Bear Church Rock – via Bootens Gap

This 10.2 mile hike to Bear Church Rock from Bootens Gap (on Skyline Drive) is a great alternative to the route that begins down in the valley at Graves Mill.  While this route doesn’t include the scenic Staunton River or the Jones Mountain Cabin, it crosses some of the deepest, least traveled parts of Shenandoah National Park.  And in the end, you reach the same great viewpoint.  While this route is a little longer than the alternative, it has less climbing and feels a little more moderate.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

View from Bear Church Rock
The view from Bear Church Rock reveals nothing but wilderness. The Staunton River flows through the valley below.  Below:  The hike begins on the AT northbound at Bootens Gap;  Christine passing large boulders on the Laurel Prong trail; Mountain laurel starting to bloom.

The AT at Bootens Gap Boulders on Laurel Prong TrailBoulders on Laurel Prong Trail Mountain Laurel Starting to Bloom

Adam Says…

Bear Church Rock really impressed us when we hiked it a few years ago, approaching it from Graves Mill.  However, we were thinking it would be nice to take a different route that would be more accessible from Skyline Drive.  This approach is a bit longer, but it has 400 fewer feet of elevation gain, making this an overall easier climb.

We started off from the Bootens Gap parking lot at Mile Marker 55 on Skyline Drive in the Central District of Shenandoah National Park.  We took the Appalachian Trail from the parking lot, heading north.  In .5 miles, we reached the junction with the Laurel Prong Trail.  We took a right to join this trail.  The Laurel Prong Trail ends up going through a relatively steep decline through a loose, rocky section.  The trail eventually bottoms out and you reach a junction with the Cat Knob Trail at 1.5 miles.  We took the Cat Knob Trail and began a steep incline.  The trail hits another junction with the Jones Mountain Trail at 2.2 miles.  Take a right on the Jones Mountain Trail.  At this point, the trail is relatively flat or downhill for most of the way to Bear Church Rock.  As you near your goal, you’ll see some pretty amazing standalone boulders along the trail. You will know you’re getting close to the viewpoint when the trail takes a sudden, precipitous downhill drop.  At 5.1 miles, you will reached an unmarked side trail that takes you up a about ten feet through the laurels onto a large rock outcrop with majestic, wilderness views.  Return the way you came to make this a 10.2 mile out-and-back.

Adam Hiking the Jones Mountain Trail
The Jones Mountain Trail traversed an expansive bed of lush, green ferns.  Below: Adam climbs Cat Knob – one of the few steep portions of the trail;  Park boundaries were well marked; One of many pink ladys slippers along the trail.

Climbing Cat Knob NPS Boundary Marking Pink Lady's Slipper

One thing to note on the trail is you do come across several times where the National Park crosses back and forth across boundary lines with the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area.  You may see some US Boundary markers in several places that marks the portion that is under National Park control versus Virginia control.

When we reached the highest point of the Cat Knob Trail, we found the largest concentration of pink lady slippers I have ever seen.  Everywhere we turned, we kept seeing more and more and they were at the peak of their bloom.  That was such a nice reward by coming this route.

Many Lady's Slippers
Usually photos of lady’s slippers are close-ups. This wider shot gives a better idea how these wildflowers are situated in the forest.  Below:  The portion of the trail outside the park is blazed differently;  The Rapidan Wildlife Management area; Adam makes the last final, steep descent to Bear Church Rock.

Blazes Wildlife Management Descent to Rock

Somewhere along the Jones Mountain Trail as we were making our approach to Bear Church Rock, my knee buckled and gave me a lot of pain for the rest of the day.  One hard part about hiking is if you get injured, you don’t have a lot of choice but to keep going.  I stopped about .25 mile before we reached the summit and rested.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it all the way.  Christine went ahead to scout the way and see how much further.  Not wanting to be separated too long, I pushed myself onward and found her at the rock overlook.  We stayed there to rest for a while and we had the rock all to ourselves.  We were joined in about 20 minutes from a man from China who had come up the route from Graves Mill.  He didn’t speak English and we heard him on his walkie-talkie talking to someone that we presumed to be his wife.  We were guessing she was farther behind and he was assuring her he made it.  The climb the other way is quite steep, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she had either turned around or was just taking longer to get to the rock.

The views were spectacular.  While we had a bit of a cloudy day, it was nice to see the shadows from the clouds creeping along the mountain ridges in the distance.

We decided to make our way back.  I felt like the time at the viewpoint allowed me to rest my knee enough to make the return trip. I was hobbling slowly, but I had to keep pushing forward.  We got back to the car and I was glad to not have to take any more steps.

Christine Says…

It was National Trails Day, the weather was great – and even though neither of us was in the mood to go on a long car ride to a distant trailhead, we had to get out and hike! We settled on the hike from Skyline Drive to Bear Church Rock – mostly because it was close to home, but also because we’d never hiked it before. A few years ago, we hiked from the valley bottom in Graves Mill up to Bear Church Rock. That was a challenging and beautiful hike, so we thought it would be fun to visit the rock from the other approach.

From the parking lot at Bootens Gap, we headed north on the Appalachian Trail, gradually ascending Hazeltop Mountain. I was amazed by how lush and green everything in the park looked. It almost looked as green as the Smokies! Our last hike in the park had been in late April, before the leaves fully emerged. Spring always take a long time to fully arrive in the mountains.

After a short, easy stretch on the AT, we reached the junction with the Laurel Prong Trail. We turned right onto the trail and followed it downhill, over many rock jumbles along the shoulder of the mountain. In a saddle between two mountains, we reached the junction with the Cat Knob Trail.

Taking in the View at Bear Church
Adam takes in the view at Bear Church Rock.  Below: You’ll pass these rock formations on the final descent to Bear Church;  The rocks were covered with blooming mountain laurel;  There were also lots of ripening blueberries.

Rock Formations Mountain Laurels Blueberries

That trail climbed steeply over Cat Knob before reaching the junction with the Jones Mountain Trail. The Jones Mountain trail bears to the right. This section of trail actually departs Shenandoah National Park and enters the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area. You’ll notice park boundary signs and different orange/red blazes (as opposed to Shenandoah’s blue blazes) when you’re on this part of the hike.

This section of trail is incredibly beautiful! We enjoyed the expansive understory of ferns and countless pink lady’s slippers. The mountain laurel was just starting to bloom. The terrain along the Jones Mountain trail was rolling – lots of ups and downs, none of them too steep.   This route to Bear Church is probably less popular than the route from Graves Mill, so the trail was narrow and overgrown. Tall grasses brushed our legs all along the way. Adam said, “All I can think of is ticks. I feel like I’m crawling with them!’ Luckily, the permethrin we’ve been using on our clothes and gear really seems to be working. Neither of us found any ticks during a thorough post-hike check.

Around 4.9 miles into the hike, the trail took an incredibly steep downward turn. We lost about 200 feet of elevation in just over a couple tenths of a mile. We passed a few rocky outcroppings that looked like they might potentially have views, but they all turned out to be obscured by trees. Watch carefully for the spur trail to Bear Church Rock. It’s not a marked spur, so one could easily miss it.

On the hike, Adam had begun to wonder if we passed the view or if maybe it had been closed in by trees. I told him that it was a really open, spectacular view and that it had to be nearby. I told him I’d scout ahead and shout back if I found it. I ended up walking almost another half mile before I reached the spur trail! The distances in our guidebook were way off on describing the last mile of the hike to the viewpoint. Other sources I checked afterwards all put the distance anywhere between 9.5 and 11 (rather than the 8.5 miles indicated by our book).

Lush Green
Everything was so abundant and green on this pretty June day.  Below: Adam makes the steep ascent on the return from Bear Church Rock.  Fortunately it is only this steep for a short time; Coming off Cat Knob; We spotted a doe and fawn in the understory.  The fawn was pretty well hidden.

Steep Climb Coming Off Cat Knob Doe

There was a large hiking group on the rock, so I felt weird about shouting for Adam. They told me they were headed out the way we came and would send Adam down when they passed him. But, just as the final hiker departed, Adam arrived.

We had lunch on the rock and enjoyed the unspoiled, pristine views of the park. One of the nice things about Bear Church is that you really don’t see civilization from the viewpoint. You get great views of Fork Mountain, Cat Knob and the Staunton River Valley – but no roads or houses or farms. It’s beautiful! The mountain laurel around the rocky viewpoint were in full bloom and quite spectacular!

After a nice rest, we hiked back the way we came. Most of the return trip was uphill, but other than a short section of climbing right after leaving Bear Church it was very moderate, gradual climbing. The last little bit along the AT was smooth downhill. We saw a doe and fawn hiding in the ferns right before we got back to the car. Once we were back in the car, we decided to head up to Big Meadows for blackberry milkshakes (yay!) and to say hello to our PATC friends. We were glad to catch up with the pair of PATC volunteers who led our Backpacking 101 course several years ago. Good day!

Trail Notes

  • Distance10.2 miles
  • Elevation Change – About 1800 feet
  • Difficulty – 4.  The climb down and back up are not overly tough, but the distance gives it an above average difficulty. 
  • Trail Conditions – 2.5.  The rocky slope climbing down the Laurel Prong trail did have some loose rock.  The Jones Mountain Trail was quite overgrown along the way and we were walking through a lot of knee-high grassy areas.  Wear bug spray and check for ticks afterwards.
  • Views– 5.  Great mountain views from Bear Church Rock. 
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 0.  Non-existent. 
  • Wildlife – 2.  We didn’t really see much wildlife on this trail.  We thought much of it would be a great place to spot a bear since it is in a very wide part of Shenandoah National Park and not as well-traveled. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.  You do take four different trails to get to Bear Church Rock, so pay attention at the junction markers.
  • Solitude – 3.  Most of the people we saw on the trail were on the Laurel Prong portion (typically making their way to the Rapidan Camp).  I would expect that you would see someone at Bear Church Rock.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  Follow Skyline Drive to mile marker 55.  Park at the Bootens Gap parking area on the east side of the drive.  The AT departs from the end of the parking lot.

Bear Church Rock – via Graves Mill

Bear Church Rock is a 8.5 mile hike that leads to gorgeous, mountain views.  The hike passes alongside two rivers, waterfalls, and a PATC cabin. You can also reach this beautiful overlook from Skyline Drive (Bootens Gap).

Taking in the View From Bear Church Rock
Adam enjoys the view from Bear Church Rock. Below: The tall, straight trees along the Staunton River trail were very beautiful; Azalea blooming near the top of Jones Mountain; The last push to the rock almost killed Adam.

Beautiful, Tall Straight Trees on the Staunton River Trail Blooming Azalea Adam Almost Died

Adam Says…

Bear Church Rock is a hike that has it all – nice trail alongside a stream, a few small waterfalls, a visit to a PATC cabin, and a great view at the top.  The views are completely of mountains with rarely a sign of civilization.  I always feel like I am truly getting away when I don’t have to see houses or roads dotted across the landscape.  You can easily see Fork Mountain and Doubletop Mountain nearby, but past that ridge, you can also get glimpses of the ridge that makes up Skyline Drive.

The hike starts off on the Graves Mill Trail, which is a flat walk that runs along the Rapidan River.  At .5 miles, you reach a junction with the Staunton River Trail.  Take a left at the junction to follow the Staunton River Trail, which runs along the Staunton River.  Shortly after you join the trail, you will come across a beaver dam on the river and you’ll notice several stumps of trees that have been gnawed by beavers.  At 1.1 miles, you will see a small waterfall leading into a small pool off the trail that is worth a stop.  At 1.8 miles, you will see on the left side of the trail some piles of stone and on the right you’ll be able to see another small waterfall through the trees.  At 2.7 miles, you reach the junction with the Jones Mountain Trail.  Take a left on this trail.  The trail becomes very steep at this point and will remain so until you reach the top.  At 3.1 miles, you reach the junction with the McDaniel Hollow trail.  Take a left here to follow the Jones Mountain Trail.  At mile 3.4, you reach a junction that leads to the available-to-rent PATC cabin.  If you stay relatively straight on the trail, it leads to the PATC Jones Mountain Cabin.  We took this trail which starts off flat, but then descends rather steeply.  After visiting the cabin, return to reach the junction with the Jones Mountain Trail and head up the steep incline until you reach Bear Church Rock.  Continue back the way you came, but your return trip will be shorter if you have already visited the Jones Mountain Cabin.  The total trip should be 8.5 miles.

You could also approach this hike from Skyline Drive for a longer hike, following the Laurel Prong Trail to Cat Knob Trail to Jones Mountain Trail.  My guess is it would be about a 10 to 12-mile round-trip to approach it from that direction.

