The full Rocky Mount lariat is known as one of the Shenandoah’s most punishing hikes, but if you do it as an out-and-back (like us!), you get a moderate 6.6 mile hike with great views and a lot of solitude! Our route eliminates the less scenic Gap Run Trail on the back side of the mountain.
We’ve covered most of Shenandoah National Park already – there aren’t many trails we haven’t written about! But, Christine did some research and found a hike we hadn’t done yet. We entered the park at Swift Run Gap. We needed to buy a new annual pass, since ours had expired. The park ranger asked where we were going and we said, “Rocky Mount”. She looked at us with a disapproving pause and questioned why we would want to do that one. Christine told her we had covered most of the rest of the Park and the ranger just handed back our pass with a shake of her head. After leaving the fee station, we began to wonder how tough this hike really was. We had heard it was one of the toughest in the park due to the elevation gain split over several tough climbs. Most of the reviews we read were based on the Rocky Mount-Gap Run lariat loop which incorporates the Gap Run Trail. The back side of the mountain, which uses the Gap Run Trail, is repeatedly described as very steep and lacking in any noteworthy scenery. So, we decided to do this one as an out-and-back hike that hit the big view payoffs.
The weather was quite warm based on what we had grown accustomed to during the cold winter. The temperature was already in the 60s and it was barely 9:00 a.m. We parked at the Twomile Run Overlook and then walked north for a short distance. After the barrier wall ended on the western side of the road, we saw the concrete post on the left which marked the beginning of the blue-blazed Rocky Mount trail. The trail begins with mostly descending through the woods. You drop down about 700 feet (some level sections, some steep sections) until you reach the junction with the Gap Run Trail at 2.2 miles. We stayed straight at this point and began a steeper ascent. The trail climbs along a path that wraps around Rocky Mount, leading to a few (mostly obstructed) views along the way. At 3.4 miles, the climb ends near the summit and you can see a short side path to the left leading to a rock outcropping. Here is where the best views on the mountain can be seen.
We paused for a while to take some photos and eat some lunch. However, there were biting bugs that were trying to eat me alive. It took away from the experience! After swatting and flailing like a man possessed, I covered my body in DEET. Those insects were probably drooling over their first available human meal after months of starvation. For some reason, they preferred me over Christine, who got quite a chuckle over my melodramatic gesticulations. One thing that I don’t like about hot weather hiking are the insects. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of what’s to come for the rest of the warm season. We headed back the way we came, arriving back at the junction with the Gap Run Trail at 4.6 miles. The trail then starts a rather long climb back up. We finished the climb and got back to the trailhead to make the out-and-back trip 6.6 miles.
An out-and-back route was the perfect way to tackle Rocky Mount – we enjoyed all of the views and suffered none of the slogging! Certainly, there are some folks who like tough climbing and don’t need spectacular scenery to have an excellent day on the trail. I’m not one of those people! If I’m going to have a great time a tough hike – there must be views or waterfalls or a near 100% guarantee of seeing wildlife. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cardio challenge. It’s just not enough to make me endorse a hike as a must-do hike.
The day we hiked Rocky Mount was unseasonably warm. I loved being back in shorts and a tank top again! My mom always tells me that I should wear long sleeves and long pants to avoid ticks, but honestly the only ticks I’ve ever found attached to me have been on days that I DID wear full-coverage clothing and repellent. I think it’s just easier to spot ticks moving on bare skin and flick them off before they attach. I’ve also had good luck with using a combination of DEET and treating my clothing with permethrin. Ticks are such a huge problem in our part of Virginia, and the recent increase in cases of Lyme disease is shocking and scary. The threat isn’t enough to keep me off the trail, but I am definitely vigilant about preventative measures and doing thorough tick checks. Typically, if you remove a tick within a few hours of it attaching, there isn’t time for Lyme disease to transmit into your blood stream. OK… end of my public service announcement!
Adam did a thorough job describing the terrain and distances. I’ll just add that I found the ascents at both the middle and end of the hike to be fairly moderate. They were probably a little tougher that day since we weren’t accustomed to the warmer weather yet. It was in the low 80’s by the end of the hike. The trail also had quite a bit of direct sun exposure. The route will be shadier as the park gets leafier, but right now there is still a lot of light coming through the canopy. I got a little bit of sunburn on my shoulders, but I was glad that the bare trees gave us views that we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy later in the season.
We ate lunch on the rocky outcropping near the summit of Rocky Mount. For whatever reason, the biting flies just weren’t bothering me. Poor Adam – he’s not exaggerating when he describes his flailing. He was pretty close to having a full insect-driven meltdown! After lunch, we returned the same way we came and headed back to our car.
Over the course of the hike, we didn’t see a single other hiker! When we got back to the parking area, there was one guy who had just come off the trail, but he had done the loop in the opposite direction and our paths never crossed. Rocky Mount is definitely one of the less-traveled trails in the park, but I think it is definitely worth doing. I thought the views were well worth the climbs! Ambitious hikers might enjoy the extra challenge of the mountain’s backside, but for me the 6.6 mile out-and-back was just right!
- Distance – 6.6 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 1800 ft.
- Difficulty – 3.5. The hike to the summit wasn’t too tough, but the return trip has a long, slogging uphill climb.
- Trail Conditions – The trail was well-maintained with only one blowdown on the entire trail. The path was very clear and only covered by leaves in a few places.
- Views – 4. Great 180-degree views for miles from the rock outcropping.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 0. Nothing to report.
- Wildlife – 1. We didn’t see any wildlife on the trail, but we saw a ton of signs of either bobcat or coyote droppings on the trail. Pressing forward from the summit, we did startle a hawk resting on a log.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. As soon as you follow the trailhead, you just head straight on the Rocky Mount Trail. The side path for the views at the rock outcropping isn’t marked, so it could be possible to just walk right past it.
- Solitude – 4. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail, but at the trailhead we did run into a solo hiker that had finished the entire loop.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
Directions to trailhead: In the Southern Section of Shenandoah National Park, park at the Twomile Run Overlook at MM 76.2. Head north a short distance. When you reach the end of the retaining wall, you’ll see the concrete post marking the trailhead (around MM 76.4) on the left (western) side of the road.