Church Rock

Church Mountain Summit
Adam takes in the view from the summit of Church Mountain.

On this eight-mile adventure, we visited a beautiful outcropping on Church Mountain. The hike had some steady climbing, a little bit of rock scrambling, some unfortunate bushwhacking, and a beautiful view at the top!

Christine Says:

We did this hike back in early April with our friends, Tony and Linda, of HikingUpward fame. (View their write-up for this hike) Tony noticed that this hike appeared for the first time on a recent edition of a PATC map and suggested we all go out and explore the relatively unknown area. He had heard rumor that there were two viewpoints to enjoy. We met them at a parking area along the forest service road (FR482). We could see the outcropping we were planning to hike to from the road below.  Adam was still getting over an awful chest cold, so the distant view of the cliff-face made me worry for him. It looked very faraway and pretty high above us.

The first mile of walking followed the mile of FR482 that lies beyond a locked gate. During hunting season, you might find this gate open and be able to shave a couple miles off the total distance of the hike.  At the end of a mile, you’ll find yourself at the start of the yellow-blazed Church Mountain Trail. There are no signs or trail markers – just blazes – so be careful to follow along.  The trail crosses one shallow stream near the beginning of the trail. It also crosses several old road cuts (apparently there used to be TV towers on this mountain, or so I’ve heard). The climbing is fairly steady and unrelenting as you climb Church Mountain. The use of ten switchbacks makes the grade feel manageable, though I can see this feeling like a really tough climb on a hot day. There were some decent views of the rocky summit of Church Mountain from the trail.

Church Rock from the Trail
A view of Church Rock from the trail below.

As you climb, the forest gets thinner and more open – almost meadow-like.  When you reach the ridgeline at three miles, the trail is just a faint footpath through the grass.  Look for a tree with a double set of white and yellow blazes. There should also be a small cairn slightly uphill of the two-blazed tree. This is the junction with the Talc Trail.  From here, take a left and follow the white blazed Talc trail as it meanders over gentle terrain toward the summit of Church Mountain. This part of the trail was sparsely blazed and there were a couple significant blow-downs across the trail. I have a feeling that the vegetation along this stretch may get taller and thicker as the growing season progresses. I had permethrin-treated clothes and Repel spray on my exposed skin, but I still managed to pick up a tick somewhere along the Talc Trail.  I noticed it already attached to my calf on the return leg of our hike. Gross!

The Talc Trail comes into a saddle about 3.6 miles into the hike. There is a large, very littered campsite in the saddle. There was an old tarp, several pots, old cans, shell casings, a satchel, and some other odds and ends laying around. It looked like hunters maybe used this spot as a base camp sometime in the last year or two. After passing the campsite, there’s a nice view of the valley off the left side of the trail.  Once you pass this view, it’s time to start scrambling. The way to the top had a couple hard-to-see blazes and was pretty overgrown with brambles and thorns. I had capri length pants on, so my lower legs got scraped up quite a bit.  Between the prickly vegetation and the ticks, I definitely suggest long pants for this hike.

Once at the top, there were lots of openings in the woods to explore different spots along the outcropping. There were several spots that offered beautiful, slightly obstructed views to the valley beyond. The slanted cliffside on the adjacent mountain was a unique feature to behold in the viewscape. I found two different geodetic markers on the outcropping – one with an arrow marking the direction of the true summit and another for the summit itself.  We spent a bit of time enjoying and photographing the view, but I wouldn’t say this is a outcropping that would be good for a crowd or a lunch break. The space on the rocks is limited and most of the larger rock surfaces lie at precipitous angles.  When I took photos of Adam standing on the pointy, blade-like rocks in the photo at the top of this post, my knees were knocking a bit. I don’t like looking through a camera lens when my feet are uneven ground – it gives me vertigo.

Ridge trail to Church Rock
The ridge trail was through open, grassy forest.

After scrambling down from the summit of Church Mountain, we headed back along the Talc Trail. On this particular day, we decided to pass the junction for the trail down and continue to explore the other side of the white-blazed Talc Trail.  It probably wasn’t a good idea. There was a tree with a mysterious blaze that sort of looked like it was trying to mark a campsite on a sidetrail, but we didn’t really find anything.  Passing there, the trail dipped steeply down into an area that was badly overgrown with thorns and blocked by many blowdowns. There was clearly a trail there, but it was not maintained to the point it was worth following.

During the extra bit of exploration, my GPS said that we had come almost five miles. We were running low on snacks and water, so we opted to end our quest for a second vista and make our way back down.  The return hike went by pretty quickly – all downhill, the same way we had hiked up.  The beer and pizza at Swover Creek Farm Brewery were calling loudly.  Refreshment was needed!