Start of the Staunton River Trail
Adam pauses to look at distances marked on the Staunton River trail sign. Below: Parking for this hike is at Graves Mill; The lovely Rapidan River; Trillium were still blooming along the trail, but were nearing the end of their peak.

Graves Mill Sign The Rapidan River Trillium

On our way up the Jones Mountain Trail, we ran into a few PATC volunteers that were working on maintaining the trail.  Some PATC members volunteer to help maintain the trails that run through Shenandoah National Park, the Appalachian Trail, and other regional trails.  One of the workers has been working on improving this trail for the last five years.  At the time that we saw them, they were working on building in some water bars through the trail that helps pull the water off the trail to prevent erosion.   They were digging drainage ditches, placing some dead black locust tree logs across the trail they had cut, refilling with dirt, and then mounding the dirt in a way that it was unnoticeable to hikers.  We learned that the black locust trees were great trail logs because they don’t rot.  We thanked them for helping to improve the trails and we plan on getting in touch with them to help them some weekend in the future.  We both feel that as much as we enjoy hiking, it would be nice to give back.

First Waterfall on Staunton River Trail
This was the first of many small waterfalls we saw along the Staunton River trail. Below: Another waterfall; There were many remnants of stone walls and stone structures in the woods along the trail; Adam stops to consult the map at the junction of the Staunton River and Jones Mountain trails.

Another Small Waterfall on the Staunton River Trail Old Stone Wall in Shenandoah Junction of Staunton River and Jones Mountain Trails

At one moment when we were hiking up the Jones Mountain Trail, I decided to take a break from the climb and sat on a log on the side of the trail.  As I was relaxing, a piece of the log broke off, causing me to hit myself in the head with one of my trekking poles.  I felt like I was in the Subway commercial of fat people breaking things.  Embarrassing, but funny.

This was our first time hiking this trail, but Christine and I both think this is one of the best trails in Shenandoah National Park.  If you can handle the distance and the steep climb, this should be on your “must” list.  For further reading about this area, check out Lost Trails and Forgotten People: The Story of Jones Mountain.  I think I would like to pick up a copy and learn more about this area, since it was such an amazing hike.

Christine Says…

Another weekend, another backpacking trip cancelled due to rainy weather – what can I say?  When you’re a fair-weather backpacker, lots of spring trips end up delayed.  We were pretty glad we postponed again, because the thunderstorms that passed through overnight on Saturday were pretty fierce and torrential.  I would not have enjoyed being in our tent during those winds and rains!  Fortunately, Sunday morning dawned dry, but foggy with a forecast of dissipating clouds followed by brilliant sunshine.  We decided to tackle the 8.5 mile route up Jones Mountain to Bear Church Rock.  It’s a hike we’ve been meaning to do, especially after seeing it covered by PATC – Charlottesville Chapter and Hiking Upward.

The hike vastly exceeded my already high expectations. I had the BEST time! Without a doubt, this hike has cracked my top-five list of hikes in Shenandoah National Park (along with Riprap, Mary’s Rock from Pinnacles, Rapidan Camp and the Rose River Loop).  This hike had it all – gorgeous river scenery, waterfalls, fantastic trail conditions, a rustic cabin, spectacular views and plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife.

Beaver Dam on the Staunton River
We saw this impressive beaver dam on the Staunton River. There were lots of gnawed trees (inset) around the water. Below: Showy Orchis is a common wildflower seen blooming along the trail; Everything was so lush and green; You may notice Adam’s pants tucked into his socks to avoid ticks. Ticks are out in force this year!

Wildflowers Along the Trail Beautiful Spring Trail Downhill Hike

We started out around 10:00 a.m. from the Graves Mill parking area.  The lot is small; with room for about 8-12 cars at most.  It was already mostly full when we arrived.  The hike starts off on the Graves Mill trail – a flat section of trail running parallel to the Rapidan River.  Within a half mile, the Graves Mill trail meets the Staunton River trail.  This trail is a gentle uphill grade, following within sight or earshot of the water.  One of the first interesting things we passed was a series of several beaver dams spanning the river.  I don’t know if they’re active dams or long abandoned.  We saw plenty of gnawed tree stumps, but no sign of beavers or any fresh activity.  A little further upstream, we passed the first of a series of small waterfalls.  All of the falls and cascades along the Staunton River are beautiful!  If you’re a photographer and like shooting long exposures on moving water, this river is a goldmine.  I’d love to return on an overcast day after there has been plenty of rain.  I think this trail would also be popular with people in search of the perfect summertime swimming hole.  There were so many deep, quiet pools between the faster moving cascades.

After about a mile and a half along the Staunton River trail, we reached the junction with the Jones Mountain trail.  Adam took a brief break at this point to consult the map. We quickly figured out that we were about to start climbing.  Overall, the path to Bear Church Rock requires about 2200 feet of elevation gain.

PATC Work Crew
PATC volunteers have been working on the trails in this area for over five years, spending 1000+ hours of their time.

After just a few minutes of walking, we heard voices and the sound of tools coming through the woods.  Shortly later, our paths crossed with a PATC trail crew hard at work installing water bars.  We learned from the crew that they’ve done over 1000 hours of work on this particular section of trail over the past five years.  No wonder the trail is in such magnificent shape.  Everyone who hikes in Shenandoah and enjoys the fantastic trail conditions owes a debt of gratitude to volunteer trail workers.  They do mind-boggling amounts of backbreaking labor to make the trails nice for everyone else.

After chatting with the trail crew for a few minutes, a couple came down the trail.  They mentioned that they had seen a bear with two tiny cubs just a few minutes earlier.  We were excited and hopeful that we might spot them too.  Unfortunately, we weren’t that lucky!

Eventually we reached a ‘Y’ in the trail, with one arm leading .3 of a mile down to the Jones Mountain cabin and the other arm leading a half mile up to Bear Church Rock.  We decided to visit the cabin first, and then enjoy lunch atop Bear Church.

The trail to the cabin led rather sharply downhill, first passing through an ancient, gnarled stand of mountain laurel.  The curly branches practically formed a tunnel over the trail.  All along the final descent to the cabin were stacks of firewood – also courtesy of PATC trail crews.  Apparently, there is a significant problem with cabin renter chopping down live trees near the cabin to use as firewood.  I find that SHOCKING!  What is wrong with people?  Who goes to a National Park… and chops down living trees (especially when deadfall is so abundant in the park)?

