|Berry Hollow view from Robertson Mountain summit|
Access: Trailhead access off Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park entrance fee required
Although the eastern approach to Robertson Mountain from Weakley Hollow is known for being one of the steepest segments of trail in Shenandoah National Park, this western approach to the summit via the Old Rag Fire Road from Skyline Drive is not too difficult. This rarely-visited summit is undeservedly overlooked, providing sweeping views of the Central District of the park and plenty of mountain laurels blooming in the spring with just a fraction of the crowds that pack nearby Old Rag, Hawksbill, and Stony Man.
I made my third trip to the summit of Robertson- but the first on the route described here- with my family on a trip home to Virginia over Memorial Day. We set out on a comfortable, partly cloudy day from Fredericksburg, taking Route 3 to Culpeper, US 522 north to Sperryville, and then US 211 west to the Thornton Gap Entrance of the park. Once in the park, we followed Skyline Drive down to milepost 43 and parked at the small parking area for the Limberlost Trail, accessible via a short spur on the east side of the Drive. There are many trails emanating from the Limberlost Trailhead: we followed the Old Rag Fire Road, which from the parking lot initially looks as if it is a continuation of the road.
After we passed the gate on the road, the Old Rag Fire Road turned to gravel. In the first third of a mile of the hike, the fire road closely paralleled one of the legs of the Limberlost Loop Trail; the scenery was similar, with young hemlocks and almost-blooming mountain laurel lining the road. We spotted deer along the trail not far from the trailhead.
|Deer on the Old Rag Fire Road|
About two-thirds of a mile from the trailhead, the fire road crossed over the Robinson River. The river splits into two separate channels here, each with small, pleasant cascades; further downstream, the Robinson River plunges down the six wateralls of Whiteoak Canyon, one of the most popular and scenic spots in the park.
Spring is one of the best times to hike in Shenandoah: the return of flora to the Blue Ridge is eye-catching in its patterns, verdancy, and showy colors. Fields of ferns blanketed many parts of the forest floor; wildflowers of various colors lined the fire road. In winter, young evergreen hemlocks that have sprouted since the plague of the hemlock wooly adelgid provide some of the only color in the Blue Ridge forests here; in spring, their deeper green needles contrast nicely with the more vibrant green of new vegetation. Most of the hemlocks along the trail seemed free of adelgids- perhaps the trees that survive have developed resistance. I'm hopeful that two or three centuries from now, massive, towering hemlocks like the ones that once ruled Limberlost and Ramseys Draft will reclaim the upland forests.
|Ferns on the forest floor|
|Hemlocks line the Old Rag Fire Road|
At 2.2 miles, we passed a junction to the left (north) of the fire road for the Corbin Hollow Trail, a rarely-visited trail down one of Shenandoah's most historically significant hollows that I had explored a few years earlier. Just a hundred yards further downhill, we came to the junction with the Robertson Mountain Trail, also on the left (this time, east) of the Old Rag Fire Road.
We took the left fork here to start up the narrow trail to Robertson Mountain. This trail, which immediately began burrowing through a thicket of mountain laurel, was much different in character than the wide fire road and was honestly much more enjoyable to hike- the flowers seemed closer to the trail and the landscape a little less manicured.
Whereas the mountain laurel at Limberlost, higher up the mountain close to the Blue Ridge crest, was just budding and still a week or so from blooming, many of the mountain laurel that lined the trail at Robertson Mountain had just began to bloom. It was my first time seeing laurel in bloom since I had moved from Virginia four years earlier. Many of the buds that were yet to bloom were beautifully pink.
|Mountain laurel in various stages of bloom|
|Blooming Mountain Laurel|
|Wild azaleas on Robertson Mountain|
|View of Old Rag from Robertson Mountain|
|Hawksbill Mountain from Robertson Mountain|