The full Rocky Mount lariat is known as one of the Shenandoah’s most punishing hikes, but if you do it as an out-and-back (like us!), you get a moderate 6.8 mile hike with great views and a lot of solitude! Our route eliminates the less scenic Gap Run Trail on the back side of the mountain.
We’ve covered most of Shenandoah National Park already – there aren’t many trails we haven’t written about! But, Christine did some research and found a hike we hadn’t done yet. We entered the park at Swift Run Gap. We needed to buy a new annual pass, since ours had expired. The park ranger asked where we were going and we said, “Rocky Mount”. She looked at us with a disapproving pause and questioned why we would want to do that one. Christine told her we had covered most of the rest of the Park and the ranger just handed back our pass with a shake of her head. After leaving the fee station, we began to wonder how tough this hike really was. We had heard it was one of the toughest in the park due to the elevation gain split over several tough climbs. Most of the reviews we read were based on the Rocky Mount-Gap Run lariat loop which incorporates the Gap Run Trail. The back side of the mountain, which uses the Gap Run Trail, is repeatedly described as very steep and lacking in any noteworthy scenery. So, we decided to do this one as an out-and-back hike that hit the big view payoffs.
The weather was quite warm based on what we had grown accustomed to during the cold winter. The temperature was already in the 60s and it was barely 9:00 a.m. We parked at the Twomile Run Overlook and then walked north for a short distance. After the barrier wall ended on the western side of the road, we saw the concrete post on the left which marked the beginning of the blue-blazed Rocky Mount trail. The trail begins with mostly descending through the woods. You drop down about 700 feet (some level sections, some steep sections) until you reach the junction with the Gap Run Trail at 2.2 miles. We stayed straight at this point and began a steeper ascent. The trail climbs along a path that wraps around Rocky Mount, leading to a few (mostly obstructed) views along the way. At 3.4 miles, the climb ends near the summit and you can see a short side path to the left leading to a rock outcropping. Here is where the best views on the mountain can be seen.
We paused for a while to take some photos and eat some lunch. However, there were biting bugs that were trying to eat me alive. It took away from the experience! After swatting and flailing like a man possessed, I covered my body in DEET. Those insects were probably drooling over their first available human meal after months of starvation. For some reason, they preferred me over Christine, who got quite a chuckle over my melodramatic gesticulations. One thing that I don’t like about hot weather hiking are the insects. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of what’s to come for the rest of the warm season. We headed back the way we came, arriving back at the junction with the Gap Run Trail at 4.6 miles. The trail then starts a rather long climb back up. We finished the climb and got back to the trailhead to make the out-and-back trip 6.8 miles.
An out-and-back route was the perfect way to tackle Rocky Mount – we enjoyed all of the views and suffered none of the slogging! Certainly, there are some folks who like tough climbing and don’t need spectacular scenery to have an excellent day on the trail. I’m not one of those people! If I’m going to have a great time a tough hike – there must be views or waterfalls or a near 100% guarantee of seeing wildlife. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cardio challenge. It’s just not enough to make me endorse a hike as a must-do hike.
The day we hiked Rocky Mount was unseasonably warm. I loved being back in shorts and a tank top again! My mom always tells me that I should wear long sleeves and long pants to avoid ticks, but honestly the only ticks I’ve ever found attached to me have been on days that I DID wear full-coverage clothing and repellent. I think it’s just easier to spot ticks moving on bare skin and flick them off before they attach. I’ve also had good luck with using a combination of DEET and treating my clothing with permethrin. Ticks are such a huge problem in our part of Virginia, and the recent increase in cases of Lyme disease is shocking and scary. The threat isn’t enough to keep me off the trail, but I am definitely vigilant about preventative measures and doing thorough tick checks. Typically, if you remove a tick within a few hours of it attaching, there isn’t time for Lyme disease to transmit into your blood stream. OK… end of my public service announcement!
Adam did a thorough job describing the terrain and distances. I’ll just add that I found the ascents at both the middle and end of the hike to be fairly moderate. They were probably a little tougher that day since we weren’t accustomed to the warmer weather yet. It was in the low 80’s by the end of the hike. The trail also had quite a bit of direct sun exposure. The route will be shadier as the park gets leafier, but right now there is still a lot of light coming through the canopy. I got a little bit of sunburn on my shoulders, but I was glad that the bare trees gave us views that we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy later in the season.
We ate lunch on the rocky outcropping near the summit of Rocky Mount. For whatever reason, the biting flies just weren’t bothering me. Poor Adam – he’s not exaggerating when he describes his flailing. He was pretty close to having a full insect-driven meltdown! After lunch, we returned the same way we came and headed back to our car.
Over the course of the hike, we didn’t see a single other hiker! When we got back to the parking area, there was one guy who had just come off the trail, but he had done the loop in the opposite direction and our paths never crossed. Rocky Mount is definitely one of the less-traveled trails in the park, but I think it is definitely worth doing. I thought the views were well worth the climbs! Ambitious hikers might enjoy the extra challenge of the mountain’s backside, but for me the 6.8 mile out-and-back was just right!
Note: I ran MapMyHike during this hike, but I forgot to stop app off when we got back into the car. The time in the car messed up everything from the route to the elevation to the pacing. I left it off this post!
- Distance – 6.8 miles
- Elevation Change – 1800 ft.
- Difficulty – 3.5. The hike to the summit wasn’t too tough, but the return trip has a long, slogging uphill climb.
- Trail Conditions – The trail was well-maintained with only one blowdown on the entire trail. The path was very clear and only covered by leaves in a few places.
