Blue Ridge Wrangler

  • Distance

    158 Mi.

    (254 KM)
  • Days

    3-4

  • % Unpaved

    76%

  • % Singletrack

    16%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    5

  • % Rideable (time)

    99%

  • Total Ascent

    19,987'

    (6,092 M)
  • High Point

    3,500'

    (1,067 M)

Contributed By

Paul Kane

Paul Kane

Guest Contributor

Paul rediscovered the joys of cycling in the late 2000’s after a 20-year hiatus. Since then, he has spent most of his free time studying, building, repairing, photographing, and even riding bikes. He occasionally makes time for longer trips, but you’re more likely to find him astride his 8-speed commuting rig on his way to work.

The perfect long weekend on a bike in rural Virginia. Terrain ranges from dirt and gravel roads to techy singletrack and overgrown plus-bike-friendly forest service roads. With abundant water sources, straightforward camping options, and itineraries to suit your schedule, there's no reason to miss this physically strenuous, but logistically simple loop through a rugged and scenic corner of George Washington National Forest.
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The Blue Ridge Wrangler (BRW) is a circumnavigation of the Glendwood-Pedlar Ranger District, in the eastern reaches of George Washington National Forest. This physical and emotional rollercoaster of dirt, gravel, and singletrack bobs and weaves for 158 miles across the undulating ridge lines that radiate out from the front range of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along the way you’ll pass campsites nestled in lush undergrowth and flanked by streams stocked with brook, rainbow, and brown trout. The trout are easier to hook in cooler temperatures during the spring and fall, but in the heat of the summer the area’s rivers and waterfalls provide a welcome opportunity to cool down and wash away the day’s accumulation of dust and mud.

Abundant streams also eliminate the need to carry more than a liter or two of water, which is something you’ll appreciate as you tackle the route’s 20,000 feet of elevation gain on a mixture of short steep singletrack climbs and longer slogs on gravel backroads. You can lighten your load further by leaving the stove at home and cooking on an open campfire, an essential part of the BRW experience.

Bountiful wildlife and the absence of cellular reception in many areas make the route seem remote, but in reality it’s only about a two and a half hour drive from Washington DC to the parking area near Waynesboro, VA. Despite the close proximity to a healthy population of cyclists, there seem to be relatively few riders along the BRW, aside from a few mountain bikers at Sherando Lake and the roadies who ply the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • Blue Ridge Wrangler Bikepacking Route, Virginia
  • Blue Ridge Wrangler Bikepacking Route, Virginia

Many hours were spent researching the Wrangler, and the journey is well documented, but there are still ample opportunities to make the trip your own. The route outlined here is crisscrossed by myriad old logging tracks and forest service roads that may lead to undiscovered swimming holes, pristine campsites, or productive trout waters. Likewise, riders will feel a deeper sense of appreciation if they take it upon themselves to uncover some of the vestiges of local history hiding in plain sight. Let the BRW serve as a general guide for your adventure, but not a template.

  • Blue Ridge Wrangler Bikepacking Route, Virginia
  • Blue Ridge Wrangler Bikepacking Route, Virginia
  • Blue Ridge Wrangler Bikepacking Route, Virginia
Route Development: The BRW was developed by Paul Kane with the support of his wife, Eyna, who endured many hours of route scouting and photography assistant duties over multiple weekends. Many thanks to her for all the support during that process, and for tolerating her husband’s obsessive, almost unhealthy relationship with bicycles.

