If you’ve hiked the Laurel Prong-Mill Prong Loop, you’ve hiked over Hazeltop and past this viewpoint. But Hazeltop is fantastic on its own as an out-and-back. At 3.9 miles, this route is an easy stroll to a gorgeous vista.
The day was supposed to be rainy and stormy, but I woke up to sunshine (and a dog with too much energy). I decided to hike Hazeltop Mountain in Shenandoah’s central section. It’s a beautiful, easy route with a nice viewpoint at the summit.
Park at Milam Gap on the western side of Skyline Drive. Follow the crosswalk across the Drive and pick up the Appalachian Trail headed south. At .1 mile, you’ll come to a cement marker. If you turn left, you’ll be on the Mill Prong Trail headed toward Hoover’s Rapidan Camp. Today, stay straight and continue on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.
The trail goes very gently uphill through an area that once was used as an orchard. Apple trees are mixed in with the rest of the typical forest. There’s really nothing terribly noteworthy about the trail – it’s a pretty dirt ribbon through forest.
There are tons of wildflowers in the spring and lush ferns in the summer. On this particular day, I had really great luck with birds – I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak, an American restart, and (briefly) a turkey puffed up and showing his plumage. Indy scared the turkey away – and in case you didn’t know… turkeys can fly. They look very awkward doing so.
At 1.9 miles, look for an unmarked spur trail on the right side of the trail. Follow the spur for about 50 yards through a grassy area with a rocky outcrop overlooking the western valley. It’s really a lovely spot! It can be easy to miss the spur if you’re not paying attention. The summit is not marked in any way. If you start descending, you’ve gone too far and will need to turn around and find the spur trail.
After you’ve enjoyed the view, return the way you came, arriving back at Milam Gap at 3.9 miles.
Distance – 3.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change – 597 ft.
Difficulty – 1.5. I think this hike feels mostly flat, but the profile says it’s a gradual uphill.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is smooth and well-maintained. There were a few blowdowns blocking the trail in spring 2019.
Views – 4. The view from the summit is excellent. There is a nice outcropping to sit on and plenty of space to enjoy lunch or a snack.
Streams/Waterfalls – 0. The trail is dry.
Wildlife – 5. I saw lots of bird species and a flock of turkeys. On other hikes along the same stretch, I’ve seen lots of deer and a few bears.
Ease to Navigate – 3. The Appalachian Trail is well marked and easy to follow, but don’t miss the unmarked spur trail to the viewpoint.
Solitude – 3. I usually see people, but never many.
Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply). Parking is at Milam Gap. There is a large lot with space for about 12-15 cars. GPS Coordinates for parking: 38.501969, -78.445705.
This 4.75 mile hike is probably one of the best places in the park to experience the spring trillium bloom. It’s nothing short of spectacular along this section of Appalachian Trail. This route also features two views – both are obstructed – so it’s best to hike this route before trees at higher elevations leaf out.
When the days get longer, I find myself skipping the gym and hitting the trail instead. I like having an arsenal of short 3-5 mile hikes I can do on weeknights after I get off work. This route is one of my favorites, especially in the spring when the trillium are blooming in Shenandoah National Park. The flowers are so abundant along this stretch that they practically carpet the forest floor. It’s beautiful, but it’s also ephemeral. The trillium only last a couple of weeks each April into early May.
Last night, I loaded Indy the Hiker Pug into his crate and headed up to the park. Down in the valley, it was sunny and 87 degrees. When I parked along the Pocosin Fire Road – where the hike starts – it was a full 17 degrees cooler and delightfully breezy. We followed the fire road for .2 of a mile to its junction with the Appalachian Trail. If you continue straight down the road, you’ll pass the PATC’s Pocosin Cabin and eventually reach the old mission ruins. It’s a nice hike for another day. But for this route, take a left at the cement marker and head north on the Appalachian Trail. The trail meanders downhill for a couple tenths of a mile where you’ll cross a spring and get a pretty view of the valley to the east.