- Views – 4. Great 180-degree views for miles from the rock outcropping.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 0. Nothing to report.
- Wildlife – 1. We didn’t see any wildlife on the trail, but we saw a ton of signs of either bobcat or coyote droppings on the trail. Pressing forward from the summit, we did startle a hawk resting on a log.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. As soon as you follow the trailhead, you just head straight on the Rocky Mount Trail. The side path for the views at the rock outcropping isn’t marked, so it could be possible to just walk right past it.
- Solitude – 4. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail, but at the trailhead we did run into a solo hiker that had finished the entire loop.
Directions to trailhead: In the Southern Section of Shenandoah National Park, park at the Twomile Run Overlook at MM 76.2. Head north a short distance. When you reach the end of the retaining wall, you’ll see the concrete post marking the trailhead (around MM 76.4) on the left (western) side of the road.
This 5.1 mile loop hike is deceptively challenging. Views and pleasant ridge walking are paired with some steep ascents and descents.
Wow – the first weekend of April 2014 was GORGEOUS! I think we (and every other hiker in Virginia) decided to hit the trails. We tossed around the idea of going backpacking, but we just didn’t get our act together. We perused our hiking book collection, a bunch of maps and several websites. We settled on a hike we found on Hiking Upward – Fortune’s Cove. It wasn’t a long drive from our house and looked like a good choice for early-season hiking.
We got to the trailhead parking lot right around 10:00 and found it jam-packed. There was one group of about 15 hikers getting ready to depart. I feel a little bad saying this, but I’m always a little deflated when I get someplace and find that we’re going to have lots of company on our hike. We set out immediately, in hopes of putting a little distance between ourselves and the large group. We hike quite a bit faster than most social groups, but the self-inflicted pressure to keep moving made me feel like I couldn’t pause to take photos. I took most of my pictures while still walking, so they might be a little blurry or random.
We hiked the trail in the opposite direction of Hiking Upward. In retrospect, I think I’d go the way their directions suggested – the ascent is longer, but more gradual. We started our hike at the end of the parking lot with the informational bulletin board. The trail actually starts from the main road, right before the turn-off to the parking lot. Initially, the hike rambled along over rolling hills, climbing gradually uphill above the cove. After crossing a small wooden footbridge over a creek, we were treated to a small but pretty waterfall. After the waterfall the hike followed a series of switchbacks uphill. We eventually crossed a fire road and continued a short flat section of trail. Soon, we reached a junction. At this point, you can take the shorter, easier Lower Loop around the cove, or follow the challenging, longer Upper Loop. We wanted views, so we went with the Upper Loop. From the junction to the cell towers atop the high knob, the climbing was pretty brutal – I’m not going to lie. Sometimes there were switchbacks to ease the ascent, but other times the trail went straight up the mountainside. We were still hiking hard to stay ahead of the group, so I was very relieved when the towers came into view through the trees. The climb was almost DONE!
Near the towers, the trail comes to another junction. One spur leads to the tower and several decent views (although – the presence of towers really does detract from the beauty of the views). The other direction continues to follow the Upper Loop trail around the perimeter of the cove. The remainder of the loop is rolling hills and ridge walking. There are several big descents and a couple short, steep ascents, but all the tough uphill is behind you at this point. We chose to have lunch at the first little rocky outcropping with views. It was nice to see Wintergreen and The Priest through a few (still bare) trees. There was a ton of mountain laurel on the back half of this hike. It should be beautiful in late May – early June!
Some of the downhill on the back loop was very steep and covered with deep, slick, dry leaves. We were both really thankful to have trekking poles. We continued to enjoy occasional views, mostly looking into the cove, as the hike progressed. At one point, we were hiking along in companionable silence, when suddenly a large German Shepherd bounded in our direction, barking loudly – fortunately he was friendly. It turned out that a couple of hikers had two unleashed dogs on the trail. We love dogs, but they’re not allowed in Fortune’s Cove. The restriction is clearly marked at trail entries and the rules are posted online, so please leave your dog home!
Eventually the Upper Loop and Lower Loop met back up at the final trail junction of the hike. The last bit of the hike was fairly consistent, knee-grinding downhill. Adam asked me to hike in front of him, so he could ‘grimace in pain’ in the rear. I was hiking along, when out of the blue, Adam bellowed and shouted. At first I thought he hurt himself, but it turned out that a gigantic black snake had just slithered across his feet. The thing was easily five feet long. I love snakes – Adam is less fond.
Through the trees, we could see our car in the parking lot drawing closer and closer. We walked the last little bit of trail, enjoying the budding and blossoming trees at the lower elevations. We saw cherry, redbud and pear all starting to flower. It was a great hike for a pretty spring day.
Fortune’s Cove Preserve consists of 755 acres that was donated by Jane Heyward to The Nature Conservancy. The staff and volunteers help maintain this land and hiking trails.
As Christine mentioned, when we arrived at Fortune’s Cove, there were a ton of cars in the parking lot and a bunch of hikers ready to hit the trail. I told Christine “Grab your stuff quickly and let’s get going.” We didn’t want to experience this hike with a larger group and having to play leapfrog up the trail as we stop to take pictures. I know that some people like to meet new people and enjoy the outdoors as a group, but we tend to hike with just the two of us or just another couple of people. When we took our first pause for photos, we could see the group approaching, so we rushed ahead. In fact, I would say we ascended the trail much faster than normal so we could stop to take photos at all. Since this was one of our first hike with real elevation change in a while, we probably pushed ourselves harder than we wanted.
