Archive for September, 2015


Wildcat Mountain Natural Area

Posted on Sep 15 2015 | By

Hiking back to a forgotten era

There’s a secret hiking jewel less than 10 miles from Warrenton. Admittedly, it’s an open secret since The Nature Conservancy has owned the property since 1960.

IMG_1625But on any given day the footpath is lightly used. A walk on peaceful Wildcat Mountain will lead you to believe you are in the wilds of West Virginia. If a quiet and beautiful outdoor experience resonates with you, this preserve delivers.

There are patches of ancient oak and hickory on the mountain but the land was mostly cleared for farms in the early 18th century. Well-preserved stone walls still crisscross the mountain marking the boundaries of former fields.

Many of the mountain homesteads were abandoned after the Civil War but some farming and considerable logging continued into the 20th century. Today, the entire mountain is forested as nature reclaimed the land.

The mountain received its name more two centuries ago when wildcats freely roamed the area. And no, don’t be concerned about jumping one today. They’ve long since left the area.

So who do we thank for this unique gift? First, the Arundel family who donated the property to The Nature Conservancy. Nick Arundel, who passed away in 2011, was a legend in the Piedmont region. He was a journalist, philanthropist and conservationist.

He donated the 655-acre Wildcat Mountain to The Nature Conservancy 55 years ago, making it the oldest TNC preserve in Virginia. The organization then created a three mile trail circumnavigating the mountain (2.9 to be persnickety). It’s open to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk.

And while a three mile walk may sound a bit on the light side of a good workout, don’t be surprised if it takes two hours to cover the distance.

IMG_1688There is some decent elevation gain on the front end of the hike that offers a challenge. And a variety of small signs posted on trees provide hikers an opportunity to learn about the forest they’re walking through. Think outdoor classroom on boots.

Perhaps most interesting, an abandoned spring house and farm house built around 1900 by Enock Smith is located mid-way on the circuit. Smith’s parents lived in a one room cabin built in 1830 that was located behind the farm house. Only the chimney remains today.

TNC is a charitable environmental organization whose mission to “conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.” It was founded in 1951 and operates in all 50 states and 35 countries.

It has over one million members and has protected more than 119,000,000 acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide. Its 2014 assets totaled $6.18 billion. Fauquier County is fortunate to have land owned by the organization which in turn is made available to all citizens to enjoy.

Move’em out
With your boots laced up, the hike itself officially begins a tenth of a mile from the parking lot. The website Hiking Upward offers a succinct description of the walk:

From the parking lot walk up the gravel road for 120 yards to the point where the road comes to a T, turn right, following the trail signs and shortly pass a chain gate. Begin the steepest section of the hike as the trail makes several switchbacks for 0.4 miles climbing 400 feet in elevation before reaching a stone wall and intersection of the main loop.

Turn left following the trail signs as it descends the ridge for 0.6 miles then turns right and follows one of the many small fire roads.

The fire road will veer left uphill, then pass around a small rise before reaching a split in the road in 0.3 miles. Stay left downhill and cross a steam. Climb 50 yards to the next intersection where the loop trail turns right. Turn right continuing to follow the loop trail on a dirt road believed to be the one of the oldest roads in Virginia.

In another 0.1 miles arrive at the spring house, a replica built in the early 1960’s, with the original spring box just uphill. The Smith house further up the rise, was constructed in the 1900 by Enoch Smith, and remained occupied for most of the early 20th Century.

Turn right at the yellow blazed Wildcat Mountain loop trail as it crosses over the earth embankment of a small pond. In 0.2 miles from the pond arrive at a stone wall and the fire road intersection on the right. Remain straight following the trail signs for 0.5 miles where the trail turns right off the fire road. Follow the trail signs now downhill before arriving back at the beginning of the loop in another 0.3 miles.

Turn left downhill at the end of the stone wall, retracing the route 0.4 miles back to the parking area.

IMG_1641There are several side trails that lead to adjacent private properties. Hikers should stay on the yellow blazed trails to avoid getting lost. For a full description of the hike with map and photos visit and search Wildcat Mountain.

Off to the trailhead
A good spot to launch your trip to Wildcat Mountain Natural Area is Fauquier High School. Proceed west on Old Waterloo Road for 3.5 miles. Old Waterloo Road turns left but continue on the same road that now becomes Wilson Road. Go 2.5 miles and take a right on Carters Run Road. Drive 3.1 miles and take a right onto graveled England Mountain Road. Proceed 0.1 of a mile to parking lot on right.

Walk 0.1 mile up hill to trailhead on the right. Enjoy your walk!


Note: I am a member of Boots ‘n Beer; “a drinking club with a hiking problem.” The men-only club regularly sponsors hikes throughout the Piedmont region and Blue Ridge Mountains. Each hike concludes with a rehydration stop at a local pub. Visit to become a member.


Published in the August 2015 edition of the Warrenton Lifestyle magazine.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES