Ramsey's Draft Wilderness
George Washington National Forest, Virginia
Administered by the United States Forest Service, Deerfield Ranger District, 2314 West Beverley St., Staunton, VA 24401 Tel. 540-885-8028. This area is located in Augusta County, VA
Write-up assembled by Andy
(11/98) PATC District Manager George Walters reports that the wolly adelgid has now been spotted in Ramsey's Draft. This gives the extensive hemlock forests and virgin trees located up the right prong about four years of life. Hemlock mortality from wolly adelgid infestation is 100%. If you want to see the hemlock forests before they are devastated by this imported pest, it is recommended you visit the Wilderness before 2001.
(3/00) A survey conducted on a backpacking trip through the Draft showed heavy infestations of wolly adelgid throughout the entire area. Needle loss was evident on a number of trees. This will be the last year to see the extensive hemlock forests in anything amounting to a healthy state. If you're interested in the Wilderness, GO THIS YEAR. Many of the hemlocks will be dead within three years.
About the WildernessIn the 1980's, Congress designated the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness to preserve a deeply wooded valley whose upper reaches contain one of the last tracts of virgin timber in the State of Virginia. Up the right prong of the Ramsey's Draft, along a small hollow, stand stately hemlocks that have never seen the bite of the lumberman's axe. A number of these trees started as sprouts just as Columbus was discovering the Americas in 1492. I had the opportunity to count the rings on one sawed hemlock that had fallen across the trail. The tree was over 450 years old.
There aren't many places left along the east coast of North America where you can experience what the Appalachians were like before the hand of man passed over the mountains. This is one of those special places. It's worth seeing at least once in your lifetime.
Don't wait too long. The wooly adelgid is continuing its march south, and the quiet giants of Ramsey's Draft will fall, as will all the other hemlocks in the Mid- Atlantic region. Hemlock mortality from this imported pest is 100%. The few tiny stands of virgin hemlock in Shenandoah National Park, some 35 air miles to the east, are about 80% gone in 1995. It's only a matter of time before the giant trees of Ramsey's Draft are discovered. See the virgin timber while you can. It won't be around for your grandchildren.
Fortunately, the area offers much more than the virgin trees. The entire Ramsey's Draft valley is quite beautiful, and the mountain ridges that ring the valley are secluded and wild. The handful of views from Shenandoah Mountain, which forms the western edge of this Wilderness, reveal ridge after ridge of mountains marching off to the horizon. What better location to get a sense of "being in the mountains".
The Ramsey Draft stream-bed was altered significantly during the great 1985 floods, when the remnants of hurricane Juan dumped 7-inches of rain on the area. What had been a small, meandering stream through a deeply wooded valley became a raging torrent - ripping up trees and washing away numerous sections of the railroad grade that followed in a relatively straight line up the five-mile long valley. Today, the stream is open, with gravel and boulders forming its banks. It's not like it used to be, but it's still a beautiful stream.
The woods up the valley are deep, dark, and beautiful, with many large trees interspersed among smaller sprouts. While it is likely that these lower reaches were logged, it's hard to tell. The woods have a special feeling in this valley, and you should experience it.
Weather and SnowThe local climate varies considerably throughout the year. Summer temperatures are usually in the upper-70's, but can drop to 50 degrees or less at night. Normal mid-winter daytime temperatures are around 35 degrees, but this can drop to as low as 0. Snow can make travel difficult, but it's not a frequent as higher elevations in Virginia and West Virginia.
About the area......What a great place to visit for a backpacking trip! Granted, the area is not huge, but it's possible to do a respectable circuit within the Wilderness proper. And if you're interested in doing a longer circuit, the trails of the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness form a part of the 32-mile Wild Oak Trail circuit (which incidentally, has no readily available water along its route). You can acquire more information on the Wild Oak from George Washington National Forest at the phone number above.
Of course, one of the main attractions of the Ramsey's Draft is the stand of virgin hemlocks up the right prong near the headwaters. It's hard to describe the feeling of walking though these quiet giants. At times, you can imagine you're in the huge trees of the Olympic peninsula - with the sensation of being surrounded by eastern woods. I've hiked the right prong many times in reverence. I've often wondered how the upper reaches of this small valley was spared from the clear- cutting that occurred over virtually every square inch of the east coast of the U.S.
