By Karl Rosengarth and Eric McKeegan. Photos by Justin Steiner and Jon Pratt.
For all of Pittsburgh’s endearing qualities, its wet, pre-spring weather sucks. There are weeks on end when the trails are just too wet and muddy for responsible riding. The optimal solution is to load Dirt Rag’s “trusty” Ford E-Series van with test bikes and head south, where spring is already busting out all over (or is close enough to permit proper bike testing). This year’s spring trip wound its way south and east—to Wilderness Adventure at Eagle’s Landing, located in the mountains near Roanoke, Virginia.
Founded in 1990 by retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel Gene Nervo, Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing started out as youth camp. Nervo’s vision was, “to establish an all-outdoor program that, in addition to being fun and exciting, developed positive character and leadership traits—physically, mentally, and morally.” Nowadays its youth program attracts campers from far and wide. In fact, during our visit a busload of youngsters from Atlanta were staying at the main lodge. The venue is also a popular spot for corporate retreats, weddings and other group outings.
Located 35 miles northwest of Roanoke, the property sprawls over 500 beautiful acres bordering Craig’s Creek. The venue is within spitting distance of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Lodging facilities include the Main Lodge; the corporate style Sly Lodge, and the 8-person rustic Sneaky Cabin.
A prescribed burn glows on the ridge above Wilderness Adventures.
The 2,400 sq. ft. Sly Lodge (where Dirt Rag hunkered down) sleeps up to 32 people and offers central heat/air conditioning, wireless internet, a large living room, full kitchen, outdoor gas grill, dining room, four private bathrooms, and 11 bedrooms with a combination of double/twin beds and bunks. Out front is a large deck with picnic table and additional bench seating. There’s also a back porch and a brick patio with fire pit (firewood included) in the backyard. A television with a DVD player is also included in the Sly Lodge. Thankfully nobody in our group ever turned on the blasted thing. As with all of Wilderness Adventure’s accommodation options, linens and towels are provided. Sweet digs, for sure. The only thing that could make it any sweeter would be a fireplace. Sly Lodge is rented on a per person rate (the price ranging between $25-$40 per night, depending on the number in the party).
The eight-person Sneaky Cabin is designed for families, groups of friends, or smaller organizations. It has one-room downstairs with a double bed, a loft with six twin/bunk beds, one full bathroom, a small living space, a half kitchen, porch, grill and fire pit (firewood included). Other amenities include a river rock inlaid gas fireplace and a Keurig coffee-maker. The cabin is rented at a flat rate of $130 per night.
The 7,000 sq. ft. log cabin Main Lodge has a 11 individual bedrooms, 48 bunk-style beds, and a maximum capacity of 56. The large bathhouse has 4 showers, two toilets and two sinks on each gender side. The lodge has a huge stone fireplace, a spacious dining hall (meals provided), satellite television with dvd player, wifi access, surround sound, projector & screen, white board, flip chart, game chest, covered wraparound porch, and indoor restroom and shower facilities.
If you prefer to rough it, Wilderness Adventure also offers primitive campsites that run $15 per tent per night. They can even rent you the camping equipment (backpacks, tents, sleeping bags and pads, rain ponchos, water bottles, etc.).
Since our objective was to squeeze as much mountain biking as possible into five days, we didn’t have the time to explore all the facilities and activities that Wilderness Adventure has to offer. The list includes a pond for kayak classes and fishing, a 50′ climbing wall, a high ropes adventure trail, two low element team building courses, and a 900-foot zip line. The facility aslo has a large pavilion (with lights & fans), a gazebo on one of the two fishing ponds, a sand volleyball court (with lights), a horseshoe pit, and fields & goals for soccer. There is easy access to Craig’s Creek for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing (equipment rental and/or shuttle service is available). For approved groups a cedar sauna is also available (typically for adults only).