The Jones Mountain Cabin
The Jones Mountain cabin sits in a peaceful opening in the woods. Below: Christine walks through a tunnel of ancient mountain laurel on the path down to the cabin; Christine has new hiking shoes – Montrail Mountain Masochists (very comfy!); Christine enjoys the wilderness views from the rock.

Christine Hikes Through Old Mountain Laurel Love My New Montrails Christine On Bear Church Rock

After rounding a final bend, the roof of the cabin comes into view.  The Jones Mountain cabin is adorable – two stories with a big front porch.  We peeked in through an opening in the shutters and saw a big fireplace, a rustic wooden dining table and a sunny loft on the top level.  A privy and a spring are both located near the cabin.  What a great place to hike in and camp for a couple nights!

We didn’t stay long at the cabin because we were hungry for lunch and wanted to enjoy Bear Church Rock before any other hikers arrived.  The climb back up to the trail junction was pretty steep, but didn’t take too long.

The toughest climbing of the day came along the final push up to the rock.  After a few switchbacks, the trail went straight up the mountainside.  At the top, a little unmarked (but highly visible) path cuts through the vegetation onto a large rocky outcropping.  The trail continues past the little spur trail to the rocks, so don’t miss it!  If you continued along the trail, you’d eventually come to trails in the vicinity of Camp Hoover.

The view from Bear Church Rock is fantastic!  Instead of looking down into a valley full of roads, farms and small towns, you look down into wilderness.  You see nothing but trees and a line where the river cuts through the forest.  If you have a map, you can identify some of Shenandoah’s other peaks from this spot.  We hit this spot on a perfect spring day.  We had bluebird skies with only occasional puffy clouds.  The progression of spring was evident in the mountains – vibrant green climbing its way up toward the still barren mountain tops.  We enjoyed our lunch and relaxing in the sunshine.

Spectacular View from Bear Church Rock
Just some more beauty shots from atop Bear Church Rock.

Christine on Bear Church The Rock Continues Adam and Hiking Gear on Bear Church

The hike back down went quickly – with a descent so steep it was easier to run than to walk! We made the return trip to the car in about half the time it took us to climb up.  In the end, the entire hike took us about four hours, including stops at the cabin and half an hour for lunch.

Bear Church Rock is definitely worth doing!  What a beautiful day!

Trail Notes

  • Distance8.5 miles
  • Elevation Change – 2210 feet
  • Difficulty – 4.  The parts near the Rapidan and Staunton Rivers are very flat, but the uphill climbs are very steep.
  • Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is wide during much of the trail where you could even walk side-by-side with someone if you wanted.  The trails are well-maintained thanks to our PATC volunteers and it is not very rocky through most of the hike.
  • Views– 4. The view from Bear Church Rock is amazing.  It’s not a 360-degree view, but you can see mountains for miles and little sign of civilization.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 4.5.  The rivers are nice to walk alongside.  You also have a beaver dam and a few small waterfalls on this trail.
  • Wildlife – 4.  We saw some snakes by the river and on the trail.  We saw deer by the Jones Mountain Cabin.  People coming down the trail when we were coming up had just seen a mama bear with two cubs.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  While the trail does have a few turns, it is well marked with concrete posts to help give you direction.
  • Solitude – 3.5.  We had the view to ourselves by going early in the day, but this is a fairly popular hike.

Directions to trailhead:  From Route 230 near Wolftown, VA turn on to Route 662.  Continue to follow the signs for 662.  In about 6 miles until 662 ends at a parking lot.  The trailhead is visible from the parking lot.

Knob Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop

The Knob Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop takes hikers along a 12.4 mile route through one of Shenandoah’s most popular backcountry camping areas.  This hike could be done as a long dayhike, but the campsites in the area are too inviting to pass up.

Pool on Jeremys Run
The Knob Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop offers beautiful stream scenery. Below: Mountain vistas can be seen along the descent on the Knob Mountain Trail; Blue Blazes mark the way across streams on the Jeremy’s Run Trail; Adam negotiates one of the many stream crossings.

View from the Knob Mountain Trail Water Crossing Adam Crossing the Stream

Adam Says…

Since the weather looked like it was going to be a cooler, we decided to take off and go on an overnight backpacking trip.  Our first overnight trip was the Hazel Mountain-Catlett Mountain trail which we did with a group from the PATC.  This trip was our first non-group outing, so we felt it would be a good chance to put into practice what we learned from our Backpacking 101 course.

To do this trail as a loop, leave from the Elkwallow picnic grounds.  You will see the entrance to the trail next to the pit toilet, which provides a last chance to “take care of business” before embarking on the hike.  You will begin the trail on a short spur trail to the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.  Turn left on the AT.  In .2 miles, you will reach the junction with the blue-blazed Jeremy’s Run Trail.  Continue straight on the Jeremy’s Run Trail.  Around 1.2 miles, you will reach the junction with the Knob Mountain Connector Trail.  Take a right at the post to join this trail.  As soon as you cross Jeremy’s Run with a little rock-hopping, you will begin this steep connector trail.   There are lots of switchbacks and this is definitely the steepest part of the entire trip.  Around 1.7 miles, you will reach a junction with the yellow-blazed Knob Mountain Trail.  Take a left at the trail junction and continue to follow this slowly ascending ridge trail.  We would probably name this portion of the loop the Bear Scat Boulevard, because there was a ton of bear evidence in the area.  You will see a few views through the trees, but nothing remarkable from the trail.  At mile 3.9 you will reach the summit of Knob Mountain, marked by a concrete post.  After the summit, you will begin your steep descent down the mountain.  This is broken up by several switchbacks.  The trail does open up at times to give you views of mountains along the way, including Strickler Knob and the Three Sisters.  At 6.8 miles, you will cross Jeremy’s Run and reach the junction with the blue-blazed Jeremy’s Run Trail.  Since we were fairly exhausted from our trip, we picked a campsite near the junction of the trail, which gave us great access to water.  From the junction, you just continue on the Jeremy’s Run Trail until you reach the parking lot, crossing over Jeremy’s Run fourteen times.   In some areas, it was necessary to rock hop across, but most of the time the traversing was quite easy.  I imagine during heavy rain seasons, this would be more of a challenge.

Filling Out Paperwork for a Backcountry Permit
The overnight trip started with a brief stop to fill out paperwork for our backcountry permit. Below:  Adam makes his way down the Jeremy’s Run Trail; Snacks on the Knob Mountain summit; A view through the trees from the Knob Mountain Trail.

