Kennedy Peak is an easy, 4.75 mile walk in the Lee District of George Washington National Forest. It gives hikers similar views to the ones seen in Shenandoah National Park, but with a fraction of the crowds.
I love this hike. We’ve hiked it in winter and fall before, but this was the first time we’ve hiked it in the spring. Sunday afternoon was the kind of day that is custom made for hiking. It was dry, sunny, breezy and in the low 70’s. The trail was lined with brilliant, pink rhododendrons. All the trees were covered with new, spring green leaves and/or blossoms. Butterflies were fluttering all around the trail, taking pauses on the blooming trees and wildflowers. It was, in a word, idyllic. I had been up and on the go since 4:15 that morning, but the day was so perfect I hardly felt tired at all.
When we got to the summit, we had the observation tower all to ourselves. We watched birds in the treetops, spotted lizards climbing around on the rocks and took in a fantastic view of the Shenandoah River and the Page Valley. It was one of the least hazy days we’ve had in a while, so we could clearly see Shenandoah National Park from this summit. Lots of vultures were soaring overhead, and even though they’re kind of creepy, they were casting cool bird-shaped shadows onto the mountain top. I always like it when they do that.
Sunday was the only time we’ve hiked Kennedy Peak in the afternoon. Adam and I tend to be morning hikers — it helps us avoid the crowds. But, the light is definitely prettier in the afternoon on Kennedy Peak. If you hike it in the morning, the sun shines right in your face at the summit. That makes it hard to appreciate the great view, and makes it nearly impossible to get any decent photos.
This is one of our favorite, less-well-known hikes. This hike is not very steep and the payoff is wonderful. Once you get to the trailhead at the Edith Gap overlook, you will follow the orange-blazed trail. This is a good multi-use trail, since there are campsites and good footing for horses. There are a couple of campsites at the beginning of the trail, near the road. The nicest campsites are further up the trail. After two miles, the orange-blazed trail will come to a junction with the Stephens Trail and the Kennedy Peak Trail. Take a right and follow the white-blazed trail to the peak. Once you are on the white-blazed trail, you will find a couple of places where you can have some nice lookouts over the valley and the Shenandoah River. From some points, you can see up to six bends in the River. Once you reach the top, there is an observation tower where you can chill for a while before heading back down.
If you are into geocaching, there are a few in the area:
Be sure to visit Camp Roosevelt a little north further on the road. This is a great spot for a picnic.
- Distance – 4.75 miles round-trip
- Elevation Change – Maybe a few hundred feet
- Difficulty – 2.5. The trail for the first two miles is usually either flat or gentle rolling terrain. The last third of a mile up to the observation tower is steeper, but very manageable.
- Trail Conditions – 3. The trail is well-maintained, but there are a lot of rocks, so you’ll need to watch where you step.
- Views – 3. You can really see some nice views close to the top.
- Waterfalls/streams – 0. This trail is dry as a bone.
- Wildlife – 2. Seems like a great bird-watching area. We saw an Indigo Bunting, Goldfinch, Wood Thrush, and Eastern Towhee. Also spotted a box turtle and Eastern fence lizard. No signs of deer or bear.
- Ease to Navigate – 5. It would be nearly impossible to get lost.
- Solitude – 3. This trail is well-loved by a lot of locals, but the bulk of area tourists stick to the trails in Shenandoah National Park. You may see a few groups of hikers along the way, but it’s never a crowded trail.
Directions to trailhead: The trail is located on 675 – Fort Valley Road, north of Luray. You will see a small parking lot on the curve for the Edith Gap Overlook. There is additional parking on the other side.