Length: 21.9 miles (does not include any side trails)
Shelters: mile points .4, 9.2, and 14.1
The Appalachian Trail again swings away from the Blue Ridge Parkway, this time to the west. Rising to 3,372-foot Bluff Mountain, the trail then follows a narrow, rocky ridge line to impressive views overlooking the James River Water Gap. Thousands of years of erosion have allowed Virginia's longest river to punch its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains as it flows eastward to the Chesapeake Bay.
Water seems to be the focal point of this AT segment. Johns Hollow shelter is located in a wide, flat valley created by a stream descending the steep slopes of Little Rocky Row. Crossing the James River, the trail enters the James River Face Wilderness Area and comes to the narrow confines of a gorge built by Matts Creek. Large pools, close to Matts Creek shelter, are hard to resist on warm summer days.
The trail then climbs steadily to Highcock Knob (3,073 feet) before arriving at the end of the section in Petites Gap (BRP mile 71.1).
Except for the road walk along the James River and on BRP land near Petites Gap, camping is allowed throughout this section. Three side trails north of the James River offer circuit-hike opportunities. The James River Face Wilderness Area has a network of trails interconnecting with the AT, allowing a number of extended backpacking excursions. Road access is at the beginning, middle, and end of the section.
.0 From the parking area at mile 5 I .5, cross the BRP and ascend.
.4 Come onto an old road and turn left. The road to the right descends I ,000 feet to the Punchbowl shelter and spring next to a small pond.
.6 Leave the roadbed and continue to ascend on a worn pathway.
1 Attain the summit of Punchbowl Mountain, descend slightly, but soon resume climbing via switchbacks.
2 The wooded summit of Bluff Mountain precludes any good views; descend.
2.5 Pass a viewpoint.
3.6 Trail intersection.
The blue-blazed trail [FS 511] to the right descends 4.5 miles through Belle Cove Valley to reach us RT 501 a couple of miles north of Glasgow.
Bear left to continue on the AT.
4.6 Trail intersection.
Blue-blazed Saddle Gap Trail [FS 703] drops 2.5 miles to FSR 36 about 3 miles north of us RT 501.
Bear right and ascend out of the gap to continue on the AT.
6.1 Reach the high point on the ridge line and descend, only to begin another climb.
7 A short path to the left leads to Fullers Rocks. The impressive view is of the James River cutting through the Blue Ridge Mountains and of the steep mountainsides south of the river in the James River Face Wilderness Area.
7.2 Trail intersection.
To the right, blue-blazed Little Rocky Row Trail [FS 512] goes down almost 3 miles to us RT 501, about 2.5 miles west of where the AT crosses us RT 501 at mile 11.1.
To continue on the AT, make a hard left. Descend steeply, sometimes on switchbacks, sometimes not. Also, cross several dirt roads.
9.2 Johns Hollow shelter and spring are just to the left of the AT. Soon, cross and follow FSR 36 and other dirt roads. Watch closely for the blazes.
11.1 Reach us RT 501. (BRP mile 63.7 is 3 miles to the left; Glasgow is almost 3 miles to the right.) Turn left along the highway and cross the James River on a bridge just in front of the dam and hydroelectric plant. Continue to follow us RT 501.
11.5 Turn right into the woods, ascend, and enter the James River Face Wilderness Area on an old road.
13.1 Reach a ridge line and begin to descend, passing by a good spring.
14.1 Cross Matts Creek and soon come to Matts Creek shelter on the opposite bank. The water supply is from the stream, so be sure to treat before using. Leave the creek and begin a long, long ascent.
14.8 Come to series of views overlooking the James River.
16.9 Reach a ridge line and trail intersection. The AT bears to the left and ascends.