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.
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.)
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.
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!
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.
- 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)