the closed gate staying to the right of the installation following the orange blazes as you turn left slightly uphill to the ridge in another 100 yards.

Steeply descend either one of the two (they parallel each other) underground gas pipeline clear cuts as they go directly downhill and cross a FS road in 0.5 miles. Continue steeply downhill for another 0.5 miles before the clear cut flattens out. In 0.4 miles after the clear cut flattens out look for the blue blazes and small rock pile on the left where you will cross the stream and take the blue blazed trail.

After crossing the stream follow the blue blazed trail as it turns uphill for a short distance before turning right and traversing the mountain for 1.5 miles where the purple blazed trail will enter from the right.

Turn right on the purple blazed trail as it winds around, crossing a stream then winding through the valley crossing another stream and in 1.5 miles arriving back at the old bus and the yellow blazed trail. Retake the yellow trail downhill for the remaining 200 yards re-crossing the stream and arriving back at the parking area.

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Hiker Reviews For The Falls Ridge Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: aldikuma Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, April 26, 2015
I really enjoyed this hike, but I think it depends on what kind of hiker you are. I prefer a lot of change in scenery and challenges. I definitely got these!

I didn't read all the way through the previous posters or I would've seen the description for what's off the red blazed trail halfway up the ascent on the yellow trail (waterfall and rock scramble). I'll know for next time! It's very obvious, off to your left, with a large cairn and small red blazes.

The hike is the standard GWNF hike till you get to the towers, with a few nice views along the way. There are two campsites on the right within a half mile of the towers. The descent down the pipeline clearings is VERY steep, and watch for the thorny vines and countless small stumps that can trip you up - best to really take your time (took me 45 minutes to get down with my weak knee). And there were SO MANY gnats out today, especially on the descent. It was definitely interesting and challenging, though. As the previous hiker states, stay to the left so you can see the blue trail, which is very clearly marked (though no rock pile anymore).

Finding the purple trail wasn't too difficult if you keep track of your distance on the blue. Though you will not see a purple blaze till you walk into the trail, the wide trailhead is marked by a pink ribbon and small cairn resting on a large cut tree. After about 10-15 minutes on the purple trail, you will come to a clear cutting on your right as you go uphill, then to a small clearing with a fire pit. On your right you will see a wooden post with what looks like a white blaze. It's not - it's light purple (and where you continue on). To your left is the blue blazed FS road (also marked with a light blue blaze on a post). Both take you back. If you continue on the purple, you will not see a blaze for a while, don't worry - they become more frequent as you move into older forest. The trail is very obvious.

I really liked this hike and it was a great workout. I didn't see anyone all day, it was recently used by horseback riders. If you really want to get a workout, do it clockwise! I probably wouldn't do this in summer, though, as the foliage and trail growth will be very thick, lowering the views and increasing the risk of ticks. It was fairly overgrown in spots already.

By: LMHHIKE Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, July 04, 2013
Did this hike on a fairly hot, humid day. I have done North Mountain before but don't remember so much high grass as was encountered today on the ridgeline. And the pipeline descent was horrendous. Unlike the photo, the "trail" is covered in scree, small and fairly large trees, and rocks of assorted sizes. Not pleasant.

Falls Ridge Trail was fine, as I have found it in the past. I would give this hike a pass as written up here. Maybe take a right on North Mtn. once you ascend on the Falls Ridge Trail in order to avoid the pipeline which adds nothing to this hike.

By: Mountain Girl Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, January 13, 2013
My husband and I did this as a birthday hike, and we loved the 65+ degree weather (in January!!!) and the fact that we had the entire trail to ourselves all day long. There were a couple of okay views, and we definitely got our heart rates up in a few places. However, that's really all the good that we can say about this hike. Due to the logging, a lot of the latter part of the hike looked terrible--fallen trees, open, eroded land, and blazes on tons of trees. The worst part of all was, we looked REALLY carefully for the purple blazes. I mean, REALLY carefully. We amazingly found some purple blazes and were so excited! We veered to the right and crossed two streams, just like the directions said. But something felt wrong about it. Sure enough, about a mile later, we came back out on the blue-blazed trail...back before we had ever gotten off on the purple trail. By this time, it was dark and the bats were out. We felt like we were in the Twilight Zone. We just followed the blue-blazed trail back to the yellow, but it wasn't much fun at all. I don't really recommend this hike unless you're just looking for a day of solitude and don't really care too much about the scenery.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, June 17, 2012
As other reviewers have noted, the trail is rather long but without any discernible reward or benefit. The hike has a steep section in the beginning, leading up to the orange section, but besides that is not physically challenging. The long walk on the ridge is dominated by tall grass and the trail is frequently akin to bushwhacking at parts. The oddest of all section is the descent (rather steep, along loose rocks and thick brush) along the "clearing" over natural gas pipelines: one must wonder why they routed a hiking path through this most useless section, for it is neither enjoyable nor rewarding. Challenging, yes, espcially if one has a heavy pack, which I did. All fine, the hike would have remained just unremarkable but for the badly marked and rather confusing second half of the hike. Calculating which slope to go down from the radio tower and finding the purple trail were very trying. The purple trail (evidently) joins up with the blue trail at an angle that one must look behind as they are walking forward, or might miss it. This indeed did happen to me- but luckily the blue trail joins up with the yellow trail eventually, and turning right on that leads back to the start, albeit a bit longer than if the purple had been found.

Overall, lots of small to moderate difficulties for neither good views, nor good physical challenge. Poorly marked trailheads. I wouldn't do this trail again because it seems a haphazard patchmark of sections of forest but for those who do try it, some pointers:

-Wear pants, because (at least in the summer) a significant majority of the trail is amongst high grasses, and the descent along the gas pipeline clearings is fraught with thorny stalks and high grasses that can scratch up one's legs.

-Continue up the hill past the radio tower installation, on its right side, and at the very top, the orange trail will continue to your right. To the left of the orange trail, there two parallel pipeline paths are present. Take the path to the left (farthest from the continuing orange trail), since the blue trail head will be on the left side of this path after it flattens out.

-Keep a close watch out for the purple trailhead from the blue trail. I couldn't find it but perhaps it was because I did not look hard enough as the purple trail joins up more or less facing away from the direction one is walking. If you miss the purple trail, not to worry, just continue on the blue till you gradually climb on and off along the wide and sometimes gravel-laden path, and you will intersect the yellow train eventually, and take a right on that to return to the bus and back to parking lot.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 04, 2011
About a mile from the radio tower I saw a large male bear on the trail. It was in the area of several anthills. It walked toward me, stood on its hind legs and did not display any aggression. I banged rocks and yelled, and the bear got off the trail. I decided not to continue to the pipeline, which was a good idea anyway as a thunderstorm was approaching. It will be interesting to revisit this area in a few years to see how the forest recovers from logging.  

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