The Knob Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop takes hikers along a 12.4 mile route through one of Shenandoah’s most popular backcountry camping areas. This hike could be done as a long dayhike, but the campsites in the area are too inviting to pass up.
Since the weather looked like it was going to be a cooler, we decided to take off and go on an overnight backpacking trip. Our first overnight trip was the Hazel Mountain-Catlett Mountain trail which we did with a group from the PATC. This trip was our first non-group outing, so we felt it would be a good chance to put into practice what we learned from our Backpacking 101 course.
To do this trail as a loop, leave from the Elkwallow picnic grounds. You will see the entrance to the trail next to the pit toilet, which provides a last chance to “take care of business” before embarking on the hike. You will begin the trail on a short spur trail to the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. Turn left on the AT. In .2 miles, you will reach the junction with the blue-blazed Jeremy’s Run Trail. Continue straight on the Jeremy’s Run Trail. Around 1.2 miles, you will reach the junction with the Knob Mountain Connector Trail. Take a right at the post to join this trail. As soon as you cross Jeremy’s Run with a little rock-hopping, you will begin this steep connector trail. There are lots of switchbacks and this is definitely the steepest part of the entire trip. Around 1.7 miles, you will reach a junction with the yellow-blazed Knob Mountain Trail. Take a left at the trail junction and continue to follow this slowly ascending ridge trail. We would probably name this portion of the loop the Bear Scat Boulevard, because there was a ton of bear evidence in the area. You will see a few views through the trees, but nothing remarkable from the trail. At mile 3.9 you will reach the summit of Knob Mountain, marked by a concrete post. After the summit, you will begin your steep descent down the mountain. This is broken up by several switchbacks. The trail does open up at times to give you views of mountains along the way, including Strickler Knob and the Three Sisters. At 6.8 miles, you will cross Jeremy’s Run and reach the junction with the blue-blazed Jeremy’s Run Trail. Since we were fairly exhausted from our trip, we picked a campsite near the junction of the trail, which gave us great access to water. From the junction, you just continue on the Jeremy’s Run Trail until you reach the parking lot, crossing over Jeremy’s Run fourteen times. In some areas, it was necessary to rock hop across, but most of the time the traversing was quite easy. I imagine during heavy rain seasons, this would be more of a challenge.
Jeremy’s Run truly provided a great opportunity for camping in the backcountry. We saw several previously-used campsite areas, so we decided to use our Leave No Trace principles and use an existing campsite rather than creating our own. The campsite was short walking distance to a reliable water source. After starting our trip around 9:30AM, we arrived at camp around 1:00PM. We were very hungry, so Christine worked on getting some lunch together and I began working on getting our tent set. The ground was very hard and rocky, so it took an effort to find a good place to get stakes into the ground. After lunch, we finished getting our sleeping pads/bags ready, hung our bear-bag rope, and prepared our kitchen area. We got some water to use for the trip at the nearby stream and I dug a few preemptive catholes. With every thing set, we decided to relax a little in our tents to stretch out our backs. I like to bring a book along the trip so we took turns reading aloud a few chapters from A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt, an entertaining read about hiking the Appalachian Trail. We took a short nap and then played a few hands of the Monopoly card game we also brought. We then broke in our new JetBoil and prepared a great dinner. After cleaning up dishes, we went down to a place along Jeremy’s Run and stretched out on a large rock. We watched several brook trout jump out of the water, catching mosquitoes that were lightly dancing on top of the water. We retired to our tents to the sweet chorus of whippoorwills and the “who cooks for you” hoots of nearby barred owls.
There were so many things I enjoyed about our trip. We saw tons of wildlife – three black bears, a wild turkey, scarlet tanagers in glorious color, and heard lots of birds at night. The temperature was perfect and the bugs were not out as much as we expected. The trip also helped affirm our ability to handle a backpacking trip by ourselves. I think we really learned a lot of great skills in the last few months to help us feel well-prepared. I was a little more apprehensive wondering if we could handle the 12+ mile hike with 35 pounds on my back, since our previous trip was about 8 miles total with a little less weight each. The hike was more strenuous the first day, but we were able to complete the hike without much trouble. I think we’re both looking forward to going on another backpacking trip, but we are now getting into the hot summer months. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a cooler weekend in the near future.
