Saturday, December 2, 2017

Exploring New Trails: Graves Mill

Way back at the end of June, a friend and I decided to set forth on a great journey to discover the mystical and possibly only theoretical Graves Mill trail.  Neither of us knew much about it, except that several endurance riders that I know claim it is an excellent place to condition, particularly for the OD.  If you do a search on Google, though, you will be hard-pressed to find any horse-related information about the trail (although you might find a few hiking-related sites).  I am a bit wary of venturing into unknown challenging trails completely by myself, so I had been scheming for at least a year to find a way to get together with someone riding there, so I could get the basics, like where the trail was, how to get there, where to park, and where to ride.  However, despite my efforts, there was always something that intervened (rider injury, horse injury, mismatched schedules, different speed expectations, and bad weather).

Finally, my friend got tired of the excuses and insisted that we could figure out how to find the trail by ourselves.  And by we, she meant me:)

So, I pieced together a screenshot of the parking area from one of the endurance groups on Facebook

and wrote down what were possibly the most cryptic directions I've ever seen (also from the same group).  I used the navigation app on my phone to track down what seemed like a logical route, took a deep breath, and pulled out into The Great Beyond.

My friend followed behind me, I guess so that if I made what looked like a significant error in judgment, she something?  Or just get stuck behind me...

Despite my misgivings about finding the parking lot, we did find it.  Without a single wrong turn.  Yay me!

We were the only horse trailers there, so parking was easy.  There isn't a lot of room, though.  Maybe enough for 6 trailers.  And there isn't enough room to turn around if you get there and the lot is full.  So, enter at your own risk:)

We saddled the horses and then set off down a road.  Because the parking area isn't anywhere near the trailhead.  (As is common in Virginia, just because the trails allow horses doesn't mean the park has to provide a place for trailers to park.)  According to our directions, we needed to ride a mile or so down this paved, but hopefully not too busy, road to get to the start of the trail.

So we rode and rode.  Finally, after what seemed like closer to two miles, we got to another parking area that was definitely designed for tiny vehicles that are not towing 1500 pound animals.  And there was the trail!  And I know it shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did, but it turns out that Graves Mill is part of the Shenandoah National Park.  That actually would have been helpful to know, but we made it anyway!

There were a few hikers out on the trail, but nothing overwhelming and everyone was very nice.  And the trail was gorgeous!  It is fairly flat to start with and there is a picture perfect pool to let the horses drink at maybe a mile in.

After that, the trail does start to head up and get rockier.  It's a single track through the woods, though, which means that it is nice and shady during the heat of the summer.

And then we discovered why people think it's a great place to train for the OD.  The trail gets quite rocky and there are a couple of creek crossings that involve the horses negotiating what I might call small boulders.  But since both horses had recently done the OD 25, they were completely unphased, and we made our way up the mountain.  It was a fairly gradual climb until we got to the end of the trail and the beginning of what looked like a gravel logging road.  The route went up in both directions, so we arbitrarily turned left and continued up.  I should note that I had (for some reason I can't fathom now) left Nimo barefoot, so we were mostly walking the trail because of all the rocks and gravel, but Nimo was doing fine.

After we had gone up the road for awhile, we decided we had explored enough for one day and headed back to the trailers.

The view from the paved road as we rode back to the trailers.
I think we only did about 9 miles total, but some of it was climbing, so I felt like that was good enough for the horses that day.  The temperature wasn't too bad, but I also didn't want to be out and about in the heat of the afternoon.

My friend and I congratulated ourselves on our success and celebrated with a quick lunch before loading the horses and heading home.

Nimo chills at the trailer
This picture does not do the view from the parking area justice.  It was like being in a scene out of a movie.  Green grass, shade trees, a babbling creek, blue skies...just incredible!
I've actually ridden at Graves Mill one time since our June ride and we did a bit more exploring in the other direction on the gravel road.  Either way, it looks like it is possible to get A LOT of miles in using this trail.  I also have a hand-drawn map now, so who knows where we might end up next time?:)

This looks just good enough for me to get really lost!:)


  1. This is one conditioning ride I'd love to take part in one day!

  2. I've heard so many amazing things about this trail! How cool that you got to ride it. When Q gets back into the swing of things, maybe we will have to head over that way.