From there, the trail levels out, allowing you to saunter along for about a mile. At about a mile and a half, the trail runs closely parallel to Skyline Drive. You’ll see cars passing – sometimes people wave. As the trail moves away from the road, you’ll begin to ascend gently but steadily uphill for about half a mile. At close to the two mile mark, you will reach a road and another cement marker at the southern end of Lewis Mountain Campground. If you need a snack or bathroom break, Lewis Mountain Campground has a camp store and restrooms open seasonally. Take a right, and follow the Lewis Mountain Trail. For the first tenth of a mile, the trail follows a utility road, but then it turns back into single track through the woods for the remaining few tenths of a mile. The forest around here is open and grassy. You’ll then climb some wooden stairs built into a hillside and pass through a small tunnel of mountain laurel. The trail hooks to the right and leads to the summit of Lewis Mountain – a small rocky spot with obstructed views to the east.
On this particular day, the weather was odd. Along the trail and to the west, skies were clear and sunny. But to the east, a dense bank of fog was lying against the side of the mountains. So, instead of an obstructed view, I got NO view. It was fine though, I think fog is pretty and I had some older photos of the view spot to share for this post. I gave Indy some water and rested for a few minutes before heading back. On the return hike, I chatted with a few section-hikers making their way to camp at Bearfence Hut. One of them was thrilled to see Indy on the trail. She also has a hiking pug named ‘Bronx’. She showed me a cute photo of Bronx hiking in Colorado. He wasn’t on this trip with her, but she was delighted to meet another pug that hikes.
I got back to the car pretty quickly – the return trip is mostly downhill or flat. When I got home, I had to remove THIRTEEN ticks from the dog. This is despite him being treated with Frontline regularly. I also spray his bed with permethrin. I think I got all the ticks off him, but if any were left hopefully the Frontline and permethrin will take care of killing them before they transmit any diseases. I know every year the media says ‘this is going to be a bad year for ticks’, but this year it’s the truth. In my four decades of hiking, I have never seen such issues with ticks. I want to remind everyone to take precautions. Tickborne diseases are nothing to mess with.
One final note – starting at Pocosin is also a great way to hike Bearfence Mountain. I always feel like the Bearfence hike is too short, so I like parking at Pocosin and hiking north for about 3.5 miles to the Bearfence summit.
Distance – 4.75 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change – 820 ft.
Difficulty – 2. This is an easy hike with gradual uphills.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is smooth and well-maintained.
Views – 2. There is a view of the valley along the trail early in the hike. There is also a view at the summit of Lewis Mountain, but it is quite grown in by larger trees.
Streams/Waterfalls – 1. You’ll cross one small spring.
Wildlife – 5. I’ve seen all kinds of birds, a bobcat, deer, and bears along this stretch.
Ease to Navigate – 4. The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
Solitude – 4. I guess because there are no grand vistas, you really don’t see many people dayhiking in this area. I usually only see backpackers making their way to Bearfence Hut.
Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply). Parking is located in several spots along the Pocosin Fire Road in the Central Section on Skyline Drive. The turn onto the road comes up quickly and is not marked, so pay attention. It’s near mile 59.5 on the Drive. GPS Coordinates for parking: 38.413585, -78.488959
This 7.25 mile hike is a great choice for anyone who wants to experience Three Ridges’ spectacular views without having to complete the challenging 13+ mile loop. The route climbs moderately along the Appalachian Trail until you reach Hanging Rock – the best vista on Three Ridges mountain.
Last fall, I went on a girls’ backpacking trip from Cole Mountain to Waynesboro. Near the end of the trip, we hiked up and over Three Ridges. While we were eating lunch and enjoying views on Hanging Rock, I thought ‘This spot is gorgeous and it would be a fantastic dayhike.‘
Many casual hikers take a pass on Three Ridges because the 13+ mile hike with more than 4,000 feet of climbing can be intimidating. The full traverse of the Three Ridges – MauHar loop has the deserved reputation for being one of the toughest hikes in the state. But 7.25 miles with under 2,000 feet of climbing – that’s right in the dayhike sweet spot.
In early June, I had a Saturday with absolutely zero obligations. Adam decided to stay home and work on some chores and projects around the house. I set out to hike from Reeds Gap to Hanging Rock. I was at the trailhead by 8:00 a.m. in hopes of beating the heat, humidity, and weekend backpacking crowds.
