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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.

Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Three Ridges hike:

Hiker Reviews For The Three Ridges Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Matthew Growney Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 20, 2018
I've done this hike twice now first on 6/23/18 - 6/24/18 Clockwise and again on 10/20/18 - 10/21/18 counterclockwise. As best as I can tell the millage is recorded incorrectly here and elsewhere. I've seen three claims stating GPS tracked the mileage between 16.3-16.5 miles. I don't think I would be able to complete this as a day hike, at least not with the 3 hour car ride to and from the trailhead. Both times I camped at Harpers Creek, both times it was very crowded. The trailhead parking lot at Reid's Gap has also been crowded both times where I was barely able to squeeze my little civic into the last available spot. PLEASE don't leave large spaces between vehicles, others are likely to come behind you and the extra few feet adds up. The hike is very challenging though I think I preferred counter clockwise simply due to my knee killing me on the descents heading SB on the AT the first go around. The best views aren't at the summits but along the ridge walks in between so be sure to enjoy them. There is signage for a Waterfall near the campsites at Campbell creek but for the life of me I could not find it. After the Switchback heading SB on the AT there is a boulder field where there don't seem to be any white blazes on the AT but there are a couple heading NB as I noticed this last time. There are a couple of water sources along the ridges, but they are not reliable so I've been told. Finally the Mau-Har Trail is pretty technical along with parts of the AT coming down to or up from Harpers Creek opposite of the Mau-Har Trail. Trekking Poles are your friend -)

