|Cedar Mountain, Blackrock, and Trayfoot over the Doyles River Watershed from Big Flat Mountain|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
This loop may be very crowded in the summer, when campers at Loft Mountain campground decide to explore their environs, but I had this hike entirely to myself on a Sunday in April before the campground had opened for the season. This hike is relatively easy but has an incredible payoff, with a unique and beautiful view of the South District of the park.
Big Flat Mountain shares, along with Trayfoot Mountain, the distinction of being the second highest peak in the South District of the Park (Hightop is the highest peak between US 33 and I-64). Big Flat Mountain is rather appropriately named- viewed from almost any point, the mountain is recognizable by its flat, nearly half-mile diameter mountaintop. The flatness of the peak made it a prime location for development, so the summit of the mountain is crowned by the Loft Mountain Campground, which was named for the mountain north of Big Flat rather than Big Flat itself, reportedly because the Park Service felt that "Big Flat" was not nearly as flattering a name as "Loft."
This hike makes a loop around the flat summit of Big Flat Mountain, thus also making a loop around the campground. When the campground is not closed for the winter, it is possible to shorten this hike to a 1.8 mile loop with minimal elevation gain by starting at the campstore.
I almost didn't do a hike on the weekend that I headed to Big Flat Mountain. At the end of the semester, I had much too much work to do and had gotten much too little sleep, so when I went on bed on Saturday night with raining pattering outside, I figured that I might just stay home for the weekend.
When I woke up early Sunday morning, though, the cloud cover was incredibly low- perhaps only a hundred feet or so overhead. I decided to go to Shenandoah, anyway, with no particular hike in mind. I-64 was entirely empty as I made my way west. One thing I realized I hadn't considered was what low cloud cover would mean about the drive up to Rockfish Gap. As soon as I-64 began its ascent up Scott Mountain, I was driving into fog so thick I could barely see the lanes on the highway. It was a rather nervewracking drive, especially given the history of bad accidents at Rockfish Gap.
Upon entering the park, the fog was still thick as ever. I began wondering what hike would be worth doing on such an incredibly foggy day when suddenly the sun pierced through the clouds at Moormans River Overlook. Blue sky was above; a sea of fog creeping up the mountain was below. The view at Moormans River Overlook, breathtaking on a normal day, was nothing short of inspiring that morning: clouds twisted their way up Pond Ridge, pines faded in and out of the mist, fog poured over Pasture Fence Mountain like a waterfall. Pieces of Bucks Elbow Mountain were intermittently visible.
To the north, the mountains seemed to be clearing up. I decided to continue north and hike somewhere with a viewpoint that I hadn't seen before. I stopped at many overlooks along the way: from Riprap and Horsehead Overlooks, I could see the fog sea filling Shenandoah Valley. Wisps of white and grey danced around the summit of Trayfoot and Blackrock.
Soon after, I reached the Big Run Overlook. Cotton-ball clouds floated through the Big Run Valley below the green peaks of Rockytop and Brown Mountain. A small bush of pinxter flower bloomed nearby.
|Fog in the Big Run Valley|
|Appalachian Trail on Big Flat Mountain|
|Fog in the Doyles River Valley|
|Phlox along the AT|