Double Bear Rocks

This 8.3 mile hike follows the Pass Mountain Trail from the route 211 trailhead up to the Pass Mountain Hut.  From there, you’ll follow the Appalachian Trail north to the beautiful viewpoint at Double Bear Rocks.

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Double Bear Rocks
The view from Double Bear Rocks looks in the direction of Strickler Knob, Kennedy Peak, and Duncan Knob.

Christine Says…

The first weekend in April, we met up with Tony & Linda (of Hiking Upward fame) for a day of exploring a new trail and a new brewery. When we were discussing route options, Tony tossed out the idea of climbing the Pass Mountain trail for a visit to the same-named Appalachian Trail shelter.  The route was about five miles with 1,300 feet of climbing – perfectly moderate for my recovering ankle injury.

We initially planned to hike on Saturday, but sleet, rain, and high winds compelled us to postpone for Sunday’s more pleasant forecast.  We met at the trailhead along Route 211, just a little bit west of Sperryville.  The trail begins at the cement marker post across the road.  211 can be very busy and its twists and turns are often traveled at speed, so be extremely careful crossing the road from your car to the Pass Mountain trail.

The Pass Mountain trail was beautifully maintained – blowdowns were cleared, branches were trimmed back, and it looked like someone had put a lot of time installing new water bars.  The hike began with a meandering series of switchbacks that climbed steadily but gently uphill. At about the one mile mark, we reached another cement marker.  At the marker, you’ll notice a defunct, unlabeled fire road; stay to the left and follow the blue-blazed Pass Mountain trail uphill.  The trail continues uphill for almost a mile before leveling out on the ridge.  If you happen to hike this trail in winter or early spring, you’ll get great views of Marys Rock through the trees.

Pass Mountain Trail
Our hike started from a trailhead on route 211 near Sperryville. Below: A trailmarker in the middle of the woods.  It appears there used to be another trail or fireroad at the marker that is no longer maintained; Our hiking entourage; A view of Marys Rock through the trees.

Trail Junction Hiking Entourage Mary's Rock Through the Trees

At 2.8 miles, the trail ends at Pass Mountain Hut – one of the park’s nine Appalachian Trail shelters.  The shelter is a typical structure with a nearby spring and privy.  The unusual thing about Pass Mountain Hut that sets it apart from other AT shelters in the park is that it has a fairly new bear locker instead of a bear pole.  A couple years ago, the Pass Mountain Hut was closed due to aggressive bear activity.  In late summer, a young, extremely thin black bear destroyed the tent of an ATC Ridgerunner.  She was out on patrol and came back to a flattened, saliva-covered tent.  Park authorities closed the shelter area until the bear could be trapped and relocated to a less populated part of the park.

We spent a few minutes at the shelter debating the rest of our hike.  I mentioned to Tony and Linda that I remembered a nice vista just north of the Pass Mountain summit.  My ankle felt OK and even though I wasn’t sure exactly how far it was to the viewpoint, I thought I would be OK pressing on.  We all agreed that a view always makes extra miles worthwhile.  We followed the blue-blazed spur trail from the hut to its junction with the Appalachian Trail.

We headed north on the AT for about a mile, reaching the rocky but viewless summit of Pass Mountain.  This summit does not have a cement marker.  You’ll know you crossed the summit only because you start descending again.  When we crossed the summit, we were still vaguely guessing about how much further we needed to hike to reach the view.  We explored off-trail a little on rocky outcroppings, but they all turned out to be closed in by trees.  Adam jogged ahead to scout for the view. Tony, Linda, and I were all several hundred yards back when we heard Adam shouting ‘BEAR, BEAR, BEAR(S)’.  We all raced ahead, too – because who wants to miss a bear sighting?

Pass Mountain Hut
Shortly before reaching the junction with the Applachian Trail, we passed the Pass Mountain Hut. Below: The hut’s water source; Shelter log; Adam hiking the AT.

Water Source at Pass Mountain Shelter Log Walking the AT

We got there just in time to see two big, furry rear ends disappearing into the brush.  Adam, however, got a great close-up view of the bears.  Lucky!  Just a couple tenths of a mile past the bears, we spotted the side path to the view – Double Bear Rocks, named for the high population of bears in this area.  The view itself is quite nice, but what I remember most about this rocky outcropping is its seasonal abundance in blueberries!  Last time we hiked by this spot, it was July and there were berries everywhere!  In the short time we sat and enjoyed the view, clouds moved in, so we decided to be on our way.

The hike back simply retraced our steps coming up.  Since it was mostly downhill, it went by really quickly.  Before we knew it, we were back at our cars for a total hike of 8.3 miles with 1,750 feet of climbing.  We were all quite ready to make our way into Sperryville for some post-hike refreshments.  We decided to pick up a  to-go order from the Creekside Deli.  It’s a humble-looking building painted bright yellow, but there is nothing humble about their baked goods.  They make top-notch sandwiches on homemade bread, cookies, brownies, and other pastries.   We took our food over to Pen Druid brewery to enjoy a couple beers with lunch.  The brewery doesn’t have a kitchen, so they follow picnic rules. The guys at Pen Druid do small batches of interesting beers – most featuring wild yeast strains.   We had great conversation and agreed that we really must get out together more often.  Great day with friends!

Adam Says…

We always enjoy hiking with Tony and Linda.  When you get people together that have done a lot of hiking, our conversations always quickly go through talking about different trail systems.  We can all talk through different routes as if we were following a map along in our heads.  I’m not sure if it is dull conversation for others, but we enjoy talking about the places we have been or have been hoping to go.  Both Hiking Upward and our site were created to share our experiences.  We may have different approaches to the content, but we do this because of our love of nature and the ability to share hiking ideas with others.  We consider ourselves lucky to live where we live and to be able to have all of these experiences so close by – and we hope you enjoy it as well.

