A reclaimed old iron ore mining area, St. Mary's Wilderness has an abundance of diverse scenery from waterfalls, fern forests, open meadows, valley vistas, and high mountain wetlands, in Virginia's largest designated wilderness area. No wonder it's one of the most popular circuit hikes in the northern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Note: The trails in St Mary's Wilderness are no longer blazed.
From the parking area, start down the narrow trail just to the left of the bulletin kiosk (not the wider road continuing past the closed gate), and walk 150 yards to the intersection of the Mine Bank Creek and Bald Mountain trails. Turn left downward on the Mine Bank Creek Trail as it descends into the valley, crossing Mine Creek several times, then passes through a rhododendron area before ending at the intersection for the St. Mary's River Trail in 1.9 miles.
For The Additional 5.5 Mile Out/Back To St. Mary's Falls:
Turn left downstream on the St. Mary's River Trail passing several campsites before reaching the intersection of the St. Mary's Falls Trail in 1.9 miles. Note: There is no camping permitted beyond this point. Turn right upstream fording St. Mary's River passing several swimming holes before there is a blowout on the trail in 0.4 miles. Follow the footpath to the left of the blowout that leads around the blockage back to the trail. At 0.6 miles from the last intersection the trail appears to end at a cliff about 15ft above the river. Climb down, re-ford the river, and climb up a steep bank. The falls are just ahead from this point. To continue, retrace your steps back to the intersection of the Mine Bank Creek and St. Mary's River Trails. (Thanks to MRHyker for the St. Mary's Falls trail notes.)
If you did the out/back to St. Mary's Falls continue straight on the St. Mary's River Trail. If you are doing the shorter hike, turn right onto the St. Mary's River Trail from the Mine Bank Trail.
Shortly cross a creek before passing a campsite on the left in 0.2 miles. Continue along the trail for another 0.2 miles, cross another creek, then directly ahead over a small mound is a large group camping area. Stay right climbing steeply for 50 yards and pass another campsite before reaching the main St. Mary's River Trail intersection in 0.1 miles.
Turn left (turning right would lead the 0.1 miles back to the stream crossing you just made), and follow the trail as it becomes considerably more overgrown with rhododendron before climbing out of the valley. The trail will level out in 2.0 miles from the last intersection and arrive at the Green Pond area. There is a bulletin board kiosk on the left, and following the small trail on the right leads to a multi-tent camping area. Look for a small trail that leads to Green Pond here.
Return to the bulletin kiosk and continue on the St. Mary's River Trail and pass another pond view on the right in 50 yards, then arrive at what looks like a trail intersection. Continue straight and in 100 yards the trail will veer right. Continue for the remaining 0.1 miles on the St. Mary's River Trail where it ends at Forestry Service (FS) Road 162.
Turn right. Note:FS162 is open to motorized traffic. Be prepared to see 4x4 vehicles and dirt bikes. Follow FS162 for 1.2 miles as it descends then climbs to the high point of Flint Mountain.
150 yards from the high point on FS162 there is a Forestry Service side grade used to clear debris. Look for an unmarked trail on the left that in 100 yards goes to the best vista of the hike. The view is of Kennedy Creek, with Kennedy Ridge on the left, and Kelly Mountain on the right. Return to FS162 and turn left continuing to descend the mountain. Follow the forestry road for another 1.9 miles, passing several campsites with views before arriving at a split in the road.
Stay right and in 0.4 miles, just before FS162 bears left, look for a single post and unmarked trail on the right. This is the Bald Mountain Trail, and is not marked at the junction. Turn right onto the Bald Mountain Trail as it descends the valley and arrives at a small campsite at its low point in 0.9 miles. Continue as it starts climbing back towards the ridge, then arrives at an unmarked trail intersection in 0.9 miles from the campsite.
Stay right for another 0.2 miles back to the intersection of the Mine Bank Creek Trail. Turn left uphill for the remaining 150 yards to the parking area.
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Reviews For The St Mary's Wilderness Hike (5 Most Recent)
My wife and another couple hiked St. Mary's this past weekend (11/17/12 - 11/18/12) with much enjoyment. We hiked about 5 miles in and camped over night, and then hiked five miles out the next day. It was about 48 degrees as a high and 30 as a low. This would be an awesome hike in the Spring/Summer with longer day light hours to be able to enjoy more of the out doors. The second day of hiking was pretty difficult, hiking along the beautiful waterfalls was great, but a good workout trying to get up the mountain and back to the car before dark.
Given that it was dark by 4:45pm we couldn't hang out and eat lunch at one of the nicer views, so we suggest getting an early start to provide plenty of time. The night was pretty cold, so be prepared to start a nice sized fire and enjoy hanging out around it, because you will freeze this time of year with out it.
