|View of Trayfoot Mountain from Blackrock|
Difficulty: Moderate, due to elevation gain and length
Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive (paved road), Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
This hike visits one of the most physically impressive mountains in the South District of Shenandoah: Trayfoot Mountain. Trayfoot Mountain is the third highest peak in the South District, after Hightop and Big Flat Mountain, but as it stands out from the main crest of the Blue Ridge, it is a much more noticeable. Trayfoot also has an excitingly sharp profile when viewed either from the north or south- the mountain is essentially a long fin of rock that, when viewed edgewise, looks like a sharp pyramidal peak. The peak stands out of the Blue Ridge when viewed from the south around Humpback or the Priest; it also stands out sharply when viewed from the north around Hightop or the Central District. This long loop follows the fin-like ridge of Trayfoot down to Paine Run and back up to Skyline Drive.
This is not a hike I'd recommend to most park visitors, though, as it is quite long and the biggest payoff the hike comes half a mile from Skyline Drive. However, this is a good hike for hikers who are already fairly familiar with the park and want to explore some of the park's most remote reaches. I did not see a single other person in the entire 10 mile hike.
I headed to Trayfoot in mid-December as a break from my semester-end exams. It was a partly cloudy and fairly cold day and, as it was fairly near solstice, the sunlight was brief. I left Charlottesville mid-morning, heading west on I-64 to Rockfish Gap and then following the signs to Skyline Drive; I then drove north to about milepost 87, where I parked at Blackrock Gap. I crossed the road from the lot and hopped on the Appalachian Trail heading north, which ran close by to the road atop a small ridge.
|The Appalachian Trail parallel to Skyline Drive|
|The burnt forest near Blackrock|
Trayfoot's summit is not much to look at: a wooded, long ridge, with moderate drop-offs to either side, with no major outcrops and no views to speak of. Earlier in the park's history, there was a fire lookout at the peak. However, as fire lookouts fell out of use and the movement to restore the park's remaining wilderness surged, the lookout atop Trayfoot was removed. While I appreciate that Trayfoot is now in much of its natural state, I can't help but feel sad that I never got to climb atop the lookout here when it existed. Trayfoot's prominent position in the South District, on the edge of Shenandoah Valley, would probably have made the views from a lookout atop this mountain second to none.
|The summit ridge of Trayfoot|
|View from Trayfoot Mountain|
As I continued descending, I began stumbling upon some blocks of Erwin Quartzite, the formation that makes up the westernmost edge of the Blue Ridge in the South District, including Trayfoot's ridges. Some of these rocks exhibited Skolithos, fossilized traces of Cambrian Era worms.
|Skolithos in the sandstone on Trayfoot|
|Sandstone outcrops along the trail|
|Trayfoot Mountain from a lower viewpoint|
|The trail up Paine Run|
This very muddy patch of dirt was once the site of the Blackrock Springs Hotel. Before the park was established, well-to-do Washingtonians and Virginians used to travel by horse up the trail I had just hiked to Blackrock Springs, a resort and spa. The waters of Blackrock Springs reportedly had strong healing powers; more likely, frail nineteenth-century city folk benefited from the exercise and cleaner air they would've found here. The hike from the former hotel to Blackrock itself was quite popular, by accounts obtained by Darwin Lambert and Henry Heatwole in their exhaustive documentation of the park and its history. Blackrock Springs preceded Skyland as a tourist draw and thus may be the earliest tourist operation in the current park's boundaries. There's not much to see at the site today; with the exception of some flat areas and a bit of crumbling wall along the old road, there are few remnants of the former resort.
|Site of the former Blackrock Springs Hotel|
|Late day lighting at Riprap Overlook|