With Christine nursing an ankle injury, we picked a route that she thought would be a decent test with a little elevation but not overly challenging.  This route isn’t well-traveled and is accessed from outside of Shenandoah National Park on US-211, in between Luray and Sperryville, VA.  We arrived a few minutes before Tony and Linda, so we parked where we felt was the correct spot – a gravel pull-off at the bottom of a steep curve.  I consulted a map of the area and felt we were correct, but we didn’t see a signpost to designate the beginning of the trail.  I got out of the car and crossed the road near the sharp curve in the road and found the trail marker.

Two Bears on the AT
We saw a mama bear and her yearling cub not far from the viewpoint. Below: Tony scales a rocky lump near the summit of Pass Mountain.

Rocky Portion

The trail starts as the Pass Mountain trail.  While we felt this isn’t a heavily-traversed trail, we were surprised at how well this small section has been maintained.  The hike on the Pass Mountain Trail is a steady uphill climb, but the conditions of the trail made for easy footing.  On the way up, we caught up with what was going on with our lives  – from aging parents to worrisome dogs to trail sections to hiker rescues to beer.  Around the 2.75 mile mark, we reached the Pass Mountain Shelter.  We stopped and ate a snack and checked out the hiking log.   Christine’s ankle was feeling decent, so we decided to press further up the trail.  At the shelter, there is a junction with the fire road (Pass Mountain Hut Road), but the trail ascends up to the left of the shelter as you are facing it.  We continued up the trail until we reached the junction with the Appalachian Trail at 3.0 miles.

We remembered we found a nice overlook on Pass Mountain that was off the trail and we didn’t think it was too terribly far so we decided to try and find it again together.  We took a right, heading north on the white-blazed AT.  The trail continued to go slightly uphill, but the grade wasn’t as steep as most of the Pass Mountain Trail.  When we carried onward for about a mile, I decided to scout ahead a bit since I didn’t want Christine to put a lot of undue pressure on her ankle.  Trekking up ahead at a brisk speed, I came across a mother bear and a yearling bear cub ambling close to the trail.  They were both curious about me, so I said a few “Hey, bears” to let them know I wasn’t a threat.  They slowly were walking away, paying me little mind so I shouted back at the rest of the group “BEAR, BEAR” to let them know I spotted one.  I wondered if the group thought I was shouting for beer instead, but they understood.  When they caught up, they were able to see the bears not too far off but they had moved away from their comfy spot.

The Descent of Pass Mountain
The trail down is nicely graded with switchbacks. Below: Green plants were just beginning to reappear; Parking area – the road crossing can be very treacherous.

Descent of Pass Mountain Parking

Right around the corner from where we spotted the bear, we saw the jumbled rocks on the left of the trail that we remembered as being the viewpoint.  We cut off the trail and out onto the rocks to enjoy a nice view to the west.  There are nicer views in the park, but on a clear day you can see ridges of mountains for miles.

After taking in the view for a few minutes, we made our way back to our cars.  We continued our trip to Creekside Deli and then Pen Druid Brewery for some delicious food and drink before parting ways.  We look forward to our next adventure with them!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 8.3 miles roundtrip
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1730 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  This was a nice, moderate hike with steady but well-graded climbing.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.5.  The trail was in fantastic shape – very well maintained and tended to by the PATC. 
  • Views  3.5.  There’s a beautiful, but not quite panoramic view on the northern flank of Pass Mountain.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 0.  There isn’t any stream scenery, but there is a spring behind the Pass Mountain Hut.
  • Wildlife – 4.  We saw bears – a yearling cub and mama!
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 4.  We saw one couple at the hut, but no one else at all during the entirety of the 8+ mile hike.

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: The trail is located off of US-211 about 12 miles east of Luray, VA and 2.8 miles east of where US-211 crosses Skyline Drive.  The gravel lot is located at 38.66855, -78.28999.   Cross the road (be careful as this is a blind curve and cars may not see you easily) and at the bottom of the steep, sharp curve you will see the signpost for the Pass Mountain Trail.

Robertson Mountain

This 6.0 mile hike follows fire roads and trails to the summit of Robertson Mountain – one of Shenandoah’s less visited, more interior peaks.  It’s a moderate hike with fantastic views!

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Summit of Robertson Mountain
The summit of Robertson Mountain is less visited than many peaks in Shenandoah.

Christine Says…

Our traditional Thanksgiving day begins with a hike and ends with homemade pizza and beer.  I know it’s not the normal way to celebrate this holiday, but it’s what we’ve done for years now. Eating turkey would just be weird for us!  Last year, Skyline Drive was closed for weather, so we had a beautiful short hike along the Appalachian Trail in half a foot of fresh snow. I still remember losing the trail multiple times because branches were so heavily bowed over the path. Thanksgiving of 2015 was quite different! It was so warm and sunny that it felt more like early fall. Even with a brisk breeze, we were able to hike comfortably in t-shirts.

We wanted to hike something new, so we settled on Robertson Mountain. It’s not as well-known or popular as many other Shenandoah trail, but we heard it had nice views of Old Rag and the valley. The hike isn’t listed in any of our hiking guidebooks and most of the online information approaches Robertson Mountain from the Old Rag parking area. That route is known as one of the steepest climbs in the park.  We didn’t want to drive all the way around to Weakley Hollow, so we consulted our maps to find a route approaching the summit from Skyline Drive.

Buildings Along the Fire Road
This cluster of buildings is sometimes used for training events or ranger accommodations.  It was empty when we visited. Below: The hike started out on the Limberlost Trail; A pretty stream along the way; Most of this hike is walking on a fire road.

