The Buck Hollow – Buck Ridge Trail is a steep hike in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park. It takes a deep plunge along the Buck Hollow stream and a steep hike back up the Buck Ridge trail.
I have to be honest – we have been putting off doing this trail for a while. We first did this hike a few years ago and the memories of how tough a hike it was kept us from wanting to do it again. Christine and I both weren’t feeling well the day we attempted it last time, but we were more pleased doing this hike this time.
The trail starts off from the Meadow Springs parking area. After about 20 feet down the trail, you see a post marking the Buck Hollow trail. Take a left to go down this trail. The trail seems to constantly descend and is rather steep in many portions. There are loose rocks and if you attempt this after a heavy rain, you should expect some mud and slick soil on the trail. Along the side for much of the trail, you will see the Buck Hollow stream. Around mile 1.75, you will make a few rock-hops across the stream. The trail continues to descend and then finally seems to just parallel the stream. At mile 2.8, you will reach a cement post, pointing you to take a right on to the Buck Ridge Trail. You cross the stream again and then you will quickly come up to the dreaded stairs.
For any Lord of the Rings fans, these stairs remind me of the stairs of Cirith Ungol. “Up, up, up, up the stairs we go.” They are unrelenting and seem to last forever, but they last less than .3 miles. Of course, you do gain over 400 feet of elevation in this short distance. These stairs didn’t exist the last time we did the hike; the last time, we just had a steep section of loose soil to traverse. The stairs help make this hike more manageable, so I do thank the workers that accomplished this laborious task!
After the stairs, the trail continues to go uphill, but it is at a much more manageable grade. Once you are high enough on the ridge, you are treated with views of Skyline Drive and mountain views around you (including Mary’s Rock). We found a small crevasse bisecting a large rock formation that we were able to easily climb up to get some unobstructed views. After mile 5.2, you do come up to another concrete post. Take a right and you will reach the parking lot in a little over .3 miles.
One interesting note that I remember from our first hike of this loop trail was near the bottom of Buck Hollow. We were hiking along and all of a sudden we startled two yearling bears. One of them quickly climbed a tree and the other took off up the mountain. We kept our distance, and the one that climbed the tree climbed back down and took off in the opposite direction. As I looked to see where the bear went, I spotted a buck and a pileated woodpecker in the same direction. I felt that I could have taken a picture that would have looked like a wildlife mural that you often see on brochures or placemats.
We were tired after we finished the hike, but this trip we definitely felt that it was more enjoyable than the first time we attempted it.
When we woke up to cool, pretty weather on Saturday morning, we decided to end our hiking hiatus a week earlier than initially planned. I had to be at an art show by 1:00, so we needed to find a hike that was relatively short and sort of close to home. We’ve pretty much hiked and blogged about everything in the central district of Shenandoah National Park already… with the exception of the dreaded Buck Hollow-Buck Ridge hike.
Why dreaded? As Adam mentioned, last time we did this hike we were both fighting colds and had zero energy. And while Buck Hollow is not the longest or hardest hike we’ve done, it certainly felt like it the last time we were there. We ran out of water, we were fatigued, the trail felt endless and daunting as soon as we started the uphill climb. Other than seeing the two yearling bears, the Buck Hollow hike didn’t carry a single pleasant memory. It just made me think of exhaustion, suffering and thirst. 🙂
When I mentioned to Adam that we should probably hike it again for the blog, he looked at me with incredulity and told me that he didn’t ever want to hike there again. Somehow he was convinced to relent, and off we went!
This time, the hike was a lot more fun! It was still a long, steep downhill – but I really enjoyed marveling at the huge variety of mushrooms and fungi growing along the trail. I don’t know if there is a name for people who collect/catalog fungus, but if such people exist – this is the trail for them. We also happened to notice a beautiful backcountry campsite at the bottom of the hollow, where the trail leveled out. Along with easy access to water, there was a wide, flat expanse under the shade of the trees. The forest floor in this area was open with very little undergrowth. There were also several huge piles of rocks – maybe from old stone walls or foundations in the area. It was a great place to take a break and have a snack.
The flat terrain at the bottom of the hollow doesn’t last long. Shortly after passing the cement post marking the Buck Hollow – Buck Ridge junction, you’ll encounter what I think is the toughest, steepest section of climbing in all of Shenandoah National Park. Indeed, it’s a short climb – but wow… it’s STEEP. The terrain along this little section is the equivalent of gaining 2000 feet in elevation over a mile. I think most hikers will agree — that’s TOUGH climbing.
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club published a review of this hike in their October 2010 newsletter. In it they say “Steep, does not begin to describe the trail ahead.” They also call it scary and compare it to a descent into hell. 🙂 We concur!
I was quite glad when the terrain moderated, because the steep stair climb really exhausted my legs!
We also noticed the nice view from atop the rock that we had missed last time we hiked. It’s funny how being fatigued and thirsty makes you miss the best things along a trail sometimes. The last section of the trail along Buck Ridge passes through dense mountain laurel and through patches of blueberry and raspberry bushes. I really thought we’d see more signs of bears (and maybe some actual bears!), but we really only saw one old pile of scat this time.
The Buck Ridge trail eventually meets up with Hazel Mountain Road for the last third of a mile. This section of trail was quite familiar, since we hiked it just a couple months ago on our backpacking trip to Catlett Mountain. When we arrived back at the parking lot, we noticed the PATC overseer’s car was in the lot – complete with a “BCKHLW” license plate. Clearly, the overseer loves this section of the park and does a great job maintaining the trail.
It was a fun hike – one I enjoyed far more than I expected to!
