Three Ridges is one of Virginia's most popular backpacking circuits. Situated in Central Virginia, just 30 miles southwest of Charlottesville, the hike has vista after vista along the Appalachian Trail, and many small waterfalls and pools on the Mau-Har Trail on Campbell Creek.
From the parking area at Reeds Gap, head south along the white blazed Appalachian Trail (AT) as it initially hugs the left side of a clearing. At the end of the clearing start climbing Meadow Mountain, and in 0.8 miles arrive at the top of the ridge and campsite/overlook.
Continue along the AT as it now heads downhill, and in 0.8 miles arrives at the Maupin Field Shelter, and intersection with the Mau-Har Trail that will be your return route. The shelter is not visible from this intersection, and is 100 yards downhill. Several small trails intertwine this large camping area.
At the intersection remain left, staying on the AT as it passes a small clearing. The AT will now climb and pass over Bee Mountain in 0.5 miles. Descend Bee Mountain, then climb the northern knoll of Three Ridges and arrive at the best vista of the hike.
Continue up the AT as the trail traverses the ridge before reaching the top of the second knoll in 0.8 miles, and view to the northeast. Look for an unblazed side trail on the left marking the overlook and campsite.
The AT now heads downhill from the hike highpoint, and in 0.1 miles stay right a the trail marker. Descend another 0.2 miles before making a switchback to the left. At the switchback there is another overlook. After making the switchback the AT will descend steeply for 0.8 miles, then pass around the left/north side of Chimney Rock. A faint unblazed trail ascends steeply for 25 yards, then passes around the left side of the summit to the Chimney Rock overlook.
Continue downhill on the AT for another 1.8 miles as the trail descends to the right/south of Three Ridges, then arrives at the main camping area and Harpers Creek Shelter.
Turn left downhill on the AT (opposite side of the creek from the shelter). In 0.1 miles the AT will turn right crossing Harpers Creek before heading uphill, and reaching the intersection of the blue blazed Mau-Har Trail in 0.7 miles at a small pass on the ridge.
Turn right on the blue blazed Mau-Har Trail, descend, switchback up the next ridge, then descend again and reach Campbell Creek and large camping area in 1.5 miles. There is a yellow blazed spur trail that leads downstream to a small pool and waterfall in 200 yards.
Continue upstream on the blue blazed Mau-Har Trail as it becomes steeper, crossing Campbell Creek, and making several switchbacks before arriving at Maupin Field Shelter in another 1.9 miles.
There are several trails at the shelter leading to different campsites. Continue straight past the shelter for 150 yards and reach the intersection of the AT you descended earlier.
Turn left on the AT, then in 20 yards stay right remaining on the white blazed AT. Continue uphill on the AT as it passes back over Meadow Mountain, before descending and arriving back at the parking area at Reeds Gap in 1.6 miles.
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Reviews For The Three Ridges Hike (5 Most Recent)
We started our hike on Friday (the 13th) at roughly 930am from the Reeds Gap parking lot. At that time on a weekday I was the first car in the parking lot. That is an important note as when we returned Saturday evening at 6pm the lot was full and people were parking along the highway. We decided to see what we were made of and set out Friday morning to make it to the top of the Priest by cutting down the Mau-Har Trail and eventually picking back up the AT. This was our group of 3's first time in this section of the AT and admittedly we didn't realize what we were in for. We had great weather and enjoyed our trek down the AT, transition onto and through the Mau-Har and by 130pm were connecting back on the AT heading south bound for the Priest. We stopped at the Tye River to filter/refill our water supply at 230pm and were heading up the Priest by 315pm. We reached the first scenic views on the Priest at 515pm and passed what would be our eventual camp by 6pm. There is a very nice campsite 3.5 - 4 mi up the Priest before you reach the top. At this point we were 12 mi into our trip, the up/down of it all took its toll on us and we decided to make camp and forgo the summit knowing that every mile further up the Priest was an extra mile back to Reeds Gap the next day. We had a great JetBoil/MtnHouse breakfast and were out of camp by 740am Sat. We were back down the Priest and to the Tye River Sat by 930am. We made it back up the mtn and to Harpers Creek Shelter by 12pm. Our original plan was to make it to the top of the Priest on Friday and make it back up to Maupin Field Shelter by Saturday night to camp. The counterclockwise Mau-Har loop trek on the AT back through Chimney Rock, Three Ridges and Bee Mtn was brutal. We experienced a storm front at Three Ridges with rain and a 15 degree temp drop. 10-12 mi into our day 2 and having to deal with the uphill associated with going counterclockwise on the loop was a great mental test. We made it to Maupin Field Shelter Sat at 5pm after leaving camp at 740am 4 mi up the Priest. We were 14 mi into the day and gassed. After being rained on for 3 hrs and only being 2 mi from Reeds Gap we decided to trek out. Saturday ended back at Reeds Gap, 16 mi in and my strongest test to date. The Mau-Har loop is a scenic trail with a lot of up and down. It is challenging in its own right for a day or overnight hike. Adding the Priest should not be taken lightly.
I officially do not recommend this variation of the Mau-Har Loop/Priest trek to anyone shy of peak physical condition. If you are up for a great mental/physical test - park at Reids Gap and trek day 1 to the Priest Shelter (by way of the Mau-Har, this is 13-14+ mi all up/down). Wake up day 2 and head back down/up/down/up etc. staying on the AT all the way to Maupin Field Shelter (this is 15-16+ miles all up/down). A challenging part of this section is that you have very limited flat footing and almost every step is uneven. At this point you are 2 miles from Reeds Gap which you can decide to knock out (as we did) same day or camp at Maupin and lick your wounds.
