Bikepacking The Virginia Mountain Bike Trail, VMBT

  • Distance

    430 Mi.

    (692 KM)
  • Days

    12

  • % Unpaved

    75%

  • % Singletrack

    40%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    9

  • % Rideable (time)

    90%

  • Total Ascent

    50,000'

    (15,240 M)
  • High Point

    4,537'

    (1,383 M)
An epic, diverse, and wits-crushing bikepacking route that follows the endless ridges of the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountains along a continuous, 430-mile off-road route from Strasburg to Damascus. The VMBT writhes its way through isolated farming communities, remote wilderness, panoramic crags, and historic rail grade trails...
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In the fall of 2011, Chris Scott of Shenandoah Mountain Touring and several other cyclists pioneered The Virginia Mountain Bike Trail, an off-road route connecting the length of Virginia’s Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountain Ranges from Strasburg at the northerly border to Damascus in the southern wedge of Virginia. The result of their efforts is an epic backcountry expedition that links eight major trail systems, beautiful dirt forest roads, and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The route consists of singletrack trails, gravel roads, and dirt tracks that span 430 miles and ascend over 50,000 feet.

I set out in September of 2014 to cobble together this route, and what awaited me was an extremely challenging bikepacking journey through a remote and magnificent wilderness. This route is truly amazing, but as a warning, amongst these tracks are stretches of difficult terrain that are seldomly travelled and can be extraordinarily rugged, rocky, and at times overgrown. Many of the trails follow ridgelines where it is dry, very rocky, and the riding is technical to say the least. There is also an incredible network of (sometimes primitive) forest roads through the George Washington Jefferson National Forest that offers dirt-road riding at its best. Then there are singletrack gems such as the Wild Oak trail which boasts a flowing downhill that runs the length of the very scenic Chestnut Ridge.

The latter half of the trail winds through scenic farmland, and over more rugged ridge lines including the the epic 14 mile North Mountain trail. It also travels through historic towns such as Clifton Forge, and established tracks like the peaceful 55 mile New River State Park rail trail. It may seem slightly easier than the first half, but it throws plenty of knuckle balls, and delivers a final blow of steep climbs and rugged horse trodden tracks over the last 70 miles in the Mount Rogers highlands. The closing stretch of downhill along the Iron Mountain Trail eventually erases the pain that carried your legs up to that point.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Incredible scenic views along ridge line trails of the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains.
  • The Wild Oak trail, an epic descent on Chestnut Ridge.
  • Camping under an amazing night sky on Sister Knob.
  • Spotting wildlife such as black bear, turkey, deer, owl, etc.
  • Stoney Run in Douthat State Park.
  • The North Mountain Trail, a not to miss rugged ridge line ride.
  • The New River State Park Trail: a scenic and peaceful ride along the New River.
  • FSR 14, a desolate wilderness track through an amazing forest.
  • The view from Comer’s Rock.
  • The descent down the Iron Mountain Trail.
  • All of the historic farmhouses, trestles, and artifacts along the way.
  • This route follows trails and roads depicted on National Geographic maps 791, 788, and 787. However, these maps are out of date and private property issues are always changing. I highly recommend using both a GPS as well as a map from Shenandoah Mountain Touring that can be purchased by contacting Chris Scott.
  • Make sure you are well stocked with tire repair supplies, there are plenty of thorny plants along the dry ridges; I would recommend a tubeless setup or a couple of squirts of Stan’s in your tubes.
  • Hunting is big in these parts. If you choose to ride during hunting season, make sure to pack your blaze orange.
  • Some of these trails are very rugged, grown up, and/or seldomly travelled; wear long socks and prepare for some hike-a-bikes.
  • Use precaution and realize that at times you will be in extremely remote areas and far away from services or help.
  • Use precaution and realize that at times you will be in extremely remote areas and far away from services or help.
  • There are campgrounds scattered throughout the route as you come in and out of the George Washington National Forest.
  • In both George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, there are sites along the forest roads as well as plenty of backcountry sites.
  • There are at times long stretches of very rocky terrain which makes finding a flat spot rather difficult; a hammock is your best option for camping anywhere along the trails.
  • Know your water sources; I noted a few in the GPS route, but water can be scarce along these divide ridges; especially along the first half of the route.
  • There are food options in and near towns off the trail in various places.
  • As noted in the GPS track, there are a few scattered general stores with well stocked supplies.
  • Water is much more abundant on the second half of the route.
  • The main places where one may fall short with water are along the ridges.

Diversions from the Original Route

  • Around mile 205 the original route leads across the river via an old trestle; because of new posted signs I decide to take a paved route instead. However, a more off road option may be doable by taking Craig Creek Road at mile 41 and then 818 to a trail over Patterson Mountain.
  • At mile 280, the original route shows wading across the New River to access roads on the other side and work toward the New River Trail. It was cold so I passed on this.

