|View from Chimney Rock|
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous, due to length, elevation gain, multiple stream crossings and rock scrambling
Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive (paved road), Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
The Riprap Trail is a classic. It's got something for everyone, and it's quite possibly one of the most thoroughly scenic trails of the South District of Shenandoah. I hiked this trail during a rainstorm- and even then, the charms of this trail were quite apparent. This is a trail for the spring, when the wildflowers are blooming and the water is flowing down in Riprap Hollow and the poison ivy hasn't made bushwhacking to Calvary Rocks an unhappy affair yet. Despite its 9.8 miles and 2230 feet of elevation gain, it's not a strenuous hike- hikers who have done 10 mile hikes will find the grades on this trail to be gentle and the distance flies by when you're hiking along rushing streams and wide-open views. However, it's still not a trail to be handled lightly: The trail requires five river crossings, which can be quite deep during and after storms and in spring, and it is nearly 10 miles. That said, the Riprap Trail is one that all UVA students should try during their time in Charlottesville.
I hiked this trail on a rainy May day with two friends. We left Charlottesville mid-morning. I took I-64 west to Rockfish Gap in poor weather; the fog on Scott Mountain was very heavy. We then hopped off at exit 99 and turned right onto US 250, then right again at a sign for Skyline Drive; at the end of this road we turned left to go north on Skyline Drive. At the entrance of the park, the ranger seemed to give us somewhere between a look of pity and a smirk as we drove into the very overcast and somewhat rainy Shenandoah day. We drove north to around milepost 90 and parked at the Riprap Trailhead. Since it was extremely cloudy, we decided to do the loop clockwise rather than the traditional counterclockwise and thus leave the views of the hike for the afternoon, when we hoped the weather would clear up.
We headed south on the Appalachian Trail. The AT wound through the high areas of the mountain here, just downhill of Skyline Drive. We could hear the cars on the drive from time to time; but we still felt alone in the forest, where signs of spring were everywhere. To the west, occasional views of cloud-shrouded ridges would pop up from time to time. Beneath us, the forest was bursting with fiddlehead ferns and red-spotted newts. About 2.8 miles from the trailhead, we reached a junction with the Wildcat Ridge Trail, which we turned right onto and followed.
The Wildcat Ridge Trail started a gentle descent into Riprap Hollow. For the next two and a half miles, we intermittently followed the top and sides of ridgelines, with occasional limited views of the nearby ridges. The clouds shifted in and out and the vegetation became greener as we dropped into the hollow.
|Wildcat Ridge Trail|
|A violent stream in Riprap Hollow|
|Falls in Riprap Hollow|
After hiking along the ridge area for a while, we came to Chimney Rock, a sandstone outcrop that jutted out to the left of the trail. While we were at Chimney Rock, the clouds gradually began to disperse, opening up some views of Paine Run Hollow, Buzzard Rock, and Trayfoot Mountain. Chimney Rock itself was a tall, isolated sandstone outcrop, separated from the sandstone cliffs next to the trail; bolts in the cliffs suggested that there once was a bridge over to Chimney Rock, but there's currently no way of getting onto Chimney Rock itself short of climbing down a rock crevice and then scaling the chimney, none of which we found appealing since it was so wet.
|View from Chimney Rock|
|View from Calvary Rocks|