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Backpacker Magazine – June 2001

Prayers Answered In Virginia's Priest Wilderness

In Virginia, a miracle occurs and hikers get some new wilderness, thanks to The Priest.

by: Eric Seaborg

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EXPEDITION PLANNER: Priest Wilderness, Virginia

DRIVE TIME: About 3 hours (160 miles) southwest of Washington, DC, and 2 hours (120 miles) west of Richmond, Virginia.

THE WAY: From the DC area, take US 29 south through Charlottesville to VA 56. Drive west on VA 56 for 10 miles to a trailhead where the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway or continue 4 miles farther to the Crabtree Falls trailhead.

TRAILS: Between VA 56 and US 60, a 27-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail traverses this section of the Blue Ridge. Start at the AT trailhead on VA 56 and hike south (the first 6 miles are in the wilderness area). A good weekend plan is to hike 5 miles to the top of The Priest, set up a basecamp, and explore along the AT and connecting trails.

ELEVATION: The high point is The Priest at 4,063 feet. Low point is the Tye River at about 900 feet.

CAN'T MISS: Crabtree Falls, one of the highest falls east of the Mississippi, and the spectacular view from Spy Rock.

CROWD CONTROL: Leave the crowds behind by climbing above Crabtree Falls. Avoid hunting season, November to January.

SEASON: Late May to early June is the best time to see the rhododendron and mountain laurel in bloom. Winter's bare trees and frozen waterfalls are spectacular.

GUIDES: Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District, by Michael T. Shoemaker ($6); Map 13 in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) series ($5). For book and map, contact the PATC, (703) 242-0693;

WALK SOFTLY: Near Crabtree Falls and trailheads, camping is restricted. Don't build fire rings anywhere in the wilderness.

CONTACT: Glenwood-Pedlar Ranger District, George Washington National Forest, (540) 291-2188;

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Reader Rating: -


Oct 15, 2012

Great area. At age 82,and a long time resident of the area, I often hike here and never tire of the marvelous views.

John Miller
Oct 12, 2010

Great area to explore the AT. Montebello campground a short distance from Spy Rock has excellent service and campsites and showers. We hike there every year. We hiked this section starting at Spy Rock (state fish hatchery) to Tye River in one day, then to Maupin Field shelter over 3 ridges on day two, then on over Humpback Rocks to the Paul C Wolfe shelter. From there it was a short couple mile hike the next morning to I64 at Rockfish Gap to be picked up. Great scenery, great hike!!


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