Adam Hiking Snacks on the Knob Mountain Summit Views from Knob Mountain Trail

Jeremy’s Run truly provided a great opportunity for camping in the backcountry.  We saw several previously-used campsite areas, so we decided to use our Leave No Trace principles and use an existing campsite rather than creating our own.   The campsite was short walking distance to a reliable water source.  After starting our trip around 9:30AM, we arrived at camp around 1:00PM.  We were very hungry, so Christine worked on getting some lunch together and I began working on getting our tent set.  The ground was very hard and rocky, so it took an effort to find a good place to get stakes into the ground.  After lunch, we finished getting our sleeping pads/bags ready, hung our bear-bag rope, and prepared our kitchen area.  We got some water to use for the trip at the nearby stream and I dug a few preemptive catholes.  With every thing set, we decided to relax a little in our tents to stretch out our backs.  I like to bring a book along the trip so we took turns reading aloud a few chapters from A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt, an entertaining read about hiking the Appalachian Trail.  We took a short nap and then played a few hands of the Monopoly card game we also brought.  We then broke in our new JetBoil and prepared a great dinner.  After cleaning up dishes, we went down to a place along Jeremy’s Run and stretched out on a large rock.   We watched several brook trout jump out of the water, catching mosquitoes that were lightly dancing on top of the water.  We retired to our tents to the sweet chorus of whippoorwills and the “who cooks for you” hoots of nearby barred owls.

Neighbor Mountain
On the hike down from the summit of Knob Mountain, hikers get a few decent views of adjacent Neighbor Mountain. Below: A scenic spot on Jeremy’s Run; Our campsite.

Jeremy's Run Camp

There were so many things I enjoyed about our trip.  We saw tons of wildlife – three black bears, a wild turkey, scarlet tanagers in glorious color, and heard lots of birds at night.  The temperature was perfect and the bugs were not out as much as we expected.  The trip also helped affirm our ability to handle a backpacking trip by ourselves. I think we really learned a lot of great skills in the last few months to help us feel well-prepared.   I was a little more apprehensive wondering if we could handle the 12+ mile hike with 35 pounds on my back, since our previous trip was about 8 miles total with a little less weight each.  The hike was more strenuous the first day, but we were able to complete the hike without much trouble.  I think we’re both looking forward to going on another backpacking trip, but we are now getting into the hot summer months.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a cooler weekend in the near future.

Christine Says…

When Mother Nature gives you the gift of a sunny, dry, 70-degree day in the midst of a long string of 90+ degree scorchers, you must take advantage of that gift!  We chose to make the most of the pleasant weather and go on an overnight backpacking trip.  One of the leaders on our last trip recommended Jeremy’s Run as one of his favorite places in the park.  As dayhikers (until recently), the Jeremy’s Run hike had always been a little out of reach.  At 12.4 miles with well over 2,500 feet of elevation gain, it was always more than we were willing to tackle on a day hike.  It seemed like a perfect candidate for this little weekend getaway.

After filling out all the requisite paperwork, we set out from the Elkwallow Picnic Area along the Appalachian Trail.  Right away, I was struck by how much heavier my pack was compared to our last trip.  On that trip, we had seven people to split the weight of group gear.  But this time, we had to carry our own stove, fuel, collapsible bucket, water filter, food and rope.  I also chose to carry my old dSLR camera, a couple card games, extra batteries, a fleece and my iPod.  In the end, my pack weighed in about nine pound heavier than our last outing.

I brought my iPod along this time for a couple reasons 1) I wanted to be able to listen to my “workout mix” when climbing a couple of the big hills on the route and 2) my iPod is loaded with audio books, which I thought would be pleasant to listen to after sunset in the tent.  The first big hill we hit was on the Knob Mountain Cut-Off Trail.  It was really steep, so I put in my earbuds and started chugging up the hill.  Listening to mindless pop music with a beat – anything from Tupac to Lady Gaga to Gnarls Barkley – makes climbing hills so much less painful.  I had worked up a pretty good rhythm, listening to the early 90’s party song, “Rump Shaker”, when I rounded a curve a spotted two black bears about 50 yards up the hill.  I’m not sure if they were a mom and a yearling or two adults.  We looked at them, they looked at us, then they quickly decided to leave the area.  I didn’t have time to free myself from my trekking poles and iPod cord to get a photo, but it was still a great treat to see the bears. Backpacking seems to involve an inordinate number of straps and buckles.  Sometimes, it makes me feel like a horse pulling a cart.

Christine On the Rocks
After camp was set up, Christine spent some time relaxing on the rocks in Jeremy’s Run. Below:  Adam collects water in a collapsible bucket to use for cooking later; Crocs and Socks – they might not be high fashion, but they’re functional; Playing Monopoly at camp.

Collecting Water Crocs and Socks Cards

After the cut-off trail met the Knob Mountain Trail, the tough climbing was over for the day.  I listened to my iPod a bit more, but eventually put it away in favor of listening to the birds and the breeze in the trees.  We took a snack break on the top of Knob Mountain.  There weren’t any views at the summit – just shade and a ton of poison ivy.  It felt really good to throw the pack off for a while and have a good stretch.  I could really feel the heavier pack weight bruising my hip bones.

The walk from the summit to Jeremy’s Run was all downhill.  The woods along the trail are pretty and occasionally open to views of the valley below.  You also get nice views of Neighbor Mountain, which lies parallel to Knob Mountain.  Another slightly longer loop hike option approaches Jeremy’s Run from Neighbor Mountain.

The downhill walk lasted a little over 3 miles.  We soon arrived at the stream, where the Knob Mountain Trail converges with both the Neighbor Mountain and Jeremy’s Run Trails.  We crossed the stream a couple times and decided it was high time to find a campsite.  We were both completely knackered after walking about 7 miles with our packs.  I honestly don’t know how thru-hikers cover 20-30 miles a day with even heavier packs.  I’m convinced I wouldn’t last a week!

We found a beautiful place for camp under the shade of pines and hardwoods.  It was clearly a place others have camped before.  Stones were arranged like seats in a semi-circle in one of the clearings.  It was also about 30 yards from a gorgeous spot along Jeremy’s Run – so we had great access to water.

We designated separate sleeping and kitchen areas right away.  Adam pitched the tent while I fixed lunch.  I made Buffalo Chicken Wraps – which were delicious. We found a place for our bear hang and dug a couple catholes for future use.  With camp all set up, we settled into our tent for a nap.