From the parking lot and behind the large trail map of the preserve, we walked up the road about 20 yards and then saw the trail sign on the right of the road that marked the start of the trail. The yellow-blazed trail starts off on a small ascent through a serene, wooded area. You can see glimpses of the farmland to the right of the trail as you skirt around the property. Eventually you will cross a couple of bridges over some creek beds and see a small, yet picturesque waterfall along the lefthand side of the trail around .75 miles. Continuing from this point, the trail starts a more steady ascent. At 1.1 miles, you reach the intersection with the white-blazed lower loop trail. We took the upper loop trail, which had a warning sign for the steepness of the trail. This truly was no joke as the trail had us slogging up the mountainside. At 2.25 miles, we finally reached the top summit. There was a small trail (only a tenth of a mile) to the left which led to the top of High Top Mountain, which had a large cell tower at the top. The view was obstructed around us and being near a large tower didn’t make us feel like we were getting away to nature. We rejoined the upper loop trail and continued on our hike. We were now doing ridge-walking, so the toughest bit of climbing was behind us. We took a brief rest to eat our packed lunch while seeing the obstructed views of The Priest and Wintergreen across the valley in front of us.
We pressed along the ridge hike, which quickly began to lead back down the mountain. We were pleased to see there were several spots along the trail that led to some outcroppings of rocks with open views. The views below sum up what I picture when I think of Central Virginia – rolling mountains and farm houses. We continued down the steep trail, which had my knees feeling some pain. At 4.4 miles, you reach another intersection with the white-blazed lower loop trail. We continued down the mountain and made our way back to our car at 5.1 miles, passing through two blue posts before reaching the road and parking lot.
After the hike, we decided we had earned a trip to the nearby Blue Mountain Barrel House to sample some beer and get a snack from the food truck located outside. We enjoyed sitting outside with a few beers and were able to look out into the mountains on a gorgeous spring day. If wine is more of your thing, you can get samples from March-November on Wednesday-Sunday afternoons at Mountain Cove Vineyards, Virginia’s oldest vineyard.
- Distance – 5.1 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 1700 ft. (the big climb is about 1450, but once you add in all the little ups and downs, it’s closer to 1700)
- Difficulty – 4. There is some pretty serious climbing on this hike. It surprised us how challenging it was!
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in great shape in most places. There were a couple mucky spots near drainage, and dry, fallen leaves made some of the descents slippery.
- Views – 3. From the cell towers atop the High Knob to the junction with the Lower Loop, there are nice views in many spots along the trail. Even though there are many views, we’ve marked this down to a 3 because most of the viewpoints are partially obstructed.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. There is a small waterfall that probably only runs part of the year on the early part of this hike.
- Wildlife – 2. We didn’t see anything but a few birds and squirrels. DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON THIS PRESERVE!
- Ease to Navigate – 5. The trails on this preserve are more abundantly marked/blazed than almost any other place we’ve been.
- Solitude –1. We had heard this place wasn’t well known or popular, but on the day we went, we encountered a large group people hiking together (shout out to the PATC – Charlottesville Chapter) , plus about a dozen groups of 2-4 people. It was a very busy day on the trail. We’re not sure if this is the norm, but we’d give this hike low marks for solitude.
Directions to trailhead: From Charlottesville, head south on US-29 for 28 miles. Take a right on State Route 718. Follow this for 1.6 miles and take a right on to State Route 651. Follow this for 1.6 miles, passing Mountain Cove Vineyards on the right and then reaching the small parking lot. The way we approached the route, was walk on the road past the large trail map board about 20 yards. You’ll see the trail post to mark the start of the trail on the right side of the road.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
This relatively easy 2.5 mile loop goes around Sherando Lake and follows a short spur to a great mountain view!
This has been quite the harsh winter for snow and cold temperatures. And when it hasn’t been too cold, it seems to have been raining. So, we were glad to get out on a nice day to get a little exercise outdoors for a change.
Sherando Lake is a multi-purpose recreation area. In nice weather, you will see people swimming, fishing, camping, and hiking. To visit, there is a fee per vehicle – check out their fee schedule here. The area is officially open from early April through October. The road gates are often closed during the off season based on weather. There is camping available if you wanted to make a nice weekend trip, but reservations should be made in advance.
We started off our hike from the Fisherman’s Parking Area. There were a few other vehicles there also, but they were all there for the fishing. The lake is stocked with trout throughout the year. Facing the lake, we started our hike on the left by heading up the Cliff Trail. This trail was a short gradual climb with a few switchbacks before the trail levels out. About .4 miles into the hike, there is a small outlook to the right from a rock that gives you a few obstructed views from the lake. Continuing on the trail, it begins to descend and the lake gets back into view. At .8 miles, you reach the lakeside and see the sign that shows the junction with the Lakeside Trail (a trail that wraps around the lake). We took a few minutes to go out onto the sand and enjoy the views of the lake. I saw a wood duck escorting a few ducklings on the far banks of the lake.
We walked back behind the large building/gift shop, crossed a couple of bridges and rejoined the trail on the northwestern side of the bank. We took the blue-blazed Blue Loop Trail, leading us past a few campsite areas before climbing up into the woods. The trail is rockier, especially in the beginning, than the Cliff Trail and is steeper. The trail climbed through a few switchbacks. At 1.5 miles, you reach a junction shortly after a switchback with the Dam Trail. This will be your return route. Continue up the Blue Loop Trail, which begins to take an uphill climb to the left up the mountain. At 1.75 miles, you reach Lookout Rock. We took some time there to enjoy the view and then went back the way we came until we reached the junction with the Dam Trail. We took this trail to the left, which leads steeply down the mountain. You begin to see the lake through the trees again and we reached the lakeside around 2.25 miles. We continued on the trail until it reached a small bridge that crossed over the dam stream and led back to the parking lot.
