Are you looking for a short hike with great views? This 3.2 mile route takes you through fire and storm-damaged terrain to a stunning vista on Rocky Mountain (not to be confused with Rocky Mount – another nearby hike in Shenandoah).
We were trying to find a new hike to cover and I started looking through a PATC map of the southern section of Shenandoah National Park. I noticed there was a trail off one of the overlooks that we hadn’t done before and then I was sold when I saw the icon they use for views. Due to some of the twists and turns, it was hard to tell how far the trail was going to be before we got to the views, but we felt this was definitely worth exploring.
We started off from the Brown Mountain overlook, close to mile 77 on Skyline Drive. This Brown Mountain trail starts at a break of the rock wall. The trail winds down and provides some instant views (and you can actually see the rocky outcropping you will reach). The trail soon ducks down into some more wooded areas and winds down on a steeper descent – keep in mind you have to hike back up at the end of this out-and-back hike. You will see a lot of the fire damage that hit this area a couple of years ago with charred logs along the way, but nature has bounced back nicely. At .6 miles, you reach the bottom of your descent and soon reach a junction with the Rocky Mountain Run Trail which takes off to the left (you could make this a larger 10+ mile loop by coming back this way). Stay on the Brown Mountain Trail and you will begin to ascend again. The ascent will ultimately take you close to the elevation you started on this hike, but you will have close to one mile to gain that elevation, so you will find the trail more manageable of an ascent at this point.
Around the 1.4 mile mark, the trail will begin to level out and become rockier. You will also be treated to some obstructed views along the way. At a little over the 1.5 mark, we reached the rocky outcropping of aptly-named Rocky Mountain. From the stunning viewpoint here, I was able to scramble up carefully up the main rock. While Christine held Indy, I also ventured a little further along the outcropping to get to another viewpoint, but that was a more treacherous path consisting of stepping on knife-edge footing while finding hand and footholds along the way – definitely not recommended or very safe. I came back to Indy to let Christine explore a little further. Indy enjoyed the views and enjoyed a nice bowl of water to quench his thirst before the return hike. We went back the way we came descending back to the saddle and climbing up the last .6 miles back to the car. The climb at the end was steep, but short. We had a great time exploring this area and were surprised to only see two people on the trail. Since I don’t think this hike is covered very often on hiking websites or books, this has remained a hidden gem (at least until now).
This was a really beautiful hike through a fire and ice-damaged section of the park. Views that were probably closed in a few years ago were open and stunning. It also helped that we hiked in April before leaves fully emerged. I was surprised there were so few people on the trail, because the weather was perfect and this trail connects into the popular Big Run watershed. I expected we would see many people out backpacking, but we only saw two guys. They were both pretty surprised to see a pug on the trail, and one asked if he could photograph Indy to share with his mom. I swear, Indy is always a conversation starter on hikes!
While Adam enjoyed climbing around on the rocks, I hiked along the trail a bit further to see if there was anything worth seeing. The trail started to descend into another saddle, so I decided to save exploration for another day. I think there might be some more views along the trail – but probably not as good as the one we saw here.
I hiked back up to where Indy and Adam were waiting. We all hiked back the way we came in, enjoying the top-of-the world views. In addition to the vistas, this trail had many beautiful wildflowers. In April, the dwarf irises and sessile belwort were abundant. The hike back was as challenging as the hike out, with moderate climbs on both ends. We were all pretty hot and a little sunburned when we got back to the car, so we decided to cool off with blackberry milkshakes at the Loft Mountain Wayside. Wouldn’t you know – their shake-making operation was broken AGAIN. This is the third year in a row that Loft has failed to produce my desired blackberry milkshake! This time it was the soft-serve machine that was down; last time it was the blender; and the time before that they were out of blackberry syrup. Drat! Oh well… it was still a great day.
- Distance – 3.2 miles
- Elevation Change – 1,168
- Difficulty – 3. This hike has climbs going both out and back. They’re moderately difficult, but should be doable for most hikers.
- Trail Conditions – 4. PATC volunteers and other trail crews have worked very hard to clear the trail through this heavily damaged part of the park.
- Views – 4.5. There were nice views at the start of the hike, along much of the trail, and at the summit. The view is expansive and impressive.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 0. There was no water on this hike – it’s mostly high and dry on the ridge.
- Wildlife – 3. We saw a couple deer and quite a bit of bear scat.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. Trails are well-marked and thoroughly blazed. There is just one junction to watch for along the hike.
- Solitude – 3. All of Shenandoah is popular and busy, but on this beautiful April day, we just saw two backpackers.
Special note about the map below: We use CalTopo to produce maps for this website. The CalTopo map for this area did not match the PATC’s map of the same area for trail naming. The CalTopo map labels the trail as Rocky Mountain Trail, but the park sign posts and the PATC map label the trail the Brown Mountain Trail.
Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are 38.292938, -78.657899. Park at the Brown Mountain Overlook on the west side of Skyline Drive. The trail begins through an opening in the stone wall.