When Mother Nature gives you the gift of a sunny, dry, 70-degree day in the midst of a long string of 90+ degree scorchers, you must take advantage of that gift! We chose to make the most of the pleasant weather and go on an overnight backpacking trip. One of the leaders on our last trip recommended Jeremy’s Run as one of his favorite places in the park. As dayhikers (until recently), the Jeremy’s Run hike had always been a little out of reach. At 12.4 miles with well over 2,500 feet of elevation gain, it was always more than we were willing to tackle on a day hike. It seemed like a perfect candidate for this little weekend getaway.
After filling out all the requisite paperwork, we set out from the Elkwallow Picnic Area along the Appalachian Trail. Right away, I was struck by how much heavier my pack was compared to our last trip. On that trip, we had seven people to split the weight of group gear. But this time, we had to carry our own stove, fuel, collapsible bucket, water filter, food and rope. I also chose to carry my old dSLR camera, a couple card games, extra batteries, a fleece and my iPod. In the end, my pack weighed in about nine pound heavier than our last outing.
I brought my iPod along this time for a couple reasons 1) I wanted to be able to listen to my “workout mix” when climbing a couple of the big hills on the route and 2) my iPod is loaded with audio books, which I thought would be pleasant to listen to after sunset in the tent. The first big hill we hit was on the Knob Mountain Cut-Off Trail. It was really steep, so I put in my earbuds and started chugging up the hill. Listening to mindless pop music with a beat – anything from Tupac to Lady Gaga to Gnarls Barkley – makes climbing hills so much less painful. I had worked up a pretty good rhythm, listening to the early 90’s party song, “Rump Shaker”, when I rounded a curve a spotted two black bears about 50 yards up the hill. I’m not sure if they were a mom and a yearling or two adults. We looked at them, they looked at us, then they quickly decided to leave the area. I didn’t have time to free myself from my trekking poles and iPod cord to get a photo, but it was still a great treat to see the bears. Backpacking seems to involve an inordinate number of straps and buckles. Sometimes, it makes me feel like a horse pulling a cart.
After the cut-off trail met the Knob Mountain Trail, the tough climbing was over for the day. I listened to my iPod a bit more, but eventually put it away in favor of listening to the birds and the breeze in the trees. We took a snack break on the top of Knob Mountain. There weren’t any views at the summit – just shade and a ton of poison ivy. It felt really good to throw the pack off for a while and have a good stretch. I could really feel the heavier pack weight bruising my hip bones.
The walk from the summit to Jeremy’s Run was all downhill. The woods along the trail are pretty and occasionally open to views of the valley below. You also get nice views of Neighbor Mountain, which lies parallel to Knob Mountain. Another slightly longer loop hike option approaches Jeremy’s Run from Neighbor Mountain.
The downhill walk lasted a little over 3 miles. We soon arrived at the stream, where the Knob Mountain Trail converges with both the Neighbor Mountain and Jeremy’s Run Trails. We crossed the stream a couple times and decided it was high time to find a campsite. We were both completely knackered after walking about 7 miles with our packs. I honestly don’t know how thru-hikers cover 20-30 miles a day with even heavier packs. I’m convinced I wouldn’t last a week!
We found a beautiful place for camp under the shade of pines and hardwoods. It was clearly a place others have camped before. Stones were arranged like seats in a semi-circle in one of the clearings. It was also about 30 yards from a gorgeous spot along Jeremy’s Run – so we had great access to water.
We designated separate sleeping and kitchen areas right away. Adam pitched the tent while I fixed lunch. I made Buffalo Chicken Wraps – which were delicious. We found a place for our bear hang and dug a couple catholes for future use. With camp all set up, we settled into our tent for a nap.
Post-nap, we collected water for cooking in our collapsible bucket. On our water run, we also took some time to stretch out and lounge on one of enormous boulders in the middle of the stream. The sky above was so blue and it was very soothing to watch the trees swaying above in the breeze. I actually tried out my Crocs again, and found them more comfortable, albeit considerably dorkier, with socks. I may keep them as my camp shoes after all.
Around 5:30, we started getting things together for dinner. Because this trip was rather impromptu, we brought pre-packaged dehydrated meals instead of taking the time to make homemade food. But it was still delicious. The Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai was filling and tasty. It had a yummy, spicy peanut sauce with noodles and vegetables. For dessert, we ended up having Dark Chocolate Cheesecake (instead of Tiramisu, as originally planned). It was really tasty, too! I was stuffed from dinner, so we decided to take a short walk down to a deep pool I had seen along the trail a way back. We sat on a rock and just enjoyed the quiet of the evening.