Limberlost Stream Along the Fire Road Old Rag Fire Road

We decided our best option was to park at Limberlost and follow that trail to the junction with the Old Rag fire road.  From there, we just followed the Old Rag fire road all the way down to its junction with the Robertson Mountain Trail.  At first, the route seemed a little confusing because the fire road and the Big Meadows Horse Trail shared course for a while.  Adam will give more specific details about benchmarks and distances in his portion of the post.  Most of the walking along the fire road was mundane.  We passed a pretty stream early on the route.  We also came across a cluster of backcountry cabins.  There wasn’t a sign marking them, but apparently they are used for training activities and ranger accommodations.   As we descended the fire road, eventually Robertson Mountain came into view.  Through the leafless trees, we could see it’s cone-like shape through branches.

We took a left onto the Robertson Mountain trail.  It’s the only ‘real’ section of trail on this hike – the majority is fire road and the graded path of Limberlost.  We climbed steadily for about three-quarters of a mile until we reached the top.  A side path made it’s way to a rocky outcropping.  We had the summit all to ourselves.  We enjoyed a light lunch and spectacular views of the mountains.  After leaving the summit, we explored a mountain-top campsite.  There was definitely enough room for a couple tents, but no water source.  Someone had recently put an illegal fire ring in at the site, so we dispersed the rocks before heading back down.

The hike back retraced our steps and was primarily an uphill climb back to Limberlost.  If you’re looking for the less steep, easier way to visit Robertson Mountain – this is your route!  The approach from Weakley Hollow is about the same total distance, but is a much steeper climb! All in all, this was a pleasant and moderate six mile hike.  The route wasn’t very exciting, but the great views more than made up for it. It was the perfect way to spend our Thanksgiving morning.

Approaching Robertson
We could see Robertson Mountain looming in the distance.  Below: Climbing the Robertson Mountain Trail; A campsite with remnants of an illegal fire near the summit; Arriving at the viewpoint.

Robertson Mountain Trail Campsite Near the Robertson Summit Arriving at Robertson Mountain Summit

Adam Says…

Robertson Mountain is one of those hikes that doesn’t get much publicity, but treats you with a serene view over a mountainous landscape with barely a glimpse of civilization.  Because of this, on most days, you will find that you can have this slice of serenity all to yourself.

We started our hike from the Limberlost Trail parking lot.  The Limberlost Trail is a small loop, but start heading on the left, clockwise from the parking lot.  There are several spurs that lead away from the Limberlost Trail and all of the junctions aren’t easily marked.  After going just a couple tenths of a mile, we came to a sign that states “Horse Trail” with arrows to Skyland and Big Meadows (the next trail that comes off the Limberlost Trail Loop is the White Oak Canyon Trail – this is not the trail you want).  Take this trail off the Limberlost Trail which is the Old Rag Fire Road.  The Old Rag Fire Road starts off mostly flat until the one mile mark.  At this point, it will start a steeper downhill.  At 1.7 miles, you reach a junction with the Indian Run trail, but stay on the Fire Road.  At 2.2 miles, you reach the bottom of the steep decline and reach another junction with the Corbin Hollow Trail. Stay on the Old Rag Fire Road and at 2.3 miles, you will see a small post on the left of the road that marks the beginning of the Robertson Mountain trail.

Robertson Mountain Summit
No one else to be seen on the trail on this day! Below: Gnarled trees near the summit; Descending Robertson Mountain; Returning to the junction of the Robertson Mountain Trail and the Fire Road.

Gnarled Trees Descending Robertson Mountain Back Up to Skyline Drive

Take this trail, which starts off through some thicker underbrush.  This trail is much steeper but it is a short climb of .6 miles.  The Robertson Mountain trail was very rocky and you think several times that you have reached a false summit, but the trail continues up.  At this 2.9 mile marker, there is a small side trail to the right that leads to the summit.   From the summit, you will see lots of nice rock outcroppings to enjoy the view.  Continue back the way you came to make this about a 6 mile out-and-back hike.

For those that want to bag a few different peaks from this hike, you can reach Old Rag from here also.  You could go back down the Robertson Mountain trail and then take a left at the Old Rag Fire Road.  Taking this and then joining the Saddle Trail would take another 4 miles to reach the summit of Old Rag.  This would give you about a 15-mile hike, so it could make a decent route for an overnight backpacking trip (but there isn’t really a water source) or a very long day hike for those that are very fit.  Shenandoah provides a nice, free trail map of this area on their website.

This was a great way to spend a day on a hidden gem of a hike.  While the fire road is not overly thrilling to see, it makes for some easy footing.  We feel we have done so much of Shenandoah National Park, so we were pleasantly surprised at how this tucked-away hike gave us some of the better views in the park.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 6.0 miles roundtrip
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1250 ft.
  • Difficulty –  2.5.  This was an easy to moderate hike.  The climbing was mostly gentle and well-graded.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  Most of the hike was along accessible trail or fire road.  The Robertson Mountain trail was typical Shenandoah single-track.
  • Views  4.5.  Beautiful and fairly expansive!
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 2.  There was one pretty stream early in the hike.
  • Wildlife – 3.  We saw deer and birds.  I am sure some hikers cross paths with bears in this area too.  We saw some scat along the fire road.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The junction of Limberlost and the Old Rag Fireroad is not well labeled, but it’s also hard to miss something as wide as a fire road.
  • Solitude – 4.  We saw some people around Limberlost, but nobody after that!

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply).  The Limberlost Parking lot is located around Mile Marker 43 on Skyline Drive.  Park in this lot.  Head left on the Limberlost Trail loop at the end of the parking lot.  Coordinates: 38.580055, -78.381473

Moormans River & Big Branch Falls

This 4.5-mile hike is close to Charlottesville and is extremely popular for its beautiful river scenery, swimming holes, and waterfalls.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam at the Falls
Adam at the Falls. Below: The beautiful Moormans River; Sugar Hollow Reservoir; Lunch stop after the hike.

