If you’ve hiked the Laurel Prong-Mill Prong Loop, you’ve hiked over Hazeltop and past this viewpoint. But Hazeltop is fantastic on its own as an out-and-back. At 3.9 miles, this route is an easy stroll to a gorgeous vista.
The day was supposed to be rainy and stormy, but I woke up to sunshine (and a dog with too much energy). I decided to hike Hazeltop Mountain in Shenandoah’s central section. It’s a beautiful, easy route with a nice viewpoint at the summit.
Park at Milam Gap on the western side of Skyline Drive. Follow the crosswalk across the Drive and pick up the Appalachian Trail headed south. At .1 mile, you’ll come to a cement marker. If you turn left, you’ll be on the Mill Prong Trail headed toward Hoover’s Rapidan Camp. Today, stay straight and continue on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.
The trail goes very gently uphill through an area that once was used as an orchard. Apple trees are mixed in with the rest of the typical forest. There’s really nothing terribly noteworthy about the trail – it’s a pretty dirt ribbon through forest.
There are tons of wildflowers in the spring and lush ferns in the summer. On this particular day, I had really great luck with birds – I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak, an American restart, and (briefly) a turkey puffed up and showing his plumage. Indy scared the turkey away – and in case you didn’t know… turkeys can fly. They look very awkward doing so.
At 1.9 miles, look for an unmarked spur trail on the right side of the trail. Follow the spur for about 50 yards through a grassy area with a rocky outcrop overlooking the western valley. It’s really a lovely spot! It can be easy to miss the spur if you’re not paying attention. The summit is not marked in any way. If you start descending, you’ve gone too far and will need to turn around and find the spur trail.
After you’ve enjoyed the view, return the way you came, arriving back at Milam Gap at 3.9 miles.
Distance – 3.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change – 597 ft.
Difficulty – 1.5. I think this hike feels mostly flat, but the profile says it’s a gradual uphill.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is smooth and well-maintained. There were a few blowdowns blocking the trail in spring 2019.
Views – 4. The view from the summit is excellent. There is a nice outcropping to sit on and plenty of space to enjoy lunch or a snack.
Streams/Waterfalls – 0. The trail is dry.
Wildlife – 5. I saw lots of bird species and a flock of turkeys. On other hikes along the same stretch, I’ve seen lots of deer and a few bears.
Ease to Navigate – 3. The Appalachian Trail is well marked and easy to follow, but don’t miss the unmarked spur trail to the viewpoint.
Solitude – 3. I usually see people, but never many.
Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply). Parking is at Milam Gap. There is a large lot with space for about 12-15 cars. GPS Coordinates for parking: 38.501969, -78.445705.
This 4.75 mile hike is probably one of the best places in the park to experience the spring trillium bloom. It’s nothing short of spectacular along this section of Appalachian Trail. This route also features two views – both are obstructed – so it’s best to hike this route before trees at higher elevations leaf out.
When the days get longer, I find myself skipping the gym and hitting the trail instead. I like having an arsenal of short 3-5 mile hikes I can do on weeknights after I get off work. This route is one of my favorites, especially in the spring when the trillium are blooming in Shenandoah National Park. The flowers are so abundant along this stretch that they practically carpet the forest floor. It’s beautiful, but it’s also ephemeral. The trillium only last a couple of weeks each April into early May.
Last night, I loaded Indy the Hiker Pug into his crate and headed up to the park. Down in the valley, it was sunny and 87 degrees. When I parked along the Pocosin Fire Road – where the hike starts – it was a full 17 degrees cooler and delightfully breezy. We followed the fire road for .2 of a mile to its junction with the Appalachian Trail. If you continue straight down the road, you’ll pass the PATC’s Pocosin Cabin and eventually reach the old mission ruins. It’s a nice hike for another day. But for this route, take a left at the cement marker and head north on the Appalachian Trail. The trail meanders downhill for a couple tenths of a mile where you’ll cross a spring and get a pretty view of the valley to the east.
