This easy 4.5 mile out-and-back along the Appalachian Trail offers great views in many places! It would be a perfect family hike or a leg-stretcher for folks riding along Skyline Drive.
This is one of those hikes where you get a lot of payoff for minimal effort. There are some great views from both South Marshall and North Marshall along the way, making this an excellent family hike. Technically, both peaks are part of the larger Mount Marshall, though they feel like two distinct mountains. We had covered the Marshalls on a longer section hike along the Appalachian Trail, but we felt this would be a great out-and-back that most people could do.
We started our hike from the Gravel Springs Gap parking lot. We crossed the road and picked up the white-blazed Appalachian Trail heading north. The trail goes through a wooded area and has a gradual ascent. After .9 miles, you reach your first grand set of views on your climb up South Marshall. Continuing a little further, there are a couple of other viewpoints along the ridge. At 1.1 miles, you reach the highest point of the trail over South Marshall and begin your descent. At 1.6 miles, you cross Skyline Drive to continue on the Appalachian Trail and begin your ascent up North Marshall.
The trail up North Marshall is a steeper section than what you experienced at South Marshall. Around 1.7 miles, you reach a very steep, rocky section, resembling a stony staircase up the side of a hill. At the top of this staircase, you see a large, monolithic rock. On our climb towards this rock, we heard a loud crow that was cawing at us madly. The toughest part of the climb was now over. I noticed a small, unmarked path around this monolithic rock and decided to explore. I was pleased to find a few rock outcroppings on this path that led to more spectacular views and you can even see Skyline Drive snake through the mountains. The crow continued to announce his displeasure and I’m guessing there was a nest we were nearing. As I made my way around one of the rock outcroppings, I stuck my hand in a big pile of bird droppings – I’m guessing the crow got his last laugh. After cleaning up, we rejoined the trail. Around 2.2 miles, we reached the last set of views from North Marshall. We continued just a little further to reach the summit, marked only by a small metal survey marking post in the ground, to bag a second peak on the trail. We made our return trip from this point, reaching our car at 4.5 miles.
The North and South Marshall Mountains were once known as Bluff Mountain, but were renamed in honor of John Marshall, who served as the fourth Chief Justice of the United States, serving for 35 years (the longest-serving justice in our history). He was appointed by President John Adams and previously served as Secretary of State and leader of the Federalist Party.
We’ve been spending a lot more time hiking than writing lately! That’s a great thing (for us), but it’s leaving us quite a backlog of posts to pull together. This hike of The Marshalls is a route I wanted to cover for families and other people looking for shorter/easier hikes. I feel like most of the moderate hikes in Shenandoah are already heavily traveled and well-known. The Marshalls offer spectacular views, but I doubt many casual hikers even know they’re there!
We had great weather at the beginning of our hike. It was sunny and breezy – perfect for hiking. It was still early enough in the season that trees in the mountains were bare and only a few wildflowers were starting to bloom. Whenever we came to open vistas, we could see the vivid green color of spring trees starting to creep up the mountainsides from the lower elevations in the valley. It was beautiful!
When we hiked this area last time – on a backpacking tip in 2012, we skipped climbing the unmarked trail to the cliff-sides on North Marshall. I’m glad we stopped on this trip, because the rocks were fun to climb and provided some especially nice off-trail views.
After the cliff views, we reached the trailside view from North Marshall pretty quickly. I couldn’t remember if there were any additional views along the ridge, so we walked along a couple more tenths of a mile until we found the survey marker. After the survey marker, the trail descends into the deeper woods.
On our return hike, the weather shifted quickly. What had been a pleasant, sunny day quickly turned cloudy and windy as a front approached. We could see shadowy columns of rain off in the distance and the clouds looked dark and angry. We hiked faster than usual back to the car. We made it back to the car before any rain fell.
We decided to drive home through Luray so we could grab something quick for lunch. In this case – fried chicken! It’s not something I eat very often, but I always feel that hiking earns me an occasional indulgence. :-)
- Distance – 4.5 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – About 900 ft.
- Difficulty – 2. There is only one steeper section on the North Marshall Mountain, but it a short stretch.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in excellent shape.
- Views – 5. There are so many spots to get views on this hike.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 0. Non-existent.
- Wildlife – 2. You may see deer on this hike and a few soaring birds.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Just follow the white-blazed AT. Be careful and keep your bearings if you venture off the trail to get the views near the monolithic rock climbing up North Marshall.