Moorman's River Reservoir Crozet Pizza

Adam Says…

For people that are looking for a nice family-friendly waterfall near Charlottesville, look no further than this hike.  In fact, it was rare to not see groups of people that weren’t hiking as a family.  Most of the families with smaller children tended to stop along the river at some of the crossings to eat a snack or try and skip stones.  And I can’t think of any hike that I’ve been on where I have as many dogs on a trail.  So, if you want to take Fido for a walk (and a possible dip in the river) near Charlottesville, this would be a great spot as long as your dog is friendly with other dogs.  We saw a couple of dogs that were running full speed chasing each other and crashing into the water.  The park requires all dogs to be leashed, but we saw many (most!) people breaking this rule.

When we arrived at the trailhead, there were a ton of other cars here.  There are two parking lots on this hike – the first being the larger lot and the second being a half-mile further up a rough road, but I would recommend having a four-wheel drive due to the uneven ground (even though we did see a convertible BMW driving on here with reckless abandon).   The first, main parking lot was full, so we ended up parking along the roadside just a short distance prior to the first large parking lot.  From the parking lot, there are two trails.  You want to take the one that continues up the gravel road heading north (North Fork Trail).  Walking up the gravel road, we came to the second parking area at .5 miles.  There is a large closed gate directly behind the lot where the trail continues.

Stream Crossing
Christine rock hops across the stream. Below: The river was beautiful and clear; Adam checks out the rock wall at one of the crossings; Rapids from above.

Pretty River Rock Wall Scenic River

Most of the trail gives you nice views of the Moormans River as you are walking by.  In .75 miles, you reach your first of four river crossings.  There had been a recent, heavy rain so we were expecting these to be a little challenging.  The first three of the rock crossings were fairly easy to rockhop across.  The fourth crossing however required us to get our feet wet in the fast-flowing current.  We brought our crocs to change into for just this occasion and the cold water was refreshing.  It always makes us a little nervous carrying camera equipment though when the water is moving fast and you are not 100% sure of how deep the water is or if the rock you are putting your foot on is stable.  The water ended up halfway up my calf at one point, so if there has been a lot of rain, be careful.

At the 2.0 mile marker, the trail starts to gain some elevation.  At 2.15 miles, we took the side trail to Big Branch Falls.  You arrive at the lower falls fairly quickly, but continue further and you will see the larger Big Branch Falls at 2.25 miles.  Because of the recent rains, the water was flowing nicely over the top, but probably during the dry summer months, this would be less impressive.  After we took some time to enjoy the falls, we headed back the way we came to get back to our car at 4.5 miles.

After our trip, we headed to nearby Crozet, VA to try Crozet Pizza.  We had heard about how wonderful their pizza was for about 25 years now and I’m glad to say that we finally got to try it.  Then, we stopped right down the road at Starr Hill brewery to sample a few post-hike beers.

Christine Says…

What a beautiful March day we had to hike Moormans River!  It was the first day in a long time that actually felt warm.  Early wildflowers were starting to bloom and the sunshine felt great.  We started out pretty early, but found the parking lot already completely full at the trailhead.  We had to find a place alongside the gravel road with enough room to park our car.  After we were situated, I started MapMyHike, grabbed my camera, and started hiking.

I pointed my camera up to take a shot of the first trail marker, and the camera wouldn’t even turn on! Hmm… I had recently charged the battery, so it didn’t really make sense.  I pulled out the battery and memory card to reset everything, and still no power.  I figured that I had finally killed my Canon Rebel T2i.  That camera has accompanied me on countless hikes.  It’s been rained on, bumped against rocks, left sitting out overnight in the damp.  I’m not careful with it at all, because I find I just don’t take photos when my camera is safely packed away in its padded, waterproof bag.  I knew it would eventually meet this end.  So… today, you get photography from my cell phone!  Honestly, my phone takes decent photos – just not quite as nice as my dSLR. (Fortunately, when I got home, I found that the battery was drained after all.  I guess I stored it accidentally with the power button depressed.  The Rebel lives to fight another day!)

Lower Falls
The lower falls are really pretty. Below: A view of the upper and lower falls; Rock hopping; One crossing was too deep to rock hop – so we waded.

Looking up the Falls First Attempt  Better Wading

The water was flowing beautifully and we really enjoyed the sights and sounds of running water all through our hike.  The trail was one of the easiest we’ve hiked in a long time. It’s relatively level and not too rocky.  The stream crossings were all moderate to easy, with the exception of the final one. The last crossing required us to put on water shoes and wade across.  We saw several people attempt to rock hop, but they all ended up with wet boots.

When we reached the spur trail to the falls, there were several groups of people at each viewing point.  We waited our turn and spent a few minutes enjoying and taking photos of the upper falls. One group had climbed up to the top of the falls and was picnicking on the rocks alongside the cascade.  A man with the group walked out to the precipitous, domed edge of the falls several times. We were worried he might slip and have a nasty fall to the rocks below. Thankfully that didn’t happen!

On our way back down, we scrambled off the trail to a rock shelf beneath the lower falls. On the climb back up, I stuck my trekking pole in a hidden hole.  When the pole suddenly dropped and vanished under the weight of me climbing up, I slipped and smashed the bridge of my nose into the trekking pole handle.  Wow – did that hurt!  I thought I hit hard enough to break the skin open, but thankfully it was just swollen and lightly bruised.  Between that and the broken camera, it was not one of my luckier days on the trail!

Dam and Reservoir
The dam and reservoir. Below: Yum – Crozet Pizza; Flight at Starr Hill.

