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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)
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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: 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.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, July 21, 2017
I hiked this as layed out on the map. Definitely a strenuous hike but not that bad. The mah-haur trail was a lot of up and down and could have used some switch backs in places. I stayed at the second shelter for the night and it was nice. The first view was the best. I ran into a mother and baby bear on the mah har trail so that was a bonus. Over all it was a nice hike and enjoyed it very much.

By: Mat S. Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, July 01, 2017
I hiked this loop years ago as a 2 night backpacking trip with some friends, and it was great. The downhill off the ridge on the clockwise loop is pounding on the knees on day 2. but great campsites all around the shelters and the stream near the falls.

This time I took the wife and we did this entire loop counterclockwise in 7.5 hours. It was a strenuous day for sure, but we are not the fittest hikers around. In July, the AT after the Mau-Har trail is very overgrown, at times wobbly rocks near small streams. But if you attempt this as a day hike, please fill up near the falls before going uphill towards the main ridge. If I were to do this again in summer, I'd carry 2 liters, and still fill up at the falls. We were dry for about 2 mi before we returned to the Maupin Field Shelter. where the water source was good and clear (bring a scoop). All-said, this rotation doesn't give any views until about half way near the Chimney Rock Overlook, which for us was midday and nero shade was to be found. Great day hike to test your fitness level, and trail sense.

Side note... if you are backpacking this loop in summer. Please leave the shelters for AT Thru Hikers, I noticed too many "weekenders" using the shelters to sleep in. poor form.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, June 25, 2017
Pretty great hike, very difficult. We meant to do the hike as described but we put in the alternate start point coordinate points by accident and decided we would just start from there. This was very challenging. We did the 10 miles the first day, the majority of which was uphill, and camped at the campsites near the Mau-Har shelter. There were bear hooks and plenty of water. The next day we came back to our car via the Mau-Har trail (which was also strenuous, lots of water again) and it was a total of 5 miles from campsite to parking lot. The final vista before camp headed north was incredible. The other vistas were solid but didnt compare to this one. Worth the drive, highly suggest it.

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