On Friday, Adam and I both took a vacation day from work to get in some fall hiking. We decided Duncan Knob suited our plans perfectly. We wanted to avoid hikes in the national park (the crowds are dreadful this time of year) and we didn’t want to drive more than an hour. We did a little online research to look at our route options, and found pretty much everyone did the hike as an 8.7 mile loop. The common route passes by just one spot with a view and includes significant uphill climbs on both the outgoing and return arms of the loop.
We decided to look at our maps to see if there was a more direct route to Duncan Knob. I know lots of people primarily hike for the exercise. They love anything that makes the trail longer, steeper and more challenging. I am not one of those people. I don’t mind distance or elevation as long as there is a payoff for it. But if there’s a more direct route to get the same view, I usually opt to take it. Needless to say, we were pleased to find a 3.4 mile, out-and-back route that involved just 900 feet of elevation gain.
The hike starts at the Gap Creek trailhead on Crisman Hollow Road. You’ll walk a short way up a blue-blazed fire road until you see a campsite on the left side of the road. The road continues uphill from this point, but you’ll want to cut through the campsite and cross the small bridge over the stream. After crossing the bridge, the trail climbs steadily uphill. For the first mile, the elevation gain is very gentle and is punctuated by flat stretches. The trail is extremely rocky the entire way. At mile 1.2, the blue-blazed Gap Creek trail intersects the yellow-blazed Scothorn Gap trail. Continue on the blue-blazed trail until you reach a level place near the top of the ridge at 1.5 miles. There’s a great campsite at this spot. It has a big stone fire pit ringed by log benches. There are lots of flat places to pitch tents, too.
Directly across from the campsite, the Duncan Knob spur trail begins. The trail is blazed white and climbs steeply uphill to the summit. As you walk along, you’ll notice the rocks on the trail are getting larger and more abundant. Eventually, you step out of the woods and find yourself facing an enormous pyramid-shaped summit of jumbled rocks and boulders.
Climb the rock scramble any number of ways (we followed a rather informal series of cairns along the left side of the rock pile) and you’ll be treated to sweeping views in almost every direction. The scrambling was fun and not difficult at all. I found a nice rock “chair” to sit on while Adam found a geocache hidden at the summit. It was freezing cold and blustery sitting on the rocks, so we didn’t stay too long.
On the way down, we stopped back by the campsite and had some water and a snack. We even gave our dog, Wookie, some graham crackers and marshmallows from our trail mix. He did a great job on the rock scramble – especially considering how small he is. The hike back down was pretty uneventful and just retraced our steps. What a great hike! I told Adam it’s been one of my favorite recent hikes.
Ever since we did the Strickler Knob hike (actually our very first post!), I had been hearing that Duncan Knob also had amazing views. I believe we put off this hike for a while due to the long 8.7 mile length, combined with lots of elevation gain. So, I pulled out my map of the area to see if there was a different way. Sure enough, you can easily get up to Duncan Knob by just sticking to the Gap Creek Trail. The hike may have a little steeper of an elevation than approaching it from the Scothorn Gap Trail, but the hike up the Gap Creek Trail is much shorter and you aren’t missing much scenery.
The trail does include a few switchbacks once you start the trail over the bridge which takes the pressure of the elevation off your leg muscles. The hike is almost all uphill, but before you know it you’ve reached the ridge where the campsite is. We took a break here to see if there was anything else to see along the ridge, before proceeding up the white-blazed trail to the summit of Duncan Knob. This white-blazed trail is slightly overgrown and some of the white blazes are quite faded, but it wasn’t too hard to navigate. After only about .2 miles on this trail, we saw the looming rock scramble in front of us. We decided to approach the rock scramble on the left-hand side. Once you begin to climb up a few rocks, the views really begin to open up around you. The rocks weren’t too tough to navigate, but it was harder to help navigate a small dog on a leash. From the top, you will have great views of Middle Mountain, Waterfall Mountain, Strickler Knob, and Kerns Mountain. The color was very nice and we took some time to soak in the scenery.
I left Christine to keep climbing up to the summit of the rock scramble and found the Duncan Knob Geocache. A few people before me were not able to find it before me, so the owner had taken the posting offline until he had time to investigate. I’m glad I was able to save the owner a hike back. This was my 499th find, so I need to do something special for my 500th geocache.
If you haven’t done any hiking off Crisman Hollow Road, I would highly recommend making this a stop in the near future. With the Massanutten Story Book Trail, Strickler Knob, and Duncan Knob hikes all off this road, I feel this road leads to some amazing hiking gems that are unknown to many.
I’m so glad that I finally got invited to go hiking again! I really enjoyed most of this trail because there wasn’t any water for me to cross. When we first started the trail, I did a few runs across the wooden bridge with my masters on both sides. I was feeling frisky and I was ready to get moving. We made our way up the trail and I felt it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. When we got to the final rock scramble, I was a little worried. I really enjoy climbing up on rocks, but I wouldn’t recommend it to my less-agile canine friends. There were a couple of moments where I had to perform an iron cross and pull myself up some rocks, but Adam helped navigate me the right way through the maze of boulders.
The way down was a little more challenging, so Adam tucked me under his arm for most of the way down to make sure I didn’t get hurt. I really enjoyed the views from the top of Duncan Knob and I enjoyed sniffing the air around me. After our hike back down, my masters even let me sample a few pieces of trail mix. I really liked the marshmallows best! One time I dropped a marshmallow and when I picked it up again the dirt from the ground made it look like cookies and cream. I look forward to my next time hiking and I’ll be sure to put on my pitiful, pleading face the next time Adam and Christine get ready to head out for a hike.
- Distance – 3.4 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 900 feet
- Difficulty – 2.5. The hike is squarely moderate – even with the rock scramble.
- Trail Conditions –3. The trail is in good shape. The rock scramble is not formally marked and there are some unbalanced rocks.
- Views – 5. Beautiful views of the Massanutten Mountain area. The view looking toward Strickler Knob is awesome!
- Waterfalls/streams –2. The stream is seasonal and may be dry part of the year. When the stream is running, the area is popular with fishers.
- Wildlife – 1.5. The area is popular with hunters, so animals tend to be reclusive. We’ve heard of people spotting bears and deer in the general area, but we’ve never seen larger animals.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. Trails are clearly blazed, but turns are not labeled and signed like they are in the national park. It’s a good idea to have a map for this hike.
- Solitude – 4.5. On a beautiful fall day, we saw just one other couple of hikers.
Directions to trailhead: From New Market, take 211 east. In about 3 miles, take a left on Crisman Hollow Road. The road starts off paved, but turns to gravel. At about 4.5 miles, park on the right at the Gap Creek trail. Follow the fire road until you reach the first campsite on the left. The trail starts behind the campsite at a wooden bridge.