Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ragged Mountain Main Loop

Stream in Ragged Mountain

I've left this page here for historical purposes; however, this hike can no longer be done as the Ragged Mountain Reservoir has expanded and drowned out a decent part of this route.

4 miles loop, 750 feet elevation gain

Ragged Mountain is a fun hike that is just five minutes away from the grounds of UVA. Although there are no spectacular views or cascading waterfalls on this hike, there are two big hills and views of the Charlottesville Reservoir. These are also the hills that Edgar Allan Poe used to roam while a student at UVA.

Ragged Mountain Natural Area may be shutting down soon due to work to expand the reservoir. If you are planning on doing this hike, check online first at to make sure that the park will be open. After the new dam is complete, this hike description may no longer be accurate, so be aware of that as well.

I did this hike with my mother on one of her weekend visits to Charlottesville. We drove down Jefferson Park Avenue past where it turned into Fontaine Avenue and continued past the Route 29 junction to Reservoir Road. We turned right at Reservoir Road and followed that road until it reached a sign reading "Ragged Mountain Natural Area" and parked in the small lot there.

From the parking lot, the main loop trail immediately began climbing off into the forest. The trail passed a few small rock outcrops on its way up to the ridgeline. Once on the ridgeline, the trail stayed high on the west slope of Roundtop. At the junction with the Roundtop trail, we took a right and followed the extension of the loop to the 919-foot wooded summit of Roundtop. During the winter, there are views through the trees of the Blue Ridge, but in other seasons, there are no views. On the trail, I explored a couple of small rock outcrops and a few of the human artifacts left around. There were many wildflowers blooming in the forest here.

Fire Pinks in Ragged Mountain
From the top of Roundtop, we descended back to the main trail and then took the Peninsula Loop Trail. This trail put us directly by the lakeshore and took us past the remains of an old homesite, where we saw a standing chimney. During our visit, the water level was very low, probably due to the upcoming work on the dam.

Chimney on the Peninsula Loop
After finding our way back to the Main Loop, we continued our way around the lake. The trail followed the undulating landscape, weaving its way around hills and around the lake. Occasional outcrops of what was either granite or granodiorite were all along the trail. A few stream crossings made the hike a bit more exciting and wildflowers and other fresh green vegetation carpeted the forest floor.

After following the lakeshore at a distance for a while, the trail reached a junction with the Upper Lake Trail. We continued on the Main Loop Trail, which followed the top of an earthen dam between the Upper and Lower Lakes. From the dam, we had good views of the reservoir and we also saw a pair of Canada geese.

The Upper Lake
Across the lake, the trail began its second major ascent, coming close to the top of another of the park's hills. I particularly enjoyed a section of trail at the top of the ascent that followed the contours on the steep east side of the hill. The traffic on I-64 was audible during this part of the hike.

Soon afterward, the trail beganto approach the main dam. Just before reaching the dam, the trail veered off and made a sharp right and began a descent. This turn is not well marked, so be on the lookout for it. This final descent took the trail down into the bottom of the valley. Signs pointed the way back to the parking lot along a gravel road.

This is a remarkable park for being so close to UVA. It lacks many of the scenic wonders of Shenandoah but is a worthy hike for fall foliage or spring wildflowers.

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