When I arrived, there were still a few spots in the Reeds Gap parking area. The lot fills quickly – especially on weekends. I started southbound on the Appalachian Trail, climbing gradually uphill across the edge of an open meadow. Wild hibiscus was blooming and butterflies were everywhere. When the trail first enters the woods, it’s flat and comprised of soft dirt. But within a couple tenths of a mile, the trail begins to ascend steadily up Meadow Mountain. Along the ridge of Meadow Mountain there are a couple small, dry campsites.
After a short ridge walk, the trail descends Meadow Mountain. At 1.6 miles, I reached a three way junction. The Appalachian Trail continues straight. To the right are a fire road leading back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a spur trail leading to Maupin Field Shelter and the MauHar Trail. This area is well-marked with trail signs, blazes, and a kiosk describing the wilderness area. I decided to pass the shelter and continue on to Hanging Rock.
After passing the junction, the trail climbed steeply, but briefly, to the top of Bee Mountain at 2.2 miles. The trail becomes rockier along this stretch and remains so until the viewpoint. Along the top of Bee, there are several more dry campsites. After a short ridge walk, the trail descends Bee Mountain for .2 miles into a small saddle. This is where the climb up Three Ridges Mountain begins.
The climb continues gradually for 1.2 miles. I thought this stretch of trail was so beautiful. It was a classic example of why the Appalachian Trail is nicknamed ‘the green tunnel‘. There were lush ferns, blooming mountain laurel, thick trees, and green vines. The forest floor was carpeted with the bright purple petals from Catawba rhododendron.
At 3.6 miles I reached the viewpoint at Hanging Rock. The view is on the right side of the trail and is accessed by following a small path through an opening in the trees. The actual high point of Three Ridges Mountain is another .8 mile south, but Hanging Rock is a perfect stopping point.
The outcropping at Hanging Rock is wide and spacious. The views include the southern slopes of Three Ridges, the Tye River Valley, and the Priest. The Priest is the large mountain on the other side of the valley. Even though this is a popular area, I magically had the viewpoint all to myself for almost forty minutes. Just as I was stowing my camera and getting ready to leave, northbound thruhiker Tengo Hambre arrived at the view. He didn’t have a camera and his phone was dead. I ended up taking a photo of him and emailing it to his wife. He agreed that the vista was breathtaking and worth remembering with a photo.
I hiked back the same way I came up. I stopped a while to chat with the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club member who was doing trail maintenance. Because Three Ridges is designated wilderness, he has to use hand tools (gas-operated weed whackers are not allowed in wilderness!) I also stopped briefly at Maupin Field Shelter on my way back. I like to stop and pack out any trash I find. When I reached the parking lot, it was overflowing with cars and the day was sweltering. I had timed my walk perfectly and had a great day!
This easy 5.1 mile hike takes you to the magnificent viewpoint at Blackrock Summit. Most people access the view by a .5 mile walk from Blackrock parking area, but this route lets you spend a little more time enjoying the beautiful Appalachian Trail.
Most of the time, we opt to hike the shortest and most direct route to any nice viewpoint. However, in the case of Blackrock Summit, the traditional one-mile round trip route from the Blackrock parking area is not enough of a hike to make the drive into the park worthwhile. Without a doubt, Blackrock is one of the most expansive views in the park, and starting the hike at Brown Gap (a couple miles north) is one of the best ways to reach the vista!
We set out on this hike on a particularly hot and humid late April morning. We parked at Brown Gap (near mile marker 83 on Skyline Drive). From there, we crossed the road and followed the Appalachian Trail south. The first three tenths of a mile ascend gently uphill before reaching a mostly flat ridgeline. Everything in the park was bright, spring green and the native pink azaleas were just starting to bloom. At .7 miles, we passed the Dundo Group Campground. The campground has water and restrooms (seasonally).
At 1.3 miles, we passed the parking area for Jones Run. Another tenth of a mile after that, we crossed Skyline Drive a second time, and began a gradual uphill climb toward Blackrock Summit. In April, the trees along this stretch of trail had not fully leafed out, so we were able to catch views of the valley to the west. At 1.9 miles into the hike, we passed Blackrock Parking area. After the parking area, the trail becomes a moderately steep uphill climb for .6 of a mile.