- Solitude – 3. Since this trail is in the northern section, expect to see more people that are visiting from Northern Virginia/DC. You should expect to see others near some of the view outcroppings.
Directions to trailhead: In the northern district of Shenandoah National Park. Park at Mile Marker 17.6 at the Gravel Springs Gap parking lot. Cross Skyline Drive to pick up the Appalachian Trail, heading north-bound.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
This 9.5 mile loop in the southern district of Shenandoah National Park offers vistas, streams and quite a bit of solitude! We think it would make a great short backpacking loop with a beautiful stream-side campsite along Paine Run.
Every weekend this April has provided glorious hiking weather! I’m feeling so grateful that we’ve been able to get out so often and take full advantage of the warm, sunny days. On the Saturday before Easter, we chose to hike the challenging 9.5 mile Trayfoot Mountain – Paine Run loop.
This hike begins at the Blackrock Gap parking area (not to be confused with Blackrock summit parking). From the lot, cross to the eastern side of Skyline Drive and make your way north along the Appalachian Trail. After a couple tenths of a mile, the trail crosses back over the drive and heads steadily uphill for a little over a mile. As you climb, you’ll come to a 4-way junction – stay on the white-blazed AT, as the other two directions go to Ivy Creek Spring and the Blackrock shelter.
At 1.3 miles into the hike, you’ll reach a cement marker for the Trayfoot Mountain Trail. Do NOT take this turn unless you want to miss the splendor that is Blackrock Summit! Continue another tenth of a mile to the massive jumble of boulders and jagged rocks that makes up this impressive viewpoint. We took some time to enjoy the views and climb on the rocks. The views from this spot are probably the best on the entire hike, although there are a couple more nice spots yet to come.
The Appalachian Trail skirts around the front edge of the summit before coming to a spur trail that leads down to the Trayfoot Mountain trail. The spur descends through a corridor of flat-sided slabs. When spur reaches the junction with the Trayfoot Mountain trail, turn left and follow the trail uphill along an old fire road.
The uphill climb along this section is steady going! Near the top, you’ll pass another marker pointing toward the Furnace Mountain trail. Continue on the Trayfoot Trail until you reach the cement post marking the summit and high point of your hike. There are no views from this summit, but this starts the beginning of a lovely, easy ridge walk.
The ridge rolls gently along for a little over a mile and a half, offering nice views of the Paine Run valley and a distant glimpse of Skyline Drive. The trail eventually begins a long gradual descent to Paine Run. Your last sweeping vista on this hike comes at a pretty outcropping of rocks overlooking pointy Buzzard Rock.
Switchbacks take you swiftly down to Paine Run. Near the first stream crossing, a cement marker points you onto the yellow-blazed Paine Run Trail, which is essentially an old fire road. There were several stream crossings on this section of trail. All of them were easy but the second crossing. We found the stream wide and flush with water. Most of the stones people use to cross were underwater. Instead of trying to attempt the rock-hop, we took off our shoes and waded across. Refreshing!
The Paine Run trail is very pleasant for a couple miles – sounds of running water and mountain views through the trees. When we hiked, the stream was flowing with lots of rapids and tiny waterfalls. I imagine it will run low and dry later in the summer. The path climbs so gradually you hardly notice you’re ascending! Eventually, you leave the streamside and head back toward Skyline Drive. After one final sharp switchback, you have one more moderately steep ascent back to your car.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with both the views and streams on this route. We had a great time! MapMyHike said this hike is only 9.3 miles, but all other sources put it at 9.7-9.8… so who knows!
We feel like we have covered so much of Shenandoah National Park on our blog, but it seems there is always another trail or loop that you can try. We talked about a hike to Blackrock summit before in our coverage of an AT segment, but this is a longer loop version that offers a few additional views and a stream to enjoy. Other than the Blackrock summit, you will likely not see a lot of people on this trail. We only saw a few people the entire day, which was a little shocking for a beautiful weekend day that happened to also be a free National Park entry day.
As Christine mentioned, you could skip the Blackrock summit trying to follow the signage, but you don’t want to miss the best part of the hike. When we hiked previously, our route bypassed the spur trail that leads to the Trayfoot Mountain Trail. This spur immediately gives you some additional views and some interesting rocks to scramble around. Most people that are doing an out-and-back just to the summit from the northern approach will miss this area also.
