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Bearfence Mountain

May 18, 2009

Bearfence Mountain is a short, but deceptively challenging hike in the central district of Shenandoah National Park.  Although it  measures just 1.2 miles, it’s not for the faint of heart when it comes to heights.

The beginning of the Bearfence Trail

The beginning of the Bearfence Trail

Adam Says…

We decided to do this one on short notice, because it’s so close to our house and we didn’t have a lot of free time today.  It is one of the southernmost hikes in the central district of the Shenandoah National Park.  While it is only 1.2 miles, the short length can be misleading.  The footing is tricky through the rock scramble and it is not a good idea to attempt for a lot of people.  If you have weak knees, aren’t flexible, have unsure balance or a fear of heights, this is not a hike for you.  Bearfence can also serve as good practice if you are planning on attempting Old Rag.  The rock scramble does take some planning to determine how you will traverse each obstacle.  The hike takes most people well under an hour, so it’s a great hike to combine with other short hikes in SNP (especially if you’re trying to add to your summit total.)

The rock scramble begins right after you round this rock outcropping

The rock scramble begins right after you round this rock outcropping

There is an earthcache geocache hidden here titled On Top of Bearfence Mountain.  While physical geocaches are not allowed in the park, earthcaches typically teach something about geology.  You will normally have to find some information or spot something regarding the geology and answer a few questions to be allowed to give yourself credit.

The scramble.

The scramble.

Christine Says…

Bearfence Mountain is usually a hike that offers great views of the western valley (photo from winter 2007) and Skyline Drive.  But today, we were socked in by unusual mid-day fog.  It was so odd – at our house (which may be ten miles away as the crow flies) it was mostly clear blue skies with the occasional puffy cloud.  But on Bearfence, it was like pea soup.

The trail was really crowded today, mostly by two vanloads of folks from Eastern Mennonite University.  They were inexperienced hikers, and moved at a snail’s pace across the rock scramble.  Luckily, they let us pass them along the way.  Several in the party were really struggling, and were obviously uncomfortable with the terrain.  They were hiking with two trained trailguides, so I was a little surprised to see the group on Bearfence.  Of all the hikes in the park, I see more people turn back on Bearfence than any other trail.  I think the short length misleads people into hiking something they’re not capable of or comfortable with.  Don’t get me wrong… most average hikers will find the rock scramble to be quite fun.  Personally, scrambles are my favorite type of terrain to hike.  I’d rather do a scramble than a sheer uphill any day!

view blog

What a view, eh?

The scramble on Bearfence starts after about the first quarter mile of the hike.  It’s really the only challenging portion of the trail.  After the scramble, you’ll walk along the ridge for a short while.  Eventually, you’ll meet back up with the Appalachian Trail and make an easy walk back to where you started.

While we hiked it in the spring this time, Bearfence is especially spectacular during the peak of autumn color.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 1.2 miles loop trail
  • Elevation Change – 380 feet
  • Difficulty – 2.5. This is short and not strenuous, but if you’re not in good shape , you’ll find it more challenging.
  • Trail Conditions – 2. While the rest of the trail is in good shape, the rock scramble definitely brings this score down. (however, if you’re like us and love to scramble, this trail rates a 5!)
  • Views – 3.5. (usually)  Today was foggy.
  • Waterfalls/streams - 0. Non-existent
  • Wildlife - 1.5. We saw a deer up here and heard that a bear has been spotted along the AT on this mountain.
  • Ease to Navigate - 3.5. During the rock scramble you’ll need to look for the blue blazes, but it’s not very difficult to follow.
  • Solitude - 1.5. Expect to see people due to the short distance.  Also, plan on being held up by others through the rock scramble if you’re a faster hiker.

Directions to trailhead: The trail is located on Skyline Drive at mile marker 56.4.  Park at the the Bearfence Trail parking lot, cross Skyline Drive and begin the hike up, following the blue blazes.  Once you complete the rock scramble, you can continue up to the summit or turn right on to the Appalachian Trail to make your way back down. (the trail crosses the AT twice, so you can make your hike even shorter than 1.2 miles if you like)

22 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandy permalink
    March 7, 2014 6:10 pm

    This hike was so worth the view when we got to the top. It was simply beautiful and the mountain ridges seemed to go on endlessly. I loved that it offered a few challenges going up. There was ice and snow still on the trails and we had to practice extra caution climbing up, but when we made it to the top and I looked out…the effort was so worth that view. We managed to get some unbelievable photographs. Perfection is all I could say.

  2. Karen Mirabella permalink
    March 5, 2014 12:52 pm

    great post about bearfence! it’s my favorite hike and I’ve done it at least five times in the past six months. I took some friends from out of state on a particularly windy day and that plus their fear of heights made it a real challenge.
    however, I have also taken my five kids (14, 13, 9, 6 and 6) and they did it with no problems on a sunny day. the ledges are a real concern for the little kids…thankfully mine are pretty cautious although I felt pretty stressed while we were on the summit just hanging out when they were wandering around.
    do you know of any hikes similar to bearfence that has some rock scrambling? I know that old rag is one and we’ve done that and loved it….looking for a shorter hike than that and just a different hike than bearfence.