Wilderness Adventure employs a full-time chef who can prepare just about anything your group desires. Since Dirt Rag was a guest of the management, we just tagged along on the menu that Wilderness Adventure had designed for the aforementioned youth group. We dined on kid-friendly, stuff like spaghetti and chicken breasts, with fresh baked brownies for dessert. They make all meals from fresh ingredients, no pre-packaged garbage, and it’s all you can eat. Which we certainly did.
A number of stellar mountain bike rides are located less than an hour’s drive from the property, in the nearby Washington and Jefferson national forests, and on Roanoke city park property. Places such as Carvins Cove, Mill Mountain, Douthat State Park, Dody Ridge, Price-Patterson, and North Mountain (a.k.a. Dragon’s Back).
We sampled a variety of local trails. We arrived in the afternoon and headed back out to Price Mountain. While the ride started with some long hike-a-bike sections, it turned into some great ridgeline riding followed by a long descent with old-school fall line trails and some interesting off-camber switchbacks.
Day two took us to Dody Ridge and Spec Mine. The ride started with a steady fire road climb to warm up, a spin down a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The pavement soon gave way to some amazing exposed ridgeline followed by a ripping downhill. We cranked back up a long Jeep road to the Parkway, most of us feeling the effects of a long winter in our legs. We cruised the opposite way down the Parkway and dropped down the fast singletrack of Spec Mine.
We spent the next two days of the trip in Carvin’s Cove, a 12,000 acre parcel that is the second largest municipal park in the nation. With over 36 miles (and growing) of single track, there was plenty of trail to keep us busy. We got permission to drive into the park to set up shop and do some laps on various test bikes on Songbird trial, which is a great blend of short climbs descents, rocky bits and flow.
Our Second day in Carvin’s, we climbed up Trough trial, across a ridge line on a Jeep road, sampled the beginnings of a jump trail, and then down one of the best descents of the week; “Gauntlet”. We debated another climb and descent, but it was a very chilly day, so we headed back to camp.
The final day took us into Roanoke for breakfast and a stop at Underdog Bikes. From there we hit up another city park, Mill Mountain. Located about five minutes from downtown, the park boasts 12 miles of singletrack and is a favorite spot of locals’ for lunch rides. Smooth, well maintained trails; it was a great way to wrap up our trip.
There is a huge variety of trails in the area, and it would be easy to tailor rides to fit riding fitness, skills and preferences. We rode everything from a rigid 29+ to a 160mm all mountain bike, and everyone was smiling.
Base Camp Director Dan Lucas is an avid mountain biker, and the man leading the charge to expand Wilderness Adventures’ offerings to cater to fellow mountain bikers. New for 2014 are five “guided backcountry experiences” that run $40 per person, which include the shuttle to/from the trails, a packed lunch and the guide service. Lucas will also be packing tools and spare tubes to help with basic repairs.
As of this report, Lucas has set the dates for three of the five planned 2014 backcountry experiences. April 12th, Price Mountain: an “intermediate” 6.5 mile ride starting 10 minutes from base camp that includes steep climbs, rocky steep descents, ridge top views, and off-camber switchbacks. June 21st, North Mountain: an “advanced-expert” excursion on North Mountain (The Dragon’s Back) that is an extremely technical 12 mile ride, mostly comprised of rocky, ridge-top riding. August 9th, Dody Ridge/Spec Mine: this 18 mile “advanced- expert” ride has long fireroad climbs, challenging descents, and views worthy of multiple selfies.
Lucas also told us that the facility welcomes mountain bikers who prefer to design their own mountain bike experiences, selecting from Wilderness Adventure’s a la carte menu of lodging, meals, shuttling and guiding services. Shuttles to local bike trails run $10-20 per person per day, with discounts available when using the available guide services. Guided service is available at $75 for half a day, or $150 for full day. Just give them a call for a quote on a fully customized package.
From our time there, it was clear that the entire staff is intensely guest-focused, so I’m confident that they’ll work tirelessly to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. You’re even welcome to bring your well-behaved trail dog with you.