When presented with free time and the opportunity to explore arises, it can be difficult to decide where to go. The number of destinations seem endless with each place offering something completely different: the Blue Ridge mountains to the west, the coastal tidewater to the east and the Appalachian plateau to the Southwest. I usually end up letting the season and conditions deciding for me. What better place to explore in early Spring than the St. Mary’s Wilderness Area in the Blue Ridge? I read numerous reviews about the area of its beauty and clear river beds. St. Mary’s is designated a wilderness area, and as such, the trails are poorly marked. It appeared that summer hikers frequently got lost on the poorly marked trails and overgrown brush. I hoped to avoid all of this by navigating in early spring, with bare trees and clearer paths.
My cousin from Toronto accompanied me on this outing, marking his first proper hike in Virginia. When we arrived to the trail head, I was surprised to find that the earth was scorched and the trees charred. I later learned that a wildfire just two weeks prior had burned over 800 acres of the wilderness area. St Mary’s spans over 35,000 acres making it the largest Virgina Wilderness area on national forest land. The region was previously a mining ore for manganese and iron until it was abandoned in the mid 1900s. Today it serves as a beautiful hiking and fly fishing trail along the St Mary’s River, complete with a beautiful waterfall at the end.
There are numerous routes to get to the waterfall. The most popular route listed on Hikingupwards.com recommended starting out along the Blue Ridge Parkway. One reviewer discouraged this path, because it was poorly marked and he took numerous detours after getting lost. They recommended an easier way to get to the falls. Off of Cold Springs Rd (Route 608) is St Marys Road. This road is in excellent shape and leads you all the way down to a well kept parking area and the beginning of the trail that puts you right next to St Marys River. From there, you simply follow the river to the falls. Internet win.
The hike twists and turns through a beautiful gorge, providing a unique vista in Virginia. There was lots of rock hopping, and scaling as the trail crossed back and forth over the river five times. We tried our hand also at some Tenkara (traditional Japanese fly fishing). This style of fly fishing uses only a rod, line and fly – no reel. With flask in hand with some Nordic honey wine and packed lunches, we enjoyed the peace of spring time in the mountains.