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Three Ridges - Nellysford, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
14.4 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
2 Days: 5.0hrs-7.3mls Day1, 4.5hrs-7.1mls Day2
3,960 ft
George Washington National Forest
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Park at the intersection of VA664 and the Blue Ridge Parkway
Alternative Start Point: Appalachian Trail Parking Lot (37.838437,-79.023239) on Route 56, parking for about 12-15 cars. Proceed across the road, head north on the A.T., cross the Tye River Suspension Bridge, stay on A.T. until the Mau-Har trail intersection. Decide whether to do the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. 37.90146, -78.98526

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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Hiker Reviews For The Three Ridges Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the Three Ridges hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, September 23, 2016
This is a difficult hike with the elevation as well as the rocky terrain. You are either going up or coming down - there is no level mountain ground on this trail. The temps were quite warm (mid-80s) and humid, despite it being fall. The weather coupled with the trail difficulty made for an exhausting trip. Your first day is actually around 8 miles (from the parking lot to the Harper's Creek Shelter campsite). The second day is about 6 miles (returning to the parking lot). There are a few campsites along the AT portion of the trail on Day 1, but there is ZERO water until you get to Harper's Creek Shelter. On Day 2 there is plenty of water along the Mau-Har blue blazed trail, along with a few small campsites. The views were pretty, but I don't think they outweighed the trail difficulty. Let's just say that I can cross this trail off my list.

By: Vimak Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 13, 2016
Drove down from DC for the hike Friday night and hiked in to meet a friend at the first camping spot about 0.8 miles in. It was about a twenty minute hike in the dark. Saturday we hiked the bulk of the hike, there were beautiful vistas off the AT in the early part and deep springs with swimming holes later. We camped on the Mau-Tai trail, at the first campsite on the creek. Sunday left us with about 2.5 hours till the parking lot.

It was incredibly hot and humid. We were constantly sweating.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, June 07, 2016
I have been slowly gathering backpacking gear over the last year and decided I needed to put it to the test for my 41st birthday. I hiked Three Ridges and Mau-Har clockwise over 2 days, camping by Harpers Creek shelter for the night. I had great weather and passed many through hikers going down Three Ridges. In my youth I did quite a bit of backpacking but have not been on the trail, overnight in over 20 years. To say this was a reminder I am getting old (or at least spending too much time at my desk) is an understatement. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of my burning cardio system as I struggled up the hills and my not as springy shock absorbers (knees and hips) on my way down. I took my time (and lots of breaks) to enjoy the scenery and let my body catch up with my mind. I completed the first day in a bit over 5 hours (guessing I averaged 1.5 mph) and the second day in about the same time.

This trail certainly challenges the body if you are not used to moving but I thoroughly enjoyed being on the trail again and am already planning my next adventure. 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, May 13, 2016
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)

By: Rating: 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.

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Late April
Photo courtesy of Mollie
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