|View north toward Shenandoah Mountain|
8.4 miles round trip, 2450 feet elevation gain
Access: Paved road to trailhead; very limited parking
This hike unexpectedly became one of my favorite hikes when I climbed Elliott Knob this April. I say unexpectedly because I certainly did not expect to love this hike: the last mile or so is a steep climb up a gravel road with a power line, the hike starts from a parking-less turnoff for a gated road, and the summit area is crowned with radio transmission towers. That didn't make for a great combination, but despite this, I ended up enjoying this hike quite a bit: the waterfalls in Falls Hollow are gorgeous and the views from atop Elliott Knob are quite impressive.
Elliott Knob is the high point of Great North Mountain. It is one of the highest peaks in this part of Virginia: it stands at 4463 feet as the highest mountain that directly abuts Shenandoah Valley. Hawksbill and Stony Man, the highest peaks in Shenandoah, are a full 400 feet shorter than Elliott Knob. From the South District of Shenandoah, Elliott Knob is ubiquitous: views from Furnace Mountain, Lewis Peak, Turk Mountain, Riprap, etc. all feature Elliott Knob towering over Shenandoah Valley. The prominence of this mountain drew me to hike it despite what I already knew to be the shortcomings about the trail.
I set out early on an April morning, with the sun rising as I drove west out of Charlottesville on I-64. The view was incredible as I passed Rockfish Gap. To the north, the early morning rays lit up Trayfoot and Turk Mountains, and the Blue Ridge was a vibrant, almost electric green. I continued west on I-64 until it merged into I-81 south; on I-81 south, the redbud was still in bloom. Immediately after getting on I-81, I took VA 262 west. I followed 262 into I got to VA 254 (Parkersburg Turnpike), which I took west. Coming off the ramp from 262 to 254, there was yet another incredible view- this time of the Ridge and Valley Appalachians stretching to the north.
VA 254 is a ridiculously beautiful country road that epitomizes everything about Shenandoah Valley. The road passed through 2 small hamlets before breaking out into the farmland of the Virginia countryside. Cows grazed in grass set blazing with color by the early sun, and in front of my windshield I could see the high, commanding pointy-top of Elliott Knob. VA 254 merged into VA 42, which I took west, at Buffalo Gap. VA 42 drove straight through the narrow water gap cut into Little North Mountain. About two miles past Buffalo Gap, I turned off at the trailhead. The trailhead is easy to miss: It is a gated forestry road with no parking area. To confirm that you're at the right place, get off at the forestry road and check to see if there's a trail sign that indicates "Elliott Knob 4 miles." I parked along the side of the road and then started my way up the trail.
The beginning of the trail is almost boring. The fire road ascends gently, with yellow blazes, and bends first to the right, and then to the left. A number of spur forestry roads run off to the right of the road, but the main road is pretty easy to follow. At about a mile in, the trail widens into a few clearings. A mile and a half from the trailhead, the road starts to narrow into a trail, which comes to and follows the left side of Falls Hollow Run.
The next section of trail- about a mile or so- is one of the most pleasant of the hike. The ascent is still gentle as the trail goes up Falls Hollow Run, passing many small cascades. The trail crosses the run fully twice, and once the trail crosses the run halfway by going onto an island in the run. The crossings were quite easy and could be done by rock-hop, but it's possible that they could be a little more challenging during periods of higher water.
|Small waterfall on Falls Hollow Run|
|Waterfall in Falls Hollow|
|Upper waterfall in Falls Hollow|
From here to the top, the hike follows the gravel road. On the way back, a set of three yellow diamonds mark the spot where the trail intersects the road.
The road was tough. It's only a mile and a bit from the junction with the gravel road to the summit, but it took me nearly 35 minutes to get up it. The road ascends 1200 feet in a mile. The ascent was quite taxing, but at any point I was able to turn around and see a narrow view of Shenandoah Valley from the clearing around the road. As I climbed higher, the views improved.
|Steep gravel road up Elliott Knob|
|Red spruce atop Elliott Knob|
|View west to Shenandoah Mountain|
|Fire Tower atop Elliott Knob|
|Blue Ridge from Elliott Knob|