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Our Most Popular Trails – 2019 Edition

March 28, 2019

These are Virginia Trail Guide’s TOP TWENTY most searched and most viewed Virginia hikes as of March 2019!

1) Great Channels

Why it’s so popular: You descend into a sandstone labyrinth!  Read More

Great Channels

2) Mount Rogers

Why it’s so popular: Wild ponies and wide open views as you hike to Virginia’s tallest peak!  Read More

Mount Rogers

3) Cascade Falls

Why it’s so popular: An easy hike to one of Virginia most impressive waterfalls!  Read More

Cascade Falls

4) Sharp Top

Why it’s so popular: Beautiful views from a distinctly shaped summit. There’s a bus that goes almost all the way to the top.  Read More

5) Hawksbill Summit Loop

Why it’s so popular: Shenandoah National Park’s tallest mountain has almost 360 degree views.  Read More

Hawksbill

6) Rose River Loop

Why it’s so popular: Two significant waterfalls and beautiful stream footage on a moderate loop.  Read More

Rose River

7) Crabtree Falls

Why it’s so popular: The longest continuous waterfall in Virginia.  Read More

8) Devils Bathtub

Why it’s so popular: The crystal clear blue-green sandstone bathtub.  Read More

9) Dark Hollow Falls

Why it’s so popular: A short Shenandoah classic located right next to Big Meadows, the park’s biggest lodging/camping complex.  Read More

10) Cole/Cold Mountain

Why it’s so popular: Beautiful, open, grassy bald.  Read More

11) Marys Rock

Why it’s so popular: Another classic Shenandoah vista that is easily accessible.  Read More

12) Dragons Tooth

Why it’s so popular: A fun rock scramble and a cool monolithic rock with views from the top. Read More

13) Spy Rock

Why it’s so popular: 360 degree views from an impressive dome-shaped rock. Read More

14) Three Ridges

Why it’s so popular: Fantastic views and one of Virginia’s toughest hikes. Read More

15) Appalachian Trail – Ashby Gap to Bears Den (The Roller Coaster)

Why it’s so popular: The roller coaster is a fun way to suffer and there’s a view at the end. Read More

16) Moorman’s River and Big Branch Falls

Why it’s so popular: It’s kind of a mystery why this landed in the top 20. I guess people like waterfalls and it’s close to Charlottesville? Sorry the photo is awful – our camera died that day and we only have phone photos. Read More

17) Humpback Rocks

Why it’s so popular: Super views and it’s just one of those hikes everyone does. Not one of our favorites though! Read More

18) The Priest

Why it’s so popular: Great view and a very popular training hike with lots of elevation gain! We hiked it the easy way for our blog post. Read More

19) Big Schloss

Why it’s so popular: One of the best view hikes that’s located close to 81 and NoVa. Read More

20) Appalachian Trail – Catawba to Daleville

Why it’s so popular: It has McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs – say no more. Read More

The Boulder Loop (NH)

February 3, 2019

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This three mile hike takes you through cool boulder field up to a ridge with a couple spectacular viewpoints!  It’s an easy hike with a big pay-off!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Albany Covered Bridge

The Albany Covered Bridge. Below: Parking for the loop; Trail signage; Boulders on the route.

Parking for the Boulder Loop  Boulder Loop

Adam Says…

One challenge we face often with hiking in New Hampshire is trying to pick a hike that will work for that day.  Typically, weeks before traveling there we are stockpiling a bunch of hike ideas knowing that we will likely adjust to what the day gives us.  The night before, we are consulting weather sources (what type of cloud coverage is in the high peaks, when showers may start, etc.), looking at how long a drive we have for the next day, and determining how the day will all fit together with meals and plans for other activities.  When you’re on vacation you want to make the most of the time you have.  The weather was telling us there would be some cloud coverage in the high peaks of the White Mountains, so we tried to look at some lower elevation plans.  Knowing we were going out to eat for a long breakfast and showers that were likely coming in the afternoon, we felt we needed to pick something shorter.  So, we decided to give this Boulder Loop a try.  A few books we had read didn’t make us feel overly excited to try it, but once we were done with this one, we would highly recommend it.

Massive Boulders on the Boulder Loop

Massive boulders on the route.  Below: Rocks to climb; Pretty evergreen forest with lots of rocks; A nice view before reaching the ledges.

 Roots and Pines The first view

We started off with a mostly empty parking lot.  We are always early morning hikers to beat the crowds and we were glad that we did.  We crossed the road and started on the trail.  The beginning starts with a slight incline.  At .2 miles, you come to a junction sign; either way leads to the ledges, but we headed to the left as our books had mostly done.  The boulders on this lower elevation section are quite impressive, and you can just imagine the power of glaciers dropping off these large masses of rock before melting away.  The yellow-blazed trail steepens through sections of rocks and roots, quite common for well-traveled trails in New Hampshire.

At the 1.2 mile marker, we came to a crest of the hill we had climbed.  I noticed a rocky path off to the right leading up and decided to take it.  Sure enough, this was the way we should have gone.   There is a sign marked “View .2 miles”, but it is placed on a tree facing the other direction of the trail, so be sure not to miss this.  We feel that many people could miss it if they weren’t paying attention and then miss all the glory of this hike.  We climbed up and stayed on a yellow-blazed path that led first to a rock outcropping for some amazing views and then to a larger cliffside.   Be careful up at the top of these cliffs.  There is a large sharp dropoff from the viewpoint and something you don’t want to do with reckless children.  While the views aren’t as high up as some of the 4000+ nearby White Mountains, they are quite impressive.  We could look over to Mount Chocorua and Mount Passaconaway on clear days.  We stayed up here a while until we could see clouds moving in.  We then went back the way we came off the spur trail until we reached the junction again with the boulder loop.

From here, we went down to the right to continue the loop.  We began to see more people coming up so we knew we beat the crowds for this hike.  Based on the exhausted looks on the faces of those coming up the other side, we knew we picked the best route to ascend.  The way down did seem to be steeper and rockier than the way we had come up.  On the way down, you really can enjoy the openness of the forest and when you descend low enough walking through the large boulder field is impressive.  The return trip from the junction was 1.2 miles back to the initial junction of the loop trail and we made it back very quickly with the descent.

We took a left at the junction and had a short .2miles back to our car.  We were impressed with how the combination of the boulder field with the expansive views from the top make this a wonderful hike when you are trying to fit in a short hike into your day.

Climbing the Roots

New Hampshire’s rocks and roots. Below: The spur trail out to the view; Rocks to negotiate.

 

Christine Says…

We’ve flipped past the Boulder Loop in our New Hampshire hiking guide, year after year, for many years now.  The hike just didn’t look fun or pretty. The only photo the book included was one of a middle-schooled aged boy looking at a shelf fungus growing on the side of a tree.  Sorry, but I don’t hike for fungus! However, this year – upon closer inspection – I noticed that the long text description of the hike mentioned ‘views from a ledge’.  After that, I Googled ‘views Boulder Loop hike’ and found some amazing photos in the results.