NOTE: for those interested in this route, Shenandoah Mountain Touring will be offering a well-documented map of the full route. I highly recommend obtaining a copy prior to tackling the VMBT; there are many trails and forest roads that can be slightly confusing, and the National Geographic maps (792/791/788) of the area are slightly out of date and do not correctly display water availability, several of the trails, and private land issues.

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.

Tags

  • http://wanderlust-gear.com/ Paul Hansbarger

    Been waiting for this one. Awesome photos and route details. I’m now living in this area and will have to tackle this soon. Hit me up if you do any more trips in VA!

  • OMSC

    Great write up! I live in Charlotteville and have biked a bunch of the terrain in the GWNF. It’s prime bikepacking territory. And you’re right about the Nat Geo maps: lots of out of date info regarding property boundaries. Have you heard from Chris Scott when the map might be ready? Thanks for detailing such a great route so close to home! –Christian

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! Will do. I may be doing the second half mid-october…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! I did speak with Chris last week. He said the got the maps in and just had to mark them up. You may want to shoot him an email…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Thanks! Will do. I may be doing the second half mid-october…

  • RobE

    What type of water purifier do you use? Also, how many miles on each day of the trail did you ride per day (Minus the miles you had to ride due to your flats.)?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    I used a Sawyer Squeeze Mini on this one… a great little lightweight filter. I rode about 50 miles per day with the extra flat detour and the tar exit included. Almost the entire final day was spent getting back to Staunton, so without that and the 20 miles for the flats detour, I did about 40 miles per day over 4 days.

  • Travis

    Question about temps in early June. How feasable is this route at the beginning of June? I’m a teacher and it would be the only time I could commit to it. How hot/humid would the afternoons be and about what kind of temps would we see at night?

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Travis. Early June would be great, in my opinion. Not sure about temps, but I would think that early in the summer it wouldn’t be too hot yet, especially when up at altitude. I would guess that nights would be in the 60s. The only thing about the east coast that time of year are afternoon thunderstorms. It would be hit or miss, but I never let those stand in the way…

  • Travis

    Perfect. That’s just what I was hoping for. Would you be willing to discuss other logistics? I’d be coming from Austin, Tx. I have a fair amount of experience bikepacking so I don’t need my hand held, just some basic stuff (where to fly into, ideas on how to get back to airport after completion of the trail).

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Sorry for the delay… got sidetracked. I looked it up and there are rental car agencies in Abington (close to the trail end in Damascus, VA). Your best bet would be to fly in to DC, then take a train or bus up to Strasburg. There you’d have a big road climb to get to the junction at the Tuscarora Trail, but you’d be able to finish in Damascus, rent a car and do a one-way drop at the airport in DC. I would plan for about 14-18 days, depending on how strong of a rider you are…

  • David

    Travis, I have been out in this area of the GWNF in early June and it has been quite pleasant during the day and have experienced low 50s at night. Best bet is to check the forecast for some of the nearby cities and knock off some degrees for elevation.

  • Rob

    Great ride report. Were there any other web sites that helped you plan this trip? I’m not finding a lot on the actual GW National Forest site, such as where to park, and if bicycles are then allowed on the shoulder of the US -55/48 highway, which looks like the starting point to hop on the trail.

    From what I can see on Google Maps street view, there’s no parking near the starting point. I spoke with the Ranger station but was told there are just “turnoffs” to park at along the road near the trails, but I’m not seeing this on street view.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Man, I apologize for the delay… I missed this comment and was going back through emails and saw it. I parked right near the trail start on a turnoff on 55. Maybe not visible in street view as it’s just gravel. Your best bet is to contact Chris Scott and get an updated map set. This should be able to answer most of your questions. Also, National Geographic maps (792/791/788) are pretty helpful in planning.

  • Conor Phelan

    Hi, I was thinking of heading out of the DC area tomorrow to just do an out and back overnighter on part of the trail. Would there be a 20-30 mile section of trail you would recommend the most to do as an out and back? Perhaps a parking spot as well? Thanks in advance for any help.

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    Hi Conor, that’s a really tough question to answer without having my natgeo maps with me; especially the parking. The wild oak trail southwest of Harrisonburg is pretty awesome… and there are a couple of ways to loop that and parkin in the national forest. Mayne look that up on MTBproject. There are a lot of great trails around Harrisonburg. The tough thing about the VMBT for an overnight is the fact that it uses alot of ridges and is point to point….

  • Conor Phelan

    Great, I will look into the Wild Oak Trail. If I end up going out this weekend I will let you know what I thought. Thanks so much for your prompt response. I can’t tell you how awesome this website is…both the content and design are next level stuff. If you ever need maps made let me know! I am a GIS nerd. Thanks again.

  • Cameron

    Is there a good specific place for a beginner bikepacker to hit along this trail? Beginner as in first trip ever…

  • http://www.pedalingnowhere.com/ Logan

    How are your skills as a mountain biker? If you want a truly beginner route, Check out part 2 and the New River park section… it’s a rail to trail project, so it is a relatively flat grade, gravel ride. It is beautiful through there though.