One thing that was going through my mind during the hike is this would be great for a family outing. Grab your family for a quick hike followed by a picnic by the lake. Make a weekend of it if you want to do some camping, swimming, and fishing.
I enjoy winter and playing in the snow, but I’m very ready for warmer weather. I want to see flowers blooming. I want to feel warm sunshine on my face. I’m so ready to see a canopy of green across the mountaintops. I have spring fever. So, I was especially thankful for a particularly warm and sunny Saturday because it gave us a chance to get out and hike.
We chose Sherando Lake, mainly because it was nearby and easy. It would have been a great day to go on a longer hike, but Adam was still getting over a bad cold. And I was not willing to spend more than an hour in the car. I had spent the past two weekends in a 12-passenger van, making a 15 hour ride to and from the Florida panhandle and was still a bit road weary.
My trip to Florida was a service-learning trip with a group of nine JMU students. We traveled to a Nature Conservancy preserve – Apalachicola Bluffs & Ravines to do a week’s worth of environmental work. We camped, we hiked, we learned about the local ecosystem, and most importantly – we planted 90,000 plugs of native wiregrass seed that will be used to restore the natural habitat of that part of Florida. It was hard work, but I think we made a difference. We even had one free day on our trip. We chose to spend it spotting manatees, gators, and other wildlife at Wakulla Springs State Park. If you want to see more photos and read more about my service trip, I’ve uploaded a large set of captioned photos to my Flickr account.
Now, back to Sherando Lake! I had been to the lake a couple times before, but had never actually taken the time to hike any of the trails in the area. I was pleasantly surprised by the trail system. There is something for everyone – a practically flat trail that goes along the lake shore, a steeper trail around the lake that offers a couple nice views, and a connection into the larger, longer trail system along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I liked sitting on the sand and enjoying the pretty lake view, and I really enjoyed climbing up to Lookout Rock on the Blue Loop Trail. The rocky outcropping provides a nice view of the lake and the mountains beyond. Although the snow was gone on the trails we walked, we could still see plenty of snow on the distant, higher ridges.
The walk back down from Lookout Rock was really steep and slick, especially with the thick bed of dry, fallen leaves. Once we reached the bottom of the descent, we crossed a concrete bridge beneath the spillway and returned to our car. We finished hiking a little bit before noon, so we decided to make the short drive to have lunch at Blue Mountain Brewery (near Afton Mountain). They have great food and great beer. Adam enjoyed a flight of nine different beers and I tried their Daugava Baltic Porter. I think everyone in central Virginia had the same idea to visit the brewery for an outdoor lunch. The place was packed, but it was a perfect ending to the day.
- Distance – 2.5 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 998 ft.
- Difficulty – 2. The uphill to the Lookout Rock is a little steep, but overall most people should be able to do it.
- Trail Conditions – 4. This is well-traveled, so you should find the trail to be in good shape.
- Views – 3. Nice views of the lake from Lookout Rock and mountains around. Some obstruction, but overall a decent view.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. There is a small man-made water dam that creates a nice fall look. The lake creates a picturesque setting.
- Wildlife – 2. You shouldn’t expect a lot of larger wildlife. We saw a pileated woodpecker swooping across our car when we arrived.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. The only place you may need to figure out is where to pick up the trail after going to the other side of the lake.
- Solitude –1. On a nice day, you’ll see plenty of people here. Most will be near the lake, but expect some people at Lookout Rock.
Directions to trailhead: From I-64, take Exit 96 just east of Stuarts Draft. Go south on State Route 624, which becomes State Route 664 at Lyndhurst. Continue south on State Route 664 approximately 8 miles to the entrance to the Sherando Lake Recreation Area on the right. The gatehouse is approximately 0.5 miles ahead which will take the fee for your vehicle. Past the gatehouse, you’ll take a right to the fisherman’s parking lot. Park there and make your way to the left for the Cliff Trail.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
We walked a beautiful two-mile snowshoe loop on this lovely network of trails in Elkton, Va.
We finally got a significant snowfall! The first day of the storm, we were snowbound at home. We spent the day digging out and hanging out. But early the next morning, after the snowfall stopped, we headed over to the Elk Run Trails. The trails, maintained by the Hurricane Running Club, are primarily intended for cross country running and walking. However, under a heavy bed of snow, they’re simply perfect for snowshoeing.
We parked our car at the Elkton Community Center and set out from the trailhead on the west side of the center. For much of the first mile, the trail follows parallel to Elk Run Stream. While you can see houses on the far bed of the stream, the trail still offers a lovely wooded setting. On this particular day; the deep, soft snow made for slow, arduous progress.
The only climbing on the walk comes as you approach the back side of the Kite Mansion. One short climb takes you past an old spring house. Then a shorter, but steeper, ascent brings you up to the east side of the house. We walked across the columned front of the house and picked the trail back up on the other side.
A brief descent brings you back to a dirt road that parallels Route 33. The trail is completely flat and passes through a tunnel of hemlocks and pines. Eventually you come out on the road, just east of the community center. From there, we popped off our snowshoes and walked the brief 10th of a mile back to our car.
It was a wonderful morning in the snow!
When the weather wants to dump a lot of snow on the ground and you feel like you couldn’t hike anytime soon, grab some snowshoes and hit the trail. We have been on this Elk Run trail system before in dry conditions, but this trail seems made for snowshoeing.