Crozet Pizza Starr Hill Beer

The hike back went very quickly.  After we got back to the car, we made our way to a great lunch at Crozet Pizza and a flight of beers at Starr Hill.  It was a fun day!  I would definitely recommend this hike when there has been significant, recent rain.  The falls dry up pretty quickly.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.5 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 625 ft.
  • Difficulty –  2.  The hike is not difficult with the distance and elevation, but the stream crossings could be a challenge.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail is heavily-used and well-maintained. 
  • Views  1.5.  You do get some elevated views of the river.  Views from the top of the dam (after the hike) are really nice too, but don’t count in the score because they’re not technically part of the hike!
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 4.  The waterfalls are nice to see (but could be disappointing in dryer months), but the highlight is probably walking along Moormans River. 
  • Wildlife – 0.  Due to the location and popularity, I wouldn’t expect to see much. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  Once we knew where to go from the parking lot, it was easy to navigate. 
  • Solitude – 1.5.  I would expect on a nice day, you should see lots of people.  Go early to beat the crowds and to get parking. But, there weren’t as many people going all the way to Big Branch Falls.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From I-64 near Charlottesville, take exit 124 for US-250W.  Turn right on 250-W and go 5 miles.  Take the Country Road 654/Barracks Road exit.  Turn right on Barracks Road and go 2 miles.  Continue on SR 601/Garth Road for 9 miles.  Continue straight on to Sugar Hollow Road for 5.5 miles.  When you pass the Sugar Hollow Reservoir on the left, you are getting close.  The road turns into gravel and you will eventually arrive at the first large parking area.   Park here and walk further up the road for .5 miles until you reach the second parking area and closed gate.

Furnace Mountain – Austin Mountain Loop

This 12-mile loop combines numerous park trails into one great route!  You’ll pass by several gorgeous viewpoints, walk along pretty Madison Run, and cross massive talus slopes.  It’s a challenging hike with about 3,000 feet of climbing.

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On the Shoulder of Austin Mountain
Adam crosses one of the large talus slopes on the side of Austin Mountain.

Christine Says…

The Austin Mountain – Furnace Mountain Loop has the reputation of being one of the park’s toughest and longest day hikes.  Not only is the terrain rocky and rugged, there is also a serious amount of climbing involved.  Essentially, you climb up from the valley floor, traversing several mountains along the way – Furnace, Trayfoot, Blackrock, and Austin. While you don’t technically reach the summits of Austin or Trayfoot, you come within a couple hundred feet of these viewless/inaccessible summits.

Most sources begin this hike from the Browns Gap parking area on Skyline Drive.  For us, it’s a much shorter drive to start down in the valley, at the park perimeter near Grottoes.  We parked along the roadside where Browns Gap Rd meets the Madison Run fire road.  This is a popular park entry point for hikers and equestrians alike.  It can get crowded if you don’t get an early start on the day.

Crossing Madison Run
Adam crosses Madison Run. Below: Pretty sun rays on the fire road; Walking up Furnace Mountain; Small talus slopes and views on the Furnace Mountain trail.

Browns Gap Fireroad Climbing Furnace View from the Furnace Mountain Trail

After walking up the Madison Run fire road for a short distance, the Furnace Mountain trail begins on the right with a rock-hop crossing of Madison Run.  For a little over a mile, you’ll ascend Furnace Mountain before coming to a cement post that marks the spur trail to the summit of Furnace Mountain.  The spur trail is about half a mile and leads to a fantastic viewpoint.  You can see Skyline Drive if you look carefully.  If you look across the gorge, you’ll see the huge talus slopes of Austin Mountain that you’ll cross later in the hike.  On this particular day, we skipped the side trail to the summit of Furnace.  We had hiked Furnace Mountain just a few weeks earlier and knew we had many miles to go and other views to enjoy along the way.

The ascent continues in earnest along the Furnace Mountain Trail.  Eventually, you’ll come to a junction with the Trayfoot Mountain trail.  Take a left and descend.  This trail is an old road bed, so it’s wide and nicely graded.  After a few tenths of a mile, you’ll come to another cement marker post.  Follow the trail to the right in the direction of Blackrock Summit.  This rocky jumble will be your best view on the hike!  We chose to eat lunch at this spot.  That probably wasn’t the best of ideas, because the strong wind made the summit bitterly cold.  It’s no fun to eat PB&J with your teeth chattering and while you’re wearing gloves.  Needless to say, we ate quickly!

Overlook on Furnace Mountain
The view from Furnace Mountain. Below:  From Furnace Mountain you can see the massive talus slopes on Austin Mountain; Looking back at Furnace Mountain; Junction of Furnace Mountain and Trayfoot Mountain trails.

View of Austin Mountain from Furnace Mountain Looking Back at Furnace Mountain Furnace-Trayfoot Junction

Rounding Blackrock Summit leads you to the Appalachian Trail.  To continue this route, head north on the AT for a couple miles until you reach the Browns Gap parking area on Skyline Drive.  This section of AT is fast going – it’s practically flat and uncomplicated.  You’ll pass the Dundo picnic area along the way.  If you run out of water, there is a clean tap at the picnic area.

From the Browns Gap parking area, follow the fire road downhill for .8 of a mile.  A cement post on the right marks the Madison Run Spur Trail.  This trail will go steeply uphill to a junction with the Rockytop and Big Run trails.  Bear to the left on the Rockytop trail.  Follow the Rockytop trail for several tenths of a mile until you reach another cement marker for the Austin Mountain trail. If you hike when leaves are off the trees, you’ll get some great ridge views in this area.

Once you turn left onto the Austin Mountain trail, you’ll have a little over 3 miles to go before you hit fire road again.  The terrain starts off easily enough, following a lovely ridge overlooking Dundo Hollow and Furnace Mountain (from earlier in your hike).   The views are really nice, and it’s impressive to look back on all the distance you’ve traversed!