Adam Says: 

As Christine mentioned, I was just getting over being sick. This was the fourth time I had been sick over the last 2.5 months (cold, sinus infections,etc.), so my cardio and ability to breathe well was still getting back to normal. Exploring a “new to us” trail when there isn’t any information about it online makes us feel like we are conquering uncharted territory. We had no idea how long the hike would be and we could vaguely guess at what elevation we would be climbing.

We did have a bit of a road walk through to get to the trailhead since the gate was closed. We walked on an open road that looks like had been heavily forested before. The scenery was open which made it more enjoyable than most fire road walks we have done.   We eventually came to the upper parking lot and the trailhead.  Once we started on the trailhead, we noticed the trail split after a few feet.  There was an unblazed trail that went straight and then the yellow-blazed Church Mountain Trail took off to the right. Take this right and the trail starts a long gradual climb.  Eventually, the switchbacks start and this is where you really begin to gain some elevation. There were a few times where we spotted the Church Rock cliff face through the trees and we were excited to see that the trail would eventually guide us to that impressive cliffside.  The trail winds through several switchbacks until you eventually get to a part where the top of the hillside opens up into a grassy area and you follow sparse blazes up to the top of the hill.

Walk up the the Scramble
Heading toward the Church Rock summit.

Eventually the trail comes to a junction with the white-blazed Talc trail.  Take a left here to get to Church Rock.  We paused at the junction for a bit to allow me to gain my breath and we ate some trail mix.  Soon, a turkey hunter came up along the trail in full camo. This was the only person that we saw the entire day.  Starting on the Talc Trail, we found the trail was very poorly blazed.   You stay walking on this ridge for a bit and can see some views along the way.  Eventually the Talc Trail descended and led us to an open meadow area where we saw the remains of a campsite with tarp and other items stowed here.  We weren’t sure if these are things someone has just left behind to use the next time they camp up here or just someone that was littering heavily.  Shortly after the campsite, the trail leads back up and you can see Church Rock sticking out.  If I were to rename this rock jutting out, I would call it Young Man of the Mountain.  It reminded me of Old Man of the Mountain that was a prominent rock feature in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that you may have seen prominently on New Hampshire license plates.  The Old Man rock face fell off in 2003 which we regret never seeing.  The profile of the rockface does look similar to it but it is much smaller.  We got to the rock scramble just below Church Rock.  Be very careful through here, because we commented how this would be a great place for snakes to hide in between all the cracks between the rocks or possibly sunning themselves on a warm day.  There weren’t any clear blazes that really guided you up to the top, but we were able to find our way through the boulders and then were able to climb up a steep section to get to the top.

Summit of Church Mountain
Summit of Church Mountain.

At the top, there were two areas where you could take in the view – and what an impressive view it was!  On a clear day, you can see for miles at mountain ranges all around you.  We found a couple of USGS markers at the top which named it Church Rock.  If you do take in the view, be careful!  There isn’t much space and the wind blowing at the top can make you feel uncomfortable.  Falling from here would be deadly.  When we left, I said that these may be some of the best views in Virginia and I will stick to that claim.  The climb wasn’t terribly tough and we felt this is something that is probably best done during the year with fewer leaves as it opens up other views along the way.  With this trail being fairly unknown (at least for now), the solitude made us feel like we had stumbled across a secret gem of Virginia.  We headed back the way we came and explored a bit down the other side from the junction with the Talc Trail.  That ended up being just a slog through the woods.  There may be some views to be had with some heavy bushwhacking, but we didn’t feel like exploring that too long with all the blowdowns and briars on the trail.

When we got back to the car, we drove to Swover Creek Brewery for some great pizzas and beer.  The owners have some dogs that roam around and beg a bit for pizza, but they were sweet companions.  One of the owners was prepping to do a chain saw sculpture for the early evening, but we needed to head home so we missed out.  The outdoor scenery at Swover Creek capped off a great day on the trail with friends.

More Photos

  • Forest Service Road
  • Stream Crossing
  • Tree on Rock
  • Scenes from the Ascent
  • Scenes from the Ascent
  • Open Terrain
  • Trail Junction
  • View along the Ridge
  • Taking in the View
  • Campsite
  • Scramble
  • Profile
  • Scramble
  • Ridge View
  • Swover Creek

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 8 miles This hike could be shortened 7.5 miles if you skip exploring to the right after the junction on the ridge. It could also be shortened to 5.5-6 miles if the lower forest service gate it open.
  • Elevation Change – 1,800 – 2,100 ft (depending on how far you explore)
  • Difficulty –  4. This hike’s climbing is never terribly steep, but it’s still three miles of unrelenting climbing. The scramble at the end is a bit challenging.
  • Trail Conditions – 2. We hiked in early spring and found the first couple miles of the trail in relatively good shape. There was some overgrowth, but it was still easy going. On the ridge, the blazes are harder to follow and there isn’t much of a trail. Hikers will mostly meander blaze to blaze. I also think this area will become very overgrown as the growing season progresses.
  • Views  4.  These views were spectacular! They would warrant a five star rating, but there is no real place to sit and take in the view with a second person. The view rocks are narrow and precipitous. Adam and I were both nervous standing on them.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 1.  There is one small stream shortly after you come off the forest service road and start walking the actual Church Rock trail.
  • Wildlife – 3.  There was so much scat from various animals along the trail. We didn’t see anything, but animals are definitely out there.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.  Generally, blazes and trail were easy to follow. The yellow blazed trail was in great shape, the white blazed ridge trail was less clear.
  • Solitude – 5.  Until all the fine, adventurous readers of Hiking Upward and this site get out there, this trail is truly an unknown gem. 