Overall great hike, we can't wait to go back and see the larger falls.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 02, 2012
We hiked up to Saint Marys Falls yesterday June 2, 2012, and it was spectacular. However, the trail is mostly washed out from hurricane Isabel. You have to cross back and forth accross the river which was high due to Friday nights torrential rain of 3". It was almost impossible to keep your feet dry by stepping of slippery stones above the water line. The trail is not blazed and you mainly have to try to follow the river. Some of the hikers wore hiking sandals and just forded the river, but we were thankful to have heavy soles walking on sharp rocks and high tops for ankle support. There are shear cliffs and rock slide areas where the trail is washed out and very difficult to traverse. We lost the trail many times and came accross bits and pieces of it on both sides. I read about the trash and brought trash bags and picked up trash left by inconsiderate hikers. In spite of the no camping signs everywhere, at least 5 groups of 6 or more were camping. The old iron mine was very interesting, we saw an old wter wheel bearing pillar as well as old steel cables and iron bars pounded into the rock for some purpose. There must have been a dam and water powered rock crushing mill. The coal road goes all the way up to rt. 664 by Sherando, about 17 miles. There must have been a coal mine there somewhere. There is an old furnace on the side of the mountain neatr Sherando. I read in Virginia Wildlife that these type of chimney furnaces sent a huge plume of fire out of the top which reminded the Italian imigrant minersw of Mount Vesuvius eruption, thus the name of the nearby town of Vesuvius.
Date of Hike: Thursday, May 17, 2012
Saint Mary's has a little of everything- rushing water and streams, old history relics, varied terrain, and a nice view off the main trail. Hiking this special wilderness area in the middle of May was spectacular as the Mountain Laurel, Rhododendron, and many wildflowers were in bloom. The waters were high, but easily crossable. I stuck to the 11 mile loop and didn't detour to the main waterfall- last time I tried that, it was somewhat treacherous and I got lost a few times- save that for a another day and don't start on the BRP. Definitely bring a good map or GPS. The other great thing about this area is Green Pond. It's pretty rare to find a peat bog like this in Virginia and the surrounding flora and fauna is worth seeing. There were orchids, frogs, cranberry- lots of interesting things to discover. The length is just right for a full days worth of exploring and getting some great exercise. Highly recommended.
Date of Hike: Friday, December 30, 2011
I've done (part of) the hike described here 4 times the last year as day-hikes, and have developed a love-hate relationship with this trail (hence the 3 stars). I start at the parking lot off of St. Mary's Rd, the point furthest downstream from the falls, hike up to the falls, then backtrack to St Mary's Falls Trail up to Green Pond, then reverse back out to the parking lot.
The Love parts: Beautiful scenery, especially in late spring with mtn laurel and rhododendron in bloom. After a good rain fall the river is up, the rush and roar of it is beautiful against the backdrop of the vertical mountain faces. Lots of interesting geological features. In summer time, some good swimming holes. Good wildlife sightings (saw a black bear last year 30 yards away, some snakes, deer). Usually pretty quiet and folks are friendly.
The Hate: Quite a bit of trash back here (empty bottles...water and beer), makes me mourn for humanity treating the environment this way. Moreover, I've encountered far too many hunters back here--mainly in the fall and winter time (hunting season). I've got no problem with hunters or the concept of hunting. It's just that I find it somewhere between disconcerting and not at all enjoyable to be in the vicinity of a pack of rabidly barking hunting dogs. And being withing earshot of gunshots makes me nervous ...hunting accidents happen. The hunters I've encountered have been friendly enough, and I'd like to assume they take proper safety precautions. But if I'm not going to be at ease, then I'd rather pick another place to hike.
In summary, can be beautiful and enjoyable--especially in summer. But you might wanna think twice before venturing out here during hunting season...if you just want to go on a quiet hike
Date of Hike: Saturday, November 05, 2011
Did this as an overnight and hiked it in reverse as what is shown. Camped on the St. Mary's River trail towards the falls. This hike has alot of neat scenery and alot to look at if you care to get off the trail and look for it. One thing that made this trail not 5 stars is the fact that is no longer blazed and has seen alot of use which has created many false trails that look like where you should be going. You WILL take the wrong trail at least once. If you watch your map you will notice fairly quick that you took the wrong one. The river crossing to the falls is also fairly deep with no way to rock hop. You will need to shed your boots and cross barefoot or sandals. You will also need to cross alot of downed trees on the trail from the hurricane. There is no steady maintance of the trail. Overall a great place to backpack because of the enormous amount of camping spots and plenty of water.