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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: nort Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, November 10, 2017
Hiked this as a day hike with my son. This is a fantastic hike! It has it all: views, waterfalls, wildlife, everything. This time of year was great because the leaves were mostly off the trees at elevation, so there were decent views on the ridges and not just at the overlooks. It rained the day before we hiked and the streams were running--there was plenty of water everywhere. The cascades at Harpers Creek Shelter were beautiful, and the waterfalls on the Mau-Har were even better. The only downside to this one is that it is very popular and we saw a lot of people out there. Hiking out on Friday evening, there must have been 30-40 people camping out there around the two shelters despite the forecast low of 18 degrees. This is one of the best hikes in the mid-atlantic--don't miss it.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, October 04, 2017
With a twist... Hiked 10/3 through 10/6 - 3 night

I added an out and back to the Priest. You are already here, so why not...

Started at Reed's Gap, hiked to Harper's shelter via the AT, and settled in for an early night. The creek wasn't moving much, but there is water to drink. Also, the owls were incredible all night.

Left Harper's and went up to the Priest shelter. There is 1 creek bed along the ascent with plenty of water, so pack light when you leave Harper's and resupply about 1 mile south of rt 56.

On the ascent of the Priest you are going to ask yourself, "why did I do this..." but, the view at the 1/2 way point and the other at the 7/8 point will remind you why you did it. Oh, and the roughly 2 year bear cub near the creek will give you some enjoyment.

The Priest shelter water source is barley holding on, but still sufficient for a stay. There were lots of deer wandering around at night, and I found fresh bear poop in the morning. Not sure what time it came through, but sorry I missed it!

Heading back down the Priest is quick. Pack light, but restock on water at the same creek bed you hit on the ascent. This water will need to get you about 4 miles.

Cross 56 heading north, and then take the Mau-Har. About 1.5 miles in, stay at the campsite established where the "falls" sign is located. The stream will give you plenty of water, and the owls again will hoot all night.

Leave the camp and continue north on the Mau-Har back out to Reed's Gap.

This was a great "get away" hike. Pretty strenous, but fun. Tons of wildlife, and great sights.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, September 23, 2017
This circuit is definitely for experienced hikers. My significant other and I went on a 2-day, 1-night backpacking trip this past hot Fall weekend (9/23 – 24/2017). We arrived at the trailhead at 11:35 AM on Saturday and the parking area was nearly full! We hiked the trails as shown on the maps. The “2” rating for Solitude is spot on, as we could not go more than 30 minutes without seeing anyone. Many people who passed us were hiking the trail as part of a very long day hike. After spending an hour at the vista overlook, we arrived at the Harpers Creek campsite by 6:00 and made sure our tents were up before nightfall set in.

We left the campsite by 10:45 AM and made it back to my car by 2:10 PM on Sunday.

We were confused about the directions through the Maupin Field Shelter, as it took us 15-minutes to understand what “Continue straight past the shelter for 150 yards” meant. In actuality, you want to bare right and take the second trail option (the trail that leads to more campsites, after the one that leads to the outhouse).

The biggest takeaways is that it really it is a strenuous hike, with some views (the best view being the first vista view [the first camera icon]). There are many more “inclines” or “ascends” throughout the AT and the Mau-Har Trail, that the description does not mention. There was very limited water at Harpers Creek campsite. You really are rolling the dice if you completely run out of water before getting to this shelter. Case in point, there was one couple that passed us early Sunday morning as they scrambled to find a water source at the Campbell Creek campsite, which was about 3.5 miles away!

I agree with CJP in regards to spending an overnight camping weekend elsewhere.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, August 06, 2017
Did this as a training hike for a trip out west. It's tough to find a circuit hike with 4000+ feet of climbing, but this one fit the bill! I carried my 30 pound pack, and it was definitely a tough day. The first uphill was fine with the reward of great views. I got a little nervous for a bit in the downhill because the trail was overgrown and I thought I had lost it, but eventually I saw another white blaze. The downhill was LONG and brutal, and I felt sympathy for those (trail runners and hikers with packs) coming up that side. By the time I got to the falls, I was too tired to enjoy them so I just kept plugging along. The part I was not expecting was coming up from the falls. Super steep, rock scrambling, slow moving for about a mile. It then flattens out a bit and you still have to climb, but it's much more forgiving. I hike on the faster side, but it still took me just over 5 hours of moving time to finish the loop, plus I had a bunch of 5 minute breaks, so I got back to my car at about 6 hours. My GPS watch put the distance at 13.2 miles. I don't know if I do this again unless I needed to train for something else. Tough hike with minimal views other than I'm the beginning.

By: CJP Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, August 04, 2017
My son and I did part of this hike yesterday and today. For whatever reason, it is a very popular circuit hike.

I would basically describe the hike as this:
1. It is uphill
2. There's a view (which is no big can see better easier)
3. It's downhill
4. There's a campsite
5. It's uphill
6. it's over

This hike was not pleasurable. For the first 4.2 miles it is up hill probably 3.5 miles of it. After that, it is almost purely downhill for Harper's Creek shelter for the next 3.2 miles. But it is no easy downhill. You are walking on lot's of rocks. I understand this is all part of the AT and kudos to those who keep it cleared. But if you are looking for a nice weekend circuit hike and want to camp, I don't recommend this. I recommend you go to a State park or National park and pitch a tent or hammock and then do all the trails around there. Much more enjoyable.

If you are a thru-hiker on the AT, you have to deal with this and worse. But for a weekend hike, there's much better options. And that's what leaves me bewildered as to why this hike is so popular.

If you are an inexperienced hiker or are not in good shape...THEN DON'T DO THIS HIKE! I do HIIT and Peak Fitness 3-5x per week and have done other hikes and found this hike grueling. Yes, if you have good stamina it will be easier...but I don't see the pleasure in it like I've had in other hikes on Skyline Drive and State parks.

So, we did the first half, camped and then hiked out to Rte. 56 and had my wife pick us up. There was no way I was hiking mostly uphill for 7.3 miles...just not worth it.

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