Back in early spring this year I was going through the CORE trail ride report archives and came across a couple reports about Potts Mountain Jeep Trail. I did some research and found the trail is still open, which is amazing in these times. The last time CORE had sponsored a ride there was in 2003 so I expected there would be some changes if a ride was to happen this year. So I decided I would lead a ride on the trail. After having to postpone the original date in June a date for August was finally set. I put the trip together as trail ride and camping weekend.
The only way anyone was doing this section was if they were fully locked and had an attitude of not caring about breaking their junk.
As I said I would lead the ride with Andrew and Cherie Taylor joining in their Xterra, Kevin Barnes and his wife and kids in a Range Rover, Kevin’s dad Robert (he drove all the way from Stone Mountain, Georgia Friday to participate), and Kevin’s brother Chris in Kevin’s newly built up Discovery. I was wheeling in my JK. The meeting spot was Saturday morning at the Burger King at exit 298 off Interstate 81 in Virginia. Then from there the two and half hour drive to Covington, VA for final supplies and fuel before heading to the campground.
The campground, The Pines Campground, and the trail are located off of SR 617 within the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests about 25 minutes out of Covington. The campground is a first come first serve deal but the cost you can’t beat, free. There are two vault toilets located on the grounds plus an old hand pump for a fresh water well. The other convenience of the campground is that it is a great staging area for the trail ride. The lower trail head is only a mile and half from the campground. After leaving Covington we headed for the campground to stake our claim on a site and I planned to do some of the trail Saturday afternoon. When everyone finally had their tents up and other gear stacked where they wanted it I had those needing to complete waiver forms do so and I gave the agenda and safety brief.
For Saturday’s ride I decided to enter the trail from the lower trail head off of SR 617. The trail is a loop of approximately 17 miles, it boarders the Barbours Creek Wilderness area, consisting of the rough trail, forest service roads, and the state road. If we made the entire trail Saturday afternoon we would do the trail in the opposite direction on Sunday. I or anyone else along had ever been on the trail so it was going to be a bit of an adventure. To enter the trail you have to cross a small creek full of good size rocks and a couple deep holes. Everyone made it in and we pressed on.
The weather wasn’t bad, mid 70’s, but the humidity was terrible and there was a chance of rain for later in the day. There were several obstacles along the trail with a bypass for each. At the three mile point we came to a section of the trail with a huge obstacle. The main trail was just as bad as the obstacle. The only way anyone was doing this section was if they were fully locked and had an attitude of not caring about breaking their junk. I have neither and made the decision that we all turn around and head back the way we came. If you want to continue on the trail to the upper trail head you have to make it through this section. You won’t make the obstacle unless you are wheeling a rock crawler and have at least 37 inch tires. The main trail will take about the same equipment at this section. After we made it off the trail we headed back to camp and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
It had rained overnight, but that didn’t keep the coyotes from yelping. After people made it out of their sleeping quarters and breakfast ate Sunday morning we were ready to hit the trail from the upper trail head. As we were leaving out a large group of local off roaders were at the campground entrance prepping their rigs for the trail. We talked to their trail leader and told him where we turned around the day before. He confirmed we had made the right call based on the rigs we were driving and the obstacle/trail section to be had. The locals call this section of the trail “The Valley”. They too have had incidents there. The gentleman also told us the point where we would meet said section of trail approaching from the upper trail head.
To get to the upper trail head you turn right on to SR 617 out of the campground and go approximately two miles and turn right onto FSR 176. Follow 176 for a ways up the mountain then bear right at the fork. Continue on 176 past Cove Road on the left until you come to a clearing on the right. The trail head is on the right end of the clearing. If you get to Potts Mountain Road on the left you have gone too far, just turn around and you’ll see the clearing. This end of the trail is not as smooth as the lower end. The upper end is full of rock gardens and some steep steps. There are a few obstacles on this end also. At one we decided to take time for a photo shoot of some of the rigs on a large rock. We also found a rock cropping overlook and took our lunch break there. What a view, you could see several ridges to the northwest in West “By God” Virginia. We reached the point where we were on the opposite end of “The Valley” and again I made the decision for the group to turn around and head back the way we came. The entire trail does have several obstacles to include water holes and huge rock gardens. We never did run across the other group of 4×4 rigs. I guess they were having too much fun down in “The Valley” or elsewhere that we were not privy to.
After leaving the trail I took the group down Potts Mountain Road to find an overlook called Hanging Rock Overlook. The overlook is located in the Shawvers Run Wilderness area. How far down the road I had no idea so I told everyone we would go a mile or two and if we didn’t find it we would just turn around and go back to the camp site. When we had gotten to the three mile mark I met up with a truck coming from the opposite direction. He pulled over to let us by so I stopped and asked the guy where the overlook was located, we were at it, 100 yards around the bend on the right. The views from the overlook are amazing, check out the photo album for this report. After everyone got dumped on by the rain storm that came across the valley, again check out the photo album, it was time to head back to camp and get into some dry clothes. It was already late in the day so we all decided to stay in camp get vittles on the stove and just relax around the campfire.
Everyone was up and moving around sometime after 9 Monday morning. After breakfast we all started tearing down our tents and packing gear into our rigs. It was a great weekend and I think all had a good time. No one got hurt, no one got stuck, and no rig was broken or damaged; so it was a great time. I do want to go back and do the trail again next year. I highly recommend that you do not do the trail by yourself, there should be at least two rigs and both with high clearance and a winch. There is cell phone service on the trail at the top of the mountain otherwise no service from any of the current providers. You will not have cell phone service from any of the providers in the campground either. That was nice. Everyone made it home safely on Monday and I suppose mentally got prepared for work on Tuesday.
Trail Report written by Larry Pope. Pictures courtesy of Larry Pope, Andrew Taylor, and Kevin Barnes.