From there, the trail levels out, allowing you to saunter along for about a mile. At about a mile and a half, the trail runs closely parallel to Skyline Drive. You’ll see cars passing – sometimes people wave. As the trail moves away from the road, you’ll begin to ascend gently but steadily uphill for about half a mile. At close to the two mile mark, you will reach a road and another cement marker at the southern end of Lewis Mountain Campground. If you need a snack or bathroom break, Lewis Mountain Campground has a camp store and restrooms open seasonally. Take a right, and follow the Lewis Mountain Trail. For the first tenth of a mile, the trail follows a utility road, but then it turns back into single track through the woods for the remaining few tenths of a mile. The forest around here is open and grassy. You’ll then climb some wooden stairs built into a hillside and pass through a small tunnel of mountain laurel. The trail hooks to the right and leads to the summit of Lewis Mountain – a small rocky spot with obstructed views to the east.
On this particular day, the weather was odd. Along the trail and to the west, skies were clear and sunny. But to the east, a dense bank of fog was lying against the side of the mountains. So, instead of an obstructed view, I got NO view. It was fine though, I think fog is pretty and I had some older photos of the view spot to share for this post. I gave Indy some water and rested for a few minutes before heading back. On the return hike, I chatted with a few section-hikers making their way to camp at Bearfence Hut. One of them was thrilled to see Indy on the trail. She also has a hiking pug named ‘Bronx’. She showed me a cute photo of Bronx hiking in Colorado. He wasn’t on this trip with her, but she was delighted to meet another pug that hikes.
I got back to the car pretty quickly – the return trip is mostly downhill or flat. When I got home, I had to remove THIRTEEN ticks from the dog. This is despite him being treated with Frontline regularly. I also spray his bed with permethrin. I think I got all the ticks off him, but if any were left hopefully the Frontline and permethrin will take care of killing them before they transmit any diseases. I know every year the media says ‘this is going to be a bad year for ticks’, but this year it’s the truth. In my four decades of hiking, I have never seen such issues with ticks. I want to remind everyone to take precautions. Tickborne diseases are nothing to mess with.
One final note – starting at Pocosin is also a great way to hike Bearfence Mountain. I always feel like the Bearfence hike is too short, so I like parking at Pocosin and hiking north for about 3.5 miles to the Bearfence summit.
Distance – 4.75 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change – 820 ft.
Difficulty – 2. This is an easy hike with gradual uphills.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is smooth and well-maintained.
Views – 2. There is a view of the valley along the trail early in the hike. There is also a view at the summit of Lewis Mountain, but it is quite grown in by larger trees.
Streams/Waterfalls – 1. You’ll cross one small spring.
Wildlife – 5. I’ve seen all kinds of birds, a bobcat, deer, and bears along this stretch.
Ease to Navigate – 4. The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
Solitude – 4. I guess because there are no grand vistas, you really don’t see many people dayhiking in this area. I usually only see backpackers making their way to Bearfence Hut.
Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply). Parking is located in several spots along the Pocosin Fire Road in the Central Section on Skyline Drive. The turn onto the road comes up quickly and is not marked, so pay attention. It’s near mile 59.5 on the Drive. GPS Coordinates for parking: 38.413585, -78.488959
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We did this 27-mile Appalachian Trail section over three days at the tail end of summer 2017. The trail was beautiful and quiet with lots of interesting things to see along the way. We camped one night and spent the other luxuriating at Woods Hole Hostel. This may have been one of Christine’s favorite sections yet!
We decided to celebrate Christine’s birthday by completing a section of the Appalachian Trail over a few days. I had a couple of surprises for her along the way which hopefully made it an even better trip for her. I arranged a shuttle driver to meet us at a parking lot off Narrows Road near Pearisburg, VA. We loaded up and he drove us on some beautiful back roads until we got to our dropoff point at Kimberling Creek. There was a small parking lot here and a suspension bridge that spanned the creek. We took a few pictures, crossed the road, and then started our trip north on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail on a two day trip back to our car. The trail started off with a bit of a steep climb, which is always a quick reminder of the weight you decided to pack in your backpack.