Near the top, the giant boulder pile comes into view through a tunnel of leaves. It’s impressive to see such a tall jumble of rocks! We took some time to climb up the pile for a loftier view. Even if you choose to skip the climb, the views from this summit are spectacular. The Appalachian Trail skirts the western edge of the summit. At the far end of the rock pile, we reached the spur to the Trayfoot trail. If you want even more views and a chance to explore some interesting rock formations, follow the spur downhill for a couple tenths of a mile. There are views in every direction and an interesting alley of boulders to pass through.
Once you’ve explored, head back the way you came for a hike of just over five miles. It’s really a great way to see this popular summit!
On a clear day like we had, you just have to pick a hike with views. While we have done Blackrock many times, we decided to try a different approach that added a few miles and made it feel like we did something to earn the views. With very little elevation gain on this hike, it is an easy hike that most people could handle. This section of the AT is very well-maintained and traveled. We enjoyed walking through the tunnel of trees with just a small brown path dividing all the green around us.
Christine did a great job describing the path and turns above. We didn’t really see anyone on the trail since we started the trail fairly early in the morning. When we arrived at the summit, we had it all to ourselves. The summit gives you the opportunity to climb around on the large pile of boulders if you prefer (but watch out for timber rattlesnakes) or you can enjoy taking a moment to enjoy the views from down below. Our favorite spot is to travel down the Trayfoot trail because you get panoramic views on both sides of the trail. We paused for a quick snack before heading back. On our way back, we saw several others that had parked at the closest parking lot, but we were glad we had added a few extra miles. If you have a clear day in the forecast and are looking for an easy hike with a big payoff in the southern section of Shenandoah National Park, put this on your list.
Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply). The Brown Gap Parking lot is located around Mile Marker 83 in the Southern Section on Skyline Drive. Park in this lot. Cross the road and come to the cement marker marking the trail. Head south on the Appalachian Trail. GPS Coordinates: 38.240676, -78.710687
This nine mile hike is not very well-known, but it’s truly one of the park’s most scenic summits. Past fire damage has left the summit open, with views in every direction. We hope sharing this post won’t spoil the solitude we enjoyed on this hike.
How has this hike escaped us before? We’ve covered most of what Shenandoah National Park has to offer, but this was a hidden gem that we are so glad we did. While this hike is about 9 miles, the elevation gain feels fairly minimal considering the distance you are covering. We were getting ready to do a multi-day backpacking trip in a couple of weeks and we wanted to get some training in before we hit some bigger miles with heavy packs. Christine had seen a few photos from the viewpoint and mapped out this possibility of a hike.
The hike starts at Browns Gap (the sign reads “Brown Gap”, but maps of the area show “Browns Gap”), at mile marker 83 of Skyline Drive. We parked our car and found the Appalachian Trail post from the parking lot and headed north on the white-blazed AT. The trail climbs a bit from the beginning and parallels Skyline Drive. At .5 miles, you come to the junction with the Big Run Loop Trail. Take a left here to join the blue-blazed Big Run Loop Trail. At 1.1 miles, you come to a four-way junction where the Big Run Loop Trail breaks off to the right and the Madison Run Spur Trail heads to the left. You will just stay straight. At 1.5 miles, the trail reaches another junction with the Austin Mountain trail bearing to the left; bear to the right to join the Rockytop Trail. Around 2.3 miles, you will pass along a rockier section of trail as it passes through some large talus slopes. At 3.4 miles, you reach the Lewis Peak Trail junction. Take a left at this junction to make your way to Lewis Peak. The trail descends at this point, At 3.6 miles, you reach a great viewpoint off the trail to the right. There is a large talus slope here that opens up into views of a valley between two mountains and Massanutten Mountain perfectly framed at the center in the distance.
The trail continues to descend from this viewpoint until you reach 4.0 miles and then the trail begins to climb again. At 4.2 miles, you reach the junction with the Lewis Peak Summit Trail. Take this trail to the right and you will climb rather steeply to the summit through a series of switchbacks that will eventually wind around until the trail reaches its end and the summit at 4.5 miles. A forest fire from 2006 has destroyed a lot of the taller trees in the area, but it has created a very nice viewpoint from the summit.