It got dark quickly down in the hollow, so we retired to our tent a little before nine. I listened to a book on my iPod and Adam read. I started to doze off well before 10:00. All through the night, I could hear a couple barred owls hooting, over and over and over again. Pretty soon, a whippoorwill joined in and sang through almost the entire night. I haven’t heard a whippoorwill since I was a child, so it delighted me to hear the song in the night again. I slept pretty soundly, until the roar of a train whistle woke me up around 2:00 in the morning. I could hear the wheels on the track so clearly; it seemed like the train was rolling through camp. I guess some distant sounds really carry on the quiet night air. When I awoke, I found I was drenched with sweat in my sleeping bag. It was in the mid-50’s outside, so the down bag was a bit too warm. However, if I slept outside my bag, I got cold quickly. I want to get a blanket and sheet for my sleeping pad to make summer camping more comfortable. Despite being hot or cold, I eventually fell back to sleep and stayed so until 6:30 a.m.
I got up before Adam and got the bear bag down, so I could start breakfast. We ended up leaving the bacon home because we didn’t want to carry a pan. Instead we had oatmeal, boxes of apple juice and hot chocolate. It was a satisfying breakfast on the cool morning.
We broke camp down quickly and were back on the trail around 8:00. The second day of hiking was substantially shorter and easier than the first day. With about 5.5 miles to cover, we knew we’d be back at the car by mid-morning.
The trail climbs ever so gradually along Jeremy’s Run. We passed lots of fantastic campsites along the stream. It’s no wonder this area is so popular with backpackers! We crossed the stream 14 times over the course of the morning. Because of all the dry weather we’ve had lately, none of the crossings were challenging at all. Most of them were bone dry, and the ones with water were still easily rock-hopped.
We took a snack break where the Jeremy’s Run trail crosses the Knob Mountain Cut-Off. From this point, the trail follows the same route as we’d used hiking out the day before. The grade becomes steeper for the last mile and eventually meets back up with the Appalachian Trail. For this section, I put my iPod back on again to help endure the uphill. “Rump Shaker” came up in the shuffle again, and after the first few moments, I spotted another bear. There must be something about that song that conjures bears! I did manage to get a few distant photos of this bear before he disappeared deeper into the woods.
About ten minutes later, we were back at our car and on our way. We stopped by the Elkwallow wayside, where I rinsed my face and used a flushing toilet! Plumbing is so exciting after being without it. On our way home, we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. Coke and salty French fries taste absolutely amazing after a long hike. As luck would have it, their credit card machine was broken and they gave us our lunch for free! It was a fitting bonus for a perfect trip.
- Distance – 12.4 miles
- Elevation Change – 2600 ft
- Difficulty – 3. If you were going to do this in one day without stopping, I would up the difficulty slightly due to the length.
- Trail Conditions – 3.5. The trail was very well-maintained. We saw evidence that the Knob Mountain trail had been cut back, but I can imagine in late spring, much of the trail could have some overgrown areas. The ground was well-traveled and there were only a few rocky spots around the streams.
- Views – 1.5. The best chance of views are on the descent from the Knob Mountain summit down to Jeremy’s Run. After leaves fall, this may be slightly better.
- Waterfalls/streams – 3.5. You do get lots of chances to cross Jeremy’s Run. There was only a small fall near the base. If you want to photograph streams, you should have plenty of opportunities. You’ll also have a reliable water source.
- Wildlife – 4. We saw black bears, a turkey, and scarlet tanagers; we heard whippoorwills and barred owls at night.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. The trails are well-marked and just stick to the signs on the cement posts.
- Solitude –3. This is a popular spot for backpacking and trail running. However, we felt that we were able to find our own peace in the woods. We also came across a dog that belongs to a nearby family that evidently roams the trails frequently, so we had a companion during part of the hike up from Jeremy’s Run.
Directions to trailhead:
Located in the northern section of Shenandoah National Park. Park at the Elkwallow Gap picnic grounds around mile 24.3 of Skyline Drive. The Jeremy’s Run trail begins next to the pit toilet at the parking lot.