Sugarloaf – Keyser Run – Hogback Mountain Loop

The Sugarloaf-Keyser Run-Hogback Mountain Loop is a lovely 4.9 mile hike through classic Virginia forest.  It passes by several nice panoramic viewpoints and makes use of the Appalachian Trail, a couple SNP trails and a fire road.

Mom on the Little Hogback Summit
Mom on the Little Hogback Summit

Christine says…

We hiked this trail with my parents to celebrate a combination of (belated) Mother’s Day and (early) Father’s Day.  My parents are fit, active, outdoorsy people, so we knew they would enjoy a day of wildlife watching, hiking and picnicking in Shenandoah.

My Wonderful Mom & Dad
My Wonderful Mom & Dad

We picked the Sugarloaf-Keyser Run-Hogback Mountain Loop because it sounded like the perfect length and difficulty for the whole group.  For some reason, my mom had a hard time remembering the name of the hike, and kept referring to it as “Hogland.”  I chuckle every time I think of a hiking trail being called Hogland; it sounds like the name of a porcine-themed amusement park.

It definitely turned out to be a suitable hike for the whole group.  The first 3.5 miles were really easy going. The AT and Sugarloaf segments were both especially pretty. The section along the Keyser Run Fire Road was boring, as fire roads always are.  My mom and I agreed that fire roads are always a little dull compared to “real” trails. We saw a couple hikers coming out of the Little Devil’s Stairs area on Keyser Run Road.  They looked exhausted and sweat-drenched.  The day turned out to be a lot warmer than had been forecast.

The view from the summit of Hogback Mountain (the highest point on the trail) was a little underwhelming for me.  The valley vista was lovely, but it was hazy and the view was ruined by power lines and an obstructive radio tower.  The views from Little Hogback are definitely nicer, even though the vantage point isn’t as lofty in elevation. The saddle between Little Hogback and Hogback also has one especially beautiful view spot.

The saddle between Little Hogback and Hogback is very pretty
The saddle between Little Hogback and Hogback is very pretty

The whole hike only took us a couple hours to complete, even with water and snack breaks along the way.  Afterwards, we shared a delicious picnic lunch at Pinnacles and headed home tired and stuffed full of chocolate chip cookies and fried chicken.  It was a really fun day.

Adam says…

Since there are a lot of trails and options in this area, here are the trail directions we used.  After crossing Skyline Drive from the parking lot and proceeding .3 miles, you will come to a concrete post.  Take a right and follow the blue blazes down the Sugarloaf Trail.  Hike for 1.1 miles until you come to the next marker.  Take a left onto the Pole Bridge Link Trail.  Continue for .5 miles and then take a left on to the Keyser Run fire road.  Follow this for 1.1 miles, crossing Skyline Drive.  When you reach the AT junction, take a left heading south on the AT.  Keep on the south AT, going up Little Hogback and then Hogback Mountain.  You will cross Skyline Drive one more time on your descent.  Follow the south AT until you reach the parking lot.

The stream crossings were shallow and easy
The stream crossings were shallow and easy

This hike had some very pretty spots on the trail.  The fern-covered forest floor near the beginning of the trail and again near Hogback Mountain was really quite gorgeous.  I felt this trail was very easy and most people could handle it.  The only challenging portion was the brief half-mile set of switchbacks climbing up to the Hogback Summit.  Last year, a ranger told us this was the best hike in Shenandoah National Park.  I would disagree, but it was still an enjoyable hike and our first time on this particular route.

One of the prettiest section of trail was the Appalachian Trail crossing Hogback Mountain
One of the prettiest sections of trail was the Appalachian Trail crossing Hogback Mountain

We ran into our AT thru-hiker for a third time!  When we stopped to talk to him, I told him, “I promise we’re not stalking you.”  He laughed and asked “Don’t you guys ever go home?”  Quite funny that we’ve seen him so many times in a park that encompasses 196,000 acres!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.9 mile loop.
  • Elevation Change – 700 ft.  Most of this is during the climb up to Hogback Mountain.
  • Difficulty – 1.5.  For most of the trail, the trail is level or slightly downhill.  There is a steep set of switchbacks to the summit of Hogback Mountain.
  • Trail Conditions – 4. The AT is well-maintained.  You also travel on the Keyser Run fire road for a little over a mile.
  • Views – 3.  The view from the summit of Little Hogback was the nicest unobstructed view.
  • Waterfalls/streams  – 1.  A couple of very small stream crossings, but not photo-worthy.
  • Wildlife – 2. Some signs of bears in the area, but you’re more likely to see some deer along the way.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.   There are a couple turns, but the directions are well-marked on cement posts.
  • Solitude4.  Likely to see AT hikers mostly during June, but we didn’t really see many others.

Directions to trailhead:

Park just south of the Hogback Overlook, in the parking lot located at mile marker 21 on Skyline Drive.  At the south end of the lot, you will find the AT marker.  You will cross the drive here, go slightly uphill, and then start the descent.

9 thoughts on “Sugarloaf – Keyser Run – Hogback Mountain Loop

  1. Ed & Jackie Strunk - Singers Glen, Virginia

    Love your trail guide, my wife and I have used it as a reference many times in the past couple of years. We tried the Hogback Mountain Loop this morning, it turned out to be a beautiful
    Woods hike. Difficulty level was a bit higher for us (60 years old) for the switchback section going up Hogback Mountain. We enjoy reading about your hikes, thanks for sharing your experiences and photos!


  2. CC

    Thanks for this lovely website, it’s a good reference point!
    We did this hike but added in a couple of miles more with the Piney Branch/PoleBridge/Sugarloaf section as well. Saw 6 bears, right off the trail, including a Mom bear and 2 cubs very close to the Hogback Mt summit (which is closed off for peregrine falcon nesting). She was pretty upset since we got a little bit too close, but after we backed off, she calmed down. Overall, a nice hike, but not too many view points for a lunch break or a nap.


  3. virginiatrailsadam

    Thanks Lesley for the visit and comment. When we were looking at starting this blog, we wanted to try and feature some things that you can’t find easily in a lot of places. I’m glad that you’re able to use us as a resource. You can always check out the map feature at the top, to find hikes that are near where you are planning to go.

    If you are thinking about doing Mary’s Rock soon, I would recommend doing it the way we have it on our blog ( rather than approaching as an out-and-back from Thornton Gap/Panorama. In that direction, the rocks are very loose. There is a small section of about .1 mile on the trail leading to the summit that is also very loose. Hopefully, this will work out for you.


  4. Lesley

    Just tackled the longer loop today. It encompasses your described hike for the first 1/2 and then a loop using the AT from the parking lot with a turn onto the Piney Branch Trail and Pole Bridge Link Trail and then back up Sugarloaf. I am so sore and tired now! With the two loops we logged a smidge over 10 miles with 1600 ft. elevation change.

    I stumbled upon your site today while researching out hike for next weekend. As we were leaving the park from the Thornton Gap entrance my husband and I spotted this awesome looking mountain right in front of us. Using our awesome online researching skills (and a park map 🙂 ) we found out that it was Marys Rock Summit.

    I have to say that I’m very impressed with your posts and I’m putting you guys on my “must consult” list when researching hikes. I have problems going downhill on loose, rocky, uneven ground, and I haven’t seen anyone else describe the hikes the way you guys do. This type of information is very important to me.

    Thanks again, and I’m sure we’ll see you out there.


  5. Jim Hopkins (kayaker729)

    This is always more fun for me to post here then the flickr post. Always a nice read here! Thanks so much for taking the time and effort!


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