We knew bad storms were on deck for the afternoon, so we decided the short Boulder Loop would be a great choice for a quick hike. We started the morning with a big breakfast with my parents at Polly’s Pancake Parlor.  The restaurant is a family tradition and we always try to eat there at least once on every visit. After breakfast, we made our way back to Lincoln and hopped on the Kancamagus Highway. The highway is a scenic drive through White Mountains National Forest.  There are sweeping vistas and pull-off viewpoints along the road – it’s kind of like Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (but free.)  We found our trailhead right along the highway, next to the Albany Covered Bridge.

Views from the Ledges

Views from the ledges on the Boulder Loop. Below: More views from the Boulder Loop ledges.

Boulder Loop Views Boulder Loop Views Boulder Loop Views

We found the lot nearly empty, and paid the day-use fee for parking. I took a few photos of the bridge and the river before hitting the trail. The Boulder Loop is an interpretive trail with numbered stops and descriptions. It would probably be fun for a family who wanted to take lots of breaks along the route. We skipped that aspect of the hike and just focused on reaching the views.

We hiked the loop clockwise, passing enormous lichen-covered boulders. The trail climbed steadily uphill over lots of roots and rocks. Eventually, we reached the ridgeline and came to our first viewpoint. We could see the road and the river below, a plunging cliffside lower in the valley, and mountains as far as the eye could see.  It was GORGEOUS!

After the first view, we continued along until we found the sign for the spur.  The sign says ‘viewpoint’ on a small wooden plaque. It’s kind of small and blends in to the forest, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled. To follow the spur, look for faint blazes on the rocks.  The spur goes for about .15 mile over rocks and ledges with several places to stop and take in the views.  We could see lots of mountains in every direction, but Chocorua was especially recognizable with it’s stone dome.  We both remarked to each other that the ‘kid with the fungus’ was such a disservice to this beautiful hike.

More Boulders on the Descent

More Boulders on the descent.

After soaking in the scenery and watching clouds roll in from the distance, we followed the spur back to the main junction.  We continued clockwise on the loop.  At first, the trail dropped quite steeply over loose dirt and rocks.  Eventually it leveled back out, passed through another cool boulder field, and returned us to the parking lot near the covered bridge. The hike was such a pleasant surprise – relatively easy terrain with excellent views at the top.

After packing up, we made our way into North Conway to get lunch at Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery.  It’s one of our favorite lunch stops – they make great nachos.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3 miles
  • Elevation Change – 1161 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.  Some of the sections are quite steep, but the shortness of the overall trail makes this one a popular family hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in good shape, but the rocks and roots can make this a challenge in some parts.
  • Views –  4.  Nice 180 degree views from the cliff summit. 
  • Waterfalls/streams – .5  We passed a small stream through the mountains on the way back, but nothing impressive. 
  • Wildlife – 2.  Evidently, bears can be spotted here in the fall.  May be a good place for birdwatching at the low and high elevations.
  • Ease to Navigate –  4.  It is a self-contained loop.  It loses a point since the trail to the view isn’t clearly marked on both sides.  Be watching when you crest the high point on the trail.
  • Solitude – 2.5.  As mentioned above, this is popular with families, so you will likely see people along the way.  Time this for early morning or late in the afternoon to maximize your solitude.

Trail Map:

Click to download full size map

Elevation Profile:

Click to download full size elevation profile.

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are 44.005395, -71.239270.  There is a day fee for parking in this area.  You will cross the Albany Covered Bridge and park in the lot labeled Boulder Loop Parking.

Appalachian Trail – Etna to Hanover (NH)

December 30, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 8.7 mile stretch of Appalachian Trail is pleasant but unremarkable. It’s a walk in the woods, over rolling terrain, that ends in downtown Hanover, NH (where you can eat gelato).

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Appalachian Trail: Etna to Hanover

The hike begins in shady, muddy woods. Below: AT benchmark; Ewww… mud; There were lots of swampy, buggy spots along the trail.

Marker Mud on the Appalachian Trail Swampy Appalachian Trail

Christine Says…

The summary above doesn’t make this hike sound very exciting – it wasn’t. You might ask, “Why bother to hike this piece of trail when there are so many other amazing hikes in the area?” Well – it was convenient, we had a shuttle ride from my parents, and it let us add to our mileage toward one day completing the entire trail.  Not every mile of AT is sweeping vistas and babbling brooks. A lot of it (ok… most of it) is a long green tunnel. It’s not always thrilling to walk the trail, but it’s rewarding to take little steps toward completing a goal.

We hoped to get out on a three-day backpacking trip like we did in Vermont last year, but with a new puppy (Indy) to care for and a long run of unusually hot, stormy weather; we settled on just day hikes for our 2018 NH trip.  Adam found this stretch of trail in our AWOL AT Guide and figured it would be easy to knock out on the same day my mom had an all-day baking class in Hanover.  We left our car parked in a small lot along Three Mile Rd. near Etna, NH.  From there, we walked south toward Hanover.

This section of trail was much easier than what you imagine when you think of typical Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire (granite slabs, boulder scrambles, 4,500 foot climbs, exposed cliffsides, and violent storms that blow up out of the blue). This piece of trail had soft footing, gentle hills, and barely more than 1,200 feet of climbing over the entire 8.7 miles.  It was extremely muddy in places and there was one extremely steep but brief climb and descent near the midpoint, but the challenges were few and mild.

Meadows Along the Appalachian Trail

There are many meadows along the AT. Below; We saw so many indian pipes; the cemetary on Etna-Hanover Center Rd;  Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) signage.

Indian Pipes Cemetery at Road Crossing 

There’s really nowhere to get lost on this section, either.  There are some road crossings, junctions with other trails, and parts of the trail have two names. The Dartmouth Outing Club maintains the trail and shelters in this area, so they’ve given club names to parts of the AT.  You’ll see bright orange signs with the DOC logo and names like the Hanover Center Trail and the Velvet Rocks Trail.  They’re both still the Appalachian Trail, and as long as you keep following the white blazes, you’re going the right way.

We stopped for lunch at the top of the only steep uphill climb of the hike. It was along part of the trail known as ‘velvet rocks’. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the name was given due to the abundance of huge, moss-covered boulders all along the trail. They really do look like rocks covered with plush green velvet. There was no view at the high point, so we settled for eating lunch on a big flat rock right along the trail. I had a poorly-chosen lunch of crackers, cheese, and pepperoni for lunch. I know sealed pepperoni stays fresh and safe even in hot weather, but there’s something so unappealing about sun-warmed meat. I ate it, but I also gagged a bit. I should have known better – I can’t even look at beef jerky without being nauseated, so pepperoni isn’t all that different. We also brought a HUGE lemon-blueberry whoopie pie from a local bakery to share. That was much more palatable than the slimy meat.