As mentioned earlier we got into much more of a hike than expected but came out stronger mentally/physically on the other side! (I will post this variation of the route in The Priest section as well)
Date of Hike: Saturday, May 07, 2016
Hiked the Three Ridges Loop from 5/7-5/9 as a three day trip since it was an introduction to backpacking for my wife. It was probably a little ambitious for a first time, but splitting it up into three days made for some relaxing down time to recover. First day arrived late afternoon, parked at Reid's Gap and hiked to Maupin Field Shelter. With all the rain from the previous week, water was plentiful. The weather for the entire trip was great lots of sun and cool breezes with a nice mountain coolness at night. There were three groups that night (a thru hiker and another couple) at the shelter. There is a bear pole at Maupin Field which we used. The next day started out just before 10am and began the clockwise loop. The long climb across Bee Mountain and then on up to the high point where the trail makes the sharp turn down to Harpers Creek. We made it to the high point just before noon after stopping a few times for some of the views and breaks for the climb. After a quick lunch we began the steep descent. The recent rain made for some slick sections, especially some of the switchbacks. I took a slide down one area after loosing my footing in the soft soil. The downhill was just as strenuous as the uphill and the knees were definately feeling it. We arrived at Harpers Creek just after 2pm. The creek was really flowing, but easily crossable with trekking poles. We camped on the side of the creek before crossing with easy access to water. After a quick recovery nap listening to the water flowing helped the spirits after the tough day. Met a few others passing the shelter, but we were the only people at Harpers Creek for the night. There is no bear pole at Harpers Creek. I use an Ursack and found a some good trees outside the camping areas. We left Harpers Creek at 9am the next day for what I knew was going to be a slow day from the other reviews. The start of the Mau-Har is well marked with about the first mile of the trail not too bad then the endless switchbacks and uphills began. Passed one small area that had been previously camped in on top of a ridge before getting to Campbell Creek. We saw a small camping area and what looked like a trail on the other side. There was a sign for the waterfalls, which we didn't visit, and someone had carved into the sign an arrow pointing to the Mar-Har. The next section had some rock scrambling which was tough at some points because areas were slick from the recent rains. The trail crosses the creek a few times in low spots farther up with steep ascents. The trail was overall marked well, with just a few places when it turned that caused a sanity check to make sure we were headed in the right direction. Popped out at Maupin Field just before noon. Had a quick snack and talked to a thru hiker getting water. Hiked back out the car and finished before 1pm.
Some takeaways the hike is hard on the legs. I run quite a bit, but my legs were feeling it from all the ups and downs. Trekking poles were extremely helpful. My wife said didn't know how she would do it if she didn't have them. Water was plentiful on the Mar-Har, so lots of places to refill if you don't want to carry as much water. I was prepared for lots of traffic on the trail given the great weather, but I was surprised we didn't see more people. Only passed two guys coming down the Mar-Har. For a beginner, the hike can be physically and mentally challenging. We wouldn't hesitate to hike this loop again, either as an overnight or again as a leisurely three day.
Date of Hike: Friday, April 29, 2016
My son and I hiked the Three Ridge A.T. trail / Mar-har loop this past weekend 4/29/16 to 4/30/16. We started the hike from Reeds Gap. We took the Mar-har side first. It was misty and foggy all day. It did have some nice water falls.We made it to Harpers Creek shelter and camped near by in our tents. The Mar-har trail was brutal to say the least! The down hill was so rough I think i'm gonna loose one of my big toe nails and I was wearing darn tough socks. I doubled my socks the second day. The second day we started from Harpers Creek back to Reeds Gap parking lot. This section was equally as brutal as the Mar-har trail if not worst. Extreme uphill and downhills! This day was so foggy and rainy too with no views. Both trail are extremely rocky and slippery. We managed to make it back to the car by 4pm completing the trail. It was probably the most physically tough thing I have ever done in my life. I can scratch that off of my bucket list. We hiked the A.T. trail!
P.S. I would not recommend this hike for anyone unless you are a professional hiker that wants a challenge.
Date of Hike: Thursday, April 28, 2016
What an incredible hike! A great combination of views and rivers. I did the trail as described by Hiking Upward. The first view is as grand as any I have seen on my 100 or so hikes. The trail continues upwards and is quite challenging. The descent is pretty steep at first and has another incredible view. The remainder of the downhill is gradual yet pretty long. The second part of the trail after the river is extremely strenuous. Be prepared. The good part is the second part of the uphill section. It goes directly uphill right next to the river.
The hike is overall quite strenuous but well worth the effort. I did it as a day hike and made it through in 7 hours at a leisurely pace including stopping by the river for lunch and some conversations with some AT through hikers. Can't wait to go back and do it in reverse.
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 26, 2016
This was our first attempt at backpacking, and it was definitely a challenge. We did the hike clockwise. The first part of the hike all the way to Harpers Creek was not too bad, although we did not come across any water from Maupin to Harpers Creek so we really should have brought more with us. Once we got to Harpers Creek there were plenty of streams for us to refill at. The Harpers Creek campsite looked a little full and we had read that there were waterfalls at Campbell's creek, so we decided to press on to camp there. That part of the hike was a lot of brutal uphill, especially for already having walked for 5 or so hours. But once we got to Campbell's Creek there was only one other group there and it was gorgeous. We were glad we pressed on. The next day we only had a few miles to go, but those few miles on the Mau Har Trail were by far the most challenging of the hike. There was one spot where we had to scoot across a tiny rock ledge which was a little scary (especially while trying to navigate a dog too). The views are incredible all along the trail. There looked to be some nice swimming holes around Campbell's Creek which I bet are really nice in the summer. All in all this hike was probably a little too much for first time backpackers who aren't in great shape, but the views were worth several days of sore muscles.