|View of Gimlet and Dickey Ridges and Browntown Valley from Little Hogback|
Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive (paved road), Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
The Hogback/Sugarloaf loop is a hike on the highest peak in the North District of the park that uses the AT, a fire road, and a fairly gentle forest trail to loop around some fun terrain. On my visit, my friends and I added a half-mile round trip side trip down Little Devil Stairs to see the waterfall at the very top of the gorge; the distances and elevation gain indicated in parentheses refer to that hike.
Three weeks into my internship in Maryland, I decided that I had to return to my favorite mountains. I talked five other interns into joining me on a hike in the park on a very warm but quite beautiful Saturday. We left Maryland around 8 and made our way across the broad Piedmont on I-66. The rolling Virginia countryside, the pastoral landscape of the Blue Ridge foothills, comforted me significantly- I had sorely missed them in my month and a half absence from the area. When we descended on VA 55 into Front Royal with Signal Knob rising above the town and then reached the north entrance of the park, I felt a sense of familiarity, even though I was only visiting this part of the park for the first time.
Just a few minutes into the park on Skyline Drive, we came to the Signal Knob Overlook, a spectacular viewpoint over the Shenandoah Valley that faced Hogback and Mt. Marshall. From Dickey Ridge, Massanutten Mountain looked much more jagged and dramatic than it did further south. Hogback, although far from being the highest peak in the park, seemed like a giant here, rising grandly from the lower Blue Ridge to the north.
|Shenandoah Valley from Signal Knob Overlook|
|Blue Ridge from Range View Overlook|
From the trailhead, we crossed Skyline Drive and picked up the Appalachian Trail on the east side of the road. The trail immediately began a gentle climb, circling behind Hogback Overlook right above the Drive with occasional views through the trees into Shenandoah Valley. We soon passed by the turnoff for the Sugarloaf trail to the right; we continued north on the Appalachian Trail. We soon passed through a forest floor full of ferns, a very pretty sight.
|Ferns on the forest floor|
|The last remnants of mountain laurel|
Past the saddle, a spur trail on the right led to Skyline Drive. We stayed on the Appalachian Trail and very soon came to a greenstone outcrop that jutted out on Little Hogback mountain. The rock had a view slightly wider than that at the overlook- here, we could see Dickey Ridge, Signal Knob, and Hogback right beside us. We ate lunch and enjoyed the cooler mountain weather for a while.
|View of Gimlet Ridge and Signal Knob from Little Hogback|
|Waterfall at the head of Little Devil Stairs|