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The Priest

June 17, 2009

The Priest is a wonderful segment hike along the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest’s Glenwood & Pedlar Ranger District.  The northbound trail access may be a little tough for some people to reach (4WD vehicles are strongly recommended), but if you can get there, you’ll be treated to magnificent views of the Tye River Valley.

Adam enjoys the view from The Priest

Adam enjoys the view from The Priest

Adam Says…

This was hike number two for us on a three-hike-day.  This was our first trip up The Priest, and it was well-worth the bumpy drive to get to the trail.   See the directions to trailhead (below) for some special precautions to take when approaching the trailhead.  On route 826, we decided to go a little further than  Crabtree Meadows, but didn’t make it all the way up by car to the AT junction.  We ended up parking at a campsite and hiking up the fire road for .3 miles.  Many people will want to park at Crabtree Meadows, but that will add one mile to the overall distance.  Route 826 can be quite steep. In fact, some sections of the road are much steeper than anything you’ll see on the actual trail.  We saw a Jeep brigade coming down the steepest section of road, but they looked like seasoned off-roaders.

Route 826 gets progressively rougher.

Route 826 gets progressively rougher. Pictured below: A group of off-roaders make their way down the road.

When you reach the junction (you’ll see painted rocks indicating north/south) of the Appalachian trail, head north (left).  You will come across the Priest Wilderness sign and trail map. When I was telling someone earlier about doing this trail today, they were wondering about the origin of the name “The Priest”.  The true origin is unknown, but there are a few myths.  The first is that it was named after the DuPriest family that lived in the area.  The second is that a minister in the area gave some of these nearby mountains religious names.  The Cardinal and The Friar are both close to The Priest.

Adam enjoys reading the journal at the AT shelter.

Adam enjoys reading the journal at the AT shelter.  Pictured Below: Some of the entries are funny, some divulge a little bit too much information.


We found that the trail was a steady incline, but nothing too strenuous.  There was supposed to be a side trail to The Little Priest at .7 miles, but we didn’t see it (but we weren’t looking too hard).  At .9 miles, you will see a blue-blazed spur trail to an Appalachian Trail shelter.  We definitely recommend taking the extra .2 mile round trip to visit the shelter.  These shelters are a great place for all of the AT hikers to get together and have a roof over their head for a night.  At most of the shelters, you can find a journal in which the hikers will write about their day or plans, leave notes for other hikers, etc.  Since this hike is The Priest, the theme of this logbook was to make a confession.  It was a lot of fun to read through the journal entries.  These confessions ranged from eating two Poptarts, to taking drugs, to not paying for supplies.  If you happen to be hiking the trail in June when most of the AT thru-hikers are passing through, consider bringing along some treats to share.  It’s a form of “trail magic” and is always appreciated.  (read the guidelines – there are some tips for dispensing good magic on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Site)  We did see a few thru-hikers on the trail today, but we hadn’t thought ahead to bring anything.

Around 1.3 miles, you will see some overhanging rocks to the north that lead to some marvelous views.  Take some time to enjoy the views.  The summit is only .1 mile further, but there are no views at the summit.  We really enjoyed this hike and hope to do this one again as well as the nearby Spy Rock.

Christine Says…

The Priest was probably my favorite of the three hikes we did on this particular day. Discovering a new hike is always a real treat, especially when it turns out to be as nice as this one.

There are actually two different ways to access the summit of The Priest. The southbound ascent is longer and much tougher – it follows the AT along a series of forty switchbacks with just over 3000 feet of elevation gain. It might be the hike with the most elevation gain in all of Virginia. One hiker remarked in the journal that the southbound climb “made him realize that he’s not the man he thought he was.” I guess that’s one way of saying that the hike was a long, tough haul!

We chose the northbound ascent primarily based on our limited time. The hike was listed in our book as strenuous, but I did not find it to be tough at all. The uphill grade was constant, but gentle. Adam and I were easily able to carry on conversation without any huffing and puffing uphill.

The terrain on this hike was so pretty! Along the first part of the trail, forest floor was blanketed with lush ferns. Every now and then, we could catch glimpses through the trees of the valley below. The summit of The Priest is 4,063 feet, so we were pretty high up (by Virginia standards, anyhow).