Difficulty: The BRW was assigned a 5 out of 10 overall, with a 5 for Technical Difficulty, 7 for Physical Demand, and 3 for Resupply/Logistics. The route is mostly non-technical; water is plentiful; and it’s short enough that a bikepacker can carry enough food to complete the loop without a resupply detour into either Montebello or Buena Vista. On the other hand, the singletrack at Sherando Lake and along Whetstone Ridge are punctuated with some tricky technical riding, and the Appalachian topography throughout the route will cook your quads to medium rare.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Bomb down loose gravel descents, creep along fading dirt tracks, and pick your way through rock gardens on ridge-lines with panoramic views to both sides.
  • Stop to forage for trailside blackberries and raspberries in July and August.
  • Broil the catch of the day on an open campfire… and take pride in knowing your a better fisherman than at least one of the riders who has gone before you.
  • Cool down and clean up under one of the three waterfalls along the route.
  • Worm your way through the lush vegetation in the warmer months and return in October to see the hills wrapped in a mosaic of fall colors.
  • Refuel on Virginia BBQ and pizza from a wood-fired oven at JJ’s Meat Shack in Buena Vista.
  • Marvel at the Appalachian wildlife, including black bear, gray and red foxes, wild turkeys, the ubiquitous whitetail deer, and a range of small birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.
  • Take a break at the Montebello Fish Hatchery, where you can get a close look at three species of trout.
  • When to go: The ideal riding season would fall between April and October, but March and November can also be nice in mild years. Summers can be hot and humid, but you’ll survive. The blackberry crop begins to ripen around early July. Trout fishing is best during the Spring and Fall.
  • Logistics: The parking area and point of departure for the BRW is at the intersection of Coal Road and Turkey Pen Ridge Trail, just south of Sherando, VA. You will need a private vehicle to reach the start of the route. The ride is a complete loop, so there is no need to worry about transport back to your vehicle.
  • Fishing Permits: Fly fishermen and spin fishermen casting for trout will need (1) a Virginia fishing license with (2) a trout stamp and (3) a National Forest stamp. Fishing in the Pedlar River Reservoir requires (1) a Virginia fishing license and (2) a Lynchburg Reservoir permit, available in the city of Lynchburg for $4. For more information on fishing permits, consult the Virginia Department of Fish and Game and the City of Lynchburg.
  • Dangers and Annoyances:
    • There are black bears and the occasional copperhead along the route, so hang your food at night and watch your step.
    • The biggest threat from wildlife is the least menacing and most likely to be overlooked: carry tweezers and check yourself for ticks daily. Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are prevalent in Virginia.
    • Be careful if you venture onto the rocks at the top of Stantons Creek Falls. They can be very slick.
    • Poison ivy is common throughout the area. Learn to recognize it before you go.
    • Wear bright colors during the fall hunting season.
  • All of the campsites marked on the RWG route are free, easily accessible, and adjacent to a water source.
  • You may build campfires on National Forest land with dead or down wood.
  • There are many other potential campsites along the route that are not identified on the RWG route. However, significant portion of the land in the national forest is actually private, and most appear to be well marked. Heed all posted signs.
  • There are lodging options in Waynesboro, should you need a place to stay on the way to or from the route.
  • Buena Vista offers a few accommodation options. The Buena Vista Motel appears to be the best kept.
  • Water is plentiful along the entire route. You will rarely go more than a few miles without encountering some sort of flowing water. The driest stretches are along the ridge lines (Whetstone Ridge, Torry Ridge, the Blue Ridge Parkway).
  • The first food source is the Montebello Country Store, which offers convenience store staples, plus locally sourced preserves, honey, and fudge. The adjacent restaurant serves breakfast and lunch.
  • The second resupply opportunity is in Buena Vista, around halfway through the ride. JJ’s Meat Shack is a popular Virginia BBQ joint with a full complement of roasted and smoked meats, in addition to a wood-fired pizza oven. There are also convenience stores and a number of other restaurants in town.

The Wrangler begins at a nondescript intersection ten miles from the town of Waynesboro. Heading south on a closed forest service road you’ll soon connect with the route’s first singletrack for the climb along Torry Ridge to the Blue Ridge Parkway. (The 469-mile parkway connects Shenandoah National Park with Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina, and is touted as America’s longest linear park. It is a popular cycling destination in its own right.) From there you’ll descend 1,600 feet on a serpentine but well-graded dirt road to the banks of the Tye River, which will guide your course for the 10-mile, 2,000-foot climb to the Montebello Country Store, where you can browse a variegated offering of pickled vegetables, homemade jams, and locally sourced honey among conventional convenience store fare. The nearby Montebello Fish Hatchery is a convenient lunch spot and offers a chance to view some of the 60,000 pounds of trout that the state disgorges by the truckload into local rivers and streams every year.

Pedal away from Montebello on a gravel track that deposits you at the beginning of the route’s longest stretch on a sealed road, an exhilarating descent to the Pedlar river. You’ll pass Wigwam Falls and Stanton’s Creek Falls along the way before beginning the gravel climb to one of the best camps in the area: an idillic trailside site nestled in a ravine bristling with ferns. This is the first recommended stop if you’re completing the route in three or more days.

The next day begins with a short climb to the highest point of the trip (3,500 feet) before beginning an almost continuous 2,500-foot descent to the Pedlar River where it meets the Lynchburg Reservoir. The former is stocked with trout, while the latter also harbors blue gill, crappies, and bass, some of which are visible from the shoreline. (Fishing in the reservoir requires a $4 permit, available in the city of Lynchburg.) Campsites on the bank of the Pedlar River north of the reservoir will tempt you to linger for an extra day to try your luck casting for the resident bass.

After leaving the reservoir, the BRW meanders across dirt and the occasional patch of asphalt before plunging into a warren of closed fire roads that are slowly being clawed back by the forest. The more well-traveled stretches present a distinct trail worn in by hikers, equestrians, and the occasional wayward cyclist, but keep an eye to your GPS, as you will often be following the road less traveled, and more obvious paths will lure you off course. This is one section of the route that could justify riding a fatbike, although by picking your lines carefully and taking it slow you’ll manage on a 2.1-inch WTB Nano. (You’ll be singing praises of a svelte, fat-free tread on the miles of nontechnical dirt road riding, too.) Masochists on a two day schedule and those following a more leisurely four day itinerary will both bed down for the night in this area, around mile 80.

