Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive (paved road), Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
The Big Run watershed is the largest in Shenandoah National Park. By the time Big Run leaves the wide bowl bound by Brown Mountain, Rockytop, and Loft Mountain through Big Run Portal, it is minor river; as a sign on Skyline Drive states, an inch of rain in the Big Run watershed is roughly equal to 200 million gallons. The watershed also forms the most remote and wild country in the entire park. While most hikes into the Big Run watershed take a full day or more, the Big Run loop ventures into the edge of this country, following ridges on the watershed's southeastern edge before visiting the upper reaches of the stream. This hike is certainly best in spring, when wildflowers bloom everywhere along the trail. This is a hike for forests, flowers, and a stream; while there are two views on this hike, both of those views are from spots where the hike intersects a Skyline Drive overlook.
This was the last hike that I did in Shenandoah before moving out of Charlottesville. A week and a half after graduation, on a warm late May day, I drove out to the park to visit the overlooks a last time and explore some new stretches of trail I hadn't before. I stopped at every overlook along Skyline Drive between I-64 at Rockfish Gap and the Doyles River Trailhead, fondly remembering the experiences at those overlooks and on each of the ridges and hollows of the South District from the past two years. It took me nearly an hour and a half to travel the 24 or so miles from the entrance up to the trailhead at milepost 81.
Once at the trailhead, I followed the Doyles River Falls trail downhill just a few meters to reach the Appalachian Trail. I turned right to take the AT south. The first mile of trail wound through the forest, paralleling Skyline Drive. There were no views, but the spring forest had many other delights: many different wildflowers added color to the green. The trail was fairly flat, with only occasional elevation gain and loss.
|The AT near the Doyles River Trailhead|
|Doyles River Overlook|
|The AT near Doyles River Overlook|
|Mountain laurel in bloom|
When I finally tore myself from the mountain laurel, I continued the ascent from the valley. At one point, the trail flattened out on a small ridge. I turned a corner onto the ridge and found a bear with two cubs just fifty feet away from me down the trail. She looked at me curiously for nearly a half minute crashing loudly into the forest with her cubs.
|Mamma and cubs on the trail|
|Big Run Overlook|