Post-nap, we collected water for cooking in our collapsible bucket.   On our water run, we also took some time to stretch out and lounge on one of enormous boulders in the middle of the stream.  The sky above was so blue and it was very soothing to watch the trees swaying above in the breeze. I actually tried out my Crocs again, and found them more comfortable, albeit considerably dorkier, with socks.  I may keep them as my camp shoes after all.

Filtering Water for Dinner
We filtered water for our dessert and boiled water for our entree. Below:  We had Pad Thai for dinner; Dark Chocolate Cheesecake for dessert.

Pad Thai Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

Around 5:30, we started getting things together for dinner.  Because this trip was rather impromptu, we brought pre-packaged dehydrated meals instead of taking the time to make homemade food.  But it was still delicious.  The Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai was filling and tasty.  It had a yummy, spicy peanut sauce with noodles and vegetables.  For dessert, we ended up having Dark Chocolate Cheesecake (instead of Tiramisu, as originally planned).  It was really tasty, too!  I was stuffed from dinner, so we decided to take a short walk down to a deep pool I had seen along the trail a way back.  We sat on a rock and just enjoyed the quiet of the evening.

It got dark quickly down in the hollow, so we retired to our tent a little before nine.  I listened to a book on my iPod and Adam read.  I started to doze off well before 10:00.  All through the night, I could hear a couple barred owls hooting, over and over and over again.  Pretty soon, a whippoorwill joined in and sang through almost the entire night.  I haven’t heard a whippoorwill since I was a child, so it delighted me to hear the song in the night again.  I slept pretty soundly, until the roar of a train whistle woke me up around 2:00 in the morning.  I could hear the wheels on the track so clearly; it seemed like the train was rolling through camp.  I guess some distant sounds really carry on the quiet night air.  When I awoke, I found I was drenched with sweat in my sleeping bag.  It was in the mid-50’s outside, so the down bag was a bit too warm.  However, if I slept outside my bag, I got cold quickly.  I want to get a blanket and sheet for my sleeping pad to make summer camping more comfortable.  Despite being hot or cold, I eventually fell back to sleep and stayed so until 6:30 a.m.

I got up before Adam and got the bear bag down, so I could start breakfast.  We ended up leaving the bacon home because we didn’t want to carry a pan.  Instead we had oatmeal, boxes of apple juice and hot chocolate.  It was a satisfying breakfast on the cool morning.

Bear on the Appalachian Trail
We saw three bears, including one on the Appalachian Trail.  Below: Another scenic pool on Jeremy’s Run; We encountered this loose dog on the trail (one of many).  He apparently lives on the border of the park and runs the trail often.;  Rocks in the stream bed were covered with moss.

Pool on Jeremys Run Loose Dog Mossy Rocks

We broke camp down quickly and were back on the trail around 8:00.  The second day of hiking was substantially shorter and easier than the first day.  With about 5.5 miles to cover, we knew we’d be back at the car by mid-morning.

The trail climbs ever so gradually along Jeremy’s Run.  We passed lots of fantastic campsites along the stream.  It’s no wonder this area is so popular with backpackers!  We crossed the stream 14 times over the course of the morning. Because of all the dry weather we’ve had lately, none of the crossings were challenging at all.  Most of them were bone dry, and the ones with water were still easily rock-hopped.

We took a snack break where the Jeremy’s Run trail crosses the Knob Mountain Cut-Off.  From this point, the trail follows the same route as we’d used hiking out the day before.  The grade becomes steeper for the last mile and eventually meets back up with the Appalachian Trail.  For this section, I put my iPod back on again to help endure the uphill.  “Rump Shaker” came up in the shuffle again, and after the first few moments, I spotted another bear.  There must be something about that song that conjures bears!  I did manage to get a few distant photos of this bear before he disappeared deeper into the woods.

About ten minutes later, we were back at our car and on our way.  We stopped by the Elkwallow wayside, where I rinsed my face and used  a flushing toilet!  Plumbing is so exciting after being without it.  On our way home, we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch.  Coke and salty French fries taste absolutely amazing after a long hike.  As luck would have it, their credit card machine was broken and they gave us our lunch for free!  It was a fitting bonus for a perfect trip.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 12.4 miles
  • Elevation Change – 2600 ft
  • Difficulty – 3. If you were going to do this in one day without stopping, I would up the difficulty slightly due to the length.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5. The trail was very well-maintained.  We saw evidence that the Knob Mountain trail had been cut back, but I can imagine in late spring, much of the trail could have some overgrown areas.  The ground was well-traveled and there were only a few rocky spots around the streams.
  • Views1.5. The best chance of views are on the descent from the Knob Mountain summit down to Jeremy’s Run.  After leaves fall, this may be slightly better.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 3.5. You do get lots of chances to cross Jeremy’s Run.  There was only a small fall near the base.  If you want to photograph streams, you should have plenty of opportunities.  You’ll also have a reliable water source.
  • Wildlife – 4. We saw black bears, a turkey, and scarlet tanagers; we heard whippoorwills and barred owls at night.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4. The trails are well-marked and just stick to the signs on the cement posts.
  • Solitude –3. This is a popular spot for backpacking and trail running.  However, we felt that we were able to find our own peace in the woods.  We also came across a dog that belongs to a nearby family that evidently roams the trails frequently, so we had a companion during part of the hike up from Jeremy’s Run.

Directions to trailhead:

Located in the northern section of Shenandoah National Park.  Park at the Elkwallow Gap picnic grounds around mile 24.3 of Skyline Drive.  The Jeremy’s Run trail begins next to the pit toilet at the parking lot.

Riprap Trail

This 9.8 mile circuit hike offers all the best of Shenandoah – panoramic views,  bubbling streams, a swimming hole and even a nice final stretch along the Appalachian Trail.  It comes close to our 10 mile limit for a day hike, but it’s definitely well worth the effort.

Chimney Rock View
The view from Chimney Rock is very pretty on a clear day.

Christine Says…

The Riprap trail has long been on my list of hikes to tackle in Shenandoah National Park.  Last Friday, we finally got around to it. I have to admit, the nearly ten-mile length and over 2,300 feet of elevation gain intimidated me just a little. The hikes we’ve completed that are close to that length (i.e. McAfee Knob or Mount Rogers) both have substantially less elevation gain. But, we had a free day and beautiful weather, so we decided to go for it. I’m so glad we went because the scenery on this trail showcased everything I love about Shenandoah. And, honestly… hiking 9.8 miles really wasn’t that hard.

