A Rock Gardener’s Delight: Virginia’s Sherando Lake Recreation Area
Big Mountain Riding elements: Big elevation changes, East Coast flow, extended rock gardens, mountain views
The views are great from the trails at Sherando Lake Recreation Area
To make the most of the week of beautiful weather we’re having, I headed up to the Blue Ridge Mountains for a big mountain riding adventure ride at Sherando Lake Recreation Area. Sherando is best-known for its scenic 25-acre lake and campground. However, it also features some very gonzo mountain bike trails. Peppered with rock gardens and featuring more natural flow than many East Coast trails, the area boasts some epic rides. The first time I visited the park it was a late-fall ride and before we were done, I had puked from the bone-rattling ride and cool air (the Gatorade breakfast hadn’t helped either) and one of our party broke a rib. On that ride my style suffered from a trashed 100mm fork as well, which made the rock gardens a special torture. We also found one of the biggest climbs in our area, Mills Creek Trail, with 8 progressively tighter switchbacks on the way up a steep valley side.
On this day I planned on avoiding that particular climb, and having fun by cherry-picking a few of the more “fun” trails. After parking at White Rock Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway several miles south of the turn-off for the park (somewhere in the middle of the ride area, vertically speaking) I started off by railing a quick 2.5 mile creek side descent to Sherando Lake. Fortunately I happened to see an approaching group of hikers well ahead of time, and I halted and let them pass. After pleasantries, it was back to the sheer joy of dropping a smooth single track where gravity carries the rider over the rocks and roots in a flow like the stream running next to the trail. I pumped over a few obstacles and put the puzzle pieces together for a successful crossing of the stone-filled stream bed as the trail flattened out.
In the park, I looked over a notice board description of the trails and chose the Blue Loop Trail as a way of getting back up to above my starting point. I saw I could make a loop of it using Torrey Ridge Trail and the Slacks Trail back to White Gap Trail. AVOID the Blue Loop Trail – or at least the 1-mile segment connecting the lake with Torrey Ridge Trail. It is short, steep and stepped. Loose gravel covers the first 1/4 mile or so, and then stone stairs and rock gardens take care of all but the last 1/4 mile or so, beyond Lookout Rock. Lookout rock is worth the view, though I’d recommend coming down from Torrey Ridge Trail to see it and not up from the campground.
The sandy beach of Sherando Lake below Lookout Rock
Having gained the ridge, it was a 3-mile roller coaster climb up to the Slacks Trail. However, this is the easy section of the Torrey Ridge Trail … The 2.5-mile run down the Slacks Trail is one of the joys of mountain biking. It flows well, and is more than 95% down hill. Two rock gardens spice things up, both rideable, I believe. Although I’m still smarting from going down in the second rock garden (later in the day, in the rain). This trail is so good that I climbed all the way back up to Bald Mountain to do it again, after lunch.
Following a lunch break at the car at White Rock Gap (forewarned is forearmed, I had a cooler full of treats), I pedaled up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Bald Mountain. Originally, I had planned on getting there via the White Rock Falls trail, right across the road from White Rock Gap, but it was marked for foot travel only. The Parkway was a better idea anyway, as traffic was light on a weekday and I could use the big ring for a great deal of the climb. At Bald Mountain, I turned in on the Fire Road, rode for less than a mile and turned right up to Bald Mountain. The Torrey Ridge Trail dropped off to the left near the end of the double-track. It started innocently enough, and I encountered another hiker and asked about the rest of the Torrey Ridge Trail, which descended all the way down the ridge beyond the lake. However, after leaving the hiker, less than 1/2 a mile into the trail, I hit the first rock garden. And this was followed by one of the most extensive rock gardens around. A long, downhill affair with several stages. I had encountered it before, and been thwarted. As I was this time. Too psychologically intimidating.
The bigger they are the harder they fall - that's the trail, folks!
After walking (on trembling chicken legs down through the rock garden, I pedaled it out to the Slacks Trail in the cool Appalachian rain and railed it all again, except for taking a could-have-been-a-lot-worse spill in the second rock garden. I put a foot down on the downhill side too near the edge of the trail, turned my ankle on a rock, and did a tumble in the rocks. Miraculously, I came away with only a banged knee and hip bone. No flowing blood or big bruises. That’s why all good rock gardeners wear protection, my friends. So they don’t end up gazing down horrified at their own bones protruding from their leg or arm. Rocks play for keeps.
Sherando Lake has a great mix of trails for those willing and able to climb for the reward. I’d recommend parking at White Rock Gap or at the Slacks Overlook, as they are in the middle vertically. However, if you have shuttle vehicles, you could park one at Bald Mountain and another down at the end of Torrey Ridge Trail, or at the park itself and get some fun downhill runs in. Big Levels trail also goes off of Bald Mountain, and is an old favorite.
Trails covered on this adventure ride: White Rock Gap Trail, Slacks Trail, Blue Loop Trail, Torrey Ridge Trail
Other big mountain riding favorites in the area: Big Levels Trail …
© Big Mountain Riding
Sherando Lake Recreational Area
96 Sherando Lake Road
Lyndhurst VA 22952
From Interstate 64: Take exist 96 off Interstate 64 just east of Stuarts Draft, Virginia. Go South on State Route 624. The road number changes to State Route 664 at Lyndhurst, Virginia, but there is no distinct turn. Continue South on State Route 664 approximately 8 miles to the entrance to the Sherando Lake Recreation Area on the right. The gate house is approximately 1/2 mile ahead. If the gatehouse is closed, continue through the recreation area to the group camping area at the end of the road.
From the south or southwest: Sherando Lake Recreation Area is accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. You can get to the Parkway via Route 664 (Wintergreen Resort) or from I-81 N: Take exit 213 for US-11 toward US-340/Greenville, Follow signs for 340 and turn left on US-340, Turn right at Draft Ave/VA-608, Continue to follow VA-608 until it turns into VA-610, follow 610 to Torrey Road, turn right on Torrey Road, Park entrance is on the right in about 4 miles.