This appeared to be a popular campsite.

This appeared to be a popular campsite.

When we finally gained the ridge, there was a perfect (and obviously popular) campsite. Encircling the area was a collection of huge boulders arranged in an almost Zen-like natural sculpture. Amidst the boulders, there was a fire pit and a large smooth, open place to set up tents. If I were to spend a night along the trail, this would be my ideal kind of campsite.

Shortly after the campsite, the trail split. One arm headed down to the shelter and the other continued along the AT up to the summit of The Priest. This section of trail was lined with mountain laurels and wild azaleas in full bloom. Several places along the trail were covered with a carpet of pink and white flower petals that had been blown from the bushes. It was almost dreamlike to walk through all the flowers. In the tree tops, we heard the constant sweet sound of warblers singing. We even caught a few glimpses of the birds. The ridge is fairly level, so this walking was very easy and pleasant.

Wild Azalea flowers carpeted the forest floor.

Wild Azalea flowers carpeted the forest floor. Pictured below: Many of the azaleas and mountain laurels were still in full bloom.

I had read that the summit of The Priest was a lovely shady place, but didn’t offer much in the way of panoramic views. So, it was much to my surprise and delight to find a worn path through the woods that led to an amazing outcropping of rocks with spectacular views of the entire valley below. Even though it was close to high noon, I loved photographing this spot along the trail. The sky conditions were a photographer’s dream – cerulean blue punctuated with both swishes and puffs of white cloud.

The summit was spectacular.

The summit was spectacular.

Adam and I sat on this spot for a good, long while. We shared a chocolate donut and some water, watched the hawks soar below and took in the valley view. Afterwards, we made the short walk to the actual summit. There was a fat toad sitting right along the trail at the summit. I like to think of him as the official summit marker.

This toad was our summit marker.

This toad was our summit marker.

The hike back down to the car was fun – all downhill – just the way I like it!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2.8 miles out-and-back. We also recommend adding the .2 mile trail down to the AT shelter. If you park at Crabtree Meadows, add a mile on to the trail’s total length.
  • Elevation Change – 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty – 2. While the trail does have a moderate elevation change, the uphill is not too tough.  If you have to hike up the fire road from Crabtree Meadows to get to the trailhead, that will be much tougher than anything along the AT.
  • Trail Conditions – 4. Like most of the AT in Virginia, this section is nicely maintained.
  • Views – 4. Gorgeous views of about 150 degrees of views out into the Tye River Valley
  • Waterfalls/streams – 0. None, but there is a small spring-fed water source near the shelter.
  • Wildlife – 1.5. We didn’t see much, but this is wilderness area.  There are lots of nice birds for any ornithologists.  We saw a cerulean warbler, which has such a gorgeous song.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.5. Just stay on the AT.
  • Solitude –4. Since it is difficult to get to, you may run across some backpackers or AT thru-hikers, but not many others.

Directions to trailhead: The best access to this trail is via VA-826.  If you are approaching from I-81, take exit 205 towards Steeles Tavern.  Take a left on to Rte. 11 and then a quick right on to VA-56 heading east.  Follow this past the Blue Ridge Parkway (near BRP Mile Marker 30) and then take a right shortly after the Fish Hatchery on to VA-826.  There is a sign at the entrance that you need to have four-wheel drive to travel on this road.  It is a bumpy gravel road where you have to cross several small streams.  Once you reach Crabtree Meadows, it is .5 mile before you can reach the AT trailhead to start The Priest trail.  Many cars should be able to get up to Crabtree Meadows, but the last .5 mile should be taken cautiously and done only if you have a confident driver and appropriate vehicle.

49 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary & Cain Davis permalink
    April 5, 2019 10:36 pm

    Missing a hunting dog, followed a hiker from Amherst, most likely at Long Mtn. or Cole Mountain Fields and someone left a voice mail he was seen at The Priest at shelter, he has collar with owners name, phone numbers. If collar is off please call 434-922-7136 or 434-907-6194. Please do us a favor and do not feed local animals or encourage them to follow you. Please call if you see him.


