Frazier Discovery Trail (Loft Mountain)
Shenandoah National Park (Southern)
Skyline Drive mile 79.5
Distance: 1.3 miles
Views: Great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Trailhead: Park at Loft Mountain Wayside at mile 79.5 on the Skyline Drive. Follow the sidewalk north to the end of the parking lot and cross the road to find the trailhead.
Type: Circuit (connects trails to form a loop)
Dogs: No furry friends allowed on this trail (bummer!)
Notes: Entrance fees apply at Shenandoah National Park (SNP); easy to moderate climb to a rocky outcrop with amazing views. Restrooms and food next to parking area.
Difficulty and length:
This circuit is about 1.3 miles and most recently took me about an hour to complete. I had Baby Sunshine on my back in her pack (Deuter Kid Comfort II), so that slowed me down a little bit. I would rate this one as as being on the easy side of moderate. There is a steady uphill climb (almost always have to go up for a good view), but levels out here and there for nice little breaks. You can modify this hike to make it longer and more difficult (see ‘tips’ section below).
The Frazier Discovery Trail on Loft Mountain is in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park (SNP), but getting closer to the Central region. It takes about an hour to get to from the city of Charlottesville. From Charlottesville, I typically enter the park via the South entrance. I take 64 west to exit 99 towards Afton. After coming down the ramp, hang a right and follow the signs to enter the park. You’ll drive for around 26 miles or so from the South entrance (Rockfish Gap Entrance Station) of the park. Park in the Loft Mountain Wayside parking area.
Frazier Discovery Trail at Loft Mountain is a wonderful family hike in the southern part of Shenandoah National Park. Park at Loft Mountain Wayside Restaurant parking area at mile 79.5 on the Skyline Drive (See ‘Getting there’ above). Walk to the north end of the parking lot and cross the Skyline Drive to find the trailhead (see pictures below). The trail is well marked with cement post markers and blue and white blazes (AT) all along the way, so it shouldn’t be hard to stay on the trail and headed in the correct direction.
Once you get across the road, you’ll notice a fork in the trail. You can choose to start either right or left. I typically start out by heading left on the trail, so these details will describe the hike starting on the left for your ascent. About 25 minutes into the hike you will reach the viewpoint. I know everyone’s hiking speed varies, but this gives you a rough idea of how long it may take you to get to the views.
At the viewpoint there is a large rock outcropping with beautiful views of the mountains and the Skyline Drive. Bring a snack or simply bask in the sunlight and take in the stunning views. Either way, take a break and enjoy the views, this is the Blue Ridge Mountains baby.
When you are ready to head back to your car, simply continue on in the direction you were headed when you approached the rock outcroppings. After a little bit, you will see double blue blazes (click here for photo) on a tree and a cement trail marker (photo) that shows that you should hang a right to head down the mountain to complete your loop and arrive back at your car. Keep an eye out, because another 5 minutes or so down the trail is another great viewpoint on your right (photo below).
Keep an eye out for blue blazes on trees (to follow the Frazier Discovery Trail) and for the cement trail markers. They will point you in the correct direction; be sure to always follow the Frazier Discovery Trail arrows on the cement trail markers if you want to follow the hike described here.
Tip: You can make this circuit longer by following the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a loop around the Loft Mountain Campground. See this map from the National Park Service that shows various Loft Mountain hiking options – https://www.nps.gov/shen/upload/Frazier.pdf. This is a great addition for those with more time and more energy. Or better yet, get a campsite, stay the night, and start your hike from your tent door first thing in the morning.
This hike is perfect if you want to set out from a good ‘base camp’. What I mean by ‘base camp’ is a facility with bathrooms and burgers! I love that the trailhead is right across the Skyline Drive from the Loft Mountain Wayside parking lot. You have restrooms and food adjacent to your parking spot, which can make hiking (especially with little ones and grumpy husbands) much easier.
I’ve done this hike a few times, but the most memorable have been with my mom, Idaho (her trail name). The first time we ventured out on the Frazier Discovery Trail was Mother’s Day a few years ago (a family tradition – we always take a mom hiking on Mother’s Day). My mom and I had a blast on our hike. We told stories, laughed, and stopped to take goofy pictures along the way. After our hike, we stopped for some food at the Wayside restaurant. We met some young AT hikers who were trying to find a ride to Rockfish Gap (South Entrance to SNP). Of course, my mom immediately says, “Oh, we’ll take you”. And that started a new ‘tradition’ of also picking up hitchhikers on Mother’s Day (My mom cannot say ‘no’ to people!). We dropped the boys off without incident (other than an extremely smelly car as they hadn’t showered in weeks) and had a fun story to share.
On my last venture to the Frazier Discovery Trail there was a felled tree across the trail. That usually isn’t a problem, but when you have a 16 pound baby in a pack on your back, it’s a little challenging. I took it slow and had Idaho spot me. We made it over the log without any scrapes or scratches and with lots of laughs.
Bonus Tip: I feel like this is ALWAYS my bonus tip for a hike in Shenandoah National Park, but it’s seriously the best tip ever…take 250 back to Charlottesville instead of 64 East so you can stop for an adult beverage. I usually boast about all of Virginia’s amazing wineries, but it’s time to give beer some love. Some of my favorite breweries or tap rooms on the way home from SNP are: Pro Re Nata, Starr Hill Brewery, and Blue Mountain Brewery.
Bonus Bonus Tip: Check out this link to Shenandoah National Park’s information page about food and gas along the Skyline Drive – http://www.goshenandoah.com/dining/food-groceries. This will tell you about food and restroom facility openings and closings. Loft Mountain Wayside is open mid-April through early-November.