The descent from our lunch spot was really steep and muddy. There was even a rope tied between a few of the trees to act as an assist, but I was able to manage it by crab-walking downhill.  About a three quarters of a mile past the lunch stop, we reached the blue-blazed northern access spur to Velvet Rocks Shelter. The spur trail to this particular shelter has both northern and southern arms. Hikers that use both arms of the spur miss a .6 miles the AT (missing any of the AT is a big deal to ‘purists’.) The sign at the northern spur said the shelter was .4 miles away. The northern spur also went straight up a very steep, rocky hillside, so we decided to continue south on the AT and access the shelter at the southern arm instead. The shelter was an easy .2 mile walk via the southern arm of the spur.

Old Stone Walls

Much of the AT in this area is a narrow corridor through private land. You’ll see many old stone walls. Below: One of the many pretty small streams we passed; Pine forests are nice; Orange DOC signage.

 Pine forest 

Velvet Rocks shelter was very old and dingy-looking. There was an old tarp slung over the wall and lots of dumb graffiti. There was no sign of a shelter log, either.  I think if I were thru-hiking or on a long section hike, I’d skip this shelter and just stay in Hanover.  When we visited, there were a couple south-bound thru-hikers already stopped for the day around 1:00 p.m.  They both said they were hot and fatigued and didn’t feel like hiking anymore. It really was a sweltering day, and we knew we only had about a mile and a half to go before we were in downtown Hanover.

The next .75 miles was all downhill through shady forest. The trail exited the woods in Hanover right behind Dartmouth College athletic fields.  We walked along the fenceline and turned right onto NH 120.  There was a Co-op Grocery store right on the corner, so we got a couple cold drinks and sat in the shade. The last three quarters of a mile of ‘hiking’ were just a stroll through town. We had to pay close attention to find white blazes marked on lightposts along the road. There was no shade and the mid-day sun was beating down on us. Despite being completely flat, this was probably the hardest part of the hike because it was just so hot! We finally got to our meet-up spot.  I had time to wash my face and wipe the mud off my legs in the Dartmouth bookstore. No one even looked at me funny – a sure sign that a town is used to hikers and backpackers.

My dad picked us up and took us to Morano Gelato – so good! After that, we went to the Cabot factory store and ate free cheese. Then we went to King Arthur Flour company and ate cookies while we waited for my mom’s baking class to end. And then we went out for a proper dinner.  It’s a lot of eating, but I think we earned it. After dinner, my parents drove us back to where we had parked our car earlier in the day. Then it was home for showers and relaxing!

Adam Says…

Hiking is often about changing plans for us.  As Christine mentioned, we had initially came up with some plans for doing a multiple day backpack of the Appalachian Trail.  But, with a new puppy, we didn’t want to subject the babysitting grandparents to the attention he needed (he has been an extremely high-energy puppy).  So, I looked up some possible day hikes we could do to still cover a tiny bit of New Hampshire AT miles.  It is a goal of ours (we will see how attainable, ultimately) to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail in sections.  Working full-time with limited time off, we have to do what we can for now.  We will hopefully finish what we have left when we retire, so this hike was a way to knock off a very tiny percentage of the trail and connect to our trip last year with a few more contiguous miles.  We coaxed Christine’s dad to pick us up in Hanover and drive us back to our car, so the change in plans worked well for us.

Velvet Rocks

I’m pretty sure the Velvet Rocks area is named for these huge moss-covered boulders. Below: This pond was so full of cattails, we couldn’t even see the water; Our lunch spot at the top of the only big climb of the hike; Side trail to Velvet Rocks Shelter.

 Our lunch spot Velvet Rocks Shelter

It took us a little while to find our start point for the trail on Three Mile Road with questionable GPS service that made it difficult to navigate some of these backroads.  But, we ultimately got to the correct road and found the AT crossing and a place to park our car on the side of the road.  We started off at the road crossing and headed south on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.  The initial trail marker showed we had 8.6 miles to reach Hanover, NH.  The trail started off through the fern-covered woods heading slightly downhill through a muddy area.  Green was all around us in this lush forest setting.  At 2.5 miles, we crossed over the paved Etna-Hanover Center Road (heading east under a mile would lead you to Etna, NH), where there was a cemetery on the opposite side of the road.  We crossed the road and continued on with this trail marked by the DOC signs Christine mentioned above.

Shortly after crossing the road, you walk over a couple of footbridges carrying you over a stream.  The trail opens up a bit after this where you cross over a field before entering back into the woods.  You cross over the paved Trescott Road at 3.9 miles and then pass over a boardwalk over a marshy pond at 4.6 miles.  From here, the trail begins to climb up and does reach a very steep section that will reach its peak at 5.4 miles.  At the peak, we took a break and ate some lunch before pushing on.  The trail descended and then we reached the junction with the north shelter loop trail at 6.2 miles.  At this point, we did start seeing some people that were hiking about on this loop trail to check out the Velvet Rocks area.  We saw the many mossy boulders that give the area the name ‘Velvet Rocks’.  We passed the northern spur to the shelter and decided to stay on the AT.  At 6.8 miles, we reached the southern shelter sidetrail and took a break to go check it out.  While the sign said it was only .2 miles away, that was the longest .2 miles we have ever seen (it felt more like .35 miles).  When we got to the Velvet Rocks Shelter, we were able to talk with a few people that were staying there and doing some larger sections of the AT.  We went back the way we came to rejoin the AT (I didn’t include this side trip in the mileage totals).

From the junction with the shelter sidetrail, it was a steep downhill climb until we came out of the woods near a Dartmouth sports field.  The trail continues along the back wall of the field and comes out by a convenience store onto NH 120.  We took a right at the road and walked by a Food Coop and got a fresh drink.  It was just a short walk from here into town to meet up with Christine’s dad, but the exposure into the sun made for a hot walk back into town.  We did cool off a bit with some nice gelato.  This was a great hike to do if you can have two cars or a pickup plan like we did.  The terrain was relatively easy and it is always good to end a hike at a town with lots of amenities.

Velvet Rocks Shelter

Velvet Rocks Shelter. Below: Pretty pine-needle forest floor; Some minor rocks on the final descent into Hanover; The trail comes out of the woods behind a Dartmouth Athletic Field.

 Hike into Hanover We Reach Town

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 8.7 miles
  • Elevation Change – 1204 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.  This is a really easy stretch of Appalachian Trail – especially for New Hampshire. Our only real challenge was the heat.
  • Trail Conditions – 3. The trail is in nice shape, but was quite muddy when we hiked.
  • Views –  1. There are a few minor views in small meadows, but nothing grand.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 2. There are lots of small streams that provide adequate water sources.
  • Wildlife – 2. Squirrels, birds, and chipmunks!
  • Ease to Navigate – 4. Just follow the white blazes.  The only misdirection might come from the dual-named DOC trails.
  • Solitude – 2. Expect to see a good number of people when you’re close to a large college town.

Trail Map:

Click to download full size trail map.

