“A variety of trails in the Rush Creek area of the Iron Mountains.”
— Paul Stahlschmidt
This ride is just a sampling of the miles of trail rides in the Iron Mountain Range of SW Virginia's Jefferson National Forest. This is rural terrain that requires navigation skills and other preparation for the backcountry.
Need to Know
Signage is present, but some intersections are not marked. Beartree is a nice ride-in, ride-out place to camp (seasonal). Nearby Damascus, VA has other accommodations and amenities. See the Iron Mountain trail description for more info on the area. FS 90, an established road, intersects the ride, and can be used as a bailout if needed. Trails Illustrated Mount Rogers
NRA Map (#786) can be used when as well as the MTB Project MTB Project mobile app
Start this ride with Beartree Gap
trail (4545) at the Beartree campground off of US 58. This climb is steady, but has one notable steep section around 1.5 mi in. Remember this on the return because it comes up quickly descending and has some large rocks and death cookies in the ditch.
Follow the climb for just over two miles (and 700 ft.) to Shaw Gap, at the intersection of Iron Mountain (301) and Shaw Gap
(4545) trails. This is a good place to take a break if needed. The ride will return to this spot from the left (west), and continue the way you just came.
(4542) starts on the north side of the mountain. This trail drops initially, then has a short climb before dropping a ripping descent about 800 ft. in the final mile.
Regroup at the bottom and take the dirt road (FS 615) to the west. After a 0.5-mi climb, there is a gate, a short downhill, then a steady climb to the intersection of Rush Trail (4565), Sawmill Trail
(4556), and FS 90. Sawmill is to the west, across a ditch with a failed culvert.
The next two miles are all climbing. Several trail intersections arrive on the right. Stay left to the crest of Feathercamp Ridge, and you'll then get some brief downhill reward. This trail will go through a gate when reaching the Iron Mountain Spur (4641); stay left here and you'll quickly be at Sandy Flats Gap and FS 90.
Take 90 to the NE to reach the Iron Mountain segment of this ride. There is a gate at the IMT after about a half mile on 90. Don't miss this!
IMT starts out UP and STEEP off of 90 and follows a ditched-out trail with non-functioning waterbars. Root ledges and rocks need to be navigated also, but there is a sweet section of ridgeline riding that follows. This bit of trail is aligned along the spine of Grosses Mountain and tops out at 3800 feet, the highest elevation on the ride.
Just after this summit, the trail immediately drops a steep section back down to Shaw Gap. Take a right on Beartree Gap
to return to the start.
This last section of the ride from the top of IMT to the campground drops 900 feet in ~three miles; great finish!
History & Background
The IMT section of this ride was actually a segment of the old Appalachian Trail until 1972, when the AT was relocated to the southeast. Now, the IMT in this section is a multi-use trail, with bikers sharing travel with foot traffic, equestrians, and even motorcycles in some sections.
Damascus, mentioned in "to know" above, is at the southwest end of this IMT segment, and serves as a gateway to the entire Mount Rogers
NRA, which is over 115,000 Acres. It markets itself as Trail Town USA, because of the four designated trails which intersect with it, including IMT, the Hwy 76 Bicycle Route, Appalachian Trail, and Virginia Creeper Trail.