This is a great little hike not too far from Charlottesville and is the newest park in the Albemarle County Park system. It was donated by the Byrom family to be used as a county park. There is a nice vista at the Gibson Mountain Overlook at about the halfway mark, and is a great workout to get there climbing 1200 feet in 2.1 miles for the payoff. At one point in the hike, if you hiked almost directly north, you would be only 1.4 miles from Loft Mountain Campground in Shenandoah National Park. Trail intersections are well marked, however there are no trail blazes.
The drive to the trail head will remind you of many of the trails in SNP as you drive on Brown's Gap Turnpike and cross over Doyle's River.
Mile 0.0 – The trail begins just behind the information kiosk and starts to climb very quickly on the Great Mountain Trail. In 0.5 miles there will be a view of the creek on the left.
Mile 0.6 – Bear right onto the Blue Ledge Trail and very quickly you will bear to the left to stay on the trail.
Mile 1.0 – Small bridge, not far after the bridge bear right onto the Little Flat Mountain Loop trail.
Mile 1.4 – Reach a Picnic Table. Follow sign to continue up the Little Flat Mountain Loop trail. Note: From the picnic table if you hiked directly north you would reach Loft Mountain Campground in 1.4 miles, it would be one tough hike with over 1400' feet of elevation gain. There is no trail, we just mapped it out on our topo software from that point to see how close we were.
Mile 2.1 – Arrive at the Gibson Mountain Overlook looking south to the parking area and Blackwell Hollow. There is a nice bench to take in the views and catch your breath. Continue on the trail and quickly bear to the left and start heading down.
Mile 2.3 – Catfish Rock on the left, big rock, no views.
Mile 2.4 – Intersection with Blackwell's Trail. If you continued straight on the Little Flat Mountain Loop, it is a very steep descent. We did both trails and recommend Blackwell's Trail.
Mile 2.6 – Continue on Blackwell's Trail, there is supposed to be a Winter View here, we did not see much but maybe there was still too many leaves on the trees.
Mile 3.3 – Reach intersection of Little Flat Mountain Loop trail again and bear to the left.
Note: This is where we hiked back up Little Flat Mountain Loop trail to see how tough it would be coming down that way and is why we made our recommendation at Mile 2.4.
Mile 3.6 – Little Flat Mountain Loop trail bears to the left, stay straight to continue to the Great Mountains Trail.
Mile 3.8 – Reach the Great Mountains Trail and continue down to the parking lot.
Mile 4.3 – Parking Lot, end of hike.
Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Monday, October 15, 2018
Overall a decent hike, and a nice resource not too far from Charlottesville. Did the hike as described, however Blackwell's trail was blocked 1/10 of a mile down the trial by a large fallen tree, and it was clear that the trail is not used as much as others so may not be maintained as well. I had to backtrack back to Little Flat Mountain Loop to head back down the mountain, and that trail is very steep at times with loose rock, as it appears to be an old road or ATV trail. A walking stick or pole is highly recommended. The entire hike ended up being 4.3 miles and took me exactly two hours. The view at Gibson was decent this time of year, but this is definitely not a destination summit hike. Only saw one other couple with a dog at 4pm on a Monday.
Date of Hike: Thursday, March 29, 2018
A good hike. This seems a relatively new park, dedicated in 2011 I think. The trails still look freshly cut and are fairly smooth. Not much in the way of erosion control that I can tell -- I hope the trails hold up. I think there is a new, big, switchback now in place that does not appear on the park map nor on the GPS track. It's right before the picnic table at the described 1.4 mile point. It adds about 0.2 miles to the hike so the picnic table is now closer to the 1.6 mile point. This may address some concerns with steepness. Don't worry that it is not on the map -- you can't miss it. On a couple of other places be careful not to veer off the trail -- at some curves that's easy to do onto a smaller "unofficial' trail. Just stay on the bigger trail and you'll be OK. The trails are not blazed. Also, the trail map does not name all segments -- sometimes two trails join into one and you can't tell from the map which one you are still on. And there are not that many guideposts. As other reviews indicated, there is more horse manure on these trails than I have seen on any other in the mid-Atlantic region. Signs in the parking area tell equestrians to "leave no trace," but to little avail. Also, some were walking dogs off-leash in violation of the rules.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 17, 2017
This is a great hike for folks in the Charlottesville area if you don't want to drive up to Shenandoah, but it is steep.
My family (middle school/HS aged kids) and I have now hiked it twice - once in May, once in September. In May we went counterclockwise around the outer loop, and for me, with knees that have trouble on the downhills, it was tough, as we hit the straight (no switchbacks) steep part on the downhill. In September, we hiked clockwise, and this was much, much better since we hit the steep part with no switchbacks on the uphill - it's really steep and aerobically challenging - but we knew it would be a climb going in. The downhill steep part going clockwise meant switchbacks, which saved my knees. The only issue is that in September there were a HUGE number of acorns on the path between the summit and Crooked Tree, and it was like walking on ball bearings on occasion - no one fell, but you need to be careful.
I'd like to go back when the leaves are down, for better views.
Ticks were bad in the spring, but not in September (though we did use a higher DEET spray in September)
Date of Hike: Thursday, April 13, 2017
As rated, overall a nice hike with nice views as long as the leaves are off. I was there on a weekday and had the whole place to myself except for some workers next to the parking lot. Take heed to what they are saying about the steepness. It isn't a long distance to the top, but there are sections with grades that left me gasping for air. I'm a believer in the saying "hiking uphill gets you tired, hiking downhill gets you hurt." I hiked down the Little Flat trail on the west side. It seems to be an old jeep trail they inherited, but there are sections I'll swear are over 25% grades. I then hiked back up Blackwell for a comparison. The trail narrative is accurate and I'll also recommend Blackwell. If do you hike down Little Flat, please be careful. Twice I slipped on lose materials and landed on my ass, but no injury except my ego.
Date of Hike: Thursday, June 30, 2016
It is a good short hike, the trees provide excellent shade for a summer hike. I'll echo the previous reviewer that commented regarding the lack of switchbacks making for a near constant ascent, and descent. The deer tick and Lone Star tick population however is BOOMING there. I do not exaggerate when I say my daughter, my dog and myself had over 40 ticks. I was still pulling them off hours later, and now every time I feel a little tickle on my skin I get a little panicked...
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 17, 2016
Nice climb towards highest point where you can take a break and enjoy the view on a bench. The surrounding country is very beautiful. Clear evidence that the path is being just by horses too...Big bummer was the three ticks (Lone Star and Dog Ticks?) that came home with us, one fell out of clothing and two where on my daughter's scalp, hiding under the hair on the back of her head. We have been hiking in the Shenandoah area for several years now, but this is the first time we've encountered them. Be aware (wearing long pants is not sufficient)!
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 19, 2015
Beautiful hike and other reviews are comprehensive, though I was disappointed to find that this is another trail that horse riders are not using horse manure catchers. If you ride, please be responsible and follow Leave No Trace principles.
Date of Hike: Saturday, February 7, 2015
I really appreciate people like Patrician Ann Byrom for donating their land for others to enjoy. This trail would be best hiked when leaves are off the trees. Don't let the short distance fool you, there are very few switch backs on this mountain, so up you climb. The view from the top was beautiful. There are benches along with way for people who wish to sit and enjoy nature. The park is in the process of building another trail. I walked the unfinished trail for about a mile. The best part of this hike is the drive....beautiful country...