Click to download full size elevation profile.

Directions to trailhead:

Parking coordinates are 43.718 -72.176. There are two parking areas along Three Mile Road near the Appalachian Trail Crossing.  This is a gravel road.

Mt. Kearsarge (NH)

October 21, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

Mt. Kearsarge is located in state park land in Central New Hampshire with 360-degree spectacular views from the summit.  On a clear day you can see Mount Washington, the White Mountain range, Merrimac Valley, and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mt. Kearsarge Summit

The summit of Kearsarge is marked by a large cairn.

Adam Says…

Mt. Kearsarge kept popping up on lists of hikes we had not done in New Hampshire that had amazing views, so we decided to tackle it on a day where we could capitalize on the views.  The hike starts off in Winslow State Park, reached by driving up Kearsarge Mountain Road and then taking a right on Winslow House Road to the top.  The area at the top of the road is a large picnic area, with shelters and outdoor grills that would be perfect for a family gathering before or after the hike.  The trail starts through an opening in the trees, near the southern back corner of the parking lot.

You quickly reach a large kiosk that shows the split of the loop trail.  We took the Winslow Trail up and returned via the Barlow Trail.  The Winslow Trail was quite steep and led through a lot of trail that was filled with lots of roots and rocks.  If you do this hike after a lot of rain, expect it to be quite slick in some spots.  The trail had us going a bit slow since it was a steep trail that required you to watch your foot placement in order to not twist your ankle.

The Winslow Trail

The Winslow Trail is a steep one mile climb to the summit. Below: The Winslow and Barlow trails make a loop over the summit of Kearsarge; A little mud; Lots of rocks and roots.

Trail Signs Muddy Trail 

The trail then passed a large split boulder on the left around .8 miles.  We were able to climb up to the top of this rock and then look behind us which opened up some views that were getting near the top of the tree line.  At .9 miles, we reached the top junction with the Barlow Trail and we pushed on from here to reach the top shortly after at the one mile mark.  The tower was in the middle of the huge rock expanse, but there were views all around.  We took some time to enjoy the views all around.  Fairly soon, we were joined by a few other hikers that had approached the summit via Rollins State Park – this is a shorter hike to the top of Mt. Kearsarge.  We first talked to a woman with her great niece.  The niece was probably about 11 years old and was not a fan of the hike or views.  She didn’t want to even look at the views.  She just wanted to know if she could touch the rock and leave immediately.  I could tell the great aunt was disappointed that her niece didn’t enjoy nature like she did, which was disappointing to witness.  The next person was a young woman from New Jersey that came here to do a quick day hike.  She had also approached from the Rollins State Park side, but she was hoping to make a larger loop and ended up adding the Winslow and Barlow trails to her day.

We then went to the fire tower.  Christine decided to climb to the top, but when I felt the rickety nature of the structure and was nearly hit by squirrel droppings from a squirrel that Christine had upset, I decided to just wait at the bottom.  Some men soon arrived to do some maintenance work on the dishes and they were talking about some of the mountain ranges around us.  While I am sure they are doing some hard work, I was envious wishing I had an office view like this one.

New Hampshire Granite

New Hampshire is called The Granite State with good reason.

We made our way back to the junction at the edge of the treeline with the Barlow Trail and followed the yellow blazes for this way back down.  We continued along the top as we walked by an alpine bog and then to some other views.  Dragonflies were everywhere at the top and it was neat to see so many of them at this high elevation.  We were glad we did the loop the way we did since we had views ahead of us on the way down.  The trail had some steep sections going down but weren’t nearly as treacherous as the way up.  Most of the trail was deep in the woods, but it was pretty scenery all around us.  We eventually made our way back to the lower junction between the Winslow and Barlow trails at 2.6 miles and then took a quick turn to the parking lot and we were done.  While the trail was a shorter one at 2.7 miles, the hike up took longer than we would have normally taken and the views at the top will make you want to take a large break to take it all in.

The books we had read and internet research we had done in advance probably didn’t give this hike enough credit.  This is definitely one to hit while in New Hampshire.  The length of the hike may also make it suitable for a lot of families and there is a wonderful picnic spot where you park to make this a memorable experience for the entire family.

The first views from Kearsarge on the ascent. Below: We had to crossed some slab granite. Fortunately, it was dry; Cairns mark the way over granite; Cell phone tower and an old fire tower on the summit.

  Towers Atop Kearsarge

Christine Says…

Mt. Kearsarge was our first new hike in New Hampshire during our summer 2018 trip.  The small, but  prominent, mountain is located in the Dartmouth-Sunapee region.  Geologically, the mountain is what is known as a monadnock – a mountain that rises steeply and abruptly from relatively flat land. This type of mountain always looks taller and more imposing than it is in reality. It was a fantastic choice for an easy morning hike  – great views, fun terrain, and not too lengthy. We chose to ascend on the Winslow Trail and then come back down on the Barlow Trail, making a 2.7 mile loop.

The Winslow Trail is shorter and quite a bit steeper than the Barlow Trail. I always think it’s nice to tackle the tougher terrain when my legs are fresh. I also appreciate the challenge of a tough climb. Upon entering the woods, the trail is soft and covered with pine needles. However, the trail footing soon becomes rooty and rocky. Red blazes will help you navigate across jumbles of boulders and granite slabs.

Summit of Kearsarge

The summit view from Kearsarge is fantastic. Below: Adam at the summit cairn; There is an elevation sign and a couple picnic tables next to the tower; Christine enjoys the views.

 Summit Sign Taking in the View

Your first views from the mountain come from atop a huge split boulder right before you break the treeline. This is also where the junction with the Barlow trail is located. You’ll pass the junction at this point and make your way toward the summit. In the bald, open area, cairns are used to guide hikers to the top. The park has posted several signs imploring hikers NOT to build new cairns. Moving rocks disrupts nature and building new cairns can make wayfinding confusing for hikers.

The summit of Kearsarge is marked by a big rockpile.  From the top, the view rolls out in every direction.  It’s GORGEOUS! When sky conditions are clear you can see the imposing White Mountains and Mt. Cardigan to the north, the Merrimack valley to the south, and to the west are Vermont’s Green Mountains. Just below the summit, the vista is interrupted by an old fire lookout and a communications tower.  There is also a picnic area and a sandwich-board sign noting Kearsarge’s elevation (2,937’).

Descent on the Barlow Trail

We followed the longer Barlow Trail for our descent. Below: A small alpine bog; The descent on the Barlow trail had lots of nice views; Blueberries – some of the only ones we saw on this year’s New Hampshire trip.

Alpine Bog  Blueberries

While the towers aren’t pretty, they barely detract from the magnificent views in every direction. I climbed the tower while Adam hung out below.  On my way up the stairs, I encountered a very angry red squirrel. I thought he was going to dive-bomb my face, but he settled for loud chattering. The view from the tower wasn’t really any better than the view from the summit, so I made my way back down and found a nice rock to sit on.