The next day, a stiff climb on gravel brings you to a crossroads: go left for an out-and-back foray into the town of Buena Vista for some Virginia BBQ, or go right, forgo the opportunity to resupply, and spend your time cooling off in the Pedlar River at Panther Falls. The swimming hole below the falls is quite popular with locals, some of whom may, on occasion, enjoy a drunken, late-morning swim. Bikepackers in search of a solitary experience will prefer the more private—albeit shallower—pool near a campsite a few miles before the turnoff for Panther Falls. Riders following the three-day itinerary will spend their second night here.

Following your swim, you’ll ascend to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which comes as some relief after many rough and dusty miles. Continue along the ridge until you reach Nettle Creek Road where you begin a five and a half mile descent along Nettle Spring Creek and then Irish Creek. The latter appears to be well-stocked with trout given the number of fishermen who make camp on the narrow strip of land between the road and water’s edge. You may be in good company if you choose to stay here on the last night of the four day itinerary.

Even if you don’t camp at Irish Creek, it makes a good spot to rest and refill your water bottles before confronting the most remote and technical section of singletrack the BRW has to offer: the Whetstone Ridge Trail. Once a source of sharpening stones for European settlers and mountain men, Whetstone Ridge now provides an opportunity to hone your mountain biking skills as you navigate 12 miles of flowing singletrack replete with rock gardens, ledges, and sheer descents. It’s almost all rideable, though, even for a rider who is often stymied by suburban singletrack courses. Still, most folks should expect to wrestle their bikes up and down a few knobs along the ridge-line before emerging at the trailhead.  

With Whetstone behind you, clock a few more miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway—with a dirt road interlude through a deep gully—before bidding farewell to the Parkway’s bitumen for the last time at Forest Road 162, a rough track popular with 4×4 drivers. In a few places along the route the jeeps have created mud wallows that span the full width of the road. Navigate around the pits and a series of switchbacks to Coal Road, a dusty, rolling gravel path that will carry you back to the start of the route.

If you have the time and energy to celebrate, consider making your way to the Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company, ten miles to the southwest in Roseland, VA, where you can enjoy a local craft beer and reflect on the ride.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • Adam

    Paul, this looks awesome. So many animals!
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Matthew Crompton

    Fine looking route – the animals featuring heavily in the photo set are a really nice touch. =)

  • Steve

    looks super sweet…great photos

  • Nate justice

    Seems like a great route! I’ll be the third to mention my love of all the nature photography! I live in Ohio so this may be one of my next big weekends! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Brayden Shue

    Would this be a bad trail to do in December?

  • It really depends on the weather… in the south weather is completely unpredictable based on the season. It could be mild or it could be frigid with snow.

  • John Mueller

    Is there any overnight parking on the Buena Vista end? Not to picky a trail head would work just want reasonably safe and cheap.

  • Garrett McDaniel

    Looks like a fantastic route. Do you know if there is any rules against dogs being on the trails? Thanks!

  • brett atchley

    hi folks,
    I’m considering this route for a long boy scout trip, can anyone who has made the BRW loop comment on the possibility of having a support vehicle that can follow the itinerary enough to drop off tents/sleeping bags at camp sites. It would help with logistics if the boys didn’t have to carry that on their bikes

  • Big Dave

    Awesome route! Better rig for this, Surly Cross Check or Surly Krampus

  • Michael Kanner

    Anyone who has done this before… Is a mountain bike required for this, or is it doable with a hybrid bike?

  • Paul

    This route definitely requires either a hardtail with minimum 2″ tires, a rigid plus bike, or a fat bike. With a hardtail you will need to go slowly and pick your line carefully along some stretches. The most challenging sections of the route are not represented in the photos.

  • Paul

    A plus bike is definitely the better option.

  • Paul

    Long stretches of this route are along dirt/gravel roads where vehicle support is possible, but if you only camp along roads you may have to divide up the route into uneven segments, which could be inconvenient. In that case, you may have to do a long day or two. That assumes you plan to do it in 3-4 days. I would recommend you all do a long day ride of 50-miles on moderate terrain to test fitness/tolerance before tackling this route.

  • Paul

    I don’t know of any formal, designated parking areas in Buena Vista, other than free on-street parking.

  • Paul

    I can’t provide a definitive answer, but I do not recall seeing any signs prohibiting dogs on the trails. Some trails are open to equestrians, so there may be a leash law to prevent dogs from spooking horses with mounted riders. In any case, be aware of that possibility.

  • Big Dave

    Thanks for sharing Paul. Will be hitting this route up when things warm up and dry out.