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are 38.73325, -78.8732.  The parking area is along a gravel forest service road.  If you find the gate open, you can drive another mile closer to the actual trailhead. When we hiked in spring 2019, the lower gate was locked and the road beyond it was blocked by a large blowdown.

Church Rock Elevation
Download the full size PDF elevation profile
Church Rock Map
Download a full size PDF trail map.

Halfmoon Mountain Loop

This 10-mile loop could easily be a day hike, but we chose to do it as a short overnight backpacking trip. The route has some fairly nice vistas and there are a couple campsites near the summit.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Halfmoon Mountain Summit
Adam takes in the view from Halfmoon Mountain. Below: The trail started from the Bucktail Trail parking area – pass the locked forest service gate to begin; We hiked the loop counterclockwise – starting on the pinkish-purple blazed Bucktail Cutoff Trail; Walking along the Bucktail Cutoff.

Halfmoon Mountain Halfmoon Mountain Halfmoon Mountain

Adam Says: Day One  (4.7 miles)

This past year was not a good year for our backpacking hobby. The rain seemed endless and the amount of exceedingly heavy rain did a lot of damage to trails. We also got a new puppy in March. He needed a lot of training and we weren’t quite ready to trust him to someone else for long periods of time.

We did manage to get out for this one trip in August 2018. Halfmoon Mountain had been a trail we had looked at doing for many years.  We heard there were great views and a sweet campsite with a view at the top. One thing that hurts this as a backpacking loop is the nearest water source to the top is about 1-1.5 miles away from the camp areas, so you have to haul what water you need to the top.

Campsite
There is a nice campsite at the junction of the Halfmoon Mountain Trail and the Bucktail Cutoff Trail. Below: After the campsite, we followed the yellow-blazed Halfmoon Mountain Trail; The trail was steep and had some obstructed views; Junction of the Halfmoon Mountain Trail and the Halfmoon Lookout Trail.

Halfmoon Mountain Trail Halfmoon Mountain Trail Halfmoon Mountain Trail

We started the trip by parking along Trout Run Road (see GPS coordinates below).  We started off on the Bucktail Trail and shortly walked through a gate blocking off the fire road.  After a short distance, we came to a junction where the Bucktail Connector Trail branched off to the right while the Bucktail Trail takes a left (this is your return trip for the loop). We took the right Bucktail Connector Trail which has pinkish-purple blazes to follow this loop counter-clockwise.  The trail began to climb up through forested terrain.  Overall, this trail was well-maintained as it is a visible, narrow footpath cutting through the forest.  There isn’t a ton to say about this section since there wasn’t a lot to see other than forest around you.  The trail climbs for about the first 1.25 miles before descending slightly for about .5 miles and then there is another up and down until you reach another junction at 2.5 miles. There is a very nice campsite along the stream near this junction.

At the junction take a left on to the Halfmoon Trail (going right would take you to the Halfmoon parking area – where many hikers originate on a shorter out-and-back route to the summit).  From here, the trail gets steeper and at the 3.5 mile mark, you reach the junction with the Halfmoon Lookout Trail, which takes off from the left.  Take that left on to the Halfmoon Lookout Trail to reach the summit after another .8 miles.  On our way up to the Halfmoon Lookout, we noticed a small footpath that branched off to the left which led to a larger camp area where we ultimately camped for the night.  The last tenth of a mile is a steep rock scramble to the top.  With crumbling rock underfoot, you really have to watch your step.  At the top, there are two great viewpoints. The first you come across on the lefthand side of the trail and there is room for a few people at the top. There are remains of an old firetower at this lookout spot.

To visit second viewpoint, you descend through a campsite in a saddle and then over another rock scramble to to the view.  This view spot will typically only work for about two people. It’s tight quarters.

First Views
One of the viewpoints from summit of Halfmoon Mountain. Below: The Halfmoon Lookout Trail is pretty flat until the last bit before the summit; The last hundred yards to the summit is a minor rock scramble (it’s steeper than it looks in the photos); Somebody chopped down numerous living trees at the summit to make the saddle campsite larger (jerks!); We thought about camping in the saddle at the summit, but didn’t like the tightness of the campsite.