The climb was short-lived and after about a mile, the trail started to slope back downhill. At 1.8 miles, we reached a side trail that showed that Dismal Falls was just .3 miles away. Since it was early in the day, we decided to check it out and we were so glad we did. Dismal Falls was one of the more picturesque waterfalls I have seen and the setting just invites you to waste some time there. Even with low amounts of water falling, it is a great swimming hole area with great places to perch above and watch the water. We ate some snacks, explored the nearby area, and took many pictures before deciding to head on. While we were there, we only had a few other people that came by and they all approached it from the roadside that we could see in the distance behind the waterfall. We were glad we put the effort to see such a beautiful place. We grabbed our stuff and then headed back to rejoin the AT, bringing our mileage to 2.4 miles.
Continuing on, most of the hiking for this day was rather pleasant – there was a slight uphill climb but overall was not too tough. There were lots of footbridges and water crossings along the way, so this was not a day where we felt like we needed to carry much water since we weren’t terribly far from a water source. Eventually, we hiked next to a large, scenic pond that joined up to a dirt road at about 8.4 miles. From here, it was just a couple of tenths of a mile to our first stop on our trip, Wapiti Shelter.
Wapiti Shelter has some dark history to it. Christine had already heard the story before, but she waited to tell me about it until we got there. The old Wapiti shelter was the place where a couple of murders had taken place in 1981. A man named Randall Lee Smith befriended a couple of hikers and then murdered them in their sleeping bags that night. Smith was captured and imprisoned, and then met parole to be released in 1996. In 2008, Smith returned just a few miles away and tried to kill two fisherman but wrecked his truck in the getaway and died from the injuries he sustained when he was taken to prison. If you want to read more about this story, check it out here. Keep in mind, that the shelter today is located a couple miles away from where the murder happened, so ghost stories that the trail journals would like you to believe are simply not true.
As we were setting up camp, I surprised Christine with an additional camp pillow for a birthday present. She had been complaining recently about how she wish she had multiple pillows when backpacking, because one inflatable pillow just wasn’t enough. She was thrilled when I brought the extra one out of my pack. We set up our tent not far from the shelter and a bit later, we were eventually joined by other hikers, including two from Australia and one from Germany. The best water source at this campsite was back the way we came at the bottom of the hill. We told the other campers about the murder story but only after they asked specifically about it after reading logbook entries. I think everyone slept well that night despite the ghost tale.
Christine Says: Day Two – Wapiti Shelter to Woods Hole Hostel (7.8 miles)
Brrr – that was a cold night! I was glad to have spent it bundled up in my warmer sleeping bag with two pillows. Eventually we got moving, packed up, ate breakfast, and started our hiking for the day. We had all day to go eight miles, so we set out at a leisurely pace. We had about three straight miles of moderate uphill to our first view of the day. The trail was all green tunnel. We passed through thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron and traversed lush beds of ferns.
At 2.7 miles in we reached a pretty outcropping of rocks with a great view of the valley below. We stopped briefly to enjoy the vista, but weren’t ready for a snack or a long break. The next 2.3 miles covered rolling terrain with lots of small ups and downs. The trail was pretty, but not remarkable. At five miles into our day, we reached the radio tower on Flat Top mountain. The tower viewpoint is about .1 miles off the trail and worth making the small detour. Behind the tower, there is a series of small cliffs with a commanding view. It’s the perfect place to take a lunch break.
The day had warmed up a bit and we were both running really low on water. Thankfully, we had enough to make Pack-It Gourmet cheese spread for lunch. We had cheese and crackers with candy and dried fruit for our mid-day meal. We also took a good long break and rested atop the rocks. It was peaceful to watch hawks and buzzards soaring on the breeze.
