The Nelson Scenic Loop connects a tapestry of natural and historic wonders, and highlights the cultural contributions of the local community. Trails are an important part of the Nelson Scenic Loop experience. Whenever possible, park, walk, and take in the view or make new connections with the community and the landscape. The Loop provides links to several exciting bike and hike trails, some of which—like the Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway—are nationally and internationally renowned. We invite you to enjoy the extensive trail network that is accessible from the Loop’s road system. These trails offer an opportunity to connect with the wondrous landscape of Nelson County, while promoting physical, mental, and spiritual health and well-being. When visiting these trails, please remember to respect these treasures, helping us to ensure their survival for future generations.

Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a 1,000-mile-long footpath that follows the summits and high country of the Appalachian Mountains between Maine and Georgia. The concept for the “AT” was first proposed by Benton MacKaye in 1921 as a path linking planned wilderness communities where people could go to renew themselves. The trail became a reality after the Appalachian Trail Conference was established in 1925 to coordinate construction of the trail in accordance with MacKaye’s vision. Two men—Judge Arthur Perkins of Connecticut and admiralty lawyer Myron Avery of Washington, D.C.—were instrumental in pushing the idea forward. The system was completed in 1937, but fell into disrepair during World War II without the labor needed to maintain it. Restoration began after the war, and the trail was again completed in 1951. In 1968, the trail was honored through designation by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the first national scenic trail. Today, the trail is cooperatively managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, state and local government partners, and several local groups who volunteer to maintain the route.[1]

Twenty-five miles of the Appalachian Trail lie within Nelson County and generally parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway segment of the Nelson Scenic Loop. Several Appalachian Trail access points are located along the Loop. You don’t have to through-hike the AT to get that sense of renewal – just jump on at one of the access points along the Nelson Scenic Loop:

1)    A primary point of access occurs at Reid’s Gap where State Route 664 and the Blue Ridge Parkway intersect. Parking is available, and the Appalachian Trail extends north and south a few feet from the parking area. To the south lie Bee Mountain, the Three Ridges, and the Priest, all well-known summits. The trail extends through the De Priest and Three Ridges Wilderness Areas, some of the wildest and most rugged areas in the Virginia Blue Ridge.

2)    The trail is also accessible from State Route 56 near Tyro after crossing the swinging bridge. A small parking area for ten cars is available near the trailhead, which generally serves the Three Ridges and Priest Wilderness Areas. Many visitors travel the 2.6-mile route from the bridge to Harper’s Creek where the water gurgles through large rocks.[2]

3)    A spur of the Crabtree Falls Trail connects Crabtree Meadows with the Appalachian Trail. This one-half-mile steep trail segment is accessible from a parking area at Crabtree Meadows.

The Appalachian Trail extends through terrain that ranges from moderately challenging to rugged, and affords dramatic, even awe-inspiring views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain range, and the Shenandoah and Rockfish Valleys located to the west and east respectively. The Appalachian Trail is maintained primarily by volunteers associated with the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club.

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Mau-Har Trail

Another trail that arises from the Appalachian Trail within the Nelson Scenic Loop is the Mau-Har Trail. The route begins at mile marker 13.7 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Marked by blue blazes, the trail is a circuit hike through the Three Ridges Wilderness area. It also rises from the Appalachian Trail 1.8 miles south of the intersection of State Route 664 and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Reid’s Gap. Thereafter, it continues for 3.3 miles through steep terrain passing near the 50 foot Campbell’s Creek waterfall. It returns to the Appalachian Trail 1.5 miles from the junction with State Route 56. For more information, visit:

