Big Run Loop
Big Run is a pretty (almost) six mile walk along one of the park’s less-trafficked trails. Although this hike does not offer any grand scenery, it offers plenty of solitude and nice options for backcountry camping.
We said we were going to take a weekend off of hiking so we could catch up on yardwork and housework, but the weekend was far too beautiful to spend it being productive adults. We decided to have breakfast at Big Meadows before hitting the trail. Most of the park facilities closed for the season on Sunday, and the remainder will close the last weekend in November. It was nice to have one final round of pancakes and sausage in the lodge dining room.
After our big meal, we headed south on Skyline Drive to hike the Big Run Loop. Last time we did this trail, it was in the midst of an August heat wave. It was in the nineties and we had to rest and drink water every ten minutes. This time, the weather was considerably cooler – but still unusually warm for November. I couldn’t believe it, but there were actually swarms of bugs pestering me every time I stood still. I even got a giant mosquito bite on my collarbone. It’s not supposed to be buggy in November!
The trail started off with a couple miles of steady downhill. The trees had completely shed their fall foliage, so the trail was covered with a thick blanket of crispy fallen leaves. As we crunched along the trail, I remarked to Adam that we would certainly not be sneaking up on any wildlife on this hike. The leaves made it hard to see obstacles on the trail, and we both stumbled over rocks and branches hidden under the leaf layer.
At around the two mile mark, we reached Big Run. The water was very low and the stream was mostly obscured by several newly fallen trees. Although the trail is named for this stream, I think Big Run is fairly unremarkable. We didn’t stay long at this spot.
Shortly after the stream, the trail took a distinct uphill turn. For about a mile and half, we climbed steadily uphill. Some parts were rather steep, but overall it’s really not too bad of a climb. I used my trekking poles on this hike and they made the ascent markedly easier. I think the poles help me hike more efficiently and take pressure off my knees. Whenever I use them I feel like I have extra magical energy.
We eventually came to a four-way trail junction at the top of the ridge. The remainder of the hike followed the Big Run Loop trail until it joined the Appalachian Trail. The last segment along the AT took us past some impressive granite cliffs and crossed the Doyles River Overlook on Skyline Drive. After about a mile and a half along the AT, we completed the loop and returned to our car.
We were debating a few different options for our hike today, but we decided to do Big Run. One of the reasons that we chose this hike is due to the challenge of trying to find one of Hiking Upward’s hiking sticks. A few hand-carved hiking sticks are placed along the trails that are up for grabs to whoever can find them. They provide GPS coordinates for any geocachers out there. I wasn’t able to find one, I believe due to a typo on the website.
Due to all of the leaves falling, the hike was a little more challenging than normal. We started the trail going downhill fairly quickly and the leaves made it for tricky footing. The swoosh of the leaves with every step drowned out our own voices and everything else. We had to stop to hear each other when we wanted to talk along the hike.
The blue-blazed trail descends about 1500 feet in 2.2 miles when you reach the branch of Big Run. The water was still and barely more than a trickle this time. After rock-hopping the stream, you will come to a cement post. Take the left branch of the fork. The trail is now marked by yellow blazes and starts a steep ascent. You will gain about 1000 feet of elevation in a little over a mile. At 3.5 miles, you will come to another cement post. Turn left, heading east, to continue on the Big Run Loop Trail, which is now marked by blue blazes again. While you still are going uphill for most of the rest of the hike, it is definitely more manageable. At 4.2 miles, you will reach the junction with the Appalachian Trail. You will take a left, heading north, to follow this white-blazed trail. At 4.5 miles, you will cross Skyline Drive, to stay on the AT. At 4.7 miles, you will reach the Doyles River Overlook, which provide you the best views on the hike. The AT continues on the north side of the parking lot. You will stay on this trail for another mile. When you reach the cement post at 5.7 miles, you will take a left which will take you back to your car at the Doyles River Parking Lot only about 30 yards away.
While this hike is not spectacular for streams or views (until you reach the Doyles River Overlook), it was still an enjoyable walk through the woods. As I mentioned earlier, the leaves led to some difficulty with seeing the trail. At one point on the AT, I slipped on a rock hidden by the leaves and went tumbling down. Luckily, I was unscathed and more importantly, I was able to protect Christine’s camera gear I was lugging on my back.
- Distance – 5.8 miles
- Elevation Change – 1400 feet
- Difficulty – 3.5. There is a mile and a half of steady uphill shortly after crossing Big Run stream.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is in great shape. It was a little trickier than it should have been with all the downed leaves covering the trail. Footing was tough at times because we couldn’t see rock and branches on the trail.
- Views –1.5. You get one nice view when the Appalachian Trail crosses the Doyles River Overlook. If you hike when leaves are down, you get some other glimpses of views along the way.
- Waterfalls/streams – 1. Big Run is not as impressive as it sounds. It’s not big and it doesn’t really run much either. 🙂
- Wildlife – 2. We saw deer and lots of different kinds of birds.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Although there are turns, this trail is very well marked.
- Solitude – 4. Because this trail lacks grand views and waterfalls, it tends to be more lightly trafficked than other Shenandoah trails. The area is popular with backcountry campers.
Directions to trailhead:
Follow Skyline Drive to the Doyles River Trail Parking area near mile marker 81. Cross the drive and begin your hike on the western side of the road. The hike departs from the Big Run Overlook. There may be room for a car or two at the overlook, but we recommend parking in the larger Doyles River parking area.