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, May 12, 2018
My sister and I did this hike as an overnight. We hiked from Reids Gap, camped at Harpers Creek and returned via Mau Har Trail. We started on the trail about 11am and got to Harpers Creek Shelter around 6:45pm. Obviously we took several breaks and arent the speediest of hikers, it was also over 90 degrees. This was my first time hiking a "5" rated difficult trail and it proved to be pretty hard but rewarding. Most of the inclines are very steep- with that being said, I couldn't imagine hiking up to the overlook from Harpers Creek, but thats just me :) It was hotter than normal on the first day, about 90, and required more water and breaks than normal. Our packs were pretty heavy because we hauled in our own water. We weren't expected the steep .8 incline at the beginning of the trail but making it to the overlook after a few more inclines was a perfect place for a snack and time to relax. I ultimately needed some shade though since it was so hot. Hiking down to Harpers Creek was a steep steady downhill with lots of rocks- my calves will be sore for days. Arriving at Harpers Creek was blissful- flowing creek and plenty of camp sites. The firepits are built well and it was amazing to fall asleep listening to the creek. We took a dip the next morning and set off for the waterfalls at Campbell Creek. This was by far the most rewarding part of the trip in my opinion. There were a few steep inclines to get to the falls, but a perfect spot to take another dip and eat some lunch. There is an abundance of greenery and shade and more than one spot along the trail for swimming holes. Hiking along Campbell Creek was strenuous but I enjoyed the uphill rock scrambling much better than simply walking uphill. I had to stop multiple times (my sister was getting annoyed) to take pictures and videos of all the waterfalls and wish we had more time to swim. The cold water felt amazing! There were still some strenuous parts after this and a long break at the Maupin shelter was much needed before the last little haul back to Reids Gap. The downhill definitely took a toll on my calves but it was worth it. There were millipedes everywhere and they seemed to want to hang out on the exact spot of a rock or tree that you need to grab a hold of so watch out for accidentally knocking them off :) We saw a baby snake, butterflies, toads, and lots of little critters. Not sure if I'd do the whole thing again in its entirety, but I would definitely visit the waterfalls again.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 28, 2018
Did this as a solo 2 night/2.5(?) day backpacking loop. Got to the parking area at Reid's Gap around 8pm on Friday evening (like Banjo below, I was coming from DC), and got one of the last spots in the main lot. It had been a long day so I just planned on setting up camp at one of the first sites I found. Hiked up about half a mile and found a small site off to the left of the trail perfect for a one man tent. Doesn't look like it gets used that often, as there wasn't a totally clear trail to it and the fire circle was unusable without a bit of TLC, but the site met my needs. There is a larger site, about 100 yards to the South, but that was already occupied by about 8 loud drunk dudes, which made for a bit of an annoying night. Luckily there was a steady bit of wind up on the ridge so it wasn't totally silent. It was a full moon so even without a fire I still had enough light to not immediately get in the tent, but there are no real views from here. The partiers went to sleep around 10, as did I. Woke up around 6am Saturday hoping to get some sort of view of the sunrise, and caught a decent one through the trees. Packed up camp by 7:30am and headed south on the AT, passing a few nice campsites on either side of the trail. Some very cool rock formations right on the trail to climb around if you feel like killing some time in the morning. Got down to the Maupin Field Shelter not long after, and with the weather for the weekend looking incredible, it was tent city in the entire area, with the shelter being full as well. Topped off my water from the creek behind the shelter (was flowing very nicely from the rain during the week), and talked to a few hikers mingling about. I decided I wanted waterfalls my first day and the view from the top of Three Ridges on the last day. I'll summarize my choice at the end of the review, but from this point I set off south on the Mau Har Trail. So if you plan on hiking this clockwise, read my review backwards :) Absolutely loved the hike next to Campbell Creek. Trail was in great shape and the terrain was interesting. Because of the said rain, the creek was flowing nicely, but not too hard to cross. A few downed trees, and I was leapfrogging with some of the Old Dominion Trail maintenance guys who were scouting for doing trail repair this upcoming weekend, very cool chatting with them. As a photographer I had my gear with me and stopped a ton to take photos of the falls, very pretty with the full water flow. Got down to the trail split that goes down to the waterfall (can confirm, there is a sign there on your right.) I was questioning time, so I decided to skip the yellow blazed waterfall trail, and push on, as I knew I was going to stop for more photos along the way. Passed maybe three other solo hikers, but overall had the trail to myself. I got to the intersection of the Mau Har Trail and the AT at 12:30, and had a huge decision to make. Either hike to the Harpers Creek shelter and set up camp way early, or add some mileage and head down the AT south to the Tye River. Highly recommend this if you have extra time. The suspension bridge is very cool, and a great spot for lunch. I met a few thru hikers as well, that had just come down from the Priest, and chatted with them for a bit about their current trip, very cool. The NOBO thru hikers are starting to funnel in, so if you go I highly recommend chatting with them if they are up for it. Departed Tye River and headed back up the AT headed to the Harpers Creek shelter, and was there by 4pm. Still a bit early for my taste, but I was able to snag a phenomenal site down by the creek. There are some really great sites near the creekside, I recommend getting there earlier than later if possible to get a good one. If not, there are a ton of sites (easily a dozen, probably more) in the wooded area on the other side of the creek. Had some dinner, started a fire, talked to a few other hikers there for the night. This is a really great spot with the creek flowing, would stay here anytime I do this hike again. Resupply for water here, if you are doing this counter-clockwise, because you have very, very few options until you get back to the Maupin Shelter. Knowing I still had quite a bit of mileage for Sunday (and some crazy elevation change), I set out around 7:30am, and the going was tough for this portion of the AT. There are a ton of downed trees (AT group said a bunch of it was from the wind storm in March), rock fields, and hearty ascents. Eventually you start rounding the mountain and get some good views across the valley of the Priest. I will note, this part of the trail is best done in the cooler months when there are no leaves, otherwise, green tunnel. Climbed around on Chimney Rock a bit, got some photos, and pressed on. There are some great views once you're up here, facing South and East. You eventually run into switchback city uphill, and this was fairly unrelenting to me, and I'd consider myself in really good shape. But once on the ridgeline, it is fantastic. Some really nice campsites, nice breeze, and some views through the trees. The view from the main overlook is phenomenal, great panorama possibilities for photos. I lingered here for quite awhile knowing what was coming, descending the AT. Prepare to take things very slowly, it is rocky, and very steep at times. And it seems to last forever. You get some reprieve on the ridgelines going down, but otherwise watch your footing. Got back to the Maupin shelter around 1pm (I took it very slow), grabbed a snack, and was back at my car at 2pm. Overall I think I'd like to do this clockwise. The push coming North on the AT on the last day was rough, and you really have to conserve your water. Hopefully they get that section of the trail cleaned up soon, as with weather finally taking a turn for the better, you'll see more and more people out there. I think this is a fantastic hike, and would highly recommend to anyone trying to test their athleticism. But note, you will be sore :)

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 07, 2018
A wonderful and challenging hike, although the mileage is a bit deceptive--we needed to add on mileage to make a complete first day. Went here with my girlfriend despite the ominous forecast for this weekend. We arrived at 10pm on Friday night (we live in DC and couldn't get off work until 5pm). The entrance to the trail is well marked. Park in the parking lot and look to your left for a meadow with the AT marker. We hiked up a steep hill in the dark for a half mile before plopping down at the first campsite we saw, before the first official shelter. It was a windy night, but we managed to get some sleep on the ridge. Just be aware that if you camp here, it'll be windy.