  • Their Only Portrait

    Hola Logan, what’s going on with that poor bear? Saludos, Federico

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ bikepacking.com (Logan)

    Unfortunately, that bear was taken down by a hunter. I just stopped and asked if I could take a photo. Cheers, Logan

  • Their Only Portrait

    Sad :(

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    Hi Logan. I just arrived in the US (I’m from Belgium) and have been looking forward to doing some of the rides on this amazing, inspiring website. Would you recommend to do this Virginia trail (part 1 or 2) for about a week, alone? Or is it too remote and tricky? Also, I do not have a 29′ mtb, rather a 26′ if i look at some of your pictures and the rockgardens on them, I’d be interested to have your opinion on whether this trail is suitable for a 26′ mtb? Currently i’m living in New Jersey, unfortunately there aren’t too many of the trails near to where I live, that’s why i got interested in this trail, as it’s not too far out. I’d be aiming for september. thanks for your advice. sten

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Hi Sten. Keep in mind that the VMBT is pretty rough; the 9 rating is a fair assessment; a good amount of hike-a-bike and extremely rocky terrain should be expected. If you are up for that, a 26″ MTB should be fine; I don’t think wheel size should affect it much (although a 29er does help smooth out the rocks, somewhat). If you are fast, a week should get you most of the way through both sections. Another reader just did a through ride in 10 days. Hope this helps.

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    Thanks Logan. Hmm, not in my best shape now. Maybe i’ll look for another area, still debating. Do you have any other suggestions somewhere in the north east for a 5 – 6 days ride?

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    By the way, another question. What kind of maps do you use on your garmin gps? Does open street map do the trick for the national parks here?

  • Rob Osborne

    Looking at your gps path it seems like you took a lot of road – or did you ride on a trail along the road and it just appears different on the gps route?

  • Sten Van Leuffel

    Hi Logan,

    thanks for your advice. instead i did a ride in the green mountains in vermont (http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/spatialArtifacts.do?event=setCurrentSpatialArtifact&id=10877722) which was very beautiful and would deserve a place on the site.

    I’m now looking for a ten day ride in early december, do you know of any ride in the USA that is doable in december? the Arizona trail would be full of snow, right?

  • http://tourdelospadres.weebly.com/ Erin Carroll

    I am from California, but I think I might need to do this one for nostalgia sake, as I spent almost every summer of my childhood visiting this area of Virginia. My family had a summer vacation property along the Cowpasture River that was purchased by my great grandfather back in the 1930’s. Actually this route goes right by our driveway at mile 177.2 (Winding River Lane)!!! Questions—- Can this route be looped? Why are there several out and backs? Are the out and backs necessary for some reason? Maybe for camping purposes?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Nice, that’s pretty cool. There is no way to loop it that I know of. Unless you have someone willing to help you out with shuttling, I would pick a start/end point where you could rent a uhaul to return one way.. The out and backs were simply me getting lost. I was using only maps and beta.

  • http://tourdelospadres.weebly.com/ Erin Carroll

    Thanks, I would need to fly in and out of Roanoke, so that would probably dictate the logistics…

  • http://www.uninspiredramblings.com/ Chris

    Hey Logan, do you have any info on the availability of the maps for this route? I shot Shenandoah an email and a message via Facebook but haven’t had a response from them…

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    I don’t, Chris. I have a feeling that they may not be available and GPS will be your best bet. This one’s on my list to clean up and combine soon though.

  • OhioOutside

    Logan, Great article, photos, everything. What did you use to shoot the photos? I assume you did not carry a very big camera. Thanks, Mark

  • Ryan Christensen

    I’m hooked. Anyone have beta on transportation logistics? I’d be coming from Richmond, VA didn’t know if I could make it by bus

  • Derek Tribble

    So… Could I just download this route to my eTrex 20 and hit the trail or do I need some additional maps or gpx files?

  • Kendrick P Mugnier

    This looks so compelling that I have committed to riding the second half of it with 4 of my friends this summer. I appreciate the GPS file and the tips and pointers. We are all proficient bikers and experienced backpackers and campers, but none of us have combined biking with camping thus far so we are at the equipment buying and testing phase and will move to do some one-night trips in preparation during the next four months. Can’t wait to do this trip.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Excellent. I will warn you that this is a tough one though. Lots of hike-a-bike, although the latter half is a little easier that the first.

  • http://www.bikepacking.com/ BIKEPACKING.com (Logan)

    Whoops, missed this a while ago, sorry. Yep, although I recommend talking to Chris at Shenandoah Touring for map updates.

  • Kyle Timbers

    I am looking to do a 2 day / 1 night trip along this trail, somewhere near the Roanoke area. Based on your TR and the comments below it seems this is pretty tough to do. Are there any recommended 40-50 mile sections to do for this type of thing?

  • http://www.bikepacking.com Logan Watts

    You could try the iron mountain segment/loop: http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/bikepacking-the-iron-mountain-trail/