  2. Kris & Rob permalink
    October 20, 2018 9:57 am

    Hiked the Priest and Spy Rock out & back from the fish hatchery yesterday, 10/19. No need for 4WD or AWD when park there; any car will do. Went to Priest first, for lunch & lounge, and on the return scrambled Spy Rock as the sun was getting low, but just before the hords arrived. It was a beautiful, quiet, 13 mile walk in the woods (unfortunately the trees had not started changing). Cool enough the snakes were not out (rattlesnakes are plentiful here in their season). Glad we tied the two together but would not rerecommend that with kids.


    • October 21, 2018 12:14 pm

      Sounds like an amazing route! Both summits are so beautiful!


    • Steve permalink
      October 22, 2018 8:16 pm

      We also hike the priest that weekend came from the fire road heading north on the AT, road was as usual but nothing our Vehicles couldn’t handle. We camped at the overlook and the weather both nights were brutal with Sat night being the worst. we used wintergreen weather info based on altitude and it listed temps near 18 and sustained winds around 35 mph with gusts to 50 and icing on Sat night. my two youngest ended up out of their hammocks and into my 2 man backpacking tent. Great trip otherwise.


    • October 23, 2018 8:21 am

      We were camping on Wednesday and Thursday nights last week – BRRRRR! Wednesday was the tougher night with the high winds and temps dropping to around 20! Glad you had a good trip despite the cold!


    • Courtney permalink
      November 6, 2018 11:31 am

      Hey Kris and Rob! I really like the idea of hiking the priest and spy rock together but am having trouble finding a route or a map of the area to plan the hike. Any suggestions on where to start or what route to take? I appreciate it! Happy trails! Courtney

      Liked by 1 person

    • November 6, 2018 2:27 pm

      Courtney – Kris and Rob parked at the Fish Hatchery and did an out and back. If you look at the directions to hike Spy Rock, it will take you to that parking lot: From the parking lot, you would just hike up the forestry road and take a left onto the Appalachian Trail when you reach the ridge. You’ll encounter Spy Rock first at about a mile and a half into your hike. The views from the Priest are about 4.5 miles further north along the AT. Besides the one turn from the forestry road onto the AT, the hike is a straight-shot out and back. Another option (if you have two cars) would be to park one car at the Hatchery and one on the northern side of the Priest on Route 56 (at the Tye River Suspension Bridge). There is a large AT parking lot there, too. That would be a 10 mile hike and you’d get some more nice views descending the Priest. I suggest getting a copy of AWOL’s AT Guide. It’s a great resource for planning routes in our area.


  3. July 22, 2018 9:27 am

    Thank you for this post. I wanted to update you with the road conditions. I was nervous about this route due to the heavy rains we had in the late spring earlier summer. We did this hike yesterday from the crabtree meadows parking lot. The road to that point has been recently graded and is in great condition. I almost think we could have gotten my Camry up it, but I am glad we were in my husbands Jeep especially for the stream crossings. Our Jeep is four wheel drive but totally stock and has street tires. We did not have trouble reaching the crabtree meadows lot. For the half mile beyond that to the AT there are only a couple of bad spots, but there is no way we could have negotiated them in our Jeep. There is only room to park two (maybe three cars) at the AT junction. However, there was tons of room in the crabtree meadows lot even though the lower crabtree falls lot looked full when we drove by.

    The hike itself was wonderful. The mileage clocked in exactly as you had listed (4.2 miles round trip from crabtree meadows, including a detour to the priest shelter). We shared the summits with a couple people who had come up from route 56 but saw no one on our hike.

    We could not find the USGS marker. Could you give any more information on where it is located?


    • July 22, 2018 12:06 pm

      Thanks for the great road update! It’s been a while since we hiked this route, so my memory is foggy on the specific location of the USGS marker. Sorry!


  4. Angela Jenkins permalink
    August 21, 2016 8:36 pm

    I hiked this today from the trailhead at Crabtree Falls. While I suspect it was close to 10 miles round trip, and perhaps at least 3000 verticle it was well worth the energy… I think I even saw a priest! No joke!


    • August 22, 2016 2:47 pm

      That’s a tough climb! Haha – was the priest out hiking, too?