Adam on Blackrock Summit
Adam takes in the view from Blackrock Summit.  Below: View from the Trayfoot Mountain trail; Arriving at Blackrock summit; Playing on the rocks.

View from Trayfoot Trail Blackrock Summit Blackrock Summit

But a little over a mile along the Austin Mountain trail, the talus slopes begin.  From there, it’s an endless field of loose rocks for nearly a mile.  When you think you’re done with rocks, surprise… there are more rocks!  Don’t miss looking up and behind you – the cliff-like wall of Austin Mountain looks like a crenulated castle wall. After you cross the last talus slope, you have a steep, knee-grinding descent back to the Madison Run fire road.

Once you reach the fire road, you just have a easy .6 mile road-walk back to your start point.  The stream is especially scenic along this stretch.  After getting back to the car, we decided we had earned milkshakes!  It was a fun day and a great challenge!

Adam Says…

We decided to try and tackle this loop since we wanted to get some good training for some longer hikes.  While we were able to get out and do a few good hikes over the winter months, this was definitely a challenging hike to do before we (or at least I) had gotten my “summer trail legs”.  This particular hike did a toll on me, especially the last couple of miles.

Junction of Trayfoot with the Appalachian Trail
The junction of the Trayfoot Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Below: Hiking the AT; Arriving at Browns Gap and the fire road; The junction with the Austin Mountain Trail.

Appalachian Trail Spur Trail Junction of Big Run & Austin Mountain Trails

The water across Madison Run was running a little higher and faster than normal, but we were able to rockhop across and begin our hike.  The hike up Furnace Mountain is a steady uphill, but does lead to some nice views along the way.  There is one section that has a small talus slope that we thought was impressive, but little did we know what Austin Mountain would bring later in the day.  At the junction of the spur trail, we met a couple that was doing the same loop but camped along Madison Run that morning.  They had started from the Browns Gap parking area in Shenandoah National Park, but had a day of mostly uphill climbing this day.  As Christine mentioned, we decided to skip the overlook and made our way to Blackrock Summit.

Talus Slopes
Huge talus slopes on Austin Mountain.  Below: Views from the Austin Mountain Trail; Talus slopes and a view of Furnace Mountain; Descending Austin Mountain.

Walking the Austin Mountain Trail Looking at Furnace Mountain from Austin Mountain Steep Descent of Austin Mountain

At Blackrock, the wind was incredibly strong and cold.  There was still ice in the crevices between the rocks in most places.  We sat out to eat some lunch, but our hands were trembling in the cold, which made for challenging and rushed eating.  We quickly got out of there and joined the Appalachian Trail, heading north.  We made quick time on this flatter section of trail and crossed Skyline Drive.  The trail stays close to Skyline Drive until you reach the Dundo picnic area (which does have bathrooms if you need it).

Passing the picnic area, we crossed Skyline Drive again after 6.5 miles.  After crossing the road, we made our way through the parking lot and crossed the gate blocking the fire road.  Heading down the fire road was easy walking.  At mile 7.3, we spotted the cement post on the side of the road, leading up the Madison Run Spur Trail.  This section was steep but short as we reached the crest and junction with the Rockytop Trail.  We took a left here which continues uphill and reaches the junction with the Austin Mountain Trail around 8.2 miles.  Bear to the left and the trail begins to go downhill finally.

Madison Run
Pretty Madison Run.  Below: Crenulations on Austin Mountain; Adam coming down to the fire road; Walking the fire road back to the car.

Spires on Austin Mountain Return to Fire Road Walking the Fire Road

Right before this junction, my IT bands near my right knee began to hurt.  Sometimes when one knee begins to hurt, you tend to overcompensate with the other.  We came across a hiker that was hiking up and he warned us there was a mile of loose rock to walk on.  We soon reached the huge talus slopes.  When you have one leg giving you pain, the last thing you want to see is loose rock footing for as long as you can see.  The views of the slope were impressive, as well as looking across the mountainous valley to see Furnace Mountain, but the pain was keeping me from having the best of times.  With vultures ominously circling above my head, I felt they didn’t have much faith I would make it.  Just when we thought we had reached across the slopes, the trail turns back and works it way down the mountain, giving us lower parts of the slopes and more rocks.  We finally reached the bottom of the trail and joined the Madison Run Road at 11.2 miles.  It was a flat walk along the side of a picturesque creek until we made our way back to the car in .8 miles.

While this was a tough hike, it was rewarding.  This hike has great views, unique geology, and a picturesque creek.  If you don’t want to tackle it in one day, it would make a nice backpacking loop, but I would recommend starting at Brown’s Gap to split the hike and leave you camping by the water source of Madison Run.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 12 miles  Add .5 mile, each way, if you take the spur trail out to the overlook atop Furnace Mountain.  You can make a shorter, easier loop if you descend via the fire road and skip Austin Mountain)
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 2900 ft.
  • Difficulty –  4.5.  The length and amount of climbing make this tough.
  • Trail Conditions – 2.  While the trail was well-maintained, the footing on the talus slopes brings this score down due to the challenge of walking on loose rock for over a mile of the trail.   
  • Views  4.  You have nice views from Furnace Mountain if you add that spur, but Blackrock Summit and views along the Austin Mountain Trail make it worthwhile.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 3.  Madison Run is a nice wide stream and reliable water source year-round.
  • Wildlife –2.  We didn’t see much, but there have been bear sightings along the Austin Mountain portion of the trail.
  • Ease to Navigate – 2.5.  There are lots of trails that cross, so pay attention to the signs.  The trickiest is around the Blackrock Summit area.
  • Solitude – 3.  You will likely see people at Blackrock summit, but not a lot of activity elsewhere. 

