Big Levels

Riding Tailgunner

see also Shoe Creek / Crabtree Falls


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4X4 ICON 2000 - 2008 The DVD!

Way Points



This trip was prompted by the discovery of a trip report on the C.O.R.E web site.  They went out there and found some great off-road opportunities culminating in a great view.  The photos show some challenges that beckon...

This weekend also holds the possibility of some good foliage, so this too is an attractive incentive.  The long-range weather forecast promises a cold, rainy outlook so we anticipate the possibility of less dust and more greasy surfaces.  This will be what I hope is a welcome change from the last several "dusty roads where they have gone"*.

Hugh Long is signed-on for this trip and we met along Route 15 and Route 66 Junction near Haymarket, VA in the wee hours, then drive down to the trail.


As planned, we met about 8:15am and drove out to Route 81 on Route 66.  Then we headed south on Route 81.  When we got near Edinburg, I switched over to Channel 4 and shouted for "OCC".  Not too surprisingly, James C. and Roscoe P. answered.  From the message board, I knew that they were planning a run over Peter's Mill.  We passed the time of day and left the broadcast area at about the same time we had no more to say.  We continued south for about another hour until we reached our exit.

Just off the exit, we took on fuel, last minute provisions, then headed in to Stuart's Draft.  Owing to some careless navigation on my part, we overshot one turn and took a wide loop down Route 610, 664 to the end of FR 42.  There, we stopped to try and confirm our position using my laptop and Street Atlas USA.  While doing this, I noticed that I had inadvertently backed my Jeep into a dried leaf pile and was about to ignite it from my exhaust...  How ironic that a sign at the entrance to the road warned against starting fires...  I pulled ahead and then quenched the smoldering pile.

Alas the computer gods were not smiling on me as, for whatever reason, the PC would not see the port the GPS was plugged in to.  But based on reckoning, we correctly determined our position, and headed up the dusty road in search of the trail.



Big Levels Entrance from FR 42Foliage

We reached the trail entrance without any more trouble.  Even though the GPS seemed to be in "selective availability" mode (lower accuracy), the coordinates I entered a few weeks ago were indispensable for locating the trail entrance as there were many along the road, all very much the same as each other.

We ate lunch, fed the kids, and aired down.  We talked of disconnecting but since neither of us has yet gotten quick disconnects, we decided against it.  By the time we finished the trail, we both had resolved to put disconnects high on our "must do" lists...

First ObstacleFirst Obstacle

I was warned by another trail report that there was an obstacle at the first turn in the trail.  This promise was kept, and found us pondering whether or not we'd take the bypass.  After a little bit of reasoning, mental measuring, and rock stacking, we decided to tackle it.  Hugh went first and I spotted for him.  he came up to the rocks, put his tires in the position that looked most likely and made a few tries.  He kept sliding off to the side, towards the rock, threatening to damage his body panels.  But eventually he got a good purchase on the rock and just walked over it.  It took about 30 seconds.  I went next and, with the great benefit of Hugh's lessons, went right up and over it on my first approach.  Hugh was waving me off, but I chose to keep my momentum and go up.  I guess I had only 1/2 inch to spare when I got my front wheel over the rock, and he was worried it would get worse, but I got lucky.

Riding Tailgunner

After that the rest of the trail seemed pretty tame.  But all things being relative, I will say that the trail itself is pretty much one continuous obstacle.  It appears to be an old access road that goes straight up the mountain. 

Coming up

The topsoil has long ago washed away, leaving a bed of boulders that range in size from baseball to football, to basket ball size.  Here and there are larger boulders that must be avoided, climbed, or in some other way straddled.  It all makes for some slow going, and a rough ride.  But it is satisfying to make forward motion in this terrain.

The Trail

At one trail junction, there is an obstacle just south that is one part erosion, one part rock, and a generous dose of off-camber terrain.  Hugh tried to get over it but found that his power wheels (no lockers) both ended up off the ground. 

Paul and Tom near viewPaul climbing Big LevelsShea and Jeep

This in combination with not disconnecting prevented us from getting over this obstacle.  It was also partly owing to my concern that we'd either get broken, rolled, or wedged between the side and the rock.  As much help as a second vehicle can be in extricating a stuck buddy, we didn't feel like pushing it.  The trail junction included a bypass and we took advantage of it.

Trail JunctionPaul and Jeep

We continued on up the mountain, stopping to enjoy the view from time to time, and to walk some of the side trails to see where they lead.  There are several trail junctions and in most cases, the path forward is the most direct route to the top of the mountain. 

Shea LongPaul climbing Big Levels

The map shows that some of these trails are just switchback options, perhaps for bad weather, that rejoin the trail further up.  We will probably explore these side-trails at some time in the future.

OnwardView on the TrailView on the Trail

When we got to the main trail junction and a little further along to Green Pond (which is quite small), we stopped for a break and discovered checkerberries (wintergreen) growing next to the trail. 

Foliage and ViewFoliage and viewFoliage and view

Hugh was skeptical at first but trusted me long enough to discover the subtle mint flavor of these red berries.  They were abundant.  We picked several and enjoyed our snack.  Be cautioned that too much is toxic but you'll probably get tired of looking for them before you reach that limit...

Hugh making Photos

From here we continued on our way the last couple miles up the trail, which was much easier going.  We encountered a couple mountain bikers and a motorcycle rider.  

Paul near Bald Mountain Overlook

Hugh's Jeep near Bald Mountain OverlookHugh's Jeep near Bald Mountain OverlookPaul on road near Bald Mountain Overlook

Upon reaching the uppermost portion of the trail, within a mile of the Bald Mt. Outlook, we met several vehicles coming our way, as well as a couple walking a stroller!  Near where I thought the junction with the parkway was (I later learned that I had incorrectly marked the Lookout Tower), we found a pair of campsites and an outhouse.  My GPS track records my visit...

Bald Mountain Outlook
Shea Long

We doubled back on the access road a couple times trying to resolve the incorrect waypoint, but finally got to the parkway, where we had more snacks, made some photos and discussed our options for further exploration.

While you're out there, take a minute to pick up the junk you find and make sure you don't leave any of your own.   Check out this note that one club likes to write in thanks to the forest district.


3:30 p.m.

We decided that we had time to go over to Shoe Creek and Crabtree Falls and explore that trail.  So we closed our log book on this trail and hit the road for that trail system.  More details here.

C.O.R.E. Trip | Len Thompson's Photos | More Big Levels Photos

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Big Levels / Shoe Creek GPS Data

Update 1/5/2008:  GPS Data now provided in GPX format for easy transfer to your GPS!

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