The only map you can find of this trail system is on the photo link above. You can pick up a copy yourself at the Elkton Community Center during normal business hours. Our trip consisted of doing the entire orange trail starting from the west end, but included the green loop trail that takes you up to the Kite house. We parked at the Elkton Community Center and went behind the building.
We spotted the orange blaze across the field behind the building that denoted the start of the trail system. The trail was untouched (minus a few squirrel tracks) when we hit the trail and we quickly realized how tough snowshoeing over a foot of fresh snow could truly be. After a short time, we decided to shed some layers since we were working up a sweat from the effort. The trail started off with a long scenic walk alongside the Elk Run.
At about .9 miles, the trail begins to start up an ascent and you can then join the green-blazed trail. Take this up a steep but short hill and at the top of the hill take a right. This will lead you to the front of the Kite House.
Continue to cross in front of the Kite House and you will see the trail pick up again, going steeply downhill. At the bottom, you come to a larger trail junction. We took the orange-blazed trail again, which takes you through a wooded section behind Elkton Middle School. After about .5 miles, the trail widens and then eventually leads to a road. Take a right here and follow this back to Elkton Community Center, where you parked.
- Distance – 2 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 100 ft.
- Difficulty – 1. The trail is almost completely flat. However, in deep, unbroken snow, you should expect more of a challenge.
- Trail Conditions – 4.5. Wide, flat and well groomed – may be muddy.
- Views – 0. You’re in the woods the whole time.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. Elk Run is pretty, but is often obscured by brush.
- Wildlife – 1. You’ll likely see a variety of birds and possibly deer. We saw a beautiful red fox when we walked the trail on Thanksgiving day.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. There are tons of inter-connected trails. They’re blazed but unnamed. Everything loops back, so it would be hard to get lost.
- Solitude – 4. Typically, you’ll only see a few people on this trail.
Directions to trailhead: From I-81, take exit 247 towards US-33E heading towards Elkton, VA. Follow this 15.6 miles before taking the ramp to the right to US-340N. Take the first right and you will see the Dairy Queen to the right. Directly across the road from Dairy Queen is the Elkton Community Center. Park your car here. Behind the building, you will see the orange blaze which signifies the start of the orange-blazed trail.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
This 6-mile hike is a bit challenging – tough climbing and a little hard to follow – but payoffs at the end make the effort well worth your while. The views are spectacular – some of the best in the mid-Atlantic!
Our first experience hiking on North Fork Mountain was on my birthday in 2012 (birthday hikes are a tradition for us!) We decided tackle a little piece of the the trail from the base of the mountain to the well-known outcropping of Chimney Top. This August day ended up being one of the hottest days of the year. While hiking up the backside of this mountain, there was absolutely no breeze so the air was stifling. We were quickly questioning why we chose this one, but we had to press on for tradition’s sake. We reached the ridgeline and walked along for a while. We eventually came across a few rocks that seemed to denote a path up. We semi-bushwhacked up this trail and came to a rock column and climbed up to the top to enjoy the views. We thought this may have been Chimney Top. When we got back home and did more research, we realized we hadn’t found the true Chimney Top, so we vowed to return – and we did… on our sixteenth wedding anniversary in fall 2013.
It was a perfect October day with the leaves just a shade past peak. One of the difficulties about this trail is there are no solid online resources for maps and even using our mapping software (alltrails.com), the full trail doesn’t appear on any kind of topo maps. We used our MapMyHike app on our phones to try and get accurate readings and I traced that outline on a topo map through alltrails.com to try and get a good resource if you want to attempt this hike.
We arrived at the small parking area and made our way up the trail. The trail meanders for the first two miles through the woods with some slow switchbacks to help you gain elevation. The thick canopy is high above you, but you will notice you will rarely feel much wind on this side of the mountain. Around 1.5 miles, you make a steeper ascent up the mountain and reach the top of the ridgeline around 2.0 miles. Once you reach the top, you can see down below to the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River and WV-28/55 on the other side. Both times we have been, you can see dots of people fishing in the river. Across the way, you will see ridges of mountains with Canaan Valley hidden behind them. Looking along the ridgeline, you’ll see sheer cliffs of rock, making this quite a remarkable scene. From this ridgeline, we continued along the path. The trail stays on the ridgeline allowing for several opportunities to check out the views for the next .5 mile. Around 2.5 miles, the trail has been rerouted away from the ridgeline and you descend the mountain. The signs say that it was to protect the nesting/hatching peregrine falcons, who have nested on the cliff faces. The signs are at least five years old, and October is not nesting season, so we’re not sure if the signs are still valid.
The trail continues through this terrain for another .5 miles and then starts to gain elevation again. At 3.0 miles, we came to a well-established campsite and could see the ridgeline just above it. I walked over to the ridge, but the views were fairly obstructed. I then saw a smaller campsite to the right of the trail. Going to that campsite, I walked a short distance behind it on a small trail towards the ridgeline to discover the elusive Chimney Top. The photos we will place should lead you to the proper campsite that leads to the correct trail. We ate some lunch from the top of the cliffs near Chimney Top Exploring a little around this area, you are able to see a most-impressive cliff face (where I’m assuming is the section protected for peregrine falcons).
After we ate our lunches and took in the scenery, I decided I wanted to try to climb up Chimney Top. I had to find some good footholds, but I was able to get up without too much trouble, but please be careful if you try to do the same. There are many sheer drops from here, so I wouldn’t advise any unsupervised children to be given free reign on this hike. Head back the way you came to make this a 6 mile out-and-back.
