Hightop Mountain is a nice hike along the Appalachian Trail in the Southern District of Shenandoah National Park. It features decent views and you can take a short spur trail to view an Appalachian Trail shelter.
Wow, it’s been a while. Sorry for the delay in posting anything new for a while, but life has just gotten in the way. We did get to go for a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and our annual trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, but we haven’t hiked in Virginia for a while. We’re just now getting back into the swing of things. We had a limited time on Sunday to do a hike, so we decided to pick something close by and relatively short. It was great to get back on the trails!
The hike was very nice. The trail had a steady uphill the entire way up, but it felt very manageable. We noticed that the trail was a little more overgrown than normal. This year has seemed to be great for weeds growing early on in the summer. Usually we have better views along the side of Skyline Drive and the trails, but things seem to have grown wilder this year. I’m sure the rain and cooler summer temps have caused this. The grass and weeds along the way tended to tickle our legs. The hike didn’t have a lot to view along the way, but it was nice to take a side trip and view the AT cabin and log. Around 1.2 miles, you will reach the intersection with the Smith Roach Gap Fire Road. Just cross the road to continue on the AT. You can reach the AT cabin by taking the spur trail shortly after the intersection with the Smith Roach Gap Fire Road. I always enjoy reading through the logs of those that have passed through. In this logbook there was some entries about people bringing the thru-hikers food, some card game scores, and a tale about how a bunch of them danced naked in the evening.
The views at the top really do show you a lot of mountains to the south and you can get nice glimpses of Skyline Drive. On a nice fall day, this could be a great photo opportunity when the leaves change color.
On the way back after .6 miles, you can take the option of taking the Smith Roach Gap Fire Road back to your car by taking a left, but the fire road looked very overgrown, so we opted to just go back the way we came.
It was so great to get back out on the trail again! I loved lacing my boots up, feeling the trail crunching under my soles and hearing the sounds of late summer bees buzzing lazily through the wild flowers. I’ve been out of the woods for far too long.
The hike up Hightop is one we’ve done several times now, but we’ve always approached the summit as an out-and-back from the northern end of the trail. It’s shorter and steeper, but gets you to the same viewpoint. I actually enjoyed this southern approach quite a bit more. The grade was very gentle and gradual. This route also gave us the opportunity to visit the Hightop Hut. I always like to stop by the AT shelters and read the trail journals.
The view from the summit of Hightop was beautiful. The sky may have been cloudy, but we could still see ten layers of mountain ridges fading into the distant southwest. We also got a nice view of our “home” mountain – Massanutten.
After the hike, Adam and I started casually tossing around the idea of doing a long backpacking trip next summer. We might try to hike the 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park sometime next spring. The more we talk about it, the less casual the idea seems. We’ll see…
- Distance – 3.8 miles out-and-back which includes an optional .2 mile trip to an AT shelter
- Elevation Change –967 feet
- Difficulty – 2. While it is a steady uphill the way up, it’s not too steep of a grade.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is well-traveled and well-maintained.
- Views –3. At the summit, you do have a chance to get some nice views of Skyline Drive and beyond. We counted a series of 10 ridges of depth at the top.
- Waterfalls/streams –0. Non-existent.
- Wildlife – .5 Other than a toad, we only saw one doe. There also didn’t appear to be a lot of birds on this trail.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Just stay straight on the trail.
- Solitude – 3.5 This trail doesn’t see a lot of traffic, but would be busier during the AT thru-hiking in the summer.
Directions to trailhead:
Park on the east side of Skyline Drive at Smith Roach Gap (around mile marker 68.5). At the end of the parking lot, go on the fire road. The trail takes off about 10 yards on the left.