Another Hidden Gem: Laurel Ridge Trail and Twin Ridge Park

On the heels of having made it out to Hamlet Vineyards for the first time, I have found another local attraction hiding in plain sight. I’ve been here since 2014 and I had never heard anything about how pretty Twin Ridge Park is on Philpott Lake or seen any pictures of the amenities there.

In fact, prior to this, the only true access point for Philpott Lake that I had been to was the Philpott Marina (The yellow 1 in the shot below, lower right).

Imagine a trail going around this

Today I want to share some photos from a recent hike with the Homestead Hikers. Homestead Hikers is a hiking club (dues are $10 a year) connected with Reynolds Homestead, a historic property and extension of Virginia Tech. This extension is host to the College for Older Adults and they have some AMAZING programs. Honestly (and I am not kidding) I was looking forward to turning 50 because of the programs for seniors here. But I digress. Again.

Trail Head Sign

Twin Ridge Park is actually in Franklin County, Henry County’s neighbor. The trail we were hitting today was the Laurel Ridge Trail heading to Salthouse Branch. We would do a 3-mile round trip out-and-back hike.

There is parking along the side of the road at the trail head. A small stretch has stone put down for traction while the rest is mown grass. There’s room for maybe 8 to 10 cars parked perpendicular to the road. The boat launch is about a half a mile down the road so there is additional parking there but add a mile onto your hike if you park there.

The trail head sign says that this is a 2.5 mile long trail of moderate difficulty (1 hour to complete one way) and that it is open to hikers, bicyclists, and hunters. It describes the trail this way:

“Laurel Ridge Trail traverses through beautiful forested mountains, with stretches that hug the Philpott Lake shoreline, connecting Salthouse Branch Park and Twin Ridge Park. The trail is marked by trees with blue markings.”

A woodland path

Don’t worry about the “forested mountains” part. If that is true, it is in only the most technical sense. This is a nice woodland walk with only a slight decline as you progress along the path. It wouldn’t have been noticeable at all except that we did notice the slight incline when we reversed for our return.

The blue markings are critical. This is a beautiful path that is very visible most of the time but there are times when the trail forks and you need to know which way to go.

A fork in the trail

There were some things we all enjoyed looking at along the path. This tree had grown up right next to the path and then fell away from it, leaving a canopy of roots for an opportunistic woodland vine to climb.

A fallen tree

While this trail is going from point A to point B along the lake, the lake’s shoreline narrows until it becomes little more than a creek. You have to go a distance away from the body of the lake before you can get to a crossing. At one point, it is no more than a foot or two wide and it winds back and forth like a snake.

There, before we crossed, we found a foundation or basement for a structure now long gone. No one knows what its history is.

A foundation for a farm or a mill?

You do eventually have to cross the water but, by the time that you do, it’s not a significant crossing. At least, this is what it looked like when we did it.

The water crossing

We saw a turtle. It was right on the trail but it blended in so well that it very nearly got stepped on.

Can you see the turtle?

Being woodland, much of the trail looks alike and it was challenging to get good photos. I would see something I considered beautiful, snap a shot, and then, once I got home, not be able to make out what in particular I was seeing. I think that it is worth continuing to try.

It really is a beautiful trail

We were all pleased with our hike. Afterwards, some of our group went on down to the boat launch area to investigate and swim.

Twin Ridge Boat Launch

This is Philpott Lake, standing on the Twin Ridge Ramp. In the photo below, I’ve labeled the horizon (loosely) with the points of interest. That whole mass on the right is Goose Point Campground. Turkey Island is the only island on Philpott Lake that allows camping. There is an island behind it that does not have a name. Deer Island is somewhere over towards the shore between Salthouse Branch and Turkey Island.

Points of interest standing on Twin Ridge Park boat ramp

There is a placard that gives you this information, a little more accurately. I, honestly, had not paid any attention to the new Philpott Lake Blueway Water Trail went I first heard of it. Every time I saw a photo of Philpott Lake, it was from the same vantage point. I thought that that must be all there was. I was incredibly wrong. There so much more to see. I could take a whole season to see all of the points of interest, maybe more.

The informational placard at Twin Ridge Park

The placard also suggests the following kayaking trips:

Deer Island Kayak Trip – 4 miles round trip – From the ramp, paddle southeast across the mouth of the cove and continue along this shoreline. Deer Island is the landmass on your right as you round the point. The scenic and secluded shores of the largest island on the lake it is only accessed by boat, and the only island on Philpott used for camping. Continue around Deer Island between Turkey Island and the western side of Deer Island.