Halfmoon Mountain Trail Halfmoon Mountain Trail
Tree Damage Summit Site

We initially were going to camp at the top – we heard it was a great campsite. Some jerks had chopped down some live trees to build the frame of a lean-to (so much for Leave No Trace principles) on the campsite. We deconstructed the lean-to and tried to clear out the area a bit, but felt the campsite would have been a bit tight and we would have had people walking through our campsite all day to get to the second viewpoint.  We decided to enjoy the views up here and then make our way back down.  Investigating that side trail, we found a great spot to set up camp. Even better, the campsite below the saddle had its own little viewpoint for us to enjoy.  We found a nice grassy spot to set up our tent on some flat ground.  The bugs were a little hard to deal with at camp, but we made the best of it.  We were later joined by another couple that shared our camping area.

Sunset on Halfmoon
We had a beautiful sunset on Halfmoon Mountain. Below: We chose this spacious, grassy site right below the summit; Our campsite had its own little viewpoint; There are remains of an old fire tower at the summit; Another camping part hung a hammock on the summit for sunset.

Our Campsite View at camp
 Hammock

After we set up camp, we made our way back to the top to enjoy some late afternoon/sunset views.  At the second view, another couple had set up a hammock somewhat precariously over the edge – a nice spot, but it did obstruct the views for anyone else. We had a nice dinner back at our campsite and settled down for the evening enjoying the sounds of the forest.

Christine Says: Day Two (5.3 miles)

I woke up early on the second day, so I could watch the sunrise. There were a couple decent places to catch the sun coming up – the small outcropping at our campsite and a spot about halfway up the scramble to the summit of Halfmoon. Both vistas were a bit obstructed, but I was still able to capture some pretty morning color in the sky. The day was already warming, so we ate breakfast and packed up quickly.

Halfmoon Sunrise
Sunrise on Halfmoon Mountain. Below:  Our camp kitchen; Leaving camp in the morning along the German Wilson Trail; The German Wilson Trail is exceedingly rocky and steep in places.

Bucktail Trail Bucktail Trail

We made our way back down the Halfmoon Lookout Trail for several tenths of a mile to its junction with the German Wilson Trail. I don’t know what color I’d call the blazes on German Wilson Trail – purplish? fuchsia? magenta?  Something like that, I suppose. The German Wilson Trail descended very steeply over loose, rocky terrain. It wasn’t fun and I was very glad we had decided to hike the loop counter-clockwise and didn’t have to ascend this tough section of trail with full packs. The trail drops steadily for about a mile before coming to a grassy area with a shallow stream.

Look for a forest service gate to the left.  You should see the orange blazes of the Bucktail Trail.  The trail that continues toward the right is the Old Mine Trail – do not take this trail. Follow the Bucktail Trail, crossing the stream multiple times over the next .8 mile. When we hiked in August 2018, this section of the trail was in terrible shape. Big sections were washed out and we had to navigate by following sparse orange blazes.  Lots of sections of footbed were completely disappeared by debris and erosion. Hopefully some trail maintenance has been done over the last eight months.

Stream Crossings
There were many stream crossings on Day 2. Below: Arriving at the junction of the German Wilson Trail with the Old Mine Trail and the Bucktail Trail; Following the Bucktail Trail; There were numerous stream crossings on the Bucktail Trail.

 Bucktail
 Stream Crossing

At 2.2 miles, you’ll come to a junction with the Cacapon Trail. That trail follows a small footbridge over the stream on the right.  Stay to the left and continue following the orange blazed Bucktail Trail. At this point, the trail becomes wide and grassy. It also begins to ascend again. This climb wasn’t difficult, but the grass was pretty overgrown and there was a lot of direct sun/heat. I also saw a ton of poison ivy mixing in with the grass. The climb felt worse than the numbers make it look.

Erosion Along the Trail
The trail was eroded and hard to follow in places. Below: Cliffs along the Bucktail Trail; This bridge takes you onto the Cacapon Trail; More scenes along the Bucktail Trail.  Much of the Bucktail Trail was a grassy, overgrown road.

Cliffs Bridge Near Cacapon Trail Overgrown
 Bucktail Bucktail

The last three miles on the Bucktail Trail were pretty dull. It was basically a trudge along a grassy roadbed back to the parking area. All in all, this hike didn’t really live up to my expectations. It was nice to get out after such a long backpacking drought, but this trail definitely is not destined to become a favorite. If I were to hike it again, I think I’d park at the Halfmoon Mountain parking area and just do this as a seven mile, out-and-back dayhike.

