The Grooms Ridge-Chestnut Ridge loop hike in the GWNF Todd's Lake Recreation Area is a great workout with almost 2800ft of elevation gain and an equal amount of loss. The initial 1.7 mile climb up Chestnut Ridge is relentless and will get your heart pumping, no switchbacks! Mountain Laurel is all over the place on this hike and will be beautiful when blooming in June. Some other great hikes in the Todd Lake area include: Trimble Mountain, Sandspring Mountain, North River Gorge, and Hardscrabble Knob.
There are a couple of nice year round viewing spots, and some more during the winter months when the leaves are down. There are not a lot of good campsites on this loop, but you could do some base camping at Todd Lake or the North River primitive campground that are close by. There are also many campsites next to North River along FR95. These are our favorite secluded spots to car camp when in the Todd Lake area.
Mile 0.0 – The hike begins at the Wild Oak National Recreation Trail parking area, head back to FR95 and take a left back towards Tillman Road (gravel road) reaching it in 0.1 miles, bear left onto Tillman, reach Grooms Ridge Trail intersection on your left in 0.9 miles
Mile 1.0 – Grooms Ridge Trail (TR 424) on the left, wooden sign for trail is about 10 yards in from the road, on the opposite side of the road is room for 2 to 3 cars in the event you want to start your hike here. We wanted to get the gravel fire road walk out of the way first and not at the end of the hike.
Mile 2.6 – Climb 1250ft in 1.6 miles reaching a nice view point. This is a relentless climb with no switchbacks, catch your breath. Look for an unmarked path on the left to go down 100ft to Cameron Rocks for a nice view of Middle Mountain and over to Chestnut Ridge. This is a steep and small viewing area so be careful. Continue uphill on the Grooms Ridge Trail.
Mile 3.0 – In 0.4 miles arrive at a campsite on the left, no water source. The next section prior to reaching the pond is a little over-grown but not too bad.
Mile 5.2 – Intersection with Chestnut Ridge Trail , bear left. Grooms Ridge Trail goes straight and becomes part of the white-blazed 27 mile Wild Oak National Recreation Trail (WONRT). The Chestnut Ridge Trail is white-blazed as it is also part of the WONRT.
Mile 6.0 – Begin a steady descent on the Chestnut Ridge Trail reaching an obscured overlook in 0.8 miles. Little Bald Knob is to the northwest and Hardscrabble Knob (4282ft) almost directly to the west.
Mile 7.0 – V-intersection, Little Skidmore Trail (yellow blazed) goes straight. Take sharp left onto an unused fire road and then very quickly turn right, back onto the single track white-blazed Chestnut Ridge Trail.
Mile 7.7 – Top of Grindstone Mountain, this is the last climb of the day.
Mile 8.0 – Great view on the right looking down to Stokesville and east into the Shenandoah Valley.
We hiked this on a beautiful fall weekend, and stayed one night at the campground noted on the map. This circuit is awesome. With the most of the leaves falling, the views were so pretty.
The trailhead is easy to miss. As you are hiking up the road, it will be on your left and there's a clear yellow blaze on a tree. If you get to the Coal Run Lodge on your left, you've gone a little too far. The trail quickly begins uphill and is relentless till the top! But the views are so worth it. Be sure to take the small trail to the left for more great views. The campground noted on the map is one of only two along this hike. The other one is a couple miles from the end of the loop. There's just not a lot of flat ground to set up camp.
This hike is a GREAT workout. There are numerous inclines so if you're backpacking, just be prepared. If you hike this in summer, be aware that the trails are somewhat overgrown and ticks would be a big problem. Also, we have backpacked in a few other areas near here and night hunting seems to be common. Hounds and several men passed by and near our tent around 11pm. My hunter friend told me that this night hunting is illegal -- I would just be aware of it and maybe have reflective material or lights on your tent in case.
We came across a trail runner (who was rude) and a few other backpackers (who were nice), so the solitude is good. Looking forward to returning in winter!
Rick & Linda
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 01, 2014
Hiked this one on one of the first days above freezing in a long time. At higher elevations, the trail was still covered with snow, occasionally enough to make it rough going. We didn't see another person all day, but found a snowman someone had built along the trail! While the initial climb will get your blood going, it is not as steep anyplace as the first mile or so of the Hardscrabble hike, and we found it only moderately difficult. A very beautiful hike, especially in winter because the views from the ridgeline are wonderful.