Access: Trailhead off Skyline Drive (paved road), Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
This hike follows an easy stretch of the Appalachian Trail from one scenic Shenandoah summit to another. It's not a particularly wild hike- along the way, the AT crosses Skyline Drive numerous times- but it is highly scenic, packing in some of the best views of the North District into a very short stretch of park.
I hiked this with a friend in August. Usually, August in Virginia is unpleasant: in the Piedmont, the sky is gray with smog on the edges and the air is so heavy with humidity I'm surprised it doesn't sink into the Bay. In the Blue Ridge, the temperatures are a few degrees cooler, but it's still humid and visibility is usually measured in yards. In other words, as much as I love the Blue Ridge, August often leaves me longing for AC, somewhere indoors. But on the first weekend of August, my friend and I left Northern Virginia to auspiciously blue skies and found temperatures of just 60 F when we entered the park.
To get to the trailhead, we took I-66 west from Northern Virginia, hopped onto Rte. 55 west at exit 13, and then drove into the town of Front Royal. We turned left at US 340 and took 340 south briefly to reach the northern terminus of Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. From the entrance, we followed Skyline Drive nearly 20 miles to Little Hogback Overlook and parked there. The trail started at the northern end of the parking lot, where a short trail led to a junction with the AT.
We enjoyed the view from overlook of the ridiculously blue and clear skies over the rolling green ridges of Massanutten Mountain. Then we headed off, following the Appalachian Trail north from the parking area. We very quickly came to a spur to the left that led to the Little Hogback viewpoint. Only a few hundred yards from the overlook, this set of greenstone outcrops offered an even wider view; from here, we could see the broad forested hump beside us that was the summit of Hogback proper. We stayed here only briefly before continuing along the AT.
|View toward Signal Knob from Little Hogback|
We saw an astounding amount of life along the trail. Flora was plentiful: there were many wildflowers blooming along the trail and plenty of interesting fungi as well. We saw the exquisite form and bright orange color of the Turk's Cap lily, as well as unfamiliar fungi that was perhaps just as orange. Animals were plentiful too: butterflies fluttered near wildflower patches all day. We even glimpsed a mother black bear and her cubs from a distance, dashing off into the woods as we went along the trail. Even without the incredible views that were to come, the hike was already a feast of small delights.
|Turk's Cap Lily|
|Hogback from South Marshall|
|View north from South Marshall|
|View south from North Marshall|
After spending a little while at the main viewpoint, we followed a faint path over to a secondary viewpoint with an interestingly shaped boulder. The view here was much the same as at the earlier viewpoint. We then made our way back along the AT on one of the nicer summer days I've experienced.
|Odd rocks on North Marshall|