I do believe that the scenery from this spot is one of the most dramatic and beautiful views you will get in Virginia and West Virginia. The trail was called the best trail in West Virginia by Outside magazine in 1996 and I can see why. Some people like to backpack the entire 34 miles of North Fork Mountain. Since you are at the top of the ridgeline for this hike, there isn’t a reliable water source to be found so you would need to pack in a lot of water for this backpacking trip. I would strongly recommend trying this hike on a beautiful spring or fall day.
I’ll admit – I’m the reason it’s taken over three months to get this hike posted. A foot injury, a lingering cold, and the unusually frigid temperatures have sent me into a state of lassitude. I haven’t felt particularly motivated to hike or write. I’m sure I’ll snap out of it completely sooner or later. But today, I decided to give myself a little push and get this post live!
We were really excited to try this hike again. Our trip on Adam’s birthday had been rewarding even though we missed out on the main view. We started the morning with a big breakfast at Bright Morning Inn (Pumpkin Pancakes with Walnuts and Maple Butter Sauce!). It’s one of our favorite places to eat in Canaan Valley/Davis – everything is always excellent there!
After parking, we started climbing the mountain, following the familiar ground we had covered the previous summer. We spent a little time exploring the first of several impressive rock outcroppings on this hike. While there, we took some time to chat with the only other two people we saw on the trail – a couple from Pennsylvania. They were recent empty-nesters and were returning to backpacking for the first time in 20+ years. They still had all their gear from the late 80’s/early 90’s – external frame packs, old fashioned sleeping pads, and I think I may have seen something cast iron! It looked like a heavy load!
After leaving the first view, we pushed along the trail, passing the spur trail to our lunch spot from the 2012 attempt. This spot is marked by a rock cairn and the worn footpath is well established.
The route follows a series of rolling hills after passing the spur trail. I thought the trail was pretty hard to follow along this section. It’s a reroute, and vestiges of the old trail are still apparent. It may have been because the trail was under so many leaves, but I still think the reroute isn’t fully established. As we continued along, I asked Adam how much further we should go. According to old information, we had hiked far enough to be well past Chimney Top. As it turns out, the reroute is just longer and follows a wide arc around the preserved cliff face.
Eventually, we reached a spot with numerous campsites. That’s usually a good indicator that you’re near something desirable to hikers/campers. In this case, spotting the campsites let us find yet another unmarked trail that led out to the spectacular view from Chimney Top.
We spent quite a while up there, enjoying the fall foliage and awesome views, eating our lunch and taking photos. The hike back went very quickly… mostly downhill and along a route that felt a little more familiar.
- Distance – 6.0 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 1725 ft.
- Difficulty – 3.5. The trail has some decent climbing on it. Both times we’ve hiked it, there wasn’t any wind until the top, so the temperatures can be stifling.
- Trail Conditions – 1.5. Trails are largely unmarked with reroutes not always clear. Finding the actual viewpoint of Chimney Top can be a little challenging. Watch out for loose rock on the ridgelines in case you go to check out any views.
- Views – 5. Absolutely stunning views and great ridgeline walking.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 1. From way above, you’ll see North Fork Gap. There isn’t a water source on this trail.
- Wildlife – 1. We barely saw squirrels, but you may have some views of preying birds. Watch out for timber rattlesnakes on the rocky ridgeline.
- Ease to Navigate – 2.5. There is basically one trail to follow here, but it can be tricky finding Chimney Top.
- Solitude – 4.5. Typically, you’ll only see a few people on this trail. Most will go to the first overlook and stop.
Directions to trailhead: From Seneca Rocks, WV head northeast on WV-28N/WV-55E for 15.2 miles. Take a right on to County Route 28/11/Smoke Hole Road. You immediately cross a bridge where you may see people fishing in the stream. In about .4 miles, there is a small parking lot on the right-hand side. You’ll see the brown board which denotes the start of the trailhead.
This 14.5 mile section of the Appalachian Trail includes great views of Wintergreen Resort from Humpback Mountain. The campsite for the evening is the Paul C. Wolfe Memorial Shelter, which is located on the bank of lovely, rushing Mill Creek.
For Christine’s birthday this year, we decided to do a quick overnight backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. Following an all-day soaking rain and a cold front on Saturday, we had ideal weather for hiking and camping on Sunday into Monday – low humidity, clear skies, daytime highs in the 70s and a nighttime low near 45. It was perfect!
We started our morning with a big breakfast at Thunderbird Café and then made the 40 minute drive to the trailhead. For this hike, we left one car parked in the small lot near where the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) crosses I-64 and Rt250. From there, we drove our second vehicle to the Dripping Rock parking area at mile 9.6 on the BRP. The name Dripping Rock refers to the small spring adjacent to the parking area. Supposedly, it was a water source well-used by Monocan Indians en route to summer hunting grounds.
The AT crosses the parkway at this point, so it’s an easy place to hop on without using any access trails or spurs. The hike starts out climbing gently uphill through the woods. Almost immediately, we spotted a small cooler alongside the trail – trail magic! We didn’t need (or take) any trail magic on our hike, but we were curious so we opened the cooler to see what was inside. We found a log book, a camera, a small whiteboard, a bottle of ibuprofen and a nice supply of granola bars. The camera and whiteboard were provided so that hikers could take photos with their trail names.
A couple tenths of a mile down the trail, we passed even more trail magic in the form of 2 liter-sized bottles of tap water from Wintergreen Resort. Typically by September, streams and springs in the Shenandoah Valley are dry or running very low, so the free, clean water would be quite welcome. The bottles were situated next to one of the trail’s spring-fed water sources. We noticed the sign marking the spring indicated that water might be contaminated and should be filtered or boiled. The sign included an outline drawing of a moose, and we both found it comical to think about the implausibility of Virginia water being contaminated by a moose.
