Ragged Mountains

Edgar Allen Poe hiked the Ragged Mountains, a particularly rocky section of the Appalachian Mountain range extending south and west of Charlottesville, Virginia, during his years as a student at the University of Virginia.

The mountains are the setting for his "Tale of the Ragged Mountains," in which Augustus Bedloe has a strange experience:

"It was about nine in the morning when I left Charlottesville. I bent my steps immediately to the mountains, and, about ten, entered a gorge which was entirely new to me. I followed the windings of this pass with much interest. The scenery which presented itself on all sides, although scarcely entitled to be called grand, had about it an indescribable and to me a delicious aspect of dreary desolation. The solitude seemed absolutely virgin. I could not help believing that the green sods and the gray rocks upon which I trod had been trodden never before by the foot of a human being. So entirely secluded, and in fact inaccessible, except through a series of accidents, is the entrance of the ravine, that it is by no means impossible that I was indeed the first adventurer–the very first and sole adventurer who had ever penetrated its recesses.

The thick and peculiar mist, or smoke, which distinguishes the Indian Summer, and which now hung heavily over all objects, served, no doubt, to deepen the vague impressions which these objects created. So dense was this pleasant fog that I could at no time see more than a dozen yards of the path before me. This path was excessively sinuous. 

Edgar Allen Poe 
"The Ragged Mountains remain true to their name: boulders jut from the hillside and roots crisscross the earth. Cloaked in mature forest, the hillsides must appear today much as they did when Edgar Allen Poe hiked them as respite from his studies," writes guidebook author Nathan Lott in 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond.

The Ragged Mountain Natural Area -- managed as a public natural area reserved for quiet hiking, fishing, and wildlife observation by the private Ivy Creek Foundation -- is a 980-acre forest of mature oak, hickory,  poplar, pine, and maple trees with two lakes and more than four miles of shoreline.  Seven miles of rugged trail lead through the forest, encircling Charlottesville Reservoir and providing an overview from a rocky peak (the trail gains more than 300 feet in the first half-mile). The trail covers is 5.9 miles with an optional 3.5-mile loop. Hiking time is approximately three hours.
"The rock-studded trail weaves beneath yellow poplar, red maple, and dogwood, ascending steadily toward the crest of Round Top," Lott explains. 

"Traversing a creek-fed marsh on the southwestern tip of the lake, look for sourwood trees growing along the water's edge. Tread lightly through this marsh, and you may spot waterfowl, otters, and turtles before they spot you."

The Natural Area is closed and locked at sunset.  Hikers are advised not attempt the entire loop trail late in the day.
The Ragged Mountain Natural Area

60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Richmond 
by Nathan Lott 
Menasha Ridge Press, 2005

Residents of Richmond, Petersburg, Williamsburg, or Fredericksburg -- and visitors to the area -- will find plenty of good reasons to strap on some hiking boots and get outdoors in this helpful guide.

Days hikes of varying lengths and levels of difficulty are profiled here, from a short stroll at Crump Park to a nearly 20-mile march on Rivanna Trail. Hikes across prominent Civil War sites include:

Belle and Brown's Island
Cold Harbor Battlefield
Henricus Historical Park
James River Park
Newport News Park
North Anna Battlefield Park
Petersburg National Battlefield Park
Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield

Best of the profiled hikes for families with children include:

Bear Creek Lake State Park
Bush Mill Stream State Natural Area
Chippokes Plantation State Park
Deep Run Park
Dorey Park
George Washington Birthplace
Greensprings Greenway
Hickory Hollow Preserve
Ivy Creek Natural Area
Joseph Bryan Park
Pony Pasture Rapids
Rockwood Park
Saunders-Monticello Trail
Three Lakes Park
Waller Mill Park

There's also plenty of trails for joggers or trail runners, birders and wildlife watchers, and even the wheelchair-bound. Each trail description includes maps and GPS coordinates, directions for finding the trailhead, an elevation profile, and two or three pages of background information and advice on what to look for and expect to find.

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