We started the hike from the Riprap parking area at mile marker 90. We turned right at the end of the parking lot and followed the Appalachian Trail uphill for about a third of a mile. At the intersection with the Riprap trail, we turned left. The trail went alternately downhill and uphill for about three-quarters of a mile. We passed around a talus slope and came out to a viewpoint near Calvary Rocks. This was a great place to pause and take in the panoramic scene of the valley below. About a third of a mile downhill past Calvary Rocks, we arrived at Chimney Rock. I found this to be the prettier of the two views – but they were both very nice. The trail was especially pretty in late May because of all the blooming mountain laurel, wild azaleas and rhododendron. There were some sections that were so lush, I felt like I was walking through a tunnel of flowers.

Wild Azaleas, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel
Wild Azaleas, Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel.  Below: The view near Calvary Rocks; Adam taking in the view from Chimney Rock.

View Near Calvary Rock Adam Takes in the Chimney Rock View

From Chimney Rock, the trail follows a ridge for a while, with many nice views between the trees. There is still quite a bit of evidence of forest fire damage from the late 1990’s in this area. The mountainside is still rather barren and charred stumps are visible. Slowly, the trail descends into Cold Springs Hollow. We passed through some of the densest mountain laurel along this section. We saw and heard so many beautiful birds – everything from American Redstarts to Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks.

Near the bottom of the hollow, we started to pick up the stream. It started off as a trickle, gaining volume and speed as we climbed continually downward. There were a few small, unremarkable waterfalls in the gorge, but we didn’t stop walking until the first stream crossing. Adam and I sat on a couple big boulders in the middle of the stream and ate a few handfuls of trail mix.

Swimming Hole with Fish and Rhododendron Reflection
The swimming hole displayed beautiful rhododendron reflections and was full of brook trout. Below: The trout were hard to photograph through the water, but you get the point.

Brook Trout

We stopped again just a couple tenths of a mile later at my very favorite spot along the trail – a wide, green swimming hole shaded by the forest canopy. We sat along the pool for a long while. We watched colorful brook trout lolling in the water. Every now and then, one would splash up and break the quiet surface of the water. The water was so clear. We could see reflections of the rhododendron on the surface and big, round stones at the bottom of the pool. The spot is made even more beautiful by the gentle slide waterfall that cascades down and fills the pool.

After leaving the pool, we had almost about three-quarters of a mile of level walking and a couple more stream crossings. A post marks the intersection with the Wildcat Ridge Trail. We turned left, and enjoyed our last little bit of flat walking for a while. We decided to stop and eat lunch before the big uphill climb began. We had ham and cheese on crackers, chips and some candy – perfect to give us lots of energy!

Climbing along Wildcat Ridge is a steady uphill for almost three miles, but the grade is generally moderate. There were several more decent views through the trees along this section of trail. And of course, more mountain laurel! I think I must have said “This is SO PRETTY!” to Adam a dozen times as we walked through the flowers. This section is where we saw our only other hikers of the day – a young couple hiking the loop in the opposite direction. We got to the junction with the Appalachian Trail faster than we thought we would. We were anticipating another .7 miles of uphill climbing when we reached the marker post. It’s always such a pleasant surprise when an uphill climb ends earlier than you thought it would.

Adam on the AT
Adam and I both enjoyed the more level terrain along the Appalachian Trail.

We took a left onto the AT for the final 2.8 miles of the hike. This section was typical Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah – rolling hills, nothing too steep. We saw a brief glimpse of a bear diving into the mountain laurel about a mile into this stretch. After about an hour of walking on the AT, we arrived back at our car. My feet were a little sore and tired, but other than that I still felt pretty energetic. Riprap now claims the spot for the longest hike I’ve ever done in a day! The 9.8 mile circuit took us just under six hours – including our very frequent snack and photography stops. On the way home, we stopped and rewarded ourselves with Lime Cream Slushes from Sonic – my favorite post-hike treat.

Adam Says…

This may also be the longest hike I have done but it was well worth it!  This hike really does have it all and we hit it at a great time of year.  The mountain laurel and rhododendron were at peak on this trail and we often felt like we were in some type of fantasy land while being surrounded by pink flowers.

The views from Calvary Rocks and Chimney Rock give you some great 180 degree views to the north of the mountains.  I was a little worried that the payoff for this hike was going to be over in the first couple of miles of the hike, but I was glad to be wrong.  After we continued the descent from Chimney Rock, there were still some open views along the way.  Once we reached the bottom of Cold Springs Hollow, we saw a glimpse of a waterfall along the way.  Shortly after the falls and after crossing the stream you come to the beautiful swimming hole that Christine mentioned above.  This was a great spot to relax and enjoy seeing the fish, or you could take a quick, refreshing dip.

View Along the Riprap Ridge
View Along the Riprap Ridge. Below:  The swimming hole is such a beautiful place – even though we constantly had to bat the bugs away.  Note the slide falls coming down to the pool.

Swimming Hole

Once we were done with relaxing, we took the hike up the Wildcat Ridge Trail.  This is a constant uphill for about three miles and does include a couple of switchbacks on the trail.  However, we felt that the terrain wasn’t too steep.  You continue to observe nice views as it hugs closely to the side of the mountain.  Once we met up with the AT, the trail didn’t have a lot of elevation gain/loss.  I do suffer from plantar fasciitis, so my feet were quite sore on the rocks of this section of the trail.

Butterfly on Mountain Laurel
Butterfly on Mountain Laurel.  Below: Adam hikes through the mountain laurel along the Appalachian Trail.

