It is a cold, blustery day in Virginia this Saturday. It is my busy season, so I’ve worked every weekend this month. God has, for reasons of His own, taken to giving us winter storms on the weekends so I couldn’t really go out anyway. It looks like this right now, leaving me to remember warmer days.
I know others have it much worse today, but that is not really any comfort.
As it happens, I had this post sitting in my drafts file. It is from my last kayaking trip for 2021. Henry County has many excellent programs for people over 50 and one of them is kayaking. Once a month, folks from the county office will take a group out on area lakes and rivers. In October, we went to see Calico Rock on Philpott Lake.
Calico Rock is, well, a little underwhelming. That is why this post was sitting in drafts in the first place. However, all things are relative and, right now, it is breathtaking to me. I feel extremely fortunate to live in a place where I can throw a kayak on top of my car (it actually takes me about 45 minutes to do that) and get out on the water.
I get the impression that Ryans Branch boat launch is not well known, even to locals. The ladies at the church didn’t know where it was and my cursory glimpse at Google Maps suggested that it was much further north. It turned out to be just a few minutes north of Fairy Stone Lake.
This trip was in late October and the leaves were still working on turning. The weather alternated between sunny and cloudy while we were out. When the sun came out, the leaves just seemed to snap with color … and then another cloud would come by.
To get to Calico Rock from the Ryans Branch launch, you turn right and go under the bridge. At the time of this trip, Google Maps had Calico Rock on the other side of the lake. It’s not. Trust me. Turn right and go under the bridge.
Then you just hug the shoreline. There are no turns needed. It is quite a ways back.
You’ll know that you are getting close when you see a house on the hill.
So, Calico Rock is – unless the fellow from the county was pulling our leg – really just a kind of rock face. I’m not really sure what I was expecting.
There is something to be said for scale though. The voice in the back of my head that thinks it knows obscure words keeps yelling “escarpment”. Is it? I don’t really know.
So, that was Calico Rock. You may be able to see why it stayed in drafts for the past three months. Now, in the dead of winter, you may enjoy it as I do … as proof of fun activities in better weather.
There are other sites to see from Ryans Launch, although I don’t know how you would see Blue Falls without scuba gear. According to the plaque, it is an “historic feature deep under the waters of the lake”. That leaves Emberson Falls. That sounds like a trip for 2022.
I hope everyone out there is safe and snug and, if not enjoying the winter weather, persisting.
In a few weeks, the forsythia will bloom. In less than six weeks, the leaves should start at least nubbing out on the trees. Winter, like all trying times, will pass.
When you are over by the dam, if you turn and look north up the lake, you can just barely make out the Blue Ridge Mountains peeking up on the far horizon. Philpott Lake covers 2900 acres and it is long and narrow(ish). It has 100 miles of shoreline.
Bowen Falls is not too far away from Philpott Marina but I found that out too late to try to go take a look. It’s nice to leave something for next time though. We spent our afternoon kayaking up one of the many little spines that branch away from the main channel of the lake.
The water is clear by Texas standards but I know that isn’t saying much. It isn’t crystal clear like I’ve seen in maybe Minnesota or Maine, but it is definitely not murky.
The shoreline is a little low. One of the county employees told me that the lake is about three feet down right now. You can see erosion along the shore line and the trees tip over and fall in if they lose enough soil.
This is great for fishing and two of the county’s chaperones brought out their fishing boat to drop a line in while keeping an eye on us. They were pros and very good about not creating a wake. Our group did get a little spread out as the afternoon went on and it was nice to know that they could respond to any issues quickly.
It was a beautiful day. We had a small group because there was a competing blood drive in the county and many of our kayaking ladies had volunteered to help with that.
Philpott Lake is a US Army Corps of Engineers lake and there is no development on it. In fact, the only marina on the lake where you can permanently moor a boat or buy gasoline on the water is Philpott Marina.
Philpott has requested to expand its slip rentals but the Corps has refused based on their location on the lake. There had been another marina up at Twin Ridge but it burned in 2000. That means that all boat traffic on Philpott Lake, with the exception of the handful of boats moored here, has to be trailered in and launched.
That doesn’t keep the lake from getting busy though. Besides Twin Ridge, I have yet to see other launches but the launch at Philpott Marina is very nice. It has the two accesses separated by a narrow dock. It also has a lot of parking for trailers. I started to take a picture but it’s a parking lot. Trust me. There is a lot of parking.
There are also campgrounds and a trail off by the side of the marina that leads to another parking lot and a fishing spot.
As fishing spots go, it would be good for the able-bodied fisherman. It’s a bit of a scramble to get down to the shoreline.
Philpott Marina is in a cluster of accesses. Right next to the marina is the observation deck where so many photos are taken of Philpott Lake. It is especially beautiful in the fall but I went there one fall day when it rained and it was incredible.
You can also get to the other side of the dam with another access. This is where you find the first access to Smith River for kayaks.
Class 1 to 3 rapids. I’m comfortable with class 1, a little nervous about class 2, and there’s no way I’m going on class 3 without a guide who’s done it before. The moving water is beautiful though.
There is plenty of parking and a well marked access.
There is a gate across the access that prevents a vehicle from getting down there. Since the strength of the river depends on how much water is let out from the dam, you need to call ahead before just setting out. I don’t know if the gate is an indication of whether or not it is okay to put in or if they just don’t want ordinary folks trying to back down the access.
That would be completely understandable though, since the access is narrow and a little rough.
At the bottom of the access, you are looking up at the dam and hearing the water being released. It is a little awe-inspiring.
I will leave you with this last photo that completely took me by surprise. There is a hiking trail that juts off from the kayak access and continues on along the shore of the river. The cool water being released by the dam was reacting with the warmer water in the river and a mist was rising up off of the surface. It was absolutely gorgeous.
I hope that this is something that always happens and I can get back and take some incredible shots of that.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
We saw a turtle. It was right on the trail but it blended in so well that it very nearly got stepped on.
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.
We were all pleased with our hike. Afterwards, some of our group went on down to the boat launch area to investigate and swim.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.