Woke up at around 8am and we were on the AT by 9. We hiked to the first shelter (Maupin) and made some oatmeal and coffee and relaxed until 10 or so. Although this website suggests hiking the AT portion first (clockwise), we decided to go counter-clockwise and tackle the Mau Har trail first. We did this because it was overcast and we feared the views wouldn't be great. The Mau Har trail is not as difficult as we expected. It's beautiful hiking along the creek, and there's plenty of water if you need it. Even with a stop to take a look at the waterfall (be careful--the yellow blazed turn-off trail is a little hard to spot), we made it to the junction of the Mau Har and southern portion of the AT by 12:15. Keep in mind both my girlfriend and I are in our mid-20s and in decent, if not slightly above-average shape. We made the decision to tack on some extra mileage and do an out-and-back along the southbound AT (marked on the map with a dotted white line). We ate some lunch and descended about 1.5 miles to the beautiful Tye River, which has a very cool suspension bridge that makes for a good photo op and water resupply. We then hiked back up the trail back to the Mau Har/AT intersection, and hiked the .8 miles to the Harpers Creek Shelter.

We made it to the Harpers Creek Shelter by 3:30...a bit early, for our liking. Only say this because without the SOBO AT add-on, we would have arrived at around 1. Granted, there was freezing rain and if the weather was nicer we would have dipped in the beautiful pools along the Mau Har trail. We set up camp in the James Creek shelter and watched the freezing rain turn to snow from the comfort of the shelter. Four NOBO AT hikers arrived around 5:30 and regaled us with stories of their hike and talked for hours about lightweight backpacking. They all went to bed around 8pm, so we did too. One of them snored awfully loudly, which was considerably less enjoyable than falling asleep to the sound of the James Creek. The hikers headed out around 7 and we were up by 7:30. We made breakfast and a small fire with the twigs we stored under the James Creek shelter overnight. We were on the trail by 9:30. There are quite a few downed trees on the beginning section of the AT/Three Ridges hike, and the white AT blazes are faded. We turned back, thinking we'd erred in our directions...but it turns out this was the right way.

The Three Ridges hike is taxing--it's a steep ascent for 2+ miles to the second ridge, which offers stunning views of the valley in good weather. This section is harder than anything at Dolly Sods, for comparison sake. There's very little water, but based on other reviews we stocked up at James Creek in the morning. Both of us were awfully sore by the time we reached Bee Mountain, but the hike is manageable for anyone in decent shape. The footing is tricky while descending the second peak, especially with the ice and snow from the day before. Just be ready for a challenging second day if you hike counter-clockwise, which I'd recommend. We hit the NOBO AT/Mau Har trail intersection around noon, and made it back to the car around 1:15. As others suggested, we went to Devil's Backbone Brewery afterwards (a 10 minute drive) for some beer flights, and stopped by downtown Charlottesville on our way back to DC.

All in all, this was a fantastic hike. However, hiking counter-clockwise (and perhaps clockwise) at a decent pace will put you at James Creek shelter far earlier than you expect. I liked hiking down to Lye River and bouncing on the suspension bridge to tack on mileage, but be aware that the River is right next to a road. This takes you out of the "wilderness" mindset, but neither of us minded. We emerged from Three Ridges happy and sore, and full of good beer and food from Devil's Backbone and downtown Charlottesville.

By: Rob Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 17, 2018
My friends and I completed this hike on a blustery March day. There was plenty of snow and ice still on the trails from earlier in the week and it made the first few miles brutal. Overall, we averaged in the area of 1.9 miles per hour and completed the hike in right at 7 hours of walking with a 15 minute eating break thrown in.
When we arrived at 9am, there was still plenty of parking at the Reeds Gap lot (probably because not a lot of people thought it was a good idea with the conditions). We took off on the AT and soon reached the first large camping area with a trail map posted on the standard trail bulletin board looking stand. Unfortunately, the map had 3 different views with 2 of the views having different North indications and the largest having no legend or compass at all. We all had printed maps and directions from Hiking Upward so, no worries. Continuing on, we passed vista after vista and the lack of tree cover made it possible to see things that would likely be missed during the greener months.
My favorite part of the whole hike was arriving at Campbell Creek and hiking alongside it. There were rock scrambles, waterfalls and that whole section was amazing.
Walking back out, we came across the shelter that stands near the first campground we passed but there's no clear indicator which of the 700 paths through the campsites leads back to the AT. Apparently, most of them do because we just ended up picking one and following it with no problems.
Walking back to the car through the now slushy ice was a challenge in itself. Lots of balance was needed to not bust our butts getting and seeing the road was a heaven sent after hiking for that long. My Garmin had us at 13.56 miles in 7 hours and it was every bit as difficult as people say. I'd like to go back and do this one as an overnighter in the future, though.

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Photo courtesy of Mollie
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