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North River Gorge - Todd Lake, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
12.5 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:

6 hours with 1/2 hour for lunch
2,070 ft
George Washington National Forest
Todd Lake Recreation Area
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e.g.. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
These directions take you to the entrance of the GWNF.
From there follow the directions below:

After entering the GWNF paved FDR95 will veer left, stay left on FDR95 for 1.1 miles, and park on the left in the 15 car parking area. Note: there is no signage here.
Detailed Lake Todd area map (PDF)

The only loop hike that follows a river in the Todd Lake area of the GWNF, this hike has several nice view points, as well as a 4.2 mile hike along the banks of North River. The best time of the year for this circuit is in the late summer or early fall, when the river is lower. With eight fords of North River, it can be a challenge when the water is high.

From the parking area head down the yellow blazed connector trail as it descends steeply to the purple blazed North River Gorge Trail in 0.1 miles. Turn left on the purple blazed trail and ford North River in 200 yards.

NOTE: You are required to ford North River 9 more times in the final 4.2 mile section of this hike. If the river is high, it could take significantly longer than the 6 hour hike time to complete.

After fording North River the purple blazed trail turns right, and a yellow blazed connector trail turns left down river. Turn left on the yellow blazed trail, and in 0.2 miles arrive at the intersection of the white blazed Wild Oak Trail.

Turn right uphill on the white blazed trail for 0.3 miles where it meets the intersection of the 100 yard out/back lookout trail. Take the lookout trail for the best vista on the hike. After returning to the white blazed trail, continue uphill as the trail becomes increasingly steep for another 1.6 miles before arriving at the final two good vista points on the hike. The first is to the east and Harrisonburg VA, and the second in another 100 yards, to the west.

From the ridge and second vista, continue another 0.8 miles over the hike high point on Lookout Mountain, then descend to the saddle in the ridge and intersection of yellow blazed trail TR513. Continue uphill on the white blazed trail for 1.2 miles passing over another rise and arrive at the un-maintained Bear Draft Trail. Continue straight on the white blazed trail for 0.3 miles, where the trail turns right downhill following a narrow Forestry Service (FS) road for 0.2 miles to the intersection of a wider FS road.

Turn right downhill following the the FS road as it winds down to the valley in 2.0 miles. Where the FS road veers left, near the valley floor, turn right onto an unmarked grass covered FS road, and in 100 yards pass through a closed gate. Follow the FS road down to the banks of North River, and intersection of the purple blazed North River Gorge Trail.

Turn right on the purple blazed trail and in 0.3 miles make the first of 9 fords across North River. There are several nice campsites on the trail, the first just after the second ford, and a large group campsite after the 8th ford 3.6 miles from the first campsite. From the large group campsite, after the 8th ford, continue on the right side of the river to the intersection of the yellow blazed trail in another 0.1 miles.

Re-cross North River staying on the purple blazed trail for 200 yards, then turn right uphill on the yellow blazed trail for the remaining 0.1 miles back to the parking area.

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Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the North River Gorge hike:

Hiker Reviews For The North River Gorge Hike (5 Most Recent)
Review the North River Gorge hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: DrewATC Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, May 30, 2010
Great adventure.  Wasn't expecting the river to be as swollen and flowing fast as it was.  First ford across the river was the deepest (waist deep for me at 6')  Nice uphill climb for the first 90 minutes... not much traffic... one mountain biker.  Few more mountain bikers on the backside.  Unmarked trail at bottom of FS road is little tricky to find.  Once on the purple blazed North River Trail the fun begins... 1st ford is easy, 2 and 3 are challenging as the river is moving pretty good at these points, 4-6 are average , 7&8 are above average (depth and flow) and then back to the deepest ford (seemed a lot easier going back across after the other 8 crossings).  Total time was 4hrs 30 mins.  Look forward to doing this one again in late summer to compare.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, September 07, 2009
It was overall an easy hike, maybe because the water was so low. Will definitely repeat it in Spring! I parked at a small lot near North River CG where I spent the previous night.

By: Brandon Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, July 26, 2008
The forecast was only calling for the mid-up 80s, so nothing extreme. But it was Saturday, and my car was the only car in the lot both at the start and at the end.

It's a really nice combination of views and streams. The North River was really lower than I expected. You can wear sandals doing it and never get your feet wet. I would've hated to see it this time last year, when rainfall was really bad.

I hope to return again in the spring sometime, to really see the river. Combined with less foliage on the ridge, it should be a five-star.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 03, 2008
We did this as an overnight backpack but started at the North River Campground and used the "abandoned" north segment of the Bear Draft Trail to gain the ridge, doing the loop in the opposite direction as described here. It threatened rain the entire first day but it never really happend. We did 8 crossings of North River on a sunny, cool second day. They were all at least knee high and swift - challenging but fun. Even those of us who have water phobias were smiling by the last one. Overall a great hike. If you do the hike in this direction and find the river too difficult to ford backtrack beyond the turn-off for the WONRT turn-off that climbs Lookout Mt. to a suspension bridge over the river and follow the trail out to FR 95. From there you'll have to hitch a ride back to North River Campground.

Late September
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