    • Angela Jenkins permalink
      August 22, 2016 10:32 pm

      Yes… Almost to the top and with his bible, dress slacks and hiking boots. Only person I saw until I headed back down.. Had to do a double take and remind myself I hadn’t drank too much the night before and wasn’t hallucinating.. ha ha!


    • August 23, 2016 10:29 am

      That’s so funny! I would have done a double take, too!


  5. Richard L. Finley permalink
    November 2, 2015 2:01 pm

    R. Finley I have been to the Priest many times and have camped on top of the priest. I love the view during the day and at night you feel like you can reach up and pick the stars from the sky! I truly love this mountain.


  6. John permalink
    October 19, 2015 8:59 am

    We just did this hike this past Sunday. A great hike and we took five kids (4 – 11 yrs) with no problems. We did 4 x 4 that last section – about 1/2 from the parking lot to the AT. There are two sections that will eat running boards on a traditional SUV. If you have a slightly raised 4 x 4 with some good tires on it you can complete that last section. There are two parking spots right where the AT crosses the road. The road is posted as closed shortly after where it meets the AT due to it being private land.


  7. Ellie permalink
    June 11, 2015 12:38 pm

    I am a Nelson County native and will be hiking and camping this area this weekend. We will be taking our jeep. I will update conditions and pics after our visit.


    • June 11, 2015 12:39 pm

      Thanks, Ellie! It’s been a long time since we’ve driven up the road. It will be great to have an update on the condition.


    • Ellie permalink
      June 11, 2015 2:06 pm

      In light of the (most recent) accidental death that occurred last week I would like to post a plea to anyone hiking and enjoying the falls to please obey the posted precautions and stay within the safety of the trails and the barriers along the falls. The falls are beautiful and they can be enjoyed safely along the trail on the many man made platforms that were placed there for your safety and viewing enjoyment. Please do not think that you can stand or walk along the rocks-they are very slick-you will fall. If you observe anyone venturing out beyond the safety of the barriers do not be afraid to caution them-it could save their life. Thank you.


  8. June 2, 2014 6:48 am

    Thanks for excellent notes again, guys! It’s worth mentioning that you can get to top of Crabtree Falls if you take the trail opposite the entrance of the Crabtree Meadows parking lot. From the parking lot, I believe the top of the falls are about 1.5 miles.


  9. January 29, 2014 11:26 am

    The DePriest arrived in 1685 as French Huguenots to Virginia. William DuPriest helped build St. Peters Parish in New Kent, grew up next to Martha Dandridge and attended the Washingtons wedding. In 1742, Langsdon DuPriest purchased the Mountain, and the Little DuPriest mountain, and the land on what is now called James River State Park. Not too sure why or when the “Du” got dropped off.
    My family owned the land next to the Rockfish Inn Meeting House. Donated the land in 1818 for the construction of the University of Virginiato and land to build St. Paul’s Parish, Hanover. Planted groves of Cherry Trees they brought over from France, throughout New Kent, Hanover, and in Rutherford, NC where Cherry Mountain is named after them.
    In 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson granted 400 acres to John DePriest and his hiers forever, south of Rucker’s Run, or what is now James River State Park.
    During the Civil War, Langsdon fought under Captain Martin.

    Somehow, the state was able to take our land and turn it into a State Park. That is still under investigation. Funny how THOSE records are the ones missing from archives.


  10. Alex Motley permalink
    September 30, 2013 12:22 pm

    If I may critique your “0 waterfalls/streams” There is a small spring located around the shelter. Great review, just went there last night for the third time!


    • September 30, 2013 5:28 pm

      Alex – we don’t really count springs in the scoring unless they are large enough to add to the scenic beauty of the hike. But, I’ll be happy to add that there is a small water source to the description.


  11. C. Keene permalink
    August 19, 2013 3:48 pm

    Is there parking at the AT/Fire Road intersection? Or just at Crab Tree meadows?


    • August 19, 2013 7:25 pm

      Hi Chris – There might be enough space to park a car (it’s been a few years and I don’t remember if there are easy places to get your car off the road), but I wouldn’t recommend trying to park right at the AT crossing. The road is very rough. That line of jeeps (pictured) is coming down the road on that half mile stretch between Crabtree Meadows and the AT.