One thing that Christine and I both mentioned throughout the day is how this would make for a great overnight backpacking loop. If you choose to do so, I would tackle all of the tough uphill climbing the first night, making your way through the Trayfoot Mountain trail and camp somewhere near Paine Run. This will provide a great water source and there were some nice campsites near the water. The following day, you’ll just have a steady, but not too strenuous hike back uphill to your car.
When we started walking the ridgeline of the Trayfoot Mountain trail, I felt like we stumbled across the best place I’ve ever seen to spot grouse. We encountered three along our walk. A couple of years ago, while hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we encountered our first grouse on a trail. The beating of its wings created a strange echoing syncopation in our chest which made us both wonder if our heartbeats were going haywire. Seeking sources online, we found it was a common sound for mating grouse. We actually spotted several on this trail and when they took off in flight, we could briefly hear that same noise that perplexed us before. What a relief to actually spot the culprits this time.
Further along the Trayfoot Mountain Trail, we climbed up on a few rocks to enjoy our lunch and get some views. I managed to pick some rocks which were not in the least bit contoured to our bodies, which made for an uncomfortable sitting. It reminded me of how fast food chains design their seating area so the chairs are only comfortable for a short amount of time to prevent loitering. We quickly ate and moved on.
Around the 4.0 mile marker, the ridge line ends at a nice rock outcropping which gives you some last views before descending towards Paine Run. Some local families like to park on the western outskirts of the park and hike up to this area for views.
When we reached Paine Run, the water was a little high from the recent rains. There were a few places to rock-hop across. In one spot, we did have to shed our shoes to make our way across. Christine said I looked like a hobbit with my pantlegs pulled up halfway as I crossed. I responded back in my geekiest way, “May the hair on my toes never fall off.” I will say the water was very cold, but it felt so refreshing to my feet. The sensation of the freezing water made me feel as if I had just received a nice massage on my feet. After the refresher, I felt I could hike a lot longer.
The stretch on the uphill Paine Run trail was very gradual. While some people may think this was more of a boring stretch, I enjoyed the views of Paine Run along the side. There were even a few very small waterfalls to enjoy since the water level was high. We also came across a group horseback riding along the trail. All yellow-blazed trails, like the Paine Run trail, in Shenandoah National Park allow horses on the trails. This would be a great trip to take down to the water and let the horses rest and get a drink before returning.
We got back to our car and then heading north along Skyline Drive. Within a few miles, I spotted a young black bear on the side of the road. We were excited to have our first bear sighting of the year. The bear quickly ran away once it knew it was spotted, but we hope we get to see many more this year. We stopped at the Loft Mountain wayside to get our first blackberry milkshake of the year. Appalachian Trail thru-hikers talk about these treats for days in advance of getting to Shenandoah and the hype is worth it. However, their milkshake machine was broken and we had to settle for blackberry ice cream. It was still a just reward for a long hike.
While we realize this hike is longer and not as popular as some of the others in the park, this hike really has some nice gems along the trail. I was pleasantly surprised at what this had to offer!
- Distance – 9.5 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – About 2200 ft.
- Difficulty – 4. The climbs to Black Rock summit and Trayfoot Mountain can be a little steep, but the climb from Paine Run back to the parking area is very pleasant and gradual. The length adds to the difficulty rating of this hike.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was clear and in great shape!
- Views – 5. The views from Black Rock summit are spectacular. While the summit of Trayfoot Mountain has no view, there are other nice views from the Trayfoot Mountain trail – especially the outcropping that overlooks Buzzard Rock.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 3. Paine Run was surprisingly pretty and broad in the early spring. As we hiked up the Paine Run trail, we had many stream crossings and nice views of the water.
- Wildlife – 3. We saw deer and lots of grouse on the trail. We also saw a black bear shortly after leaving the parking area to come home!
- Ease to Navigate – 4. There are only a few, well-marked turns on this hike.
- Solitude – 4. We saw a few people near the stream that had come in from the western perimeter of the park, a few people on Black Rock Summit, and a trio of women on horses. All-in-all, we enjoyed a lot of solitude for a long stretch of trail on a pretty ‘free park entry’ day!
Directions to trailhead: Located in the Southern Section of Shenandoah National Park. Park at the Blackrock Gap parking lot around MM 87.3. Cross the road and find the cement post for the Appalachian Trail. Take a left, heading north, to start your hike.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
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.
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.
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.