We stopped here and ate a snack while enjoying the expansive views all around us. Clouds were starting to roll in, but we had the stunning panoramic views all to ourselves. When reflecting upon this hike, Christine and I both think that it may arguably have the best views from the southern district of Shenandoah National Park. We made our way back the way we came. There is some steep climbing on the way back, but most of the steep stretches are short-lived. If you can handle the distance, put this on your upcoming hiking agenda.
For the last week of March and the first three weeks of April, I was bed-ridden from a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics. I burned with fever, my skin blistered and peeled, I itched all over, and struggled with excruciating nerve pain. As the weeks passed, I thought I would never be well enough to hike again. When I finally started feeling better, I went for short, easy walks around my neighborhood. But pretty soon, I felt a strong draw to get back to the ‘real’ trail. I don’t know what made me think a nine mile hike with 1500′ of climbing was a good idea for a ‘first hike back’.
I’m not going to lie – I really struggled on this hike. My endurance definitely took a hit from spending a month in bed. On top of that, it was a hot, humid day. My doctor had directed me to fully cover up with long sleeved Capilene, long pants, a hat, and sunscreen to protect my healing skin. I felt like I was sealed in plastic wrap. I just couldn’t cool off. The whole hike, I had a mantra… ‘just take the next ten steps.’ Fortunately, taking ten steps over and over again eventually adds up to a nine mile hike.
Despite the physical challenge, there were some memorable high points on this hike. When we first set out we met a neat retired couple – Swallow and Blind Pig. They were section hiking Virginia’s Appalachian Trail. They were from Oregon and had previously finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. We talked to them about the park, the AT, gear, food, and wildlife. I hope when Adam and I are retired we’ll still be having adventures like Swallow and Blind Pig.
I also really enjoyed all the signs of spring emerging in the park. Most of the high elevation trees were still leafless, but we could see the brilliant green of emerging leaves creeping up the mountainsides. There were a few azaleas starting to bloom, spring beauties were abundant, and we passed several large patches of dwarf irises. Spring is my favorite season. I love seeing color and life waking back up after dull winter.
A significant part of this hike followed a ridge, so we enjoyed views through the trees. The open vista of Massanutten from the Lewis Peak trail was simply spectacular. The mountains in the foreground perfectly framed the distinct peak of Massanutten.
When we started making switchbacks toward the summit of Lewis Peak, I knew we were going to have even more amazing views. The entire summit climb was open and there were wide open looks at mountains and the valley in every direction. The summit itself is sharper and pointier than almost any other peak in Shenandoah. The end of the trail has a wide sweep of rock to sit upon while you enjoy the view. There were berry bushes growing all over the place. In mid to late summer, this would be a good place to pick wild blueberries.
We enjoyed the view and a couple snacks before heading back the way we came. The hike back had a couple steep climbs that challenged me. I hadn’t remembered any of the downhills feeling step on the outward hike, so the uphill climbs surprised me on the way back!
I was quite glad when we got back to the Appalachian Trail and the final gentle descent back to the parking area. After our hike, we stopped for lunch at the Loft Mountain wayside – grilled cheese sandwiches and our first blackberry milkshakes of the season. It was great to be back on the trail!
Distance – 9.1 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change – 1527 ft.
Difficulty – 3. The mileage is a little long for most people for a day hike, but with moderate climbs if you take your time it should be doable by most.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in great shape. There was one larger blowdown on the Rockytop Trail we encountered, but otherwise was well maintained.
Views – 4.5. Amazing views from the summit and the viewpoint over the talus slopes just .5 miles from the summit.
Streams/Waterfalls – 0. non-existent.
Wildlife – 3.5. This area is a bit remote, so you may see some deer and bears on your hike. Watch out for rattlesnakes, especially if you venture onto any of the talus slopes.
Ease to Navigate – 3. There are a number of turns to get to Lewis Peak on this hike, but all of the junctions are marked with concrete posts.