- Distance – 5.6 miles loop hike
- Elevation Change – 1750 feet
- Difficulty – 4. The trail is steep at the start going down and once you reach the halfway point includes a steep uphill. Not recommended for those with knee or ankle issues.
- Trail Conditions –3. The Buck Hollow Trail is rocky and steep, so you have to watch your footing. The Buck Ridge Trail had better trail conditions.
- Views – 2. The views you get are from the Buck Ridge Trail portion. While most of these are through the obstruction of trees, there is a nice place to climb on top of a rock for a view.
- Waterfalls/streams – 1.5. You do walk along the Buck Hollow stream, but there aren’t a lot of nice views of falling water.
- Wildlife –3.5. There are signs of bear scat around. The first time we went on this trail, we saw two yearling bears and a buck. Both times we have spotted pileated woodpeckers and many typical woodland birds.
- Ease to Navigate –4. Not too many turns, just read the concrete posts.
- Solitude –3.5. We did see a number of people on the trail that seemed to be in a group, but this isn’t overly popular. Some people will hike up from Rte 211 to Mary’s Rock, so you’re likely to only find people on the Buck Hollow portion of the trail.
Directions to trailhead:
At mile 33.5 on Skyline Drive. Park at the parking lot on the eastern side of the road and the trail starts from the southern end of the parking lot.
8 thoughts on “Buck Hollow – Buck Ridge”
Buck Ridge Trail (BRT). This was earmarked to be abandoned when I took over as Overseer of this trail in the late seventies or early eighties. Kept it for over 25 years. The challenge (for the BRT overseer) is that you don’t begin and end at the same place. Work the top half down and climb back up. Next time, start from the bottom and loaf back at the end of the day. BRT is exciting but not as beautiful as it’s circuit partner, Buck Hollow Trail (BHT). However, as a circuit, this combination is hard to beat. Lots of stories over the years.
Buck Ridge is in a designated wilderness area. Means little to you but to the overseer it means no chain saws to cut away the tree falls. No gas-operated weed whackers. I lugged in a 1905, one-man, cross-cut saw or a hand held weed whacker. Came back out at the end of each day looking (and smelling) like a wilderness hero.
I read once that, of all the blue-blaze trails along the AT, one (BRT) section…maybe a quarter mile…is the steepest. Point one nine pitch if that means anything to you. Going up made you sweat. Coming down was treacherous with all of the loose rock. Patrick, the BHT overseer, decided it was time to build a set of steps on this steep section. This took us just under two years. Each step was engineered in (true!…check out the steady slope up). All of the steps are locust wood and cut to a standard length. Each, you may note, has been drilled. After custom cutting in each and every step and making a rock bed for it, re-bar was pounded in to anchor it. Every fourth step or so has been cut in to provide water run-off.
How many steps? I’m glad you asked. There are 612. We can thank one scout troop for hiking up with many of these. On a rainy day, no less. This group and one Marine on another day who was about to show us how to do it. He struggled up with 3-4 logs and it looked, to us, like it was about to kill him at the top. Never saw him again.
Then one hiker, in his scathing remarks, had the gall to claim that the steps ruined the trail. Come on!
Once there was a massive fire which severely damaged these trails and several others nearby. It was a huge relief to find fresh growth later, most of which has matured by now. Beauty reclaimed by nature.
At the bottom, as you cross the first stream, there are usually 4-5 large rocks. These get washed out periodically after a heavy rain. To replace them (so that you can start up without soaked boots), a PATC crew . . . actually the Blue and White Crew . . . schedules a date to bring in their equipment to rebuild the crossing. The large rocks weigh in heavily. Like in the tons at times. These are manhandled manually using a nifty tool called a Griphoist. Dragging the rocks up or down the stream and cutting them in. Cables. Nylon straps. Rock bars. With these and half a dozen enthusiastic crew members, we could have a new crossing done in a day. I have a hundred pictures of these repairs in progress. Each one more exciting than the one before!
And I knew about all of your secret overnight camping places. And it was always wonderful to pass by that one place where you could take a 25 foot side trail to get a stunning view of the school just west of Sperryville. At other times during your climb, you find exceptional views of skyline drive.
Who could ask for anything more!
BTW. Making the circuit? Always start up BRT first…the hard half. Then coast down BHT afterwards. Enjoy the stream as you cross it once in a while.
God, how I loved Buck Ridge.
Thank you SO MUCH for this fabulous information and for all your hard work.
Thanks for the review. I live in Warrenton and have been wondering why so many people park at the bottom of the mountain on 211. I think I’ll hike this on Saturday, maybe to the top of Mary’s Rock. Thinking about doing buck ridge first to get the serious workout and come back Buck Hollow trail for the gradual descent.
That sounds like a great route! I prefer tougher climbs and more gradual returns. 🙂
It’s a coincidence that you write about this trail now… my buddy just texted me this weekend for the name of that “uphill trail” we did in Shenandoah a couple of years back. When I hike around Virginia, I am usually gearing up for some uphill battles up north in the Greens, Whites or Adirondacks. This trail was decent practice, since I wanted to avoid the crowded route on Old Rag. (And most of the trails start at the top of the hill off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah — it’s psychological for me to hike up first.) So my friend and I started the Bucks Hollow/Ridge Trails loop by starting at the base of the trail off Route 211 just shortly after entering the park grounds but well before skyline drive. You hike south and start your ascent. St. Mary’s Rock is a good objective indeed! Thanks for the information, Adam and Christine. I’ll forward this to my friend.
Yeah… Buck Hollow to Mary’s Rock is a good uphill training hike! We’ve hiked Old Rag (although it’s not on the blog) and actually find Buck Hollow-Buck Ridge to be a better workout. Thanks for the visit!