Hikers Delight Trail Challenge
On Saturday, join Friends of Shenandoah Mountain and Potomac Appalachian Trail Club – Southern Shenandoah Valley Chapter, and Walkabout Outfitter for an invigorating hike to a scenic viewpoint on Shenandoah Mountain or a short family hike along the scenic North River Gorge. Bring water, a snack, appropriate clothing and shoes, rain gear and any personal items or first aid you might need. Participants are required to sign a PATC liability waiver. No dogs, please.
Chestnut Ridge Hike – 7 miles
This hike begins as an easy hike on Little Skidmore Trail just downstream from Todd Lake and then climbs 1500’ on Chestnut Ridge Trail to the intersection with Grooms Ridge Trail. This hike offers scenic views of the proposed Shenandoah Mountain National Scenic Area and other mountains to the south. The hike takes about 2 hours to the intersection and another 1.5 hours to return with a 20-minute rest at the top. The group leaves at 8:00 a.m. from the Natural Chimneys Park Main Office and will return to Natural Chimneys by 1:30pm.
Grooms Ridge Hike – 3.4 miles
This is a tough but rewarding climb to a scenic point on Grooms Ridge Trail in the heart of the proposed Little River Wilderness. The trail climbs 1200’ in 1.7 miles to a panoramic overlook with views of Reddish Knob, Buck Mountain, Little Bald Knob, and Big Bald Knob. The hike takes 1.5 hours to the top and another hour to return with a 20-minute rest at the top. The group leaves at 8:00 a.m. from the Natural Chimneys Main Office and will return to Natural Chimneys around noon.
North River Gorge Hike – Easy 1-2-mile hike for families with small children.
Caravan two miles to Wild Oak Parking Lot and begin there. Follow Wild Oak Trail to the North River and cross on a hanging bridge. Children will have opportunities to get close to the water and play on rocks. Meet at the Natural Chimneys Main Office at 9:00 a.m.
Other Great Local Hikes
Situated near the North River Ranger District of George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, you’ll find the perfect trail for a day hike. A map of area recreational opportunities is available here. Augusta County is home to two wilderness areas, Ramsey’s Draft and St Mary’s, each offering some of the most beautiful trails and mountain streams in the Shenandoah Valley.
The North River Gorge Trail is a scenic trail that traverses through the North River Gorge, and winds between Lookout and Trimble Mountains. The North River Gorge Trail has gentle grades but requires fording the North River nine times. The Wild Oak Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail in 1979 by the Secretary of Agriculture. This trail has three access points from developed roads which provide shorter hiking segments. A trail map for the immediate region can be purchased here.
Natural Chimneys Park has 2.5 miles of hiking trails. Approximately one mile of this trail system is level and considered easy for walking. This trail meanders along the borders of the park, in and out of hardwood stands. The park borders the North River, giving the hiker a walk beside calm waters when the river is running. Unfortunately, the river retreats underground at times in the summer due to low levels. The remainder of the trails is on steep hills and ridges, and is of medium difficulty. There are overlooks giving a peek back down into the valley below and displaying the unimpeded western view from the ridge atop of the Natural Chimneys themselves.
Numerous wildflowers and wildlife is observable while using either trail. It is not uncommon to see a chipmunk or grey squirrel, or hear a songbird or an owl. White tail deer, wild turkey, and the occasional black bear have been sighted on the park. In fact, Natural Chimneys is included as an observation site for the Mountain Trail of the Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail System. Natural Chimneys Park exhibits some of the incredible geology of western Virginia. Remnants of rock once carved by a shallow sea remind the visitor of the massive timeframes needed to create formations we see today. The open grassy areas around the chimney host open country species such as eastern kingbird, eastern bluebird, American robin, American goldfinch and chipping sparrow. The neighboring scrubby brush land and secondary forest support other familiar species such as eastern phoebe, eastern wood-pewee, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, blue jay, northern cardinal and eastern towhee. The North River runs through the property and, when rainfall keeps it flowing, it supports a variety of water birds including herons and waterfowl. Butterflies to look for around the park include eastern tiger and spicebush swallowtails, tawny emperor and pearl crescent.