After a full hour of resting, we packed back up and set out to cover our final 2.8 miles of the day. The rest of the route was mostly downhill with only a few brief bumps to climb. In about .7 miles, we crossed the Ribble Trail. The sign indicated that supplies (like propane) were available somewhere down the Ribble Trail, but I would think most people would just continue on to Woods Hole or even Pearisburg if they needed something. Apparently, there is also a nice AT-Ribble Trail loop that is popular with locals. If we were to have followed the Ribble Trail, it would have rejoined the AT near Waipiti shelter, where we spent the prior night. Maybe one day, we’ll go back and explore the area more.
After crossing the junction with the Ribble Trail, we continued downhill; crossing Big Horse Gap/USFS 103 just a tenth of a mile later. In another 1.2 mile, we crossed another forest road. From this point, the last .5 miles of hiking went steeply downhill. The trail was a bit rocky and overgrown. At this point, I was starting to hit a wall. I was out of water and feeling really parched. We hadn’t passed a spring since first thing in the morning and the sun had been beating down on us all day. I told Adam I wanted to rest at the road crossing before we hiked down to Woods Hole Hostel – our destination for the evening. He said to me ‘But wouldn’t a massage be way more relaxing?’ It turned out he booked an hour long massage for me at the hostel. Say no more – I was up and ready to cover that last .5 miles of road walking to get to Woods Hole.
Normally, we wouldn’t stay at a hostel on a two-night backpacking trip, but Woods Hole is special. Family-run for decades, the quaint, old farmhouse is an Appalachian Trail legend and a beloved tradition for many hikers. The old farmhouse opened its doors to hikers in the 1980s. The hostel was originally run by Tillie and Roy Wood, but was taken over by their granddaughter Neville in 2007. Since then, she and her husband Michael have expanded on the hostel’s offerings, creating a mountain oasis that is simultaneously rugged and luxurious. There’s no television or cell phone signal, but there is beautiful organic food (that you get to help prepare!), massage services, and group yoga.
We arrived at the hostel around 2:00 p.m. Neville was still working on cleaning the house, so we bought a couple soda’s from the bunkhouse fridge, and settled into the swing on the front porch. We played with the dogs, said hello to the roaming duck, and peeked into the goat and pig sheds. The garden was still beautiful and abundant in late summer – tons of peppers, tomatoes, and squash. If you stay at the hostel, you can camp, stay in the bunkhouse, or stay in a private room inside the farmhouse. We chose to stay in ‘Tillie’s Room.’ It had a comfortable queen bed, private sink/vanity, and shared full bath. It was quite luxurious for trail accommodations. Even if you choose the more humble bunkhouse, it is still comfortable and neat as a pin. There are beds with fresh linens provided, a big common area with a couch, and a nice offering of snacks and supplies available for purchase. There are also shower and laundry facilities available for those staying in the bunkhouse.
We visited during a really quiet time of year. There was a smattering of SoBo thru-hikers on the trail, but in mid-September we had the entire house to ourselves. Once we got checked in, I decided to shower and spend some time in the farmhouse’s library. It was full of all kinds of books and mementos. I especially enjoyed looking through scrapbooks chronicling the hostel’s history over the years. Around 5:00, Neville said she was ready to do my massage. It was a wonderful treat and felt fantastic on my tired shoulders and calves.
After the massage, we started to think about dinner! In the meantime, one southbound thruhiker arrived and booked a bed in the bunkhouse. Neville’s husband had errands to run, so it was just four of us for dinner. Neville and Michael typically prepare community meals with the help of hikers staying for the night. Everyone has a task and chips in to prepare and clean up after the meal. We had an amazing tomato-pepper-cucumber salad, homemade bread with aioli, locally raised pork, and a flavorful yellow Thai vegetarian curry for dinner. Everything was delicious, but the salad was a favorite and is something I’ve made at home ever since. Dessert was Neville’s homemade vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, Adam and I relaxed in the library and read until it was time for bed. It was lovely being lulled to sleep by the sound of a breeze in the trees outside. We both slept great!
