This 4.2 mile hike leads you to a PATC cabin as well as a cabin once owned by a family from the mountain.
It was great to finally get out and do some hiking after the harsh winter! I think it had been since November since we were able to actually enjoy a hike. After some debating on which trail would be “less muddy”, we decided to try this hike. We were surprised that the ground was actually in good shape and not muddy like we were expecting. The hike’s main draw is the historical interest. The Corbins and Nicholsons were two families that lived in this area since the end of the Revolutionary War until the park authorities made them leave.
You begin the trail from the cement post across from the parking lot. You start the trail walking through an area of mountain laurel that will bloom nicely in the Spring. The trail descends through an elevation loss of 1500 feet over 1.4 miles. Around the first half of a mile, you will begin to see a stream off to your left. At .9 miles, you will come across some of the remnants of the families that inhabited this hollow through views of a rock wall to your right. Downhill to the left you will see ruins of John “Russ” Nicholson’s cabin. At 1.4 miles, you will hear the rushing of the Hughes River and see the ruins of an old cabin to the right that belonged to John T. Nicholson. You can walk over to this area and peek inside to see the small one-room dwelling. There is lots of glass and rusty metal, so be careful if you inspect this area. You will see the Corbin cabin across the river. You will need to rock-hop across the river, which is usually not too difficult. This time, the water was higher than normal and we only had to partially put our feet in the water to get across.
The Corbin cabin is available to rent from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. There are access points here to connect to Old Rag. We plan on trying that out in the future sometime for a weekend of living like mountain folk.
After you cross the creek to the cabin, take a right to join the Nicholson Hollow Trail. After a short distance, you will have to do a little more rock-hopping as it crosses Indian Run. You will start your steep ascent back up to Skyline Drive and at 3.6 miles you will reach the road. When you come to Skyline Drive, take a left, heading south for about 75 yards. You will cross the road and join a short spur trail. After less than .1 mile, you will come across an intersecting trail with a cement post. This is the Appalachian Trail. Take a right, heading North on the Appalachian trail, you will descend and ascend for another .6 miles until you reach the parking lot.
While this hike doesn’t offer any waterfalls or sweeping views, it does provide one of the park’s best peeks into area history. The trail begins steeply downhill for about a mile until you reach the bottom of the hollow. It’s a big drainage area with many small streams that pour into the Hughes River.
I love seeing all the remnants of old homesteads tucked into the woods. The main homesite, which lies on both sides of the Hughes River is such a perfect and idyllic spot. If I were to choose anywhere in the park to build a home, I think it would be right here. I can understand why John Nicholson was so heartbroken to leave. I love to imagine what it would be like to go to bed each night listening to the bubbling sounds of the river and see the sun rise each morning between the mountain folds visible from the front porch.
We had the homesite to ourselves for a little while. Fifteen minutes later, a couple guys with fishing poles arrived and we were on our way. The long arm of the loop starts from Corbin Cabin and climbs steadily uphill for about two miles. Most of it is moderate uphill climbing, but one section that passes through a thicket of mountain laurel is quite steep. The final .6 miles of the hike follows the Appalachian Trail.
On the AT, we encountered a lost beagle. She leapt out of the woods at us, probably expecting to see her people. She had a collar, an identification tag and the remnants of a broken/frayed leash. As soon as she realized she didn’t know us, she darted back into the woods.
We love dogs, and there was no way we were going to leave the beagle behind. We tried to corral her in, using low voices and lots of “Good dog!” calls. However, she was obviously terrified of strangers and started howling pitifully. Bit by bit, we were able to get closer and closer to her. We were just about to catch her when heard voices shouting down the trail, and the dog sprinted away. Thankfully, this time she was running toward the call of her owners. They were all happily reunited. It turns out the dog broke her leash four hours earlier when she chased something away from camp.
I guess even when they’re leashed, dogs can get into trouble in the park. I’m always surprised how many dogs we see running free with hikers. It’s both good practice and park policy to keep dogs leashed on park trails.
Since this was our first real hike of the season, we were both pretty tired at the end. We’re definitely looking forward to hitting the trails more regularly now that the weather is turning warmer.
- Distance – 4.2 miles – loop.
- Elevation Change –1500 feet.
- Difficulty – 3.5 The hike descends and ascends fairly steeply.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is in good shape. There were a few blown-down trees covering the trail due to the winter. Leaves on the trail make for a slick surface when going downhill.
- Views –0. You are deep in the woods for the entire hike.
- Waterfalls/streams –2. Near the cabins, you have a nice opportunity to see the Hughes River.
- Wildlife – 1. We didn’t see anything alive, but found remnants of deer that didn’t survive the winter. Expect to possibly see bear in the area. Heard pileated woodpeckers and saw juncos.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Trails are clearly marked.
- Solitude – 3. This trail isn’t the most popular due to the steep terrain, so you should likely only encounter people around the cabin and river.
Directions to trailhead:
From Skyline Drive, park on the western side at mile marker 37.9. Cross the road. The trailhead begins at the cement post across from the parking lot.