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St Mary's Wilderness - BRP, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
10.1 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
6.0 hrs plus a half hour for lunch
2,190 ft
15.5 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
9.0 hrs plus a half hour for lunch
3,110 ft
George Washington National Forest
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e.g.. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
The parking area will be receded on a gravel road 70 yards from the Blue Ridge Parkway.
37.91163, -79.08680

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.

Both Hikes:
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.)

Both Hikes:
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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Hiker Reviews For The St Mary's Wilderness Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Keith Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, May 08, 2015
Great info in this trail guide. I had a beginner with me on a weekend trip so we stayed in the river valley and didn't do the ridge loop. Holy Rattlesnakes! Close encounters with 2 timber rattlers that required bushwacks to avoid as they certainly stand their ground.

By: Roger Wright Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 11, 2015
We just did the short hike to the falls and back. It was beautiful weather and a great little hike. I brought my small dog along and he got his first swimming lesson. I will definitely be back to do this hike again. Nexty time I'll do the longer hike.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, April 10, 2014
Western part is DANGEROUS!!!

I started from the far west parking area (the dotted section of the map following st mary's river).  The trail is quite narrow and about a mile into it, you are leaning on a steep embankment, holding on to roots to avoid falling 20'.  There were two other parties who traversed this section more easier than we did, but they were going out for two hours and had almost no gear.  This was near impossible with a 30 lbs pack.  After a little bit more you have to ford the river, or more accurately ford the rapids.  The rapids were up to my knees and my son his hips.  He would have gotten swept away if he was not tied to me.  I was scared.  You have to ford the rapids two more times after that.  Even further, part of the trail was washed out and we had to do more root holding, this time to avoid falling 40-60'.  After passing the split to the falls, the trail was safe but overgrown.  Crawling under fallen tree while exhausted with a pack was no treat.   It was getting dark and we had not yet reached mine bank trail so we camped for the night in the first spot possible.  In the morning we broke camp and decided to continue on but after about an hour, but the trail was so overgrown we decided to abort and turned around. 

Unfortunately, this was my oldest son's first non-car camping experience and it wasn't fun one.

By: Branden Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, November 16, 2013
I have hiked St. Mary's about 5 times now and have tried a few different routes. For this hike we were looking for a nice backcountry camping site so we headed down from the parking lot to St. Mary's Trail. We hung a right on St. Mary's and went about a half mile to the big group camping site. The next morning we hiked back towards the junction of mine bank run and St. Mary's we stashed our packs and then hiked to the falls. About 2/3 of the way from this junction until St. Mary's Gorge trail there is a side trail that some people have used to cut the distance to the falls. We took it, I do not recommend it for anybody who is not in GREAT shape. If you have children with you this trail could be treacherous for them. It is really only a trail for about 100 ft and then you are scaling down cliffs with very thick brush. Once we reached the river it was a relatively short hike to the falls. They were b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l with a lot of water running over. As a side not if you are a rock climber this would be a great place to come as there are some great rock cliffs to climb right next to the falls. There are also a ton of camping spots between St Mary's Trail and St. Marys Gorge trail.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 05, 2013
This hike was a lot of fun, however it is not an intermediate hike! The trail has not be maintained and is over grown in many places. The elevation change alone is difficult for an inexperienced hiker, I consider myself to be an intermediate hiker and have had experience camping and hiking on variety of trails. Myself and three friends began the hike on 10/05/2013 at about 8 am we reached the summit at about 5pm and made camp off one of the jeep trails. The original plan was to continue the loop the next day, however we were unable to find the trail that brought us into the second half of the loop so we opted to hike back the way we came. Again the hike was a blast, it was beautiful and we couldn’t have picked a better time to do it. Our packs weighed between 28-52lbs, in the end we hiked 14.87 miles, 1922 ft. of ascent, 1719 ft. of descent. There were several water crossings within the first few miles because the trail has been washed away, so if you are not a fan of getting wet this is not the trail for you. The trail is also very narrow in many parts, being able to hold your footing and navigate on small ledges is very important. Unless your children and pets are experienced climbers I would not call this a family hike. One other portion of the trail that is worth mentioning is that in several parts you will find yourself on your hands and knees climbing up hills because of how steep they are. Again, we had a blast- two of the people we went with had hiked this part of St. Mary’s Wilderness several times and were very familiar with the area. Going with people who had been before was a huge advantage and I feel it would have been difficult to have done it without that experience. The tail is beautiful and the views are breath taking, I highly recommend this trail to those that are will to work a little!

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Late June
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