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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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.
- Solitude – 4. 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.