The hike continued gradually uphill along the side of Humpback Mountain. We saw several nice campsites along the trail. Soon after that, the views started to open up. We didn’t really have any expectations for great views on this hike. We figured we might take the side trail to Humpback Rocks and eat lunch there. We also knew from past hikes on Dobie Mountain that we’d be passing one decent overlook at Glass Hollow. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find spectacular views along the rocky, spiny ridge of Humpback Mountain. These views are about 2.5 miles from the better known outcropping of Humpback Rocks, and we thought they were even nicer! The crowds, graffiti and car noise always take away from the experience at Humpback Rocks. We had this lofty ridge all to ourselves.
We took some time to take off our heavy packs and enjoy the view. We could see the Priest, Three Ridges and the slopes of Wintergreen Resort. When we got home, we read more about this section of the trail and learned that the view is named Battery Cliff, because the condos on the slopes of Wintergreen look like fortifications from a distance. The rocks on the cliffs are Catoctin greenstone formed in an ancient volcanic eruption. When you sit on these rocks and look across to Wintergreen, you’re looking over to where the Appalachian Trail used to traverse the mountains. Five miles of the trail used to cross the resort. But in 1983, the resort sold the land to private developers – basically pulling the rug out from under the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Luckily, the organization was able to quickly pull funds together and preserve the land across Humpback Mountain – where the trail currently sits.
Leaving the open ridge, we dipped back into the woods and continued walking along a long, impressive stretch of stone ‘hog wall’. People living in the area before the establishment of the parkway built these long walls to roughly mark property and attempt to contain livestock. Eventually we arrived at a junction, one direction headed toward Humpback Rock and the other continued downhill along the Appalachian Trail. We decided to skip the extra mileage it would take to visit the Rock and continue toward our destination. We’ve seen the Rocks many times and didn’t really want to face the crowds that arrive with beautiful-weather Sundays.
As we walked downhill, we started contemplating our lunch break. We decided that the next spot with good ‘sitting rocks’ we’d stop for lunch. As it turned out, the next rocks we found were just a few, big random flat boulders right alongside the trail. We had lunch of apples, peanut butter, cheese, and energy bars. As we ate lunch, two groups of people passed us – a couple with their dog and a man who had just visited his daughter at JMU’s family weekend. All in all, we only saw a total of eight people over the entire ten miles of hiking that day. The solitude was nice!
After lunch, we continued the 5.5 mile descent toward our evening stop point. The trail was in great shape and the downhill was easy going. At the bottom of Humpback Mountain, the Appalachian Trail intersects with the Howardsville Turnpike – an old toll road that was heavily used to transport goods before the Civil War. It’s long been reclaimed by the forest, but the wide, flatness of the trail still has the definite feel of a well-traveled road. We continued along the Appalachian Trail until we spotted a small sign marking the Glass Hollow overlook. We followed the short access trail and spent a good twenty minutes relaxing on the beautiful rocky viewpoint. The views this time were much clearer than they had been two years ago when we visited.
After leaving the overlook, we continued along the Appalachian Trail, passing the junction with the Albright Loop Trail – a popular day hike in this area. From this junction, you can follow the Albright Trail for two miles back to Humpback Rocks parking. We continued northbound on the Appalachian Trail, descending Dobie Mountain. The trail follows a series of gradual, well-graded switchbacks. There is one nice view of the valley about halfway down the mountain. Eventually, we started hearing the sounds of running water through the trees. After crossing Mill Creek, we arrived at our stop point for the evening – the Paul C. Wolfe shelter. This shelter is one of the nicest we’ve seen. The location is beautiful, the picnic table is on the porch and the shelter has sidelights, so it’s bright and cheerful inside. So many shelters are gloomy and dark. We will caution you – the privy at Paul C. Wolfe shelter is kind of weird – the door is only a half-door. When you sit on the toilet, you have a nice view – but people can also see you sitting there.
We were the first campers to arrive for the night, so we got a prime campsite near the banks of Mill Creek. We had our own established fire pit and our own bear pole – fancy! We immediately got started setting up camp and taking care of necessary chores. Mill Creek was running beautifully, so we had a clear, cool water source to filter from.
We decided to take our dinner up to the shelter so we could use the picnic table for meal prep. Dinner consisted of pepper steak, wine and dark chocolate cheesecake. As we were finishing up dinner, a southbound thru-hiker named Nightwalker arrived at camp. He told us he had hiked almost 30 miles that day. He was from the Boston area and freshly out of high school. We chatted with him a bit and marveled at him eating huge handfuls of candy corn mixed with Skittles. He had the look of a true trail-weathered hiker – beard, tattered long-johns and feet held together by duct tape.
When the sun was going down, we headed back to our own camp. Despite the heavy rains the night before, we were able to find enough old wood to have a small campfire for a while. We heard another southbound hiker arrive sometime after sunset, but we never met him. With the temperatures dropping with the darkness, we headed to bed around 9:00. Both of us slept pretty well, but Christine woke up around 3:00 a.m., struggling to close both of the doors in the tent fly. It was in the upper 30’s and she’s a cold sleeper.
We were up at first light, but noticed both the thru-hikers were still sleeping. We didn’t want to disturb them, so we cooked our breakfast of oatmeal, cheese, coffee and hot chocolate near the fire pit at our campsite. We were packed up and back on the trail within 45 minutes of waking up.