We got back to the car by late morning, so we decided to get some lunch and a cold beer before heading home.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 10 miles
  • Elevation Change – Day One: 1545 feet, Day Two: 477 feet
  • Difficulty –  3.  This was a fairly easy backpacking route.  The first day has about a mile of serious climbing, but the rest is very gradual. The second day has a steep, rocky mile of downhill, followed by a bunch of stream crossings, and then a moderate climb along a forest road before gently descending back to the parking area.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  The trail was in decent condition for national forest. The first day along the Bucktail Cutoff and Halfmoon Mountain Trail was excellent.  The second day had rougher trail conditions: the steep descent when you first turn onto the German Wilson trail had lots of loose softball to football sized rocks and was a bit challenging to walk on, there was a trail washout near the final stream crossing on the Bucktail Trail, and the road portion of the Bucktail Trail had loads of tall grass and poison ivy.
  • Views  3.  There are several vistas at and near the summit of Halfmoon Mountain, however they are all small and partially obstructed.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 3.  There are nice streams on both day one and two, but the closest water source to the summit campsites is about 1 – 1.5 miles downtrail.  In drier times, I expect campers might have to walk up to 2.5 miles down from the summit for water.
  • Wildlife – 3.  We saw several deer and had a whippoorwill at camp.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.5.  The trail has spotty blazing and intermittent trail signs.  Blazes are not equally distributed for hikers headed in both directions, sometimes we had to look back to check for blazes to make sure we were on the same trail.  There are some trail washouts on the Bucktail Trail that make navigating the stream crossings a little tricky.  Also, many blazes are faded and painted in inconsistent colors (for example – the orange Bucktail Trail blazes were often closer to red).
  • Solitude – 2.  There is one small campsite and one large campsite near the summit. We had to share the large campsite with another hiking party.  There was also a steady stream of dayhikers visiting this peak.  

Maps

Download a full size map for DAY ONE.

Download a full size elevation profile for DAY ONE.

Download a full size map for DAY TWO.

Download a full size elevation profile for DAY TWO.

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are 39.01431, -78.66388.  The parking area is at the top of a gravel loop right off Trout Run Rd.  The sign along the road will be for the Bucktail Trail.  Do not park at the lot labeled Halfmoon Trail – that is the 7-mile out-and-back route, rather than the loop outlined here.

Waonaze Peak

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.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

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.

Appalachian Trail – Black Horse Gap to Daleville

This 13.7 mile stretch of Appalachian Trail is mostly a walk through ‘the green tunnel’. There isn’t any grand or memorable scenery, but as you approach Troutville, there are some pretty rolling meadows with mountain views.

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Black Horse Gap to Daleville
Adam walks along the Appalachian Trail. Below: We had lunch and beers at the brand new east-coast Ballast Point before setting off on our hike; Amazing Trail Angel, Molly, met us for lunch and gave us a ride; Glimpses of views through the trees.

Ballast Point Molly the Trail Angel Glimpse of a View

Christine Says: Day One – Blackhorse Gap to Trailside Campsite (4.2 miles)

Download a Day One Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats *

For quite a while, we’ve had this  13.7 mile section of trail standing out as ‘unhiked’ in the almost 360 mile unbroken stretch of Appalachian Trail we’ve completed so far.  The section between Black Horse Gap and Daleville doesn’t offer any great scenery, so we never felt rushed to get out there and tackle the miles. Doing it as a day hike would have required four hours of driving and a shuttle service. The logistics of hiking it seemed like a hassle, so we filed it under ‘later’.

In late June, Adam and I were driving into work together and making weekend plans.  It went something like this…

Adam: What do we have planned for the weekend?
Me: Nothing. Want to hike?
Adam: What’s the weather like?
Me: Gorgeous!
Both: Hey… let’s backpack that odd section we have left to finish!

After making the decision to go, plans fell quickly into place. Our pet sitter was available. We had plenty of trail food left from our Maryland hike. Then, after a chat on Facebook, my friend Molly said she could shuttle us! The final icing on the cake was the fact that the new east coast Ballast Point brewery had just opened in Daleville. On Saturday, we met Molly at Ballast Point and had lunch before hitting the trail. People may go to the Ballast Point for the beer, but they’ll walk away remembering the great food.  I had the best kale-quinoa-avocado chicken salad.  I still daydream about it a month later.

After lunch, we left our car at Valley Cleaners in Daleville and Molly drove us to our start point at Black Horse Gap. I’ve been online friends with Molly for a while, but this was our first in-person meeting. She was just like I imagined she would be – friendly, enthusiastic, outdoorsy, and all-around awesome! I love all the people I’ve met through the Appalachian Trail community! We said our good-byes at the trailhead. Adam and I headed south, descending gradually but steadily.

Wilson Creek Shelter
We reached Wilson Creek shelter really quickly. It was too early to stop and make camp, so we decided to push on and find a trailside campsite. Below: Wilson Creek; We found a nice campsite along a small, unnamed stream; Cards at camp.

Wilson Creek Our Campsite Camp Games

The trail was really narrow and built into the shoulder of the mountainside. In 2.4 miles, we reached Wilson Creek shelter. It was only 2:00, but there were already a few hikers at the shelter, settled in for the night. We asked a couple northbounders if they’d passed any nice trailside campsites in their last few miles. Everyone said they remembered sites, but not specifically how far away they might be. Adam and I decided to continue hiking and gamble on finding a place to camp somewhere in the next couple miles.