After taking in summit views, we made our way downhill to where the Winslow and Barlow trails meet.  The yellow blazed Barlow Trail passes across open areas with more stunning vistas. We saw blueberry bushes and a small alpine bog on our way down. When we visited, dragonflies were swarming the mountain. If you look closely at our photos, you’ll see loads of them!

Eventually, the trail will traverse some slab granite and dip back into an evergreen forest.  The trail continues downhill over roots and pine needles.  There is one small footbridge over a swampy area near the end.  The trail ends at the initial Winslow-Barlow junction near the picnic area at Winslow State Park.

Pine Forest

Pretty evergreen forests of New Hampshire. Below: Scenes of the descent along the Barlow Trail.

Barlow Trail Barlow Trail Barlow Trail

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2.7 miles
  • Elevation Change – 1224 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.  The trail was steeper than we would have expected, but take your time.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  Due to the steepness and the abundance of roots and rocks, this could make for a more difficult hike after heavy rainfall.
  • Views –  5. 360-degree views all around from the summit.  There is a fire tower that obstructs some of the view but you can rotate around it to take it all in.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 0.  Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 2.5  A decent spot for bird-watching and squirrels. 
  • Ease to Navigate –  4.  The trail was fairly well-blazed.  The junctions may make things a bit tricky, but follow our map.
  • Solitude – 2.  This is a popular spot and with two approaches to the summit, you may not realize how many people you may see at the top.  You should be able to carve out your own solitude at the top since there are views all around.

Trail Map

Click to download full size map.

Elevation Profile:

Click to download full size elevation profile.

Directions to trailhead:

Coordinates for this hike are 43.390281, -71.868260.  The trailhead is located in New Hampshire’s Winslow State Park in Wilmot, NH.  There is a fee to enter the park.

Blackrock (NC)

September 23, 2018

North Carolina Hikes

This 4.5 mile hike in North Carolina’s Plott Balsams had some great views, but the trail was in such poor shape that the hike was not that enjoyable.  There were parts that were unpleasant (tall grass, blowdowns, and thick overgrowth), confusing (relatively few blazes), and even dangerous (slippery erosion and steep dropoffs).

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Sun Rays on the Trail to Blackrock

All the unsettled weather and fog made for pretty sunrays in the woods. Below: Parking along the shoulder of the road; Park along the road way just beneath the turn-off to the visitors center; Lush ferns as you enter the trail.

Park Here Waterrock Knob Pretty Ferns

Christine Says…

This hike started off along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center at BRP mile 451.  There is parking right along the shoulder of the road (as pictured above).  The entrance to the trail is unmarked, so you’ll need to search along the forest line to find where the trail begins.  When you see this old, broken-down kiosk just inside the woods, you’ll know you’re on the right path. The trail has occasional purple/yellow blazes, but don’t count on seeing many along the way to guide you! This area is tricky – even for experienced hikers. Meanderthals hiking blog did a good write-up where they describe getting a bit lost along this stretch of trail.

The trail begins a gradual, easy, uphill climb through evergreen forest. There are ferns and mosses draping the ground everywhere.  When we hiked in June, there was a ton of blooming Clintonia borealis – a lily found frequently in woodlands around the world. The initial climb goes on for just a couple tenths of a mile before opening up to a nice view to the southeast, including a look at Yellow Face mountain. After the view, the trail descends into a brief saddle.  Fog from the unsettled weather seemed to sit in every dip in the trail along the way.

Views from the Trail

There were nice views from the trail in several spots. Below: Blooming Clintonia borealis; Adam negotiating the terrain; Tons of fog and moving clouds.

Clintonia Rocks to Scramble Fog Descends

At just under three quarters of a mile, we reached the summit of Yellow Face.  This mountain stands at just over 6,000 feet and was donated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to the National Park Service around 2001 or 2002.  In fact, the entire trail is cobbled together across land owned the the Nature Conservancy, the NPS, and the town of Sylva, NC.  Some sources say the trail itself has existed (in varying forms) for hundreds of years and was used historically by the Cherokee people.  It’s currently maintained completely by volunteers – the NPS and the forest service are not involved.

When we hiked, the ‘bald’ at the summit of Yellow Face was really overgrown with tall grasses and bramble bushes.  The view was nice, but definitely closing in. Near the summit, there’s a memorial plaque to Stephen Andrew Canada. I tried finding more information about him, but came up empty.  Maybe he died on this peak or maybe he just loved this peak.

After the summit of Yellow Face, the trail descends again into another saddle. You’ll encounter some blowdowns, a pretty spruce forest, and some more open terrain. Near the low point of the saddle, at 1.3 miles, there are campsites on the right side of the trail.  The open grassy area is littered with remnant mechanical parts from old logging equipment. We didn’t see a water source near the campsites, so if you were to overnight at this spot, you would need to carry enough water to cook and drink.

Obstacles

This was just one of the many blowdowns across the trail. This was one of the easier ones to navigate. Below: Trail scenery; Campsites in the saddle; More blowdowns.

Pretty section Campsite Another Blowdown

After passing the campsites, the trail climbed again for a few tenths of a mile.  We passed over and through a couple more blowdowns. At 1.7 miles, things got tricky. We began walking along a very narrow ridgeline decorated with enormous boulders.  The trail was so slippery and eroded that I put my camera away to fully focus on footing and safety. There are more photos of this section included on the return hike below. I don’t think any of the photos truly do justice to the trail conditions along this stretch. It was far sketchier than it appears. The tough terrain went on for about half a mile, where we reached an opening in a dense rhododendron tunnel at 2.2 miles.

I chose this point to stop. The climb after this point was described by another website as ‘a steep climb up roots and rocks requiring hands and feet‘. On a dry day, I would probably have no problem tackling that climb, but on this particular day I’d been slipping, stumbling, and sliding so much that I decided to stop 100 yards short of the summit.  It’s always a tough decision to miss the final destination of a hike, but I think the phrase ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ exists for a reason.  Adam went on without me to take photos of the final vista.  When he eventually came back he told me that I made the right decision and that the final climb was really slippery and precipitous. I was relieved he made it back safely!

Through the Fog

The foggy trail was beautiful. Below: Giant boulder; A view from the trail right before the final summit; The rhododendron tunnel right before the summit.

Large Boulders Looking toward Blackrock Rhodie Tunnel

We slowly made our way back across all the terrain we had covered on our hike out.  Very rarely do I feel this way, but the whole way back I kept thinking, “I can’t wait to get off this STUPID TRAIL!”  We trekked through the overgrowth, slithered back through blowdowns, and slid down rocks and mud.  It was a slog. It was a death march. It was not fun at all. We chatted with a couple other hikers who were hiking just to Yellow Face and back (good call!)  We crossed paths with a naturalist group looking at plant life along the trail.  But, generally, we had the hike entirely to ourselves for most of the day.