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From I-81, take exit 256 heading east towards Weyers Cave.  Go 6.6 miles and take a left on US-340/Augusta Avenue.  Go .1 miles and take a right on Cary Street.  In .2 miles, continue on to VA-663/Brown’s Gap Road.  In 1.9 miles, turn right on to the dirt fire road.  Follow this 1.1 miles and you will reach the parking area.  Look for the concrete post for Furnace Mountain which will have you instantly rock-hopping across Madison Run to start your hike.

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

Neighbor Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop

This 14.7 mile route offers wilderness, beautiful views, and stunning stream scenery (even a small waterfall!)  It’s a wonderful, moderate overnight backpacking loop; or a really challenging day hike.  We set out intending to camp along Jeremy’s Run, but it didn’t quite go as planned!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Views from the Neighbor Mountain Trail
The views on this loop hike come along the descent of Neighbor Mountain. Below: The trailhead at Elkwallow Picnic Area;  Hiking along in golden woods; Adam and Kris at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and Neighbor Mountain Trail.

Neighbor Mountain - Jeremys Run Start Hiking Along Junction of AT and Neighbor Mountain Trail

Christine Says…

The final weekend of October 2014 was so beautiful – perfect, made-to-order backpacking weather. We decided to head out on one more overnighter before the weather turned cold. We invited our friend, Kris, to come along. She loves the outdoors as much as we do, and I was sure she’d enjoy this loop. Don’t miss her guest blogger entry later in this post! It had been several years since we last hiked in the vicinity of Jeremy’s Run, and I was really looking forward to camping along the beautiful stream.

After stocking up on some lunch provisions at Elkwallow Wayside, we finally hit the trail around 11:00. We figured we had a little over eight miles of hiking on our first day, so starting late morning would get us to camp before 3:00, with plenty of daylight left to pitch tents, cook dinner, and relax.

Neighbor Mountain Trail
Hiking along the Neighbor Mountain Trail. Below: The fall color was still close to peak; Adam checks out a rock formation; At the summit of Neighbor Mountain.

Golden Woods Rock Formation Summit of Neighbor Mountain

We started out at the Elkwallow Picnic Area. A short spur trail leads downhill to the junction with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. The AT descends for about .3 of a mile before coming to a junction with the blue-blazed Jeremy’s Run Trail. Follow the Appalachian Trail, veering to the left. The trail ascends for a little over a mile before coming to a more level ridge. You’ll pass the junction with the Thorton River trail, continuing south on the AT. At just over four miles into the hike, you’ll reach the junction with the yellow-blazed Neighbor Mountain trail.

We decided this junction would be a nice place to stop for lunch (hummus – my favorite trail lunch of late – easy to eat and lots of quality calories!). After a relaxing, thirty-minute break, we took the turn onto the Neighbor Mountain trail. The path meandered across the ridge. For the first couple miles, it was mostly walking in the woods. There was a nice breeze and gorgeous sparkling sunshine was filtering through golden leaves. It was everything you want fall to be!

Even though there is no view, the summit of Neighbor Mountain is marked with a cement post. At the summit, I noticed I had picked up a ‘hitchhiker’ along the way – a walking stick bug was clinging to my pants. I wonder how far he had come with me. I picked him off, and set him on a fallen log off the trail.

Between six and seven miles into the hike, there are a few excellent views of the Massanutten ridge and Three Sisters. There was a forest fire in this area several years ago, so the view was pretty open and expansive. We all paused a while to enjoy the fall foliage.  It was so wonderful to see colorful mountains rolling our before us. We talked about how privileged and blessed we all felt to be out on such an amazing day!

View of Valley
Adam enjoys a view of the valley and mountains to the west. Below: This part of Neighbor Mountain burned in 2012.  Alot of damage is still evident; Fall color; Adam descends Neighbor Mountain toward Jeremys Run.

Neighbor Mountain Descent Neighbor Mountain Descent Neighbor Mountain Descent

The last mile and a half of the day was steady downhill, meandering across switchbacks until the Neighbor Mountain trail reached the bottom of the valley and Jeremy’s Run. As soon as you reach the stream, campsites are everywhere. The first few we passed were already taken, so we ended up returning to the hidden campsite we used several years earlier. It’s a flat spot under the trees shortly before the first water crossing.

And here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn…

Adam Says…

We all worked on pitching our tents and setting up camp. I set up our tent while Christine worked on inflating our sleeping pads. Kris was on the other side of the clearing working on setting up the one-person tent she had borrowed, when she suddenly she groaned, “Uh… guys – I think we might have a little problem.”

As it turned out, the tent bag only held the rain fly and the poles. The ground cloth and the actual tent were missing in action. She hadn’t checked the bag before hitting the trail.  We spent the next 45 minutes trying to improvise a shelter with everything and anything we had. We tried piling three people in our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 (bad idea). We discussed whether or not the evening would be suitable for cowboy camping under the stars. We talked through a few different scenarios: 1) we all hike back immediately, 2) I sleep under the tarp while Kris and Christine sleep in the tent, or 3) I hike back to the car tonight and pick them up in the morning.  I was least excited about the second option because the area felt tick-infested with the wet leaves.  We debated the options for a few minutes, but ultimately, we decided the best choice was to keep the group together and make our backpacking trip into a very long day hike.

Failed Camp
We tried to find a way to rig up shelter, but in the end we decided it was better to hike out. Below: Crossing the first stream and trying to eat something with enough calories to hike out happily; Adam doing one of many stream crossings; The best campsite along Jeremys Run sits above a waterfall.

Crossing Jeremys Run Crossing Jeremys Run Waterfall Campsite on Jeremy Run

We knew we only had a little over an hour of daylight left – the sun sets early behind the mountains surrounding Jeremy’s Run.  We rushed to pack everything up as quickly as we could. Cooking a hot dinner would have required getting more water, so we opted to just eat a few snacks from our bags.   We started off at a quick pace.  I twisted my knee at the first major water crossing we had to make, which made the rest of the trip pretty painful. But sometimes, you just have to suck it up and hike.