After the shelter we decended another half mile down to Wilson Creek. There was a campsite, but it was literally right on the trail, so we kept hiking.  After crossing Wilson Creek, we had a bit of uphill for about a mile. It wasn’t tough uphill, but it was still tiring in the mid-afternoon heat and humidity. At 4.2 miles, we reached an unnamed stream marked in our AWOL guidebook.  There was an established campsite a couple hundred feet off the trail.  It was the perfect site for the night – flat and close to water.

We set up camp, collected water, and spent the afternoon playing cards.  We cooked dinner and spent the evening talking and reading. Before it got too dark, we set off to find a perfect tree for our bear hang. it turned out to be the one thing our otherwise perfect site was lacking.  We did the best we could with a branch that was a little bit low and flimsy.  Sometimes you just have to settle for the best possible option and hope that determined bears stay away from your campsite.

We got into the tent around 8:30, just as the woods were getting dark. It was a warm and sticky night, so we left the vent and the rainfly wide open. We both left our sleeping bags home on this trip and used lightweight quilts instead. It was a good decision and we both stayed warm (maybe a bit too warm) during the night. We eventually drifted off to the sound of distant owls and whippoorwills.

Adam Says: Day Two – Trailside Campsite to Daleville (9.5 miles)

Download a Day Two Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats *

The next morning, we ate breakfast, packed up camp, and were back on the trail in under an hour. We had a very steep but short section of uphill to climb to start things off. We were breathing deep, but we quickly reached the apex of the hill just about .2 miles in. The trail descended just as steeply and we arrived at Curry Creek at .8 miles. At the creek, there was a Curry Creek Trail to the west of the trail, but stay on the white-blazed AT. From the reliable water source of Curry Creek, we began to climb again up another steep section of trail. At the 1.9 mile mark, we reached an area where the trail then began to descend again. The trail descended for about a mile and then rose up again with a steep climb to reach the junction with the Fullhardt Knob Shelter at 4.4 miles. We took the side trail for .1 miles to reach the shelter. We stopped and ate a snack here, knowing that most of the climbing was behind us.

Trail Curves
The Appalachian Trail climbed the mountain on a series of curves and switchbacks. Below: We saw a lot of views through the trees; Crossing Curry Creek; A whitetail deer watching us from the woods.

More Glimpses Curry Creek Whitetail

While we were at the shelter, we were joined by a couple that was working on section hiking the AT and we enjoyed talking about some of the things we had both seen along sections of the trail. At the shelter, there is a privy and a cistern behind the shelter to get water (water should still be treated before drinking). We were good on water, so after relaxing a few minutes, we pushed on. We rejoined the AT at 4.6 miles and began our big descent.  The trail had a few switchbacks on the way down and it was rather steep in sections. We came across a sign stating that the trail soon passes through private lands and to stay on the trail. At 6.5 miles, we passed through a fence, beginning the start of some of these private lands.  We had a short bump to climb before we reached VA 652/Mountain Pass Road at 6.8 miles. This bump however was the prettiest part of the trail as you ascend over a large field and have nice mountain and farmland views all around you from the top. A few tenths of a mile later, we went through another fence stile.  We then crossed over another road, over train tracks and then US 11.  At 7.6 miles, we passed underneath I-81 by walking on VA 779 underneath the interstate.

Ascent Toward Fullhardt Knob
There were a couple moderate climbs in the morning.

Firepink Blueberries Fullhardt Knob Shelter
Shelter Log Mossy Private Lands

The sun was hot and beating down on us. We were desperately hoping to find some shade, but most of the hike from here on is out in the open. We were at least glad we got an early start. The trail ascended to the left after the overpass and led us through a grassy swath of land that cut through some of the brushy area around it. Around the 9.5 mile area, we finally arrived at US 220 and Daleville, Va. We crossed the road to get back to our car that we had left at Valley Cleaners. When we got back to the car, it was right around noon.  Whenever we go through Daleville around lunch, we always stop at Three Li’l Pigs barbecue.  We were hot, tired, and hungry so it was a great place to cool down and eat some amazing food. Our waitress could see that we were hikers and we talked to her about what we were doing. While we chatted, she brought us an endless stream of Diet Dr. Pepper refills. She said she was hoping to do some AT hiking, but hadn’t decided if she wanted to do a section or the entire thing.  As we continued to stuff our faces, she came over with a bowl of banana pudding. She told us that AT hikers get a complimentary serving of banana pudding. While I think this is more intended for thru-hikers, we didn’t turn it down!

Open Hills
The open meadows near Troutville were beautiful. Below: Posing at the road crossing; Open views from the meadow’s high point; Crossing the train tracks.