Rabbit Island – 3.5 miles round trip – The open water of the lake must be crossed to reach the secluded shores of Rabbit Island. It is recommended this trip not be attempted by paddle craft during high wind or heavy motorized boat traffic conditions. Head west from Twin Ridge to make the scenic round trip to Rabbit Island. A compass is always recommended when negotiating large open water. No camping is allowed on Rabbit Island.

Pavilion at Twin Ridge Park

The park itself is beautiful. The pavilion is big, well maintained, and clean. The person emptying the trash bin while I was there ducked out of the shot above.

There is a dedicated swimming area. River shoes might be a good idea for the rocky terrain.

The swimming area at Twin Creek Park

They also have concerts in the park designed for an audience of boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders. One of our cohort was local to this particular area and he said that it is a very safe area and that the concert series have been well managed.

Boat dock at Twin Ridge Park

There is a lot here. I didn’t expect so many photos from a short hike but, there you are. The dappled light of the path was too challenging for me to come away with any truly good shots but that only means that I need to try again. The launch photos have not been tinkered with for saturation. It is just, honest to God, is that pretty.

The Kayak Quest: Proof of Concept

We did it. A group of ladies who like to kayak proved that we can get our kayaks to the water and have ourselves a day of fun. It 100% helped that one of the ladies has a truck but it still counts.

It all started (for me) when a friend texted me the following:

It might help to mention that Henry County Virginia has excellent activity programs. There is a group called the 50+ Club that walks the trails, bicycles, and kayaks in addition to bowling, eating out, and getting special screenings of first run movies. They even have CrossFit trainings twice a week. Call and talk to Wanda. She can send you a catalog.

It didn’t take long until our group blossomed from two to four. Our instigator came and picked us up and we threw the kayaks in the back of her truck like we knew what we were doing. Our group became five once we arrived and found that another of our friends had also signed up without mentioning it.

There were two men from the County who were there to help us get the kayaks out of the truck and put them back in but we still feel like we had proven that we could do it.

We could get on the water.

Fairy Stone Park is best known around here for a well-maintained sandy beach with a lifeguard and a concession stand. The park is inside of a fee area but the launch, if you bring your own kayak, is on the other side of the lake directly across from the beach. Take Union Bridge Road. There is no fee.

If you would like to rent a kayak, a stand-up paddleboard, or a paddle boat, there is a place on the beach side to do this. You can barely make it out on the left in the photo above so here’s a blown up version.

Fairy Stone Park Lake is its own little body of water, distinct from Philpott but often kind of lumped in together. Now that I’ve been on it, I understand.

It is fed on one side by a creek and it ends at a spillway where any excess water runs over to Philpott Lake. The lake itself is fairly small. You can paddle all the way from one end to the other in a few minutes.

The spillway is oddly beautiful. The stonework looks like Depression Era CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) work.

Danger No Boats Allowed On Spillway or Dam No Swimming

It’s a good sized spillway.

There’s something about just watching water flow.

The spillway ends short of Philpott Lake below it and the water crashes through rock formations to get there.

Tips on Fairy Stone Park Lake:

The water is flat and easy. I packed my $40 E-Bay camera out of concern for damaging my main camera but that wasn’t necessary. I wouldn’t give that a second thought in the future.

The area by the creek is teeming with turtles, birds and other wildlife. It is also very shallow. I bet you could catch it with steam rising off of it with just a small temperature change.

Someone brings their dog out to the launch and leaves poo all over around the benches. Be forewarned.

The next trip is scheduled for August 26th so put in for your day off now and give Wanda a call to get registered.

The Kayak Quest: Are We Ready for Whitewater?

No. No, I am not ready for whitewater.

The Powers That Be have got my blog’s Kayak Quest caught up in some kind of incredible current. So much so that I haven’t had a chance to regale you with stories of how I now have a roof rack affixed to the top of my car that acts like a giant flute, I finally made it down to the outfitters in Greensboro only to discover that I fall in love with all new kayaks, and I’ve had a proof of concept ride with a group of friends from church. I even got an invitation to go on an incredible ride on Wednesday but I’ve got to start stomping the brakes somewhere.

Could a Sign Actually be More Apropos?