  3. Toni permalink
    January 16, 2014 9:12 am

    I visited in September and on a whim pulled into this lot because another visitor at Stony Man suggested it. I was in flip flops and the sun was setting so I only did part of the scramble (or it is possible I did none of the scramble and I have no idea what awaits… maybe what those of us in Cuyahoga Valley NP consider a scramble is just a walk in the park compared to SNP) I am returning in May and really want to see the view from the top. I understand that May is the wettest month in Shenandoah Valley. Obviously I want to do the scramble BUT if it’s slick we will probably forgo it. You mention that it crosses the AT twice and that there is an “easy way back to where you started.” Does this mean you can still reach the summit/view while avoiding the scramble?

    I just found this page today and I appreciate the trail overviews. I’m a casual hiker so I like how these are written for people like me. I also think it is important that you don’t make the hikes sound easier than they are. I live just a few miles from CVNP in Ohio and what they rate as difficult hikes in my park are similar to what I found in the little Easy Hikes on the AT in SNP guide. I didn’t find any of the hikes I tried hard, but the elevation change is a surprise for a trail rated “easy” if you’re from a different area.

    I can’t wait to get back there.

    • January 16, 2014 11:07 am

      Hi Toni – You do have to do the scramble to reach the top, no matter which route you go. One route back to the car is just significantly shorter and is all downhill. May does have a fair amount of rain, but also a lot of beautiful, sunny days. I think it’s a great month to hike in the park. If you want views similar to Bearfence and want to avoid scrambling, there are lots of other trails! (Mary’s Rock, Loft Mountain Loop, Millers Head)

  4. HikingMama permalink
    December 22, 2013 11:47 pm

    I have hiked this with my children (at ages 8 and 10), but would not recommend it for younger children. It isn’t that the trail is challenging (kids love a good scramble), but the drop-off from the ridge could be fatal. You don’t realize how high it is until the trail takes you along the bottom of the cliffs – I’m guessing at least 60 feet. I waited until my children had gained a little self-control and understanding of consequences before taking them on this one.

    • December 26, 2013 6:29 pm

      Good advice! We have such a hard time rating Bearfence. It’s not a challenging hike, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. :-)

  5. August 16, 2013 11:36 pm

    I love Shenandoah.. I live North in Maryland but drive down at least twice a month. I’ve been on every mile of the skyline drive and have hiked at least 50 different hikes (from Bearfence at 1.8 miles to Jeremy’s Run at 14.7 miles to the Brown Mountain loop at over 18 miles). Old Rag is my favorite hike in Shenandoah. This probably doesn’t surprise most of you who go to Shenandoah often,

    The only problem I have with this post is that it attempts to make Bearfence look more challenging than it actually is. Wear good boots, take your time on the rocks and you’ll be fine. This isn’t Mt. Rainier folks.. and yes, I’ve climbed to the summit of that also. Other than that, good article.

    • August 17, 2013 11:30 am

      Thanks for the visit, SK! We try to cater our ratings to casual/non-hikers. You are right, Bearfence is not a difficult hike – especially for fit people who readily tackle hikes like Old Rag and Jeremy’s Run – and climbs like Mt. Rainier. I think you would have to agree that your fitness level is a bit higher than the average park visitor. We have seen far too many people turn back or panic on the Bearfence rock scramble to not mention that the trail is not for everyone and will include some challenges, despite being one of the shorter hikes in the park. If we rated trails based on our experiences as regular hikers, I think we would probably put some people into situations they’re not ready to handle. We definitely don’t want to do that! It’s best to err on the conservative side when rating terrain and difficulty.

  6. Maranatha permalink
    September 17, 2012 4:08 pm

    I hiked Beatfence years ago and took my son and niece, who were about 8 and 9 at the time. They loved the rock scramble!

  7. Dana S. permalink
    March 28, 2012 11:15 pm

    Hi. I live in Ruckersville and I really enjoy the easy hiking trails, especially the ones to the waterfalls. I decided to up the ante and bit and did hike Bearfence mountiantoday. I’m not in the best of shape and I have to admit, I only made it about 1/2 way before I had tot turn around due to time constrainst. The rock scramble is challenging for me. But I now have yet ANOTHER goal and that’s to actually FINISH that trail.

    • March 29, 2012 8:32 am

      Thanks for the visit, Dana! Bearfence is a fun little hike and I’m glad you enjoyed the challenge. :-)

  8. December 7, 2011 1:32 pm

    Great summary and pictures of the trail. Bearfence is one of our very favorites. We hiked there recently with our daughter and documented the hike as well. Fortunately, the weather was ok, so our views were a little better: http://outdooradventureforlife.com/113/bearfence-mountain-trail-shenandoah-national-park

  9. Walt and Jonathan permalink
    March 21, 2011 6:04 pm

    My son Jonathan and I hiked Bearfence on Saturday for the first time. We frequent SNP and have for many years but Bearfence was by far the best hike we have done! We saw our share of kids successfully doing the rock scramble but the woman in open-toed sandals trying to make it to the 360 degree viewpoint was quite something to see. She made it!

  10. May 20, 2009 6:33 pm

    This is one of my favorite hikes in the park. Mark and I hiked it pre-kids. Not sure if I’d tackle it with them now, but hopefully when they’re older! Great pictures.

    • May 20, 2009 7:05 pm

      Yeah – I think your kiddos are probably still a little too small for the scramble. They’d have a hard time traversing some of the boulders with their little legs. You and Mark would have to physically pass them along the scramble. :-)

  11. May 18, 2009 10:55 pm

    Christine, I love these pictures with the fog. I think they give much more interest and ingrigue than a clear blue sky.

    • May 20, 2009 7:06 pm

      Thanks, Karen! That’s what I love about hiking in the park. I can hike the same trails over and over again, and the scenery is always a little different each time.

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