AT Pose Mountain Views Train Tracks

We then decided to bookend the trip with another visit to Ballast Point. We got to sample a few beers before we had started, but since they had over 20 on tap, we decided to get sample pours of a couple of others.  We then made our way back home. We were very glad to finish this section of elusive trail.

Home Stretch into Daleville
The home stretch into Daleville. Below: The I-81 underpass; More open meadows before Daleville; Piney woods.

I81 Underpass Open Meadows Piney

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 13.7 miles
  • Elevation Change – 2810 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  This was a pretty easy backpacking route.  The switchbacks early on day two were pretty long and steep, but it was the only challenging part of the hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in typical Appalachian Trail shape for this part of Virginia – well maintained and nicely graded.
  • Views  2.  The rolling meadows near Troutville were lovely.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 0.  This is a quite dry stretch of trail. There is a small, low-flow spring at Bobblets Gap and a seasonal stream at Bearwallow Gap. There is NO WATER SOURCE at the Cove Mountain Shelter, so plan ahead.
  • Wildlife – 3.  We saw several deer. At night we heard a barred owl and several distant whippoorwills.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The trail is well marked and easy to follow. There are road crossings, but the white blazes are easy to follow in most places.
  • Solitude – 3.  We actually saw very few people on this hike considering the beautiful weather and its proximity to the parkway.  

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

Directions to trailhead: We parked our end point car at Valley Cleaners in Daleville.  It’s along  Route 220 where the Appalachian Trail crosses.  Please ask the cleaners for permission to park here and park where they tell you to.  Parking here is a courtesy provided to hikers that can be rescinded at any time if people take advantage.  Coordinates for the dry cleaners are: 37.393538, -79.906817.  From there, we took a shuttle to Black Horse Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Coordinates for the hike’s start point are: 37.424611, -79.757202. Head right and start on the trail.

Hidden Rocks

This 2.5 mile hike passes a small waterfall and two beautiful rock crags.  The views are pretty limited, but it’s still a worthwhile hike in the vicinity of Hone Quarry.  If you visit in early July, the blooming Rosebay rhododendron is impressive!

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Hidden Rocks View
Tony and Adam launched a drone from the top of Hidden Rocks. Below: Adam crosses Rocky Run – a small stream on the hike; The trail splits and makes a lariat loop near this pretty small waterfall; Blooming Rosebay Rhododendron.

Crossing Rocky Run Small Waterfall and Pool on Rocky Run Blooming Rosebay Rhododendron

Adam Says…

Hidden Rocks was truly trying to stay hidden from us.  It took a while for us to find the location of this hike from another website, it was steering us about 35 minutes off course.  We ultimately arrived at the correct parking area and met up with Tony and Linda from Hiking Upward to start our hike for the day.  This hike is relatively easy and if you want to just do a quick, out-and-back hike to the main rock outcropping, you would be looking at around a two mile hike.  We decided to make a loop out of this hike and at the time, there wasn’t a lot of information about this hike.

The hike started from the right of the parking area.  The yellow-blazed trail starts fairly easily and consists of a few ups and downs, reminiscent of a roller coaster before finally descending down to Rocky Run which you will reach at .65 miles.  Crossing the stream, you can see there is a smaller trail that branches to the right, but stick to the left.  You will quickly come into a thick tunnel of rhododendron.  You cross Rocky Run a couple of more times before reaching a small, scenic waterfall at .9 miles.  Here, the trail splits as you will see yellow blazes that go to the left and right of the waterfall.  Take the trail to the right of the waterfall (the left trail will be how you return on the loop) that leads steeply above the waterfall area.

Rock Climber at Hidden Rocks
A rock climber descending Hidden Rocks. Below: Christine and Adam atop Hidden Rocks; Ripening blueberries at the top of the crag; A sideview of Hidden Rocks.

Christine & Adam Atop the Crag Ripening Blueberries Side View of Hidden Rocks

In a short distance, we arrived at the base of the Hidden Rocks face where we came across a man rock climbing and rappelling off the structure.  The trail skirts along the left of the rock base and then climbs steeply up some rocky steps.  At the top of the trail, the trail splits.  Head up to the right on some wooden steps to reach the top of the Hidden Rocks structure that you saw from the base a few moments ago.  There was a campsite at the top and a couple of ledges that you could enjoy the view.

Tony set up his drone to take pictures and video of the area around us.  We were hoping to get some shots of the rock climber, but he had just switched spots on where he wanted to climb, so it took him a long time to position ropes to start his rappel.  Tony let me even steer the drone a bit which was a blast.  Christine and I posed for a high elevation selfie before we packed up the drone and continued our hike.