The morning’s hike consisted of a rather steep climb up Elk Mountain. From the back of the shelter, the trail climbed almost straight up via a series of switchbacks. We had about 1000 feet of climbing in just about a mile. After that, the remainder of the hike was more moderate or even gently downhill.
The five miles of trail back to Rockfish Gap are largely unremarkable; just a nice walk through the woods. There are a few small stream crossings, but no views along the way. The one noteworthy feature would probably be the ruins of the old Mayo cabin, about 1.7 miles north of Paul C. Wolfe. The chimney and hearth are still standing right alongside the trail. Evidently, there is also a cemetery for the Lowe family somewhere east of the trail, but we didn’t see it. The trail exits onto Route 250 at Rockfish Gap through an opening in the guardrail. Thru-hikers can find lists of trail angels at the guardrail opening. Waynesboro has one of the best organized trail angel networks along the AT. It’s easy to find a ride or shelter at this point on the trail.
We arrived back to our car around 10:30 in the morning. By the time we shuttled back to our car parked at Dripping Rock, we were already thinking about lunch. We realized how close we were to Devil’s Backbone Brewery and decided it was a perfect place to wrap up our backpacking weekend. We had a huge lunch – beers, a big soft pretzel to share, and sandwiches (French Dip for Christine, BBQ for Adam). After lunch, we decided to take Rt. 151 back to Waynesboro. This allowed us to also pass Bold Rock Cidery. It’s definitely worth a stop if you enjoy hard cider. Since it was a Monday, we were the only people there. We got to go behind the scenes into the cider pressing room and the fermentation/bottling facility. That was really neat!
- Distance – 14.5 miles (9.5 miles on Day One, 5 miles on Day Two)
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike – [Day One] [Day Two])*
- Elevation Change – 1800 ft. on Day One, 1100 ft. on Day Two
- Difficulty – 2. This is an easy backpacking trip with moderate, well-graded climbing.
- Trail Conditions – 4.5. Trails are in excellent shape.
- Views – 4. Views from Humpback Mountain and Glass Hollow are beautiful!
- Streams/Waterfalls – 3. Mill Creek is pretty and a great water source. There is a small waterfall and swimming hole downstream from the shelter.
- Wildlife – 2. We saw a few deer and heard owls at night.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. There are several intersections/junctions to pay attention to, but following the white blazes is pretty easy.
- Solitude – 4. Because we avoided Humpback Rock, we only saw a small handful of people on a beautiful Sunday.
Directions to trailhead: Follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile 9.6. Park in the small Dripping Rock parking area.
It was time to update our ‘Most Popular’ list! These are Virginia Trail Guide’s most searched and most viewed hikes as of April 2014!
1. Mt. Rogers
At the top of the list for the latest update – Mt. Rogers – Virginia’s tallest peak. It also has wild ponies, breathtaking views and one of Virginia’s most spectacular rhododendron blooms. In our book, Mt. Rogers is a must-see destination for every Virginia hiker. It’s our all-time favorite hike in the state!
2. Spy Rock
Spy Rock remains at number two. We honestly didn’t think many people knew about this hike, but apparently the word is out. The views are majestic and it’s great fun to scale the enormous rock to get to the viewpoint. This area of Virginia is rich with some of the state’s most beautiful hikes.
3. McAfee Knob
This hike climbed from number seven to number three – which we personally think is more appropriate! It’s a classic and it was one of our very first blog posts! McAfee Knob is considered a must-do Virginia hike. The ledge in the photo above is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail.
4. Humpback Rock
Our old number one, Humpback Rock, has dropped yet another spot (it was number three at the last update). Personally, it’s not one of our favorite hikes, but it’s one of the state’s most popular hikes. It has nice views, but the crowds can be a bit thick. It’s also one of the shorter hikes on our top ten list, so it’s suitable for most people, regardless of experience and fitness level.
5. The Rose River Loop
Do you like waterfalls? If so, our number five hike, the Rose River Loop is for you! This moderate hike passes by two larger waterfalls (Rose River Falls and Dark Hollow Falls) and many small unnamed cascades. It’s a great trail for wildlife and history buffs will enjoy a visit to the old Cave family cemetery.
6. Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls remains at the number six spot. This long, meandering waterfall tumbles down the mountainside over the entire course of the hikes. If you like to hike along and hear the sound of rushing water, this hike is a don’t miss!
7. White Oak Canyon
While you can do this trail as a longer loop paired with Cedar Run, we tackled our number five hike as an out-and-back. White Oak Canyon is another of Shenandoah’s most popular waterfall hikes. One of our favorite memories from this hike is watching a momma bear and her two cubs from the trail.
8. Seneca Rocks (West Virginia)
Seneca Rocks, climbs up a spot from nine to eight, and is the only non-Virginia hike to make the list! The short hike is very moderate and gives folks access to views from one of the most dramatic rock formations in the mid-Atlantic.
9. Hawksbill Mountain
It’s no surprise that Hawksbill Mountain held onto a spot in the top ten. It’s a moderate hike with amazing views, located right in the heart of Shenandoah National Park. Hawksbill is also the park’s tallest mountain. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of peregrine falcons along the way.
10. Mary’s Rock
Mary’s Rock is one of Christine’s favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park, and it’s also our reader’s choice for number ten (dropping two more spots down from number 8). If you hike to Mary’s Rock from Pinnacles Picnic Area, you get great views in multiple spots. You also can take a break at an Appalachian Trail hut and have great odds of seeing wildlife along the way.
Hikes That Just Missed the Top Ten
These hikes were all just outside the top ten.
11. Sharp Top
17. The Priest
19. Old Rag
20. Riprap Trail