The woods in the valley are beautiful, and the views from Shenandoah Mountain, which forms the western edge of the Wilderness, provide a real sense of being in the Virginia mountains. Suprisingly, the area is not heavily visited. The big trees, beautiful valley, occasional views from Shenandoah Mountain, and absence of people make this Wilderness well worth a visit. If you want to know more, read this story on a backpacking trip in the Wilderness.
Trails worth hiking?All the trails in the Wilderness are special and worth checking out. In the late 80's/early 90's, the Forest Service decided to enhance the backpacking experience in the Wilderness by constructing a new trail running from the Mountain House parking/picnic area in the valley to the ridgetop of Shenandoah Mountain, roughly following the southern edge of the Wilderness. The new trail makes it possible to backpack a longer, or shorter circuit in the area, and minimize the amount of re- walking over previously hiked trail. I have not hiked this trail, so I can not report on it's features. However, if you park at the Mountain House parking area, or the Confederate Breastworks parking area on the top of Shenandoah Mountain a couple miles further west, the new trail greatly expands the circuit hiking possibilities in the area. This was a good move. (It should be noted that the new trail is NOT shown on the Deerfield Ranger District map yet. Check the sign board when you get to the Mountain House parking area.)
The Ramsey's Draft Trail up the valley is deep, dark, and beautiful, and there are many possible camping spots along its five mile length. For the first four miles, the trail follows an old woods road, except in locations where it was washed out in the '85 flood. The road ends at a small clearing, where there are good campsites to the left down along the stream. At this point, the trail continues as a foot path into the upper reaches of the right prong of Ramsey's Draft - and into the BIG trees. It crests near the Hardscabble Knob trail, which is a rather uninteresting trail leading to the summit of a peak by the same name.
The Jerry's Run Trail is also quite beautiful, and nearing the top of the ridge passes to the right of a clearing surrounded by pines. This is the former site of PATC's Sexton cabin, which was removed when the area officially became a Wilderness Area. The trail forming the eastern edge of the Wilderness, now part of the Wild Oak Trail, is also beautiful, following through a grassy, park-like setting interspersed with trees. The Shenandoah Mountain Trail, as previously mentioned, is also worthwhile. Climbing from the Confederate Breastworks parking area, the trail tops out at a small, but beautiful view of mountain ridges to the west. This trail has been known to get a bit brushy due to the large number of mountain laurel that occurs along its length.
Ramsey's Draft is a small creek, not deep enough even for swimming/wading, but the watershed is completely enclosed by the Wilderness. Check out this Wilderness. It is a very worthwhile backpacking area.
HuntingAllowed. Backpackers/hikers traveling during this season might consider wearing blaze orange or brightly colored clothes. This area is very heavily visited during the hunting season.
Mountain BikingStrictly prohibited in ALL USFS Wilderness Areas.
Cross-country SkiingAn excellent area for beginner to intermediate skiers. The grades are very gentle along the ridge and valley, and the connector trails are not terribly difficult to negotiate.
CampfiresLegal, but not recommended. Please protect the Wilderness for future generations and use your backpacking stove and either an oil or candle lantern for light when you're visiting the area. Fires can be dangerous if not properly tended and extinguished, and they leave an ugly fire ring for the next visitor. Remember, there are 450-year-old trees in this area which could disappear after one careless campfire.
AccessFrom I-495, take I-66 west to I-81 south. At Staunton, Virginia, pick up Rt. 250 west to the Wilderness. A sign on the right side of the road clearly identifies the Wilderness Area. Travel time from the intersection of I-495 and I-66 to the Wilderness is about 3 hours.
GuidebooksHiking Virginia's National Forests by Karen Wurtz-Schaeffer can be securely ordered online from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club store. An excellent topographic map of the area is available from GWNF for $4.00.
The Trail MapDownload a TRAIL MAP 123K of the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness.
Want to read more?A write-up from Tom Marino's trip over July 4th.
Another summer trip report.
A Spring '97 short trip report from Jo Ellen Kleindienst
A Winter '96 trip report from Andy Hiltz