We soon passed another great campsite next to a small waterfall.  The trail meanders along and across Jeremy’s Run, requiring lots of rock-hopping across the stream.  The sun was dipping down quickly and we soon found that we needed to put on our headlamps.  Christine and Kris had legit headlamps, but I was using a small clip-on headlight that didn’t have the lumen output needed for a night hike.  When it reached dusk a few miles from our campsite, we came across a couple with a dog.  They asked us how far it was to the campsites and if they were all taken.  The guy was carrying an outrageous amount of gear and the girl looked completely miserable.  We knew they were going to be hiking to the campsites by nightfall and setting up camp in the dark.  I’m not sure if this was her first venture into overnight camping, but based on the daggers she was shooting him with her eyes, it may be their last.  They warned us they had seen a couple of bears just ahead of us, so we were on full alert.

Headlamps
We hiked by headlamp the last hour. Below: Jeremys Run in twilight; A large pool along the run; One of the last few stream crossings before it became too dark to take photos.

Jeremys Run Jeremys Run Jeremys Run

As it became fully dark, we still had a few stream crossings to make, which made it quite hazardous.  I reminded myself that the water wasn’t that deep so if we stepped in the water, we would probably be OK.  Another danger of night-hiking is the ability to lose the trail.  We really had to pay attention to the ground and try to keep an eye out for occasional blazes to make sure we would stay on the trail.  Hiking in the fall after most of the leaves have covered the trail provides an extra challenge.  Because I had a weaker headlamp, it was hard for me to lead along the trail since the lights from Christine and Kris were blasting my shadow ahead of me on the ground.  And then, I heard large noises in the woods, which I’m guessing was the bears that we had been warned about.  We kept talking loudly and playing some games to keep our minds sharp (animals/foods/colors that start with each letter of the alphabet) as we hiked along.

At 4.25 miles from our intended campsite, we finally came across a concrete marker post.  This post marked the junction with the Knob Mountain cutoff trail, so we knew were getting closer.  We kept straight on the Jeremy’s Run Trail and at 5.15 miles, we reached our first junction with the Neighbor Mountain Trail.  It was now just .3 miles straight ahead until we reached the parking lot where we started.  We made the last climb with renewed energy and celebrated that we made it through this adventure.

It was definitely one of the longest hikes we have done in a day and with the extra weight on our back, was one of the toughest.  We got back in the car and decided to go out to dinner to celebrate with drinks and food at Ciro’s in Elkton, VA.  We were physically exhausted and hungry, but it was quite an adventure we will never forget.

One takeaway I had from this trip was that we were all great at hiking together.  When we faced the challenge of not having two functional tents, we kept our wits about us, made a quick decision and went with it.  There was no complaining and we just relied on each other to get through.  If we had panicked or become overly upset, it could have led to a dangerous situation.  It is through this challenge, that we learned that having good hiking partners that work well together is a great trait to have for survival.  We all vowed to come back to this spot to camp together sometime in the spring to get the full experience through camping on Jeremy’s Run.  After the hike, Kris bought her own tent and I bought a better headlamp.

kris Kris Says…

Backpacking 101- It doesn’t matter if you were up late celebrating your birthday and borrowing some equipment…ALWAYS double check your equipment or your trip will not be so fly!

I was excited to be hiking with friends on a beautiful fall day.  We have always shared an appreciation of nature, lots of conversations and tons of laughter. I guess that is why we handled our little upset so calmly and reasonably. Although, I’m pretty sure I said  “Adam, just because I am a girl doesn’t mean you have to give up your tent.  I will cowboy up. Now, everyone hand over any booze or sleep aides you may have!” Of course that didn’t fly.

Ultimately we laughed at the situation, even as we crossed that creek 14 or so times and in the dark.  And I learned a few things on this trip: I am capable of hiking 15 miles with a 25 lbs pack in a day, Little Debbie Peanut Butter pies are so tasty and 400 calories, it was time to purchase my own backpacking tent, a packing checklist is important and a good attitude goes a long way.

I vowed to return to Jeremy’s Run and hike early enough to snag the sweet waterfall camp spot, I also plan to cowboy camp sometime just to prove I can (my dog will protect me).

Christine and Adam- you two are SuperFly!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 14.7 miles
    (We had issues with MapMyHike on this trip, so we have partial stats. We have the Neighbor Mountain segment and most of the Jeremys Run to Elkwallow segment. We’re missing the portion along the Appalachian Trail and a few early tenths of a mile along Jeremy’s Run.  Technical issues!)*
  • Elevation Change – 2610 ft.
  • Difficulty –  4.  The terrain is fairly moderate throughout the hike, but the length ups the difficulty rating.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  Sections along the Appalachian Trail and Neighbor Mountain are in great shape.  The Jeremy’s Run trail is rocky and has at least 14 water crossings – some of them can be challenging!
  • Views  3.5.  The views descending Neighbor Mountain are beautiful, but never fully open/panoramic.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 3.5.  The stream is beautiful and scenic.
  • Wildlife – 5.  We saw a bobcat!  Hikers we passed at sunset told us there was a bear ahead, but we couldn’t see anything in the dark.  But, the last time we hiked in this area, we saw three bears.  We have also seen/heard owls, pileated woodpeckers, and whippoorwills.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The junctions are clearly marked and easy to follow — unless you’re hiking in the dark!  🙂
  • Solitude –1.  It’s the most popular backpacking loop in the park’s northern district.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From the US-211 entrance of Shenandoah National Park, head north for 9 miles on Skyline Drive.  Take a left towards the Mathews Arm Campground.  In .7 miles, you will reach a parking lot.  The trail takes off next to the outdoor bathroom.

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