  • Nice route! Gonna hit this one up in the fall.

  • Dan

    I was contemplating this on a rigid bike with 2.1″ tires, but this comment gives me pause. What if I’m willing to navigate around Whetstone Ridge Trail? Any other sections not doable on that rig?

  • John Mueller

    any camping possibilities in the first 30 miles?

  • Paul

    Yes, there are definitely other sections that would not be fun on a rigid bike. I think your best bet is to get your hands on a fat bike or hardtail.

  • Paul

    You might be able to find a spot within the first 7 miles, but that would make for a very short day. Alternatively, you can rent a cabin about 13 miles in at the Royal Oaks Country Store (see map). After you pass Royal Oaks you will be surrounded by private land almost all the way to Montebello.

  • Chris

    Heading out to do this trip tomorrow morning! See you on the other side.

  • Cheryl Wallace

    Paul, thanks for creating an awesome route! I did it on my fat bike. The Blue Ridge Wrangler is a great sampler of different types of trails and roads.

  • Paul

    That’s great, Cheryl! I’m glad you enjoyed the trip. You’re the first person I know of who has completed the route since it was posted here on bikepacking.com.

  • Ricky Diaz

    I’m looking to do this route with a rigid bike that has 27.5 x 2.8 tires on it and thudbuster seat. Any chance I could make it with that setup?

  • Paul

    I think that should be fine. You’ll have to take it slow on some of the singletrack, but you’ll do well on the gravel roads.

  • Pancho

    A friend and I are planning on doing this route this coming weekend. I’m trying to pull it off with a Long Haul Trucker and I know a lot of this trip will be difficult on this bike but I was wondering how bad this might be? I have 44 tires and traveling super light. It looks mostly like all ravel roads…

  • heatwave23

    Looks like BRW will be my 1st attempt at bikepacking… I am planning to hit it in 3-4 weeks, are all the trails open?

  • Bruce Lafone

    Looks great, been looking for a long weekend bikepacking route that isn’t too hardcore. Going to take my Salsa Vaya on this one and hopefully pull through 😃

  • heatwave23

    Planning on doing this on Aug 9th

  • Ricky Diaz

    Let me know how it goes for you, planning on hitting this sometime in Sept.

  • Paul

    You will have about 25 difficult miles on trails and you will have to get off and push at times. It can definitely be done on a LHT with 44’s, but I can’t recommend it.

  • Paul

    The area between mile 120-133 is the Whetstone Ridge Trail. It’s not well-publicized, but it’s an established trail, certainly more established than other parts of the route.

  • Josh Tucker

    I attempted this yesterday, but ended up bailing after 2+ hours of hiking my salsa fargo up the initial climb, I just found the single track too technical for the type of bike I have, would like to attempt it again with a flatbar/suspension mtb, and with less weight.. the other sections of the route sound amazing, I live in va and plan returning eventually with different gear/bike

  • heatwave23

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4dca9a5ce1a3560146f4e823bb7f7fcbe7112efb7b24bef6c62ea749c07c1158.jpg Okay, this was my 1st attempt at bikepacking, so I am open the fact that I don’t know what I am talking about. Just for reference, I am an avid cyclist / CAT 3 racer in okay-ish form. Rig = Salsa Cutthroat, rigid fork, 2.2in tires, and it’s a 1x set up with a 32t front and 11-42 rear. Like Josh, I was not impressed by the 1st climb. See image below for an example of a large part of the climb. It took ~3.5hr to the Royal Oaks Country Store which is about 10mi and my arms took a beating. It took me 7:45 to get to the “3-day Camp Site 1”. Which was longer than expected, after the 1st 10 miles I really did not stop much because I was way behind schedule. Stop Time was less than 1hr to eat and soak in a stream for a bit. Aside from the 1st climb the rest of the route to the 1st campsite was awesome. I did not do the remainder of the route. I plan to go back and take Love Rd to pick up the rt at Royal Oaks Store on my next attempt.

  • heatwave23

    I am thinking about attempting this again during the labor day weekend, if you are interested.

  • Paul

    Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the introduction to the BRW. I’ve tried to warn people in the comments section and elsewhere that the trails and closed fire roads are a challenge. I wish there were an easy way to say what type of rig is best for the route, but it’s a highly subjective decision. There are those outliers who ride the continental dive on a fixie or technical singletrack on a unicycle who make it difficult, but for most people I have recommended, at a minimum, a hardtail or fatbike. If you didn’t enjoy the first day on your rigid bike with 2.2’s, I would recommend taking a different bike on your second attempt. There’s a bit more rough riding ahead!

  • heatwave23

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for the route, I am looking forward to heading back out and finishing it… Over all I am super happy with what I saw of the route… I just wanted to reiterate that even though the ride is listed as 99% ride-able, I did a lot of pushing my bike on the 1st climb.