I started looking into Madison River Park because I ran across a news report on YouTube and I thought it sounded like a great idea to get a group to go tubing together.

In a nutshell, Madison is a small community about twenty minutes to my south in North Carolina along the Dan River. The Smith River runs through my community and connects to the Dan. The Dan River Basin Association runs group activities like hikes and kayaking trips each month, often starting on the Smith. My community and theirs are pretty closely connected by these rivers.

The Perch Marks the Spot (Where I Was)

Apparently, there was a dam along this stretch of river that was failing. The town was told it would take between 8 and 15 million dollars to replace the dam but they only had 5 million. Then someone got innovative. I’ll leave the reporting to the journalists (see a great article here) but the synopsis is that they teamed up with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife and, with a little help from North Carolina’s General Assembly, built a seven-weir system with ten thousand tons of rock with a grant of 2.5 million dollars and no cost to them.

The Madison Recreation Center started a tubing program in the summer of 2020, in conjunction with this project, and the article I read said that was contributing $30,000 a year on its own. Which, I have to say, is brilliant since it is really hard to find any information on how to actually get on a tube. Remember, trying to figure out the logistics of doing just that is what got this all started for me.

Madison River Park does have a Facebook page but, unless you call them, there is no information about how to rent kayaks or tubes, what is the minimum number of people to book for, where do you go to put in the river, where will you get out, etc, etc. Take a look for yourself: Madison River Park Facebook Page (I dearly hope that they make a fool out me by fixing all of this).

I went out to find the park myself last week. I thought that maybe there would be a storefront there where rentals took place or all of my questions would have a logical answer if I was standing there, looking at it. What I found impressed me for other reasons. Kayaking reasons.

The Launch is into flat water just above the first weir.

There is a really nice, long concrete launch that goes all the way out to the water. Having been following a Facebook group for kayaking on Facebook for awhile, this looks ideal for solo kayaking (not that I’ve done that yet). I know that a buddy system is always better. Don’t yell at me. The solo kayakers I’ve seen on Facebook say that they look for rivers where they can park and then paddle upstream for awhile before letting the current bring them back.

And current is what the weirs do.

I’m probably oversimplifying this but the ten thousand tons of rocks in the weirs channel the water to the center of the river. When I went out last Friday, I ran into a kayaker from Greensboro. He had brought his Piranha whitewater kayak up to play in the currents and eddies created by the weirs. He said that the rivers everywhere are low – too low right now for kayaking. These weirs make this part of the Dan the only place that he could go play until it rains again.

Madison is hoping that the new park will help bring in 250,000 visitors annually and between 20 and 30 million dollars in tourism dollars. There’s a good chance that they could do that but they could certainly help it along. The kayaker I spoke to on Friday had no idea that Madison’s downtown area was really close by and that it had a brewery, a distillery, and two restaurants. And that’s not counting the coffee shop. He was on his way out and was excited to check it out based on my suggestion.

I had to go back out today (on my lunch break) because I had not noticed that my camera was set on “food” when I was photographing the rapids on Friday. It was that bad. I wondered if I would be seeing an empty park on a Monday morning.

No.

There was a group setting off with their tubes. I stopped them and asked them how they were going to get out without a shuttle. They said that they had parked a second car further downstream and offered to take me with them if I would like to go. I explained I was on my lunch break and thought about all the Medical Examiner shows that I watch.

There was also a woman and her mother looking for a place to swim. They stopped me to ask what I knew of places to swim. They had seen a sign but were unsure. There is a sandy beach-type area.

I was unsure too and basically told them the same thing that the sign says (I found the sign later). Based on the master plan sign, this area was envisioned for a beach. Which implies swimming. I’m not so sure that swimmers need the current or that kayakers are going to appreciate swimmers.

I’d really like to get on this river in my new-to-me kayak. I don’t feel comfortable doing it alone but a river race might not be the best time for that either. I plan on calling tomorrow to see if they have a non-competitive entry.

So far, though, it looks like this park is a very popular spot. It looks like it will probably have a good chance of having kayakers in it on any given day.

But these are real kayakers who know what they are doing.

Monday at Lunchtime

What I need is a bunny slope. (Not that I ski either).

If you are a kayaker or at least less timid that I, do consider the Dan River Boat Race. I just found the link and I’m really leaning towards it.

Here’s the link: https://m-mrec.org/danriverboatrace/

Check it out!