Crabtree Falls Trail

Here, the Falls of Crabtree Creek cascade down a series of five major waterfalls that drop a total of 1,200 vertical feet within one-half mile along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Crabtree Falls is considered to be the highest falls east of the Mississippi River. The U.S. Forest Service maintains a 2.9-mile walking trail that parallels the falls through the isolated and rugged setting. The trail offers a series of overlooks for viewing the falls and the Tye River Valley below. Parking areas are available at both ends of the trail. Many of the overlooks are accessible from the lower parking lot, which arises from State Route 56. From the parking area, visitors cross the Tye River via a 110-foot-long arched wooden bridge. The first overlook, marked by a rock edged landing, is located only 700 feet from the bridge crossing.  Additional overlooks occur at 0.3 miles, 0.7 miles, 1.4 miles, and 1.7 miles. The upper parking lot is set within Crabtree Meadows, which also includes a primitive campground. Nearby is evidence of a pioneer settlement site that includes crab apple and apple trees and a clearing where several dwellings and a saw mill once stood. Visitors must heed the warnings and trail guides posted by the U.S. Forest Service as the terrain adjacent to the trail can prove very dangerous. Several improvements have been made to facilitate rescue operations associated with the numerous accidents and injuries that occur at the falls. A spur extension of the trail continues to the Appalachian Trail one-half mile above.

Where does the name ‘Crabtree’ come from? The creek name is thought to have been derived from late eighteenth century settler William Crabtree, while the Tye River is named for another noted pioneer, Allen Tye, who extensively explored the Blue Ridge Mountains.[3] When development proposals emerged in the late 1960s, the land was protected and included in the George Washington National Forest

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Blue Ridge Parkway

Nelson Scenic Loop visitors begin their Blue Ridge Parkway experience either traveling south from Reid’s Gap at the intersection with State Route 664 or north from near Montebello at the intersection with State Route 56. The parkway traverses six mountain ranges associated with the Appalachian chain, four national forests, six wilderness areas, two of which—De Priest and Three Ridges Mountain—are linked to the Nelson Scenic Loop, and crosses six major rivers, and five ecological zones. The parkway is open to both automobile and bicycle traffic. In fact, the parkway is a designated route of the Trans-America Bicycle Trail (see below). For twenty glorious miles, the Nelson Scenic Loop connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway, allowing both bikes and cars to take in the breathtaking views and enjoy the driving experience of the designed touring route. The route includes several parking pull-offs and overlooks where you will see expansive and dramatic views. For example, view White Rock Falls from Slacks Overlook at milepost 18.5. Interpretive signs, and in some cases, short walking trails, provide a deeper understanding of the terrain, natural resources, cultural history, and settlements along the route.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile corridor that extends between Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive at Rockfish Gap near Afton, Virginia, to the north and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Asheville, North Carolina to the south. The portion of the parkway that forms the northern segment of the Nelson Scenic Loop lies between mileposts 12 and 32 just south of the roadway origin at Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, Virginia.

The Blue Ridge Parkway celebrates its 75th Anniversary in 2010. Developed over a fifty year period beginning in 1935 as a make work program to provide work for Americans during the Great Depression, the parkway was the first such road project undertaken by the federal government. Work on the road corridor, including grading, removing trees and rock, laying pavement, and building bridges, walls, and structures, was performed by private contractors instructed to hire as many out of work individuals as possible, as well as crews drawn from Works Progress Administration, Emergency Relief Administration, and Civilian Conservation Corps programs. Skilled stone masons from Northern Italy and Spain were brought in by landscape architect and parkway designer Stanley Abbott, whose vision was to “fit the parkway into the mountains as if nature had put it there.” The work of the Civilian Conservation Corps here and elsewhere around the country involving park development and historic preservation in state and federal parks is nationally recognized for its quality and endurance. The CCC, for example, built spectacular rusticated stone and wood features, such as retaining walls, grills, sign bases, shelters, and fences in state and federal parks, many of which survive today. Stone walls constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps are visible along the roadside within the Nelson Scenic Loop segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Although Stanley Abbott was as interested in the “simple homestead culture alive in the mountains… as the natural scene around it,” development on the parkway forever changed many local mountain communities by altering road and settlement patterns and introducing tourism; many communities did not see this as progress and have harbored resentment ever since. Love, Virginia, is one community affected by parkway construction that can be visited along the Nelson Scenic Loop segment of the Blue Ridge Parkway (see also Cultural History).[4]

One of the hikes to consider from the Blue Ridge Parkway is the White Rock Falls Trail. This moderate two-and-one-half-mile trail extends from the Slacks Overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway north along the portion contained within the Nelson Scenic Loop.

