|View across Shenandoah Valley from the south side of Humpback Mountain|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, free parking
Humpback Rocks is one of the most popular hikes in Virginia, yet few visitors ever go farther up Humpback Mountain than the mile hike up to the rocks. That's a pity- because Humpback Mountain is packed with many more beautiful views, reminders of past inhabitants of the Blue Ridge, and, in the spring, a ridiculous amount of wildflowers. This hike visits the true summit of Humpback and crosses the mountain to a southern-facing viewpoint most visitors never see. The hike can be shortened to 6 miles round trip by skipping the Appalachian Trail loop segment on the return. The additional views come for fairly little extra effort- the steepest part of the climb is to Humpback Rocks itself, so you can enjoy more views with just a few extra miles of easy hiking.
I did this hike on a May weekend with my parents, who came down to Charlottesville to hike with me for a weekend to train for an upcoming long-distance hiking trip. The weather was gorgeous that day: the haze that had been around the previous week evaporated for the weekend, giving us seventy-mile visibility and the bluest of skies streaked with long cirrus clouds. After my parents arrived in town, we left Charlottesville mid-morning, taking I-64 west to Rockfish Gap at exit 99 and following signs for the Blue Ridge Parkway. We drove south 5 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway and parked at the Humpback Gap Overlook on the left side of the road. The parking lot was already mostly full when we started up the wide gravel path heading towards Humpback Rocks.
The first mile of the hike has already been detailed in my Humpback Rocks post. We climbed a half mile on the wide gravel path, with benches along the way, before we reached a flat spot halfway up the mountain; after this point, the trail was narrower, using wooden stairs and switchbacks to reach the top of the ridge. At the ridgetop, we reached a trail junction, where the trail to the left led to the Appalachian Trail and the trail to the left led to Humpback Rocks. We started off by heading left and visiting Humpback Rocks, reaching the rocks a mile and 720 feet climbing from the trailhead, having completed the steepest part of the hike. We scrambled up the rocks to the grand view. As expected, we shared the rocks with at least 30 other people on that beautiful weekend. I was surprised that we could see as far as Thorofare Mountain, a large hill in northern Madison County and a full 90-minute drive from the trailhead.
|View across Shenandoah Valley from Humpback Rocks|
Soon after passing the talus slope, the AT reached the top of Humpback Mountains' ridgeline, which it followed for a little while, with occasional views to the south of the summit rising ahead. All along the ridge, there was an old stone fence- remnants from a mountaineer farm. Similar to the Blue Ridge to the north, the mountains here were once heavily settled and used. Farmers would graze hogs and livestock in the mountains; trees were cut for charcoal kilns; mining occurred in some areas. The mountains, then, are probably more natural today than they've been at any point since 1750. This fence is one of the many artifacts left over from that era.
|Old rock walls atop Humpback|
|View north from the summit of Humpback Mountain|
|Pink lady slippers on the summit of Humpback|
Perhaps a mile or so past the mountain, the trail swung northwest (to the right) and finally reached the major viewpoint on the south side of Humpback Mountain. Here, the AT followed the edge of a set of outcrops, giving splendid views from the trail itself. This was our furthest destination on the hike, so we relaxed here and enjoyed the view. This view is quite unique: it's entirely different from the view seen at Humpback Rocks and it may be the only good view of Wintergreen Resort from the north. Sitting on the greenstone outcrops, the most prominent feature visible was Devil's Knob and Blackrock, with many ski slopes running down their north side. Peeking out between the two summits of Wintergreen were Three Ridges and the Priest, the two great mountains of the Tye River watershed. To the west, there was a view towards Torry Ridge, Big Levels, Shenandoah Valley, and Elliott Knob. To the east, we could see into the Piedmont, a view of some of the low mountains around Lovingston. This view was just as stunning as Humpback Rocks, yet we shared these rocks with only one other group of visitors.
|View of Wintergreen from the south side of Humpback Mountain|