Compton Peak is a short hike in the northern district of Shenandoah National Park. It has great views and requires just a little effort.
There has been so much rain this spring, that it seems next to impossible to find a pretty day to enjoy a hike. Last weekend, after checking out the weather forecast, we decided to take a quick trip up to Shenandoah National Park to squeeze in a hike before the clouds and rain came (again).
The directions for the hike are rather simple. From the parking lot, just cross Skyline Drive and start up the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. The trail ascends steadily. At .2 miles you will come across a large boulder to the left of the trail. At .7 miles, the trail tends to level off to a slight incline. At .8 miles, you will reach the post that marks the spur trails to the east and west for views for peaks. Both of these spur trails are .2 miles in length. The west trail to the right ascends slightly, but the views are quite impressive. The east trail to the left descends most of the way and eventually leads to a large boulder to ascend for the obstructed views.
We spent a good while taking in the beautiful views on the west trail. We watched several vultures and a hawk float on the wind drafts. After we headed back from the trail, we saw the clouds starting to move in. We were thrilled we were able to get in a short hike before things clouded up.
Since we’ve recently been doing some longer hikes, this felt a little like cheating. But I tried to think that it isn’t about how many miles you try to pile up, but the enjoyment you get from the scenery around you.
Compton Peak was not our original plan. We hoped to drive down to Peaks of Otter and hike Flat Top, the companion hike to Sharp Top. But like so many other weekends this spring, our plans have been foiled by impending rain. To put things in perspective, by mid-May, our area should receive a little over 12 inches of rain. In spring 2011, we’re already pushing 22 inches of rain. It’s definitely made everything lush and green. Waterfalls are flowing abundantly. But, it’s always slick and muddy, views are cloudy, thunder is always rumbling and lightning flashes almost nightly – and let’s face it – it’s no fun to walk in a downpour.
We knew we had about a four hour window of sunshine before clouds and rain moved in, so we chose a short hike in Shenandoah. Compton Peak fit the bill nicely.
As we were getting situated, we saw a thru-hiker descending the trail. I’m always struck by how fast they hike; so business-like. We also passed a couple other backpackers and hikers coming off the trail. We chatted with one older couple. When we asked them “How was the view?”, they responded that they hadn’t made it that far. Compton Peak is a really short hike, so I was really surprised they turned around before getting to the overlook.
The ascent was fairly gradual, but for some reason I was feeling completely drained on this particular morning. My boots felt lead-lined and I didn’t have any energy. It made me a little glad that we chose a short hike for a change!
I loved the western summit of Compton Peak! The rock was nice and flat. It gave me a perfect place to lie flat on my back and feel the breeze blow over my face. The sky was absolutely gorgeous – deep blue and full of a variety of cloud formations. The viewpoint had a lot of native azaleas in full bloom surrounding the rocky overlook. It was really pretty.
The eastern summit was underwhelming. In fact, I didn’t bother to walk all the way out to the rock after Adam told me the view was obstructed. The hike back was all downhill and took only 15-20 minutes. It was a little odd being on such a short hike after doing so many longer hikes lately. If I hadn’t been so tired, I probably would have felt like such a short hike was ‘incomplete’.
- Distance – 2.4 miles out and back. This includes the two spur hikes to the Peak views
- Elevation Change – 835 feet.
- Difficulty –2. This is a pleasant and easy section to hike.
- Trail Conditions – 3. Very nicely maintained and easy to walk. There are a few rocky sections. The East trail at the top had water running on the trail and was quite slick on the descent.
- Views – 3.5 The best views are from the West trail
- Waterfalls/streams – 0. Non-existent.
- Wildlife – 1.5. We didn’t see anything along the way, but the peaks should be a good spot to check out some birds of prey.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Follow the white blazes until you reach the top post. There is a junction here that leads to blue-blazed trails to the east and west.
- Solitude – 2. You will likely see people along the trail, due to the ease of hike. The overlooks don’t have room for a lot of people, so you could be sharing the views with others.
Directions to trailhead: Park at mile 10.3 on Skyline Drive at the Compton Gap parking area. The trail begins across the road from the parking lot.