|Trayfoot and Blackrock|
Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive (paved road), Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
Austin Mountain lies in a forgotten corner of the South District of Shenandoah National Park; this hike is an opportunity to catch some rarely-seen views while hiking along a remote ridgeline. I will suggest this hike as a 9.5 mile loop at most times, but with the option of extending it to 10.5 miles without much more elevation gain during days that Skyline Drive is closed due to snow and ice. Doing a loop on the Austin Mountain Trail and the Madison Run Fire Road is rewarding, but when Skyline Drive is closed, it may be interesting to continue up Madison Run Fire Road to Brown's Gap and then a little further to a view on Skyline Drive.
This is not a particularly popular hike; although it has some good views, it is fairly long and lacks the rewards of similar-difficulty trails such as Riprap or Rocky Mountain-Big Run, and the return down the Madison Run Fire Road is a little on the side of boring. However, it's still quite a good hike: the Austin Mountain Trail will usually give a bit of solitude and the fact that the trail starts at the Madison Run entrance means that this hike is accessible even when Skyline Drive is closed. I found this hike to be particularly rewarding when I came on a frosty February day, though some of that delight might be more attributable to the remarkable weather conditions that day rather than the trail itself.
I hiked Austin Mountain on a February day, right after a mild snow. In Charlottesville, it had just rained, but Skyline Drive was closed; so I decided to drive to the other side of the mountains and do this hike, which I had been saving for a snowy day. I took I-64 west out of Charlottesville and got off at exit 99, then took US 250 west to the bottom of the mountain and the intersection with US 340 in Waynesboro. I turned right onto US 340 north and followed it through Dooms and Crimora to Grottoes, where I turned right onto Route 663 at a poorly marked junction where there was a 7-11 on the left of the road. I followed 663 to near its end, a wide gravel parking area just a few hundred feet short of the park boundary. I parked along the road and then followed the gravel road into the park.
The first section of the hike followed the Madison Run Fire Road, running to the left side of the namesake stream. Madison Run is named for John Madison, an uncle of President James Madison, who owned a tract of land in the Shenandoah Valley. The former road passed by a junction with the trail to Furnace Mountain right after entering the park and reached the junction with the Austin Mountain Trail after following the stream about three-quarters of a mile from the park boundary.
|Trayfoot and Furnace from a talus slope on Austin|
|Forest coated in snow|
|Rockytop Ridge from Austin Mountain|
|Austin Mountain, coated in snow|
From here, it's possible to turn right on Madison Run Fire Road and descend back to the parking area. I chose to extend my hike by following the fire road an additional three-quarters of a mile uphill to Browns Gap. The wide road made a few large bends while climbing steadily before it brought me to the parking area at Browns Gap, just off of Skyline Drive. Stonewall Jackson made a similar uphill trip on the same road in 1862 when he crossed Browns Gap on the road along Madison Run after his Valley Campaign.
|Browns Gap in the snow|
|View from Skyline Drive just south of Browns Gap|
There were a few views of the surrounding mountains on the fire road, but for the most part the road was uneventful. At first the fire road was halfway up the side of Rockytop Ridge, but as it descended it got closer and closer to its namesake stream, until finally, not far from its junction with the Austin Mountain Trail, the fire road and the stream reunited. About an hour and a half after leaving Browns Gap, I arrived back at my car and returned to Charlottesville after an enjoyable winter trip.
|View from the Fire Road|