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Trans-American Bicycle Trail / U.S. Route 76

The Blue Ridge Parkway has become a popular biking trail, and in fact forms part of the Trans-American Bicycle Trail. First established in 1976 as part of the national Bicentennial celebration, the trail links Astoria, Oregon, with Yorktown, Virginia. Along the way, the trail courses through several national park units, including Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks. As noted on a website featuring the trail, “Because this route has been ridden by cyclists for years, many of the cafes, restaurants, and overnight accommodations along the route have kept journals consisting of entries written by cross-country riders from previous years, providing you with a cyclist’s history of the route.” Those planning to experience the entire route typically plan for a three month journey, focusing on the warmer months between May and September due to the threat posed by snow, particularly in the Rocky Mountains.[5] Even in Virginia, weather conditions on the Blue Ridge Parkway throughout the winter months can prove challenging to bicyclists.

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Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail: Thomas Jefferson Loop

The Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail is a state-wide biking and driving tour that features opportunities to view birds and other wildlife. The trail system is comprised of a series of discrete regional offerings. The Thomas Jefferson Loop, which links several hiking trails offering unique birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, extends between Charlottesville and Crozet in Albemarle County and also includes several small communities along the State Route 56 segment of the Nelson Scenic Loop. Six designated stops offer naturalists a variety of habitats in which to add to their life lists. Three of the stops occur along the Nelson Scenic Loop: the Montebello Area along State Route 56, Royal Oaks near Love, Virginia adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Crabtree Falls (see above), while a fourth is located nearby at Spruce Creek Park east of the Loop along State Route 151. Natural wonders abound year-round, although some of the sites, such as the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, are best planned for the fall.

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Spy Rock Trail

Located off of State Route 690 from State Route 56 behind the Montebello Fish Hatchery is the parking lot and trailhead for the hike up to Spy Rock. Approximately 1.3 miles in length, the hike is moderately strenuous, but worth the trip for the 360 degree view afforded from the top. Along the route, the visitor crosses the Appalachian Trail. Considered one of the best viewpoints in the central Blue Ridge, Spy Rock is a large rock outcrop at an elevation of 3,980 feet above mean sea level. The final stretch of the hike is across the rock face.

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Royal Oaks Trail

Set at an elevation of 2,727 feet above mean sea level, the community of Love, Virginia, is located east of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Nelson County. Royal Oaks is a campground facility that includes a short trail through hardwood forest filled with birds associated with the Blue Ridge. Love, Virginia, is located along County Route 814, south of Reid’s Gap.

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Spruce Creek Park/Camille Memorial Park Trails

Spruce Creek Park is located along State Route 151 just east of the Nelson Scenic Loop. Over four miles of trails extend between parking areas located at the former Wintergreen country store and in a designated lot on the southwest side of the bridge crossing of the Rockfish River. The trails follow the Rockfish River through farm land that has been placed under conservation easement. The trails are one of the stops along the Thomas Jefferson Loop of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail. The trails interpret local birds and other wildlife and culture. Currently open for hiking only, these are mowed grass and dirt trails, and have a nearly level grade throughout, while surrounded by spectacular mountain views. The trails are open sunrise to sunset.

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Nearby Trails

Wintergreen Resort/Wintergreen Nature Foundation Trails

The Wintergreen Nature Foundation has marked and maintains twenty-five miles of scenic trails over the resort property located east of State Route 664 near its intersection with the Blue Ridge Parkway along the Nelson Scenic Loop. The foundation offers guided tours and other programs. Information and trail maps are available through their office at the Trillium House at Wintergreen.

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North Fork Piney River Trails

The North Fork Piney River is located east of the Nelson Scenic Loop, flowing for portions of its length through the George Washington National Forest. Trails along the river offer views of cascading rapids as well as opportunities for swimming and fishing. The river is accessed by traveling west on State Route 666 from the Massies Mill area for approximately four miles, past Dickie Brothers Orchard (see Agriculture section) and a winding gravel section through the mountains, to a right onto State Route 827. Follow the road into the George Washington National Forest, where it parallels the North Fork of the Piney River. Although there are no formal parking areas, it is possible to pull over to the side anywhere there is enough space (except where private property is posted) and walk beside the river.

Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail

The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail is at present a work in progress. Approximately 4-1/2 of the proposed 7-mile trail has been completed. Soon, the trail will link Piney River with the Tye River Depot, with opportunities for visitors to hike, bike, and ride horseback over a former rail line bed. The rail line historically extended for sixteen miles from Massies Mill to the Tye River Depot and connected with the Southern Railway.  There was a station in Massies Mill.[6]

The Virginia Blue Ridge (Mountain) Railroad was built in 1914 to ship chestnut timber from the mountain forests north of Massies Mill including the area around the Three Ridges and De Priest. In addition to timber, the rail line shipped apples from the many local orchards that populated the region during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see also Agriculture section). Use of the rail line was short-lived, however, as U.S. involvement in World War I in 1917 led to a cessation of timber shipping operations. By the end of the war, the chestnut blight had reached the region, efficiently killing off nearly every chestnut tree in the Eastern United States, and reducing the supply of timber to a trickle.

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The railroad once again found a commercially viable purpose when Southern Mineral Products opened a small plant in Piney Ridge in 1931 to process titanium dioxide from a nearby deposit of limonite ore. Although the extraction and processing of this mineral ultimately did not prove profitable, another resource of interest—aplite, an ore of quartz and feldspar—was discovered at Piney Ridge in 1935. The ore was used at the time in the manufacture of glass and roofing material. The Piney Ridge vein, one of the largest deposits in the country, extended for several miles along the rail line. The plant remained in production until the early 1960s, after which it was dismantled. The rail line followed in 1981. Local residents began laying the groundwork for converting the rail line corridor to a trail in the late 1980s. Long-term proposals are for the trail to connect the James River with the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to recreational offerings, the trail will interpret the chestnut blight, the flooding caused by Hurricane Camille, and the efforts required to reestablish local infrastructure after the devastation, as well as the cleanup of the American Cyanamid superfund site.

The trail begins in Piney River along State Route 151 west of the Nelson Scenic Loop, and currently ends in Rose’s Mill along State Route 674. Parking is afforded for cars and horse trailers. The trail is open sunrise to sunset.

Fortune’s Cove

Fortune’s Cove Preserve is a 755-acre natural area near Lovingston, Virginia, that protects rare plant communities on a series of rocky glades. Managed by the Nature Conservancy, the preserve features a 5.5-mile challenging loop trail that rewards hikers with stunning mountain views. The preserve is open daily year-round from dawn to dusk. The trail is accessible from a parking area and trailhead marked by a kiosk with a map.  The parking area is situated along State Route 651 (Fortune’s Cove Lane), which arises from State Route 718 (Mountain Cove Road) off of Route 29. The preserve

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Spirit of Red, White, and Brew Trail

Nelson County, Virginia, has developed a driving tour of the region’s wineries, vineyards, orchards, and breweries. Known as the Spirit of Red, White, and Brew Trail, the route encompasses a portion of the Nelson Scenic Loop. Featured sites along the trail that visitors to the Nelson Scenic Loop can enjoy include:

Devils Backbone Brewing Company
The Devils Backbone Brewing Company is located at the corner of State Route 151 and 664 in Roseland, Virginia at the base of Wintergreen Mountain. The smoke-free brewery and restaurant is open 7 days a week serving both lunch and dinner. 200 Mosbys Run, Roseland VA 22967, Routes 151 and 664 434-361-1001.

Wintergreen Winery
Experience renowned hospitality and award-winning wines while soaking in panoramic mountain views at this family owned and operated winery and vineyards. Located in the beautiful Rockfish Valley on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge near the Blue Ridge Parkway and Wintergreen Resort, the winery offers spectacular scenery throughout the seasons. A wide array of premium wines are produced including Black Rock Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Raspberry Dessert. Nestled inside a nineteenth century farm building is the state-of-the-art winery operation, a comfortable tasting room and one of the finest winery gift shops in the state. A scenic picnic area is available near the South fork of the Rockfish River. Winery and gift shop open daily year round for complimentary tastings, tours, and shopping. (Please call for group reservations and rates.) Visit web site for hours. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.  462 Winery Lane, Nellysford 22958, Route 664 to Wintergreen. Five miles from Blue Ridge Parkway 434-361-2519.

[4] J. Scott Graham and Elizabeth C. Hunter, “Blue Ridge Parkway; America’s Favorite Journey” (Johnson City, Tennessee: J. Scott Graham, 2003).
[6] Nelson County Heritage, 27.

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