    • C. Keene permalink
      August 19, 2013 7:30 pm

      Thanks for the info. My truck won’t have any issue getting up there (built up better than most of those Jeeps in the pic) just didn’t know if there was space off the road. I’ll take a look this weekend when I roll through there. Going to be doing The Priest N-S. But will be doing Spy Rock and The Priest from that intersection in October.


    • John permalink
      January 9, 2014 10:36 pm

      Did you ever find out if there was parking off the side of the road by the AT trail?


    • January 10, 2014 2:14 pm

      We haven’t been back since the question was raised.


    • C. Keene permalink
      January 10, 2014 4:10 pm

      There’s park for about 3 vehicles at the intersection of the AT and the road.


  12. Mike permalink
    May 22, 2013 6:16 pm

    wished I could go back in time ! I hiked as an 11 year old boy (now 41 in 9 days). We hiked from Thunder gap ridge Va. to the Priest and the next morning bathing in the Tye river ! I do remember there was one spot on the trail where it was no kidding miles and miles of wild strawberries. Coal Mt. Anyways was a round a 10 day trip and 100 miles. Not bad for a kid ?


  13. will shelton permalink
    January 10, 2013 6:29 am

    Hi there,
    I myself went on this hike once in boy scouts. I was apart of troop 760 from Richmond,va. We went in early January to view a metiour shower that was suppose to happen. We started our jurney on the backside which was the longest part. It was alot of ups, down and switchbacks. But the entire time it was the most beautiful scenery i have ever viewed. By the time we got to the top we were all exhausted but when we got to camp down in the crabtree area we were ecstatic to know we accomplished a 9 mile hike. We viewed the stars that night like we were in space cause it was negative 12dgs. That night so everything was clear for a wonderful night. I recommend this hike to all people who have an adventurous and artistic outlook.


  14. Richard permalink
    August 15, 2011 8:12 am

    Thank you so much! I think I’d rather do that. Thank you, again!


  15. Richard Hill permalink
    August 14, 2011 2:43 pm

    I have a sports car that is rather low to the ground (Nissan 350Z). How close can I get to The Priest in this car and where can I park it if I need to walk in? Thank you!


    • August 14, 2011 6:37 pm

      Hmmm… Richard – you should be able to drive up some of the road without damaging your car, but I’m guessing that you’ll be adding a few miles onto your distance. Have you considered parking at the paved lot at Crabtree Falls and approaching from there. It’s a longer hike, but it’s a nice hike. At the top of Crabtree Falls, you’ll see signs for the Appalachian Trail Follow those, and you’ll end up at the Priest.


  16. Gary permalink
    May 4, 2011 10:06 am

    We are coming down from DE later this month to begin at Reed’s Gap, hiking the Trail south over the Priest, to Salt Log Gap. Is there a parking area at Reed’s Gap?


  17. Mike permalink
    October 18, 2010 1:01 am

    Loved reading your blog. Very informative and great pictures! I hike with my toddler in a backpack and we have done almost all the mountains outside of SNP. We hiked this from the other direction and it was misery. I look forward to trying this way.


    • October 18, 2010 9:26 am

      Thanks for the visit! Definitely try the Priest from the other direction… it will be an easy stroll in comparison! 🙂


  18. Meegan Bright Newton permalink
    August 23, 2010 11:30 am

    We did The Priest yesterday, our summit marker was a 5 ft diamond back rattlesnake! Watch your step hikers!


  19. Jim Hopkins (kayaker729) permalink
    June 18, 2009 10:43 am

    Awesome awesome write up! Everything about this hike looks great. Great pics and nice weather with that beautiful sky! And those wonderful flowers!
    Thanks for taking the time to share!


  20. June 18, 2009 9:26 am

    Thank you for such a complete blog entry, Christine and Adam. Now that we are retired, maybe we could drive back to VA to try hiking that wonderful trail again. We always hiked up from the meadows. To sit on that rock outcrop where you had your snack is a memorable experience, especially if you know the Tye River Valley.


  21. June 18, 2009 8:46 am

    I so appreciate all the information you share, Christine.
    Interesting lore on the name too!!



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