QUICK TRAIL FACTS
- Preserve Size: 100,000 acres
- Trail Mileage: ~10 miles
- Pets: yes
- Difficulty: challenging
- Sights: beautiful views, open ledge, remote ponds
This is a glorious but strenuous 10-mile hike. While you can do the loop in either direction, people in the know (the staff of the Appalachian Mountain Club lodges) almost universally recommend hiking it counter-clockwise, especially in summer when you can cool off in the beautiful East Chairback Pond close to the end of your hike. The ponds are reachable via short (and steep, in the case of East Chairback Pond) side trails off the Appalachian Trail.
The loop includes more than three miles along the Appalachian Trail as it traces the Barren Mountain-to-Chairback Mountain ridge. The views from Third Mountain’s Monument Ledge and Chairback Mountain (2,190 feet) are wonderful. Columbus Mountain, between Third and Chairback, is viewless. While the mountains are moderate and relatively small (the highest is Chairback) the length of the trail, and the fact you are going up and down, again and again, can wear hikers out.
If you choose to hike the loop counter-clockwise, park at the trailhead for Third Mountain Trail on Chairback Mountain Road. The 1-mile hike to the junction with the AT rise gently until it reach the intersection with Gorman Loop Trail. Then it gets steeper for the last 0.5 mile.
At the junction, turn left for Third Mountain, just under 1 mile away. The trail steadily climbs to the open ledges and amazing views at Monument Ledge, about 0.2 miles past the summit. Then you head down again to the dip between Third and Columbus Mountain peaks. Definitely check out West Chairback Pond, down a 0.2-mile side trail. It looks swimmable and is very pretty.
Between Third Mountain and Chairback Mountain, you’ll encounter the Chairback Gap Shelter. The path goes right in front of the lean-to before curving left and down. (We got a bit turned lost here.) Head up again to Chairback for more breathtaking views. As you start your descent down Chairback, you’ll have to pick your way down a short but steep rockfall. The next section of the trail is ledgy, open, fairly flat, and very pretty, before it descends into the woods again.
Don’t miss the 0.2-mile side trail — and steep descent, unfortunately — to East Chairback Pond! At the base, look for a faint trail to the right that will take you to a small clearing with a fire pit and the best place to swim.
If you follow Henderson Brook Trail back to Chairback Mountain Road, take care at the three stream crossings. If I recall, two had ropes slung across to hold for stability. Once you get to Chairback Mountain Road, you’ll have a 1.2-mile hike back to your car.
Note: The loop includes a side trail to Indian Pond. Unfortunately, the pond is 2.5 miles away, and you have to descend the ridge and walk a long, flat expanse to reach it — which means, of course, you have to climb back up to the ridge. The pond is nice but not dramatically so. Unless you’re keen on visiting Indian Pond, I don’t recommend going out of your way and adding five miles to your hike. You could make it a separate day hike, but East and West Chairback Ponds are both pretty and swimmable. If you do hike to Indian Pond, note that when you are about a half-mile from the pond, the blue blazes switch to yellow, right as the path makes a turn to the left.
Directions: From Greenville, take KI Road past the gatehouse to the T-junction where you’ll see a sign for Gorman Chairback Lodge. Go right and continue past Long Pond Road, taking a right on Chairback Mountain Road. There should be another sign for the lodge. If you want to start at Henderson Brook, look for a small parking area on your left; the trailhead is just a ways farther along the road on the left — it’s marked with a trail sign. Or, continue along the road to the parking area for Third Mountain, on your right.