I was very grateful to get back to the car!  Afterwards, we paid a quick visit to the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center and then made our way back toward Bryson City for lunch at Nantahala Outdoor Center’s River’s End Restaurant. I had fun counting all my new bruises and scrapes on the drive back to the valley.  Maybe this hike would have been more fun on a clear day after a stretch of dry weather. But overall, it’s not a hike I enjoyed. If you’re picking a hike in this area, I recommend The Pinnacle instead. It had much more vertical gain, but the trail was in vastly better shape, and I thought the vista was much more accessible (and just as beautiful!)

Adam Says…

We had attempted to do this Blackrock hike last year. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway but the fog was so heavy, we couldn’t even find the trailhead. We hunted around, but with so little visibility, we decided to try this another time.  This year, we had a much clearer morning and we were able to find the trailhead somewhat easily.The Blue Ridge Parkway has actually taken down the parking trailhead marker and it isn’t very well blazed (my guess is because of the danger).  But, we were able to see an opening in the trees and once we were about 25 yards into the woods, we soon came to a sign that we knew we were on the right path.

Christine described the overall hike well. While the elevation gain wasn’t crazy for much of the hike, the footing was fairly horrendous. The overall hike to Yellow Face was not too bad, but the view isn’t that impressive since it is getting sucked away from overgrown flora.  Once you arrive at the saddle, the footing gets very treacherous.

Blackrock Vista

It was mostly in the clouds, but the views opened enough to take in the mountain majesty. Below: Another photo Adam captured at the Black Rock Summit.

Another View

At one point, you climb in a three or four-point stance to go up a very steep terrain on the ridgeline. While we were expecting a nice view from here, it was only a bit of an overgrown one. The trail then takes a precipitous drop down a sheer rock area. Christine decided to stop before descending. I knew the view had to be just ahead, so I pushed forward but it was not something I felt very safe doing. I had to climb down the side of a rock, hanging on to handholds on the rock on the left of me while the width of my foot wasn’t able to fully fit on a step down the rock.  A wrong step here, means that you could easily fall about a hundred feet down to the right.  We didn’t get pictures of this area because it wasn’t safe. Once I got to the bottom, there was another treacherous climb back up where I had to hang onto roots and pull myself up. Once I got to the summit rock, there is also no easy way to get up.  I had to ultimately launch my body up like a wounded sea lion on to the rock and then pull the rest of my weight up with my upper body. Christine was very worried about me making it, so I texted her to let her know that I made it and took some photos, which reduced my heart rate a bit. The views from the summit were impressive, but I could see clouds moving in and it looked like rain was coming.  I texted Christine again to let her know I was leaving again, but that text never went through so my goal of easing her mind didn’t really help.

The Hike Back

We took more photos of the boulder section on the hike back. Below: Some scenes from the slippery, narrow ridge walk.

 Steep Steep

The hike back down and up was equally treacherous, but I was very glad to get reunited.  On our way back, we came across an older couple, who we warned to just turn back (they were planning on it).  We also came across a large group of naturalists (one was even walking the trail barefoot – crazy).  We warned them also, but they said they would likely not make it all the way there since, as one told us, they “get easily distracted by every plant they walk by”.  We were very glad when we got back to our car. While we thought this would have been a beautiful, fun hike, the danger really didn’t provide much enjoyment. So, if you attempt this hike, be very careful and feel free to turn around. I won’t be offended if you steal my pictures of the summit and say they were yours to show your family the summit.

Overgrown

Some more examples of trail overgrowth. Below: The memorial placque; One final blowdown before reaching the car!

Plaque Another Blowdown

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.5 miles
  • Elevation Change – 1800 ft
  • Difficulty – 4.5  While the climbing is never terribly strenuous, this hike is a series of constant ups and downs (some steep), punctuated by flat stretches. The trail isn’t in great shape, so this adds to the challenge factor you’ll experience on this hike.
  • Trail Conditions –  1.5.  The trail was quite overgrown and eroded.  The grass and bramble bushes were tall in sunny places.  The steeper parts of the trail were eroded with loose soil. There were also many blows to negotiate along the route.
  • Views –  5 – We visited on a day with lots of fog and moving clouds, but on clear days the views would be magnificent.  There are views to enjoy along the trail and at the vista.
  • Streams/Waterfalls –  0.  None
  • Wildlife – 1.  The trail was oddly devoid of animals – we heard a few birds, but we didn’t even see pedestrian wildlife like squirrels and chipmunks.
  • Ease to Navigate –  2.5.  There is only one trail to follow, but it is overgrown in many places.  Blowdowns may also take you off course.  There are relatively few blazes along the route.
  • Solitude – 2.  We saw a few people along the way (most turning around at Yellow Face), but generally this trail seems lightly traveled.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Blackrock Elevation

Click to View Larger Elevation Profile

Directions to trailhead:  Parking is along the shoulder of the Blue Ridge Parkway, coordinates: 35.45641, -83.14319

The Pinnacle (NC)

September 1, 2018

North Carolina Hikes

The Pinnacle is a 6.6 mile hike with a strenuous climb for the first two miles. Hikers are rewarded on a clear day with spectacular views from a rocky ridgeline and overlook point.

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Split Rock

Split Rock is a landmark just a half mile into the hike. Below: The information board at Pinnacle Park. Make sure you fill out a free permit card before beginning your hike; Trail options starting from Pinnacle Park;

Pinnacle Park Permits Pinnacle Trail Sign

Adam Says…

This hike has an incredibly generic name.  I can’t recall how many hikes we have been on with the name “Pinnacle” in the title.  The same can be said about “bald” (“bald knob”, “bald rock”, etc.), “buzzard” (“buzzard rock”, “buzzard roost”, etc.), “black rock”, and “devil” (“devil’s marbleyard”, “devil’s stairs”, “devil’s bathtub”, etc.).  While the hike name lacks originality, by using the word, “pinnacle”, hikers should expect great views and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Getting there caused us a bit of confusion because the directions we had seemed to want us to drive on private property.  However, we stayed on the main road and it soon came to a dead end at Pinnacle Park.  We parked and completed the permit form at the kiosk, which were quite damp since they were exposed to the elements.  Just past the kiosk was the trailhead that led through a gate.  As we were starting our hike, there was also a couple of women that were getting started as well.  They had backpacks to help carry their toddlers and they were taking the trail all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where they had dropped off another car. They said they were quite familiar with the trail. After we saw the steepness of the terrain, we were impressed with these young moms.

Pretty West Fork

The streams along this trail were incredibly scenic after LOTS of rain. Below: Adam hikes uphill in the fog and drizzle; Mountain Laurel were just starting to bloom; Another small waterfall and stream crossing.