Adam Says: Day Three – Woods Hole Hostel to Narrows (11.8 miles)
We had our longest day on the trail ahead of us with the third day. We got up, packed up our gear, and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast prepared by Neville. We had asked if we could leave most of our gear there during the day to be able to “slackpack” without the weight. We carried water, some lunch, and a few layers of clothes but we were able to dump out so much of the weight. With this extra added comfort, we started on our hike for the day. We climbed up the steep gravel road and we quickly were so thankful we had dropped off our weight. We rejoined the AT at .5 miles and began our hike.
The morning started off foggy and cold and the section of AT started off uphill. At 1.9 miles, we reached a viewpoint, but it was completely socked in the fog so there was no point staying. The trail then took a descent and at 2.8 miles, we came upon Docs Knob Shelter. It was a nice shelter, but we were glad we had luxurious accommodations at Woods Hole Hostel the night before. The trail was up and down for a bit, before rising a bit to a nice viewpoint at 6.5 miles. The fog had lifted so we enjoyed nice views of the river cutting through a scenic mountain view. We stopped and ate some lunch here, but had to eat a bit away from the viewpoint since there were strong, cold winds. We pushed on as the trail became to climb very slowly and at 8.6 miles we reached another viewpoint. This was probably the nicest one in our opinion of the trip, since you had panoramic views of farmlands and mountains around you.
We continued the pleasant ridge walking and eventually the trail began to descend through an area that cut a path between very large rock boulders. We reached a sign that pointed to Angels Rest (a short .1 mile sidetrail) at 9.2 miles. Angels Rest is a large boulder that requires you to scale up it to get the view. We climbed up and the view is being combated by growing trees. The view in the distance is nice, but in my opinion the eyesore of looking down on a town (and correctional facility to boot) isn’t one that I particularly enjoy. I know lots of people hike up to this point from Pearisburg and return, but the better view would be if people would just continue a bit further. We climbed down disappointed this was the last view and then rejoined the trail.
The hike down from Angels Rest was extremely steep. We made the downward trip the rest of the way fairly quickly. At 11 miles we crossed over Cross Avenue, VA 634. We then crossed over Lane Street at 11.4 miles and then made it to Narrows Road and our car at 11.8 miles. When we got back to our car, we drove back to pick up our gear at Woods Hole Hostel (and also bought a nice soup bowl crafted by the owner) and then made our way to Ballast Point for some post-hike dinner and flight of beers. It was such a great birthday celebration and we had a wonderful experience!
Distance – 27 miles (plus a couple extra miles to access views, shelters, and Woods Hole Hostel) (Check out the stats from Map My Hike* [Day One] [Day Two][Day Three])
Elevation Change – 4,885 feet
Difficulty – 3.5. The second day was the toughest climbing. Overall, it wasn’t very tough, but it was 27 miles.
Trail Conditions – 3.5. Some of the trail was overgrown in parts, but overall was fairly maintained and footing was reliable through most of the hike.
Views – 4. The view leading up to Angels Rest was the best.
Streams/Waterfalls – 4. Lots of stream crossings, but the highlight was early in the hike with Dismal Falls.
Wildlife – 2. We didn’t run into many signs of wildlife on the trail, but did see an occasional deer.
Ease to Navigate – 4. Sticking to the AT, you just look for white blazes. The side trails we took were well marked.
Solitude – 4. We had most of the trail to ourselves. Expect people at Dismal Falls and Angels Rest and not much in between.
* 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: Coordinates to drop off car and meet shuttle: 37.3341, -80.7553 (Narrows AT Parking Lot Off road, room for quite a few cars.) Shuttle drop-off/hike start coordinates: 37.1757, -80.9083 (Kimberling Creek Suspension Bridge has a a small parking area along VA606)