We went back to where the trail split leading us to the rock outcropping and then continued on the trail.  This part of the trail was less-traveled and narrow.  After skirting along another large rock face, I found a break between two large rock areas and decided to explore.  I had to climb by holding onto rocks and roots, making it not an easily accessible sidetrip that should only be done if you feel capable. I ventured out to the right and left areas of the rock.  The rock to the right led to precarious footing and fearing I was going to look for a handhold and upset a timber rattler, I decided to not go any further on that rock.  On the left rock, I found a way to climb to the very top and found a very small perch to enjoy some views that I thought were better than those on Hidden Rocks.  I called back down to the rest of the group and Tony and Christine decided to climb up also.  We then made our way down the steep decline and joined Linda back on the trail.

The trail descends rather steeply after this point, causing us to take our time make sure we had good footing.  We reached another stream crossing at 1.4 miles and at 1.6 miles we were back at the small waterfall, completing the small lollipop loop of this hike.  We retraced our steps and made it back to our car at 2.5 miles.

Christine Says…

We were thrilled to see Tony and Linda again for the second time in the span of just a few weeks! We were also pleased to have cooler, less humid weather for this hike (compared to the sauna-like conditions we had for our hike at Shrine Mont). The morning started off with a bit of chaos related to bad directions. We originally found the Hidden Rocks hike outlined on the Virginia Wilderness Committee website.  Their write-up included GPS coordinates that took us to some random road – in the middle of nowhere – about 30 minutes from the actual trailhead.  We arrived at their designated coordinates and found ourselves in the totally wrong place with no cell phone service.  Fortunately, Tony and Linda were also running a few minutes late, and we all arrived at the trailhead parking around the same time.

The hike started off over a mini ‘roller coaster’ – with the trail steeply ascending and descending over a series of gullies and washes.  Eventually, we descended a gentle hill down to Rocky Run – a shallow, winding stream.  The trail was shaded by a tunnel of Rosebay Rhododendron that was just starting to bloom.  At about a mile in, the route got a bit confusing when we reached a split in the trail near a small waterfall.  The Virginia Wilderness directions said there was a loop trail, but added that the loop route was not on their map (it’s on ours – see below).  We took a guess and headed steeply uphill on the trail on the right side of the split.  In just a couple tenths of a mile, we arrived at the bottom of a towering rock wall – Hidden Rocks.  There was a local guy rock climbing.  He had a beautiful Vizsla dog – she barked a lot, but was very friendly and hung out with us the entire time we visited the rock.

Hidden Cracks
The second crag on the hikes is known locally as Hidden Cracks. Below: The view from the top of Hidden Cracks; Christine scrambles down Hidden Cracks; We enjoyed beers and Grillizza Pizza after the hike.

The Top of Hidden Cracks Descending Hidden Cracks Grillizza Pizza

To reach the summit of Hidden Rocks, we followed the trail along the left side of the crag, eventually climbing steeply to the top via a small set of constructed stairs.  The top of Hidden Rocks has two outcroppings and a spacious campsite with a fire ring.  The views are limited – all you really see is another hillside of trees across the ravine.  If you’re looking for expansive views of mountains, distant valleys, or the lake in Hone Quarry – this is not the hike for you!  Fortunately, the outcropping still gave Tony enough room to launch his drone.  He was able to get a few cool shots looking back at Hidden Rocks.

From Hidden Rocks, we came back down the stairs and continued following the trail across the ridge.  We passed another towering cliffside on the right – this one called Hidden Cracks.  Adam found a split in the rocks with a jumble of boulders.  We were able to climb to the top and get another view – this one included an obstructed peek at some distant mountains.  Soon after Hidden Cracks, the trail descended, crossed the stream again. We arrived back to the split in the trail that made the loop, passing the small waterfall once again.  From there, we retraced our steps back to the parking area.

After our hike, we headed back into Harrisonburg so that we could take Tony and Linda on a tour of Harrisonburg’s craft beer scene.  We started off at Wolfe Street, then proceeded to Billy Jack’s for lunch.  The day rounded out with stops at Pale Fire and Brothers (with dinner from the Grillizza food truck).  It was a fun day and we really enjoyed exploring this little gem of a hike!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 2.5 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change –  390 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.  This is doable by most people.  If you do the entire loop, be careful climbing up to the top of the other rock outcropping.  That short climb feels more like a 4-4.5.
  • Trail Conditions –  3.5.  Overall the trail was in great condition, but the lollipop loop part of the trail was not as maintained.
  • Views –  2.5.  The views were nice, but not as expansive as I would have liked since most of your views are blocked by the mountain directly in front.  
  • Waterfalls/streams   2.  Rocky Run was pretty with rhododendron nearby.  The small waterfall creates a peaceful setting.
  • Wildlife – 0.  We didn’t see anything. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.5.  There weren’t any signs for junctions which caused us to get confused about which way to go when we first crossed Rocky Run and again at the waterfall junction.
  • Solitude – 4.  This isn’t heavily used, but you may see some people at the top of Hidden Rocks or rock climbing. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: GPS Coordinates for this hike are 38.44813, -79.12205.

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