Fog on the West Fork Trail Mountain Laurel Small Stream Crossing

The day started off foggy and incredibly humid from the recent rains, which made the footing a bit tricky for parts of the hike with either slippery rocks or muddy areas.  After going a short distance, you pass by a meadow and then reach a trail junction.  There are some shorter trails that break off to the right of the trail that some families take to get a short walk through the woods next to the stream.  We waited to confirm with the young moms, but our path led us steeply uphill to continue the hike.  As we hiked up, we passed Split Rock and we had several opportunities to get good views of the cascading stream on the left.  The hike had us breathing heavily due to the steepness of the terrain and the humidity made us work extra hard.

Around two miles, we reached the junction with the Pinnacle Trail taking off to the left.  The good news is that the hardest part of the climbing is done.  There is still more climbing to do on this spur trail, but it isn’t nearly as steep and some areas are quite flat.  This section had some places where the trail was under water or extremely muddy due to all the rain, but I’m guessing is damp during lots of the year.  After another 1.3 miles, the trail reaches the summit area.  As we were hiking, we didn’t see any hope of the sun coming out, but we at least thought we could have a nice hike in the woods.  Right before the summit, I decided to step off the trail a bit to urinate and as soon as I started, the sun came out.  Christine got a big laugh since she thought this act had summoned the sun to appear (if you run into the same situation, it is worth a shot).  So, we made a quick dash to the final summit area.  The clouds were still preventing us from getting remarkable views, but we could see some views as the clouds were rolling over the summit path.  We stopped here to eat a snack and take in the limited views.  As soon as we packed up to leave, the clouds completely covered in everything so we lucked out.  On our way back down, we ran into more hikers that were going up to the point.  We almost felt like we were running on the way back down and it amazed us how steep the terrain was in parts.

Hiking into the Clouds

Big clouds moved on an off the mountain throughout our hike.  Below: The trail junction for Blackrock and the Pinnacle; A lot of the trail to the Pinnacle was underwater; This beard-like moss was hanging on everything.

Trail Junction Water on the Trail Mossy

Christine Says…

This hike was quite an adventure and a good cardio-challenge! The trailhead is located in Pinnacle Park, which is an 1,100 acre plot of land owed by the town of Sylva, NC and maintained by the Pinnacle Park Foundation.  It used to provide the town’s watersource, but in the early 1990s it was put into conservation and opened for hiker access.  The park has several backcountry campsites for backpackers. They ask that both dayhikers and backpackers complete a free permit form before beginning their hike. Blank forms are available at the trailhead’s informational kiosk.

When we arrived at the park (which is essentially just the dead end of the road), we had humid, foggy, drizzly conditions. The whole area was under the unsettled outer arms of Tropical Storm Alberto, so the weather was extremely changeable during our visit.  We knew we had a big climb ahead of us, and really hoped the fog would clear off and let us have at least some views.  It always stinks to climb and climb and climb, and then not even get a view. But, that’s the thing about these mountains – even when the valley is sunny, peaks over 4500′ often stay in the clouds and mist. You just never know what your summit weather is going to be until you get there.

The Pinnacle

The Pinnacle is a cool crag with great views all around. Below: The view moved constantly in and out of the clouds; Looking down into the valley; Upon leaving the summit, we went back into the fog.

Moving Clouds Moving Clouds Back into the Fog

After passing a gate, the hike starts off immediately and relentlessly uphill. The first two miles of the hike follow what seems to be an old forest service or logging road.  It’s wide and covered with loose, round stones – a bit of an ankle-turner. In the first couple tenths of a mile, you’ll pass a stream with remnants of its history as a municipal water source.  There are gauges and concrete channels that are now being reclaimed by nature.  After that, you’ll make a wide switchback in a meadow.  There will be a trail that comes in from the left.  Stay to the right, climbing uphill, before eventually reaching a sign with trail mileage for the Pinnacle, Blackrock, and Waterrock Knob (on the Blue Ridge Parkway). Follow the trail toward Pinnacle.  At a half mile into the hike you’ll pass Split Rock – an enormous cracked boulder right along the trail. The crack is big enough for an adult to climb in.

Shortly after the Split Rock, we had our first stream crossing.  Even with the high water flow, all the stream crossings were safe and easy.  I think I remember there being three crossings in the first two miles of hiking.  The beauty of the stream along this trail is definitely something I’ll remember.  I’m sure the water is not normally as impressive, but when we visited it was gorgeous – rapids and little waterfalls everywhere!  Another thing I’ll remember from this hike is the CLIMBING!  The first two miles ascend nearly 2,000 feet before moderating on the Pinnacle spur trail.  It was definitely some of the steepest climbing we’ve done outside of New Hampshire. I guess the third memory from the hike is crossing paths with a Great Horned Owl!  It swooped across the trail. That was an enormous bird – for a minute, we thought it was an eagle because it was so much bigger than any owl or hawk we’d seen before.

Fallen Butterfly

This fallen butterfly still had perfect wings.  Below: There are five official campsites in this trail network; Blooming fire pink; A post hike stop at Innovation Brewing (after an excellent lunch at Haywood Smokehouse.)

Campsites Firepink Innovation Brewing

After climbing steeply for two miles, we were relieved to reach the junction with the Pinnacle Trail.  It was a traditional trail instead of a wide road.  It was very wet and muddy in a few places, but generally in good condition. It follows gentle rolling terrain for about a mile before a steep (but brief) descent into dense rhododendron.  On the other side of the rhododendron, the trail exits out onto a large rocky outcropping at just over 5,000′.  There are views (and precipitous drops) in every direction. We felt so lucky to have the clouds partially clear when we were at the viewpoint. What a gorgeous spot!

We spent some time enjoying the vista and a snack of trail mix before hiking back the way we came up.  Shortly after we left the view, the clouds rolled back around us and we were hiking in the fog again. The hike back went really quickly because it was all downhill! By the time we got to the bottom, it was full sun and blazing hot.  After packing up, we headed into Sylva for some barbecue at the Haywood Smokehouse (so amazing) and beers at Innovation Brewing.  These two places are both on my ‘must list’ for this area.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 6.6 miles
  • Elevation Change – 2,441 ft
  • Difficulty – 4.  The first two miles of climbing is relentless and steep.  You’ll gain 1000 feet for each mile.  Once you reach the junction with the Pinnacle Trail, the climb becomes moderate to flat.
  • Trail Conditions –  4.  The trail follows an old road grade for most of the way.  The footing is a bit challenging with lots of football-sized rocks, but overall the trail is in great shape!
  • Views –  5 – We visited on a day with lots of fog and moving clouds, but still had excellent views at the top.
  • Streams/Waterfalls –  4.  We visited after a time of extremely heavy rain, so the stream along the trail was simply spectacular.  There were many small waterfalls and cascades to enjoy. The stream rating is probably not this high most of the time.
  • Wildlife – 4.  We saw a great horned owl swoop across the trail. There were also salamanders, a snake, and many small mammals.
  • Ease to Navigate –  3.  The first couple tenths of a mile of this trail are a little confusing, but if you keep climbing uphill, you’ll eventually come to a directional sign.  After the directional sign, the trail is very clear and easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 3.  We saw just a few people out for the day.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Pinnacle Elevation

Click to View Larger Elevation Profile

Directions to trailhead:  Parking is at Pinnacle Park in Sylva, coordinates: 35.422738, -83.191188

Waonaze Peak

July 7, 2018

This four mile hike offers lots of hiker solitude and some nice obstructed views. The area is popular for dirt-bikes and ATV use, and while they have their own trail system, you may find engine noise distracting at times on this hike.