Adam hiking the AT

For those interested in geocaching, I did place an earthcache at the overlook for Calvary Rocks.  This is a way to learn about the geology of the area and there are a few steps to get credit for the cache:

I definitely enjoyed my first trip of the Riprap trail, but I know it won’t be my last.  This would also be a great place to do a backpacking trip, since there is a reliable water source at the bottom of the trail.  We really felt like it was one of the prettiest trails we have done in all of Shenandoah National Park.  Part of that largely is due to the abundance of blooming wildflowers, but another part was the views.  The Riprap trail really has it all!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 9.8 miles
  • Elevation Change – Around 2300 feet.  The hike is a mix of uphill and downhill, with one long, steady uphill stretch of about three miles.
  • Difficulty – 4.5 While the elevation gain is substantial, the trail is rarely steep.  Grades are moderate.  We scored the hike a 4.5 mainly due to the length.
  • Trail Conditions – 4 Nice trail to walk along!  The stream crossings are easy.
  • Views4.  You get the best views from the Chimney Rocks and Calvary Rocks overlooks.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 3 The stream was on the low side when we hiked, but was still pretty.  The swimming hole at the bottom of the hollow is very beautiful.
  • Wildlife – 4 We saw lots of brook trout, a little toad, many bird species and we even caught a glimpse of a black bear’s rear end diving into the laurel thicket.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2 A few turns to make along the way.  There are a few false trails leading away from the main trail and also one tricky turn after a creek crossing.
  • Solitude – 3 We saw only two other people on the entire loop.  We hiked it on a beautiful Friday in late spring.  I imagine the trail is much more crowded on weekends.  It’s a very popular short backpack loop.

Directions to trailhead:
From Skyline Drive, park on the western side at mile marker 90.  There is a parking lot specifically for Riprap hikers.

Corbin Cabin – Nicholson Hollow

This 4.2 mile hike leads you to a PATC cabin as well as a cabin once owned by a family from the mountain.

The Corbin Cabin sits alongside the Hughes River in what used to be known as Freestate Hollow.

Adam Says…

It was great to finally get out and do some hiking after the harsh winter!  I think it had been since November since we were able to actually enjoy a hike.  After some debating on which trail would be “less muddy”, we decided to try this hike.  We were surprised that the ground was actually in good shape and not muddy like we were expecting. The hike’s main draw is the historical interest.  The Corbins and Nicholsons were two families that lived in this area since the end of the Revolutionary War until the park authorities made them leave.

You begin the trail from the cement post across from the parking lot.  You start the trail walking through an area of mountain laurel that will bloom nicely in the Spring.  The trail descends through an elevation loss of 1500 feet over 1.4 miles.  Around the first half of a mile, you will begin to see a stream off to your left.  At .9 miles, you will come across some of the remnants of the families that inhabited this hollow through views of a rock wall to your right.  Downhill to the left you will see ruins of John “Russ” Nicholson’s cabin.  At 1.4 miles, you will hear the rushing of the Hughes River and see the ruins of an old cabin to the right that belonged to John T. Nicholson.  You can walk over to this area and peek inside to see the small one-room dwelling.  There is lots of glass and rusty metal, so be careful if you inspect this area.  You will see the Corbin cabin across the river.  You will need to rock-hop across the river, which is usually not too difficult.  This time, the water was higher than normal and we only had to partially put our feet in the water to get across.

The Corbin cabin is available to rent from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  There are access points here to connect to Old Rag.  We plan on trying that out in the future sometime for a weekend of living like mountain folk.

The Nicholson Cabin
The Nicholson Cabin is across the river from Corbin Cabin. It’s slowly sinking back into the forest.

After you cross the creek to the cabin, take a right to join the Nicholson Hollow Trail.  After a short distance, you will have to do a little more rock-hopping as it crosses Indian Run.  You will start your steep ascent back up to Skyline Drive and at 3.6 miles you will reach the road.  When you come to Skyline Drive, take a left, heading south for about 75 yards.  You will cross the road and join a short spur trail.  After less than .1 mile, you will come across an intersecting trail with a cement post.  This is the Appalachian Trail.  Take a right, heading North on the Appalachian trail, you will descend and ascend for another .6 miles until you reach the parking lot.

Christine Says…

While this hike doesn’t offer any waterfalls or sweeping views, it does provide one of the park’s best peeks into area history.  The trail begins steeply downhill for about a mile until you reach the bottom of the hollow.  It’s a big drainage area with many small streams that pour into the Hughes River.

I love seeing all the remnants of old homesteads tucked into the woods. The main homesite, which lies on both sides of the Hughes River is such a perfect and idyllic spot.  If I were to choose anywhere in the park to build a home, I think it would be right here.  I can understand why John Nicholson was so heartbroken to leave.  I love to imagine what it would be like to go to bed each night listening to the bubbling sounds of the river and see the sun rise each morning between the mountain folds visible from the front porch.

We had the homesite to ourselves for a little while.  Fifteen minutes later, a couple guys with fishing poles arrived and we were on our way.  The long arm of the loop starts from Corbin Cabin and climbs steadily uphill for about two miles.  Most of it is moderate uphill climbing, but one section that passes through a thicket of mountain laurel is quite steep.  The final .6 miles of the hike follows the Appalachian Trail.

On the AT, we encountered a lost beagle.  She leapt out of the woods at us, probably expecting to see her people.   She had a collar, an identification tag and the remnants of a broken/frayed leash.  As soon as she realized she didn’t know us, she darted back into the woods.

We love dogs, and there was no way we were going to leave the beagle behind.  We tried to corral her in, using low voices and lots of “Good dog!” calls.  However, she was obviously terrified of strangers and started howling pitifully.  Bit by bit, we were able to get closer and closer to her.  We were just about to catch her when heard voices shouting down the trail, and the dog sprinted away.  Thankfully, this time she was running toward the call of her owners.  They were all happily reunited.  It turns out the dog broke her leash four hours earlier when she chased something away from camp.

I guess even when they’re leashed, dogs can get into trouble in the park.  I’m always surprised how many dogs we see running free with hikers.  It’s both good practice and park policy to keep dogs leashed on park trails.

Since this was our first real hike of the season, we were both pretty tired at the end.  We’re definitely looking forward to hitting the trails more regularly now that the weather is turning warmer.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.2 miles – loop.
  • Elevation Change –1500 feet.
  • Difficulty – 3.5 The hike descends and ascends fairly steeply.
  • Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is in good shape.  There were a few blown-down trees covering the trail due to the winter.  Leaves on the trail make for a slick surface when going downhill.
  • Views –0. You are deep in the woods for the entire hike.
  • Waterfalls/streams –2. Near the cabins, you have a nice opportunity to see the Hughes River.
  • Wildlife – 1. We didn’t see anything alive, but found remnants of deer that didn’t survive the winter.  Expect to possibly see bear in the area.  Heard pileated woodpeckers and saw juncos.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4. Trails are clearly marked.
  • Solitude – 3. This trail isn’t the most popular due to the steep terrain, so you should likely only encounter people around the cabin and river.

Directions to trailhead:
From Skyline Drive, park on the western side at mile marker 37.9. Cross the road.  The trailhead begins at the cement post across from the parking lot.