Friday, October 11, 2013

Little Flat Mountain (Byrom Park)

View into the Piedmont and Blackwell's Hollow
4.2 miles loop, 1400 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate

Little Flat Mountain Loop is a hike in Albemarle County's Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Park, likely the most impressive preserve managed by the county. Despite being in Albemarle County, it is a good 45-minute drive from Charlottesville. Byrom Park, a fairly new addition to the public lands in the Charlottesville area, opened to the public in 2011 and has so far flown under the radar as a Charlottesville area hiking destination. While it certainly isn't as spectacular as many spots you'd run into in Shenandoah National Park or along the Blue Ridge Parkway, this park is certainly still worth a visit for its solitude and decent views. The park sits at the foot of the Blue Ridge, on the slopes of Little Flat Mountain, which is connected to Big Flat Mountain, one of the tallest peaks in the South District. Little Flat Mountain Loop is the principal loop trail running through the park. Volunteers are currently expanding the park's trail network, so by the time you hike this there may be more hiking opportunities (and more trail junctions).

I hiked in Byrom Park on a late November weekend with beautifully skies. I drove out to the park from Charlottesville along US 250, taking Ivy Road west from the University past Ivy until coming to Route 240 after crossing the Mechums River. Taking a right at 240, I soon entered the town of Crozet; at the far end of Crozet, I turned right to take Route 810 north. After passing through White Hall and Headquarters, a settlement along the Doyles River, Route 810 entered Blackwell's Hollow. A few minutes further down, about 20 or so minutes out of Crozet, I turned left onto the driveway for the preserve and parked in a fairly large parking area with a good view of the mountains across hollow.

The parking area at Byrom Park
From the parking area, I followed the broad former road, now called the Great Mountains Trail, uphill into the park. The trail was fairly nondescript, ascending gently through young stands of oaks, maples, and hickories. It was clear that this area had been logged much more recently than the national park land. Soon, the trail entered into a small stream valley and came to a small stream; a small spur descended to the side of the stream. The trail followed the stream for a little while before crossing it and heading back and up the other side of the small hollow.

Entering the park on the Great Mountains Trail
The principal stream of the park
Soon after the stream crossing, the Great Mountains Trail intersected with the Little Flat Mountain Loop. I began by taking the fork to the right that headed uphill. Here, the trail was still a broad former road as it made up the the mountain. While the trail occasionally passed large, older trees, for the most part the forest it passed through was quite young. The stream hollow dropped off to the right of the trail, with the stream sometimes visible far below. On occasion, there were benches near the trail for tired hikers. What fascinated me the most was a hand-painted sign I passed along the trail that read "My Jennifer," with mountains painted along the bottom; I passed by a similar sign on my way down the mountain on the other side of the Little Flat Mountain loop.

Uphill on the Little Flat Mountain Loop
The uphill continued for about 1.5 miles, fairly steeply, from the previous trail junction, ascending close to the ridge. The trail narrowed as it flattened out, following the side of the mountain just downhill from the top of the ridge. Soon, I came to a small artificial clearing on the side of the mountain. From here, a small clearing in the vegetation marked as Gibson Mountain Overlook on park maps offered a pretty view of Fox Mountain across Blackwell's Hollow and of the Southwest Mountains and the Piedmont in the distance. This was the prettiest view of the hike; it was also a rare perspective of the mountains of the region. I am curious whether Albemarle County will maintain this viewpoint by clearing the view- if the trees aren't regularly trimmed back here, this view will likely vanish in a decade. I stopped here for a snack before continuing on the trail, which then made a final push onto a ridge of Little Flat Mountain before beginning to descend.

Gibson Mountain Overlook
As I began the descent, I was able to see through the bare November trees to another rare view of the line of peaks along the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge. To the south, close by, was Cedar Mountain; beyond that was the elongated Pasture Fence Mountain and past that was the oddly-shaped Bucks Elbow Mountain. During my descent, I somehow managed to miss a turnoff for Catfish Rock, which I had hoped to see during my hike; however, before I knew it I descended to a trail junction with the Blackwell's Trail.

Views through the trees towards Cedar, Pasture Fence, and Bucks Elbow Mountains
I stayed right on the Little Flat Mountain Loop. What followed was an incredibly steep section of downhill. The trail used no switchbacks as it rapidly descended the mountain along the western boundary of the park. At times, it was very clear how strict the boundaries of the park were: to the right of the trail, I could see hunters' tree stands just out of the park. In about half a mile, the steep trail dropped me about 600 feet to the bottom of the stream valley, where I found another fairly-dry creek. Crossing the creek, I followed the broad trail along the east side of the water briefly before the trail turned uphill briefly and crossed a ridge. The trail then descended the rest of the way back to its junction with the Great Mountains Trail, with just a small ascent at the end.

A stream in the western part of the park
This hike is not the most spectacular in the region, but it is one of the best offerings of Albemarle County's parks. I would certainly recommend it to hikers who are already familiar with the well-known trails of the park and GWNF. This trail also makes a good alternative hike to trails on federal lands during the government shutdown (at the time of writing) for Charlottesville residents.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you are enjoying the park! Patricia is mom. My Jennifer is actually Mt. Jennifer, a grandaughter. There is Mt. Named for. Us girls, many of us around the place. Dad did it and trails named for boys. Fun to grow up there. God Bless!