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Adam on the Massanutten Trail

Adam hikes the Massanutten Trail toward Waonaze Peak. Below: Park in the ATV lot at Edinburg Gap; Look for the orange-blazed Massanutten trail on the other side of 675; Mountain laurel was in full bloom when we did this hike.

Parking at Edinburg Gap Hike Starts Here Loads of Mountain Laurel

Christine Says…

Near the end of May, we met up with our friends, Tony and Linda, to do a little hiking near Edinburg along the Massanutten Trail.  Our original plan was to hike out to Opechee Peak, but the forecast had some pretty fierce thunderstorms, so we cut it short and did a four-mile out and back to Waonaze Peak.  I think both of those peaks have really interesting names for our area. I did a little research into the name origins (probably Algonquian), but didn’t find anything. I also wonder if Waonaze rhymes with mayonnaise. Hmmm…

Overall, the hike was pretty basic.  We started at the big ATV parking area at Edinburg Gap.  ATV trail users must pay a fee to ride the trails, but hiking is free.  There’s a informational kiosk at the parking lot that outlines the different trails in the area.  From the parking lot, we crossed the road and picked up the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail.  The trailhead is a little hidden in the trees, so look for blazes and a mileage sign to make sure you start in the right direction.

For the first mile, the trail meanders gradually uphill through dense stands of mountain laurel.  We were lucky enough to hike during the peak bloom, so it was especially beautiful.  At one mile in, we came to marked spring. Shortly after the spring, we passed a second trail mileage marker.  Funnily, it was identical to the marker at the Edinburg Gap crossing. The Bear Trap Trail was 2 miles away at Edinburg Gap and still two miles away at a little over a mile into the hike.  I guess sometimes trail signs should just be regarded as estimates!

Timber Rattler

We saw a big, fat timber rattlesnake along the trail.  Below: Trail signage was kind of funny. Even after we had come a mile, the distances on the signs had not changed.  Bear Trap Trail was two miles ahead at all times; We passed a spring with a broken sign warning people to treat the water before drinking; A full view of the rattlesnake.

Trail Signage Spring Rattlesnake

After the mileage sign, the  trail gets quite a bit rockier and steeper.  We saw a big timber rattlesnake basking in the sun.  This terrain is ideal for them, so be sure you’re on the lookout.  Timber rattlers are typically non-aggressive and reclusive. Basically, if you ignore them, they’ll ignore you. Someone once told me this quote about timber rattlers — “Timber rattlers are first cowards, then bluffers, and last of all warriors.” I’ve found this to be true with my encounters.

The steeper, rockier section of the hike makes several big switchbacks and passes several big boulder jumbles.  As you climb toward the high point of Waonaze Peak, the view toward Fort Valley and Kennedy Peak opens up.  The overlook itself is nice, but partly obstructed.  It would be much prettier in the winter when leaves are down.  After we reached the high point, the trail quickly begins to descend into a saddle between Waonaze and Opechee peaks.  We turned around at that point, but will tackle Opechee another day.

After the hike, we headed into Woodstock for beers and lunch at Woodstock Brewhouse — always a favorite!

Adam Says…

As Christine mentioned, this is a hike that we plan to do again and get all the way to Opechee.  Seeing that the summit views were a bit overgrown, our plan is to try this one again when it is cooler and leaves are mostly down.  We were the only hikers from this parking lot as this area is primarily used by ATVs on the trail systems nearby.  There were a few times that we could see the ATV riders through the trees (and more occasions that we could hear their engines).  When we started the hike, we had heard there were storms coming in the early afternoon. With the violent storms we have been getting over the summer, we didn’t want to risk doing too long of a hike on this day.

Waonaze Peak Views

The obstructed viewpoint near the top of Waonaze Peak. It would be better in the winter. Below: A rocky descent; The trail has lots of rocky footing and boulder jumbles; More pretty mountain laurel.

Descending from Waonaze Rocks along the Trail Beautiful Laurels

The first mile of the hike was uphill but not terribly tough in terms of elevation or footing.  The mountain laurel in full bloom made this a gorgeous early stretch of trail.  The second mile was a bit more windy and rocky with lots of loose stones, so watch your footing especially on the downhill.  Eventually, we came to an area of trail that gave us some obstructed views of Kennedy Peak.  We thought about calling this hike Kennedy “Peek”, since you get obstructed views but we thought that would be just too confusing.  Tony and Linda stopped at the overview here, but we decided to press on.  We were first trying to see if there were better views at the top of the hill, but then the trail took off away from the view and was leading us through the saddle towards Opechee.  Not wanting to leave our friends too long (and worried about clouds rolling in), we decided to turn back and make our descent.

Post hike refreshment

Post hike refreshment at Woodstock Brewhouse. It’s one of our favorite post-hike hangouts.

We caught up with our friends and then continued downhill.  I’m not a fan of any snakes, so I was especially cautious when we neared the area where the timber rattler had been spotted earlier.  He had moved on (making me a tad nervous looking around for other spots he could be hiding) and we didn’t see any other snakes on the way back.  When we got back to the cars, we then headed over to one of our favorite post-hike spots – Woodstock Brewhouse.  We always enjoy talking about our hikes over great food and beverages here.  While this peak didn’t lead to an amazing viewpoint, it was a good leg-stretcher that we had not explored before.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change –  1280 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.  It does have just a bit of uphill, but fairly easy if you take your time.
  • Trail Conditions –  3.  The trail isn’t well traveled, which makes it a little tougher on conditions.  There are some rocky, steep sections with loose rock on the trail.
  • Views –  2.  During the winter, it would probably rate higher.  The views of mountains and farms below is nice, but obstructed. 
  • Waterfalls/streams   0.  Non-existent.
  • Wildlife –  3.  We did see lots of small toads and saw the timber rattler.  My guess is that a lot of the bigger animals like bears and deer are scared away by the noise of nearby ATVs.  There were lots of pretty bird calls in the air.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5.  Once you find the trail, it is fairly easy to stay on course.  The signs showing that Bear Trap Trail is always two miles away was quite funny, so I don’t know how much you can trust these.
  • Solitude – 4.5.  The trail you should mostly have to yourself, but you will hear some ATVs early on in the hike on nice weekend days.

Download a trail map (PDF)

waonaze_elev

Click to View Larger Elevation Profile

Directions to trailhead: GPS Coordinates for this hike are 38.789125, -78.519384.  Look for the ATV/OHV parking area at Edinburg Gap. Cross Rt. 675 and look for the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail across the road from the parking lot.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.