Hawksbill Loop

Hawksbill Loop
Shenandoah National Park (Central)
Skyline Drive milepost 45.6
Distance: 2.9 miles
Views: Sweeping views, including the Shenandoah Valley and Old Rag
Trailhead: parking area on the Skyline Drive at milepost 45.6
Type: Loop (circuit if you want to get technical)
Dogs: Dog friendly (SNP pet information here)
Notes: Do the entire loop – don’t take the short yet steep route to the summit (trust me, it’s worth it). Entrance fees to SNP apply.

Hawksbill Loop Summer 2012Details:
Hike to the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park (SNP) at 4050 feet. To access the trail from Charlottesville, VA enter the park at the Swift Run Gap Entrance Station off 33 near Stanardsville. Head North on the Skyline Drive and park at the Lower Hawksbill Trail parking area at milepost 45.6 (do not park at the Upper Hawksbill Parking area for the hike outlined here). This is a popular hike and can be crowded on the weekends, but here is an insider tip: most hikers take the short and steep part of the trail that goes straight to the summit (read: shortcut). Avoid the crowds by doing the full loop.

To do the full loop, once parked find the information board at the trail head. While facing this, with your back to the parking area, the trail to the ‘shortcut’ ascent is straight in front of you. Look over your right shoulder to find the trail that is often hidden by ferns in the summer and early fall; this is where you want to start. Taking this route to the summit gives you a longer hike, a gentler grade, and several rewarding views (not to mention a fun rock scramble).

Following this path leads you along the Appalachian Trail for awhile. Eventually, you will come to a ‘Y’ in the trail. Be sure to take the path to the left that leads uphill, check the cement trail marker and follow arrows for the summit. As you get close to the summit you will come to a fire road, stay left and head towards the Byrds Nest day shelter. Spend some time at the summit and be sure to look for views of Old Rag Mountain while at the top.

When you are ready for your descent you finally get to take this ‘shortcut’ I keep mentioning. Keep an eye out for the trail leading off to the left as you leave the summit and watch for trail markers to be sure you are heading to the Lower Hawksbill Trail. This is a short and steep descent. You will be back to your car before you know it. If you have knee trouble you may consider going back the way you came, making this a longer hike.

Visual Markers to look for: Look for trail markers. These will keep you on the path to the summit and on the correct path back to your car.

Tip: By doing the full loop you will get more views than those who take the shortcut to the summit and you may see more wildlife. Pictures below show stops and sights you miss if you take the shortcut.

Difficulty and length: This hike takes about two hours for the average hiker. Allow for more time if stopping for lunch or hiking with the kiddos. I consider myself an average to slow hiker and I would rate this trail as moderate.

Hawksbill Loop near Byrd Nest Shelter

My Experiences:
I’ve done this hike several times, in many seasons and it always has surprises. Winds so strong they blow the hat off your head. Deer, startled by your heavy breathing as you make your way to the summit. Most recently, odd white poles, which I discovered were in place to study a specific salamander in the park. This is a great hike for friends visiting from out of state or for a casual hiker. It’s just the right distance, with just the right slope and incredible views.

Winter views:

Summer views:

Fall views:


Stony Man

Stony Man
Shenandoah National Park (Central)
Skyline Drive milepost 41.7
Distance: 1.6 miles
Views: Great view of Shenandoah Valley
Trailhead: Parking area just inside the north entrance to Skyland Resort milepost 41.7
Type: Out and back with a short loop near the vista
Dogs: No dogs allowed
Notes: Entrance fees apply at Shenandoah National Park

Stony Man November 2014 hike (49)Details:
This is a nice, short hike in Central Shenandoah National Park (SNP). According to www.nps.gov the Stony Man summit is the 2nd highest peak in SNP at 4,010 feet. To access the trail from Charlottesville, enter the park and the Skyline Drive at the Thornton Gap Entrance Station near Sperryville, VA. From here, head south on the Skyline Drive. If you have time, stop at the Stony Man Overlook for a view of the “Stony Man” and the hike you are about to start. Nps.gov provides a detailed map of the surrounding mileposts and the Stony Man hiking trails and parking areas.

Continue heading South down the Skyline Drive and look for the parking area on your right after passing the Thorofare Mountain Overlook. If you reach Skyland Resort you’ve gone too far. The trailhead is easy to find once you are in the parking area.

Stony Man November 2014 hike (59)Begin the hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) which is recognizable by its white blazes. Keep your eye out for the blue blaze, which is the Stony Man trail. Be sure to follow the trail markers which will point you in the direction of the summit. Eventually, you will come to a Y; this is a loop that leads to the Stony Man summit and vista. You can go either way since it’s a loop. When you see a horse-hitching rail, you will look for a side trail that leads to the rocky viewpoint. Spend some time at the vista and go back the way you came, or complete the loop. Once back at the “Y” on the trail, you will simply retrace your steps back to the parking area.

This hike takes forty five minutes to one hour to complete. If you have little ones, slow hikers or plan to eat lunch at the summit allow 1.5 to 2 hours. A fairly easy hike with a gentle slope; not too much effort and a great reward (amazing views).

Visual markers to look for: white blazes, blue blazes, horse-hitching rail and trail markers.

My Experience:
Rather than participate in Black Friday shopping, I always try to go hiking the Friday after Thanksgiving. In 2014, my birthday happened to fall on this day, so my sister, my mother, and I packed up for a hike. We left Charlottesville, VA on a chilly, but sunny November morning and made our way North. As we got closer to the mountains we were surprised to see snow. We had plans to hike Hawksbill Loop, but were turned away at Swift Run Gap due to ice. Not giving up, we pushed on to the Thornton Gap Entrance, which was still open. We parked and noted that it was 20 degrees outside. At this point, nothing was going to stop these determined ladies. The Stony Man trailhead was nearby, so after putting on every item of clothing we had in my car, we started walking. The wind was bone-chilling and it was an overcast day, but it was impossible not to laugh and enjoy ourselves as we stomped through the snow. The sky was absolutely stunning and the snow made everything magical. A perfect birthday hike.

Stony Man November 2014 hike (10)Tip: Hiking Stony Man in the winter? Be sure to stop at the Skyland Resort and get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate to warm up for the drive home.

Winter view:
Stony Man November 2014 hike (49)