This moderate, 26.3 mile traverse takes you south from US 211 at Thornton Gap to Lewis Mountain Campground, passing Marys Rock, Stony Man, Skyland, and Big Meadows.
From the AT crossing at US 211 (elevation 2,307 feet), follow the AT south and head through the woods to the west of the Panorama Restaurant. The AT climbs steadily up the mountain, reaching a side trail at mile 1.7. The side trail heads .1 mile to the right to Marys Rock, which probably has the most spectacular views in the park. The huge rock outcropping of granodiorite (elevation 3,514 feet) is dated by geologists at more than one billion years old.
Continue along the AT, following the crest of the ridge (with occasional views to the west) before descending gradually. In another .75 mile, you will reach a sag where Meadow Spring Trail intersects the AT from the left. Meadow Spring is .25 mile downhill on this side trail. Continue along the narrow crest of the ridge, and enjoy a good view to the west at an outcropping in .1 mile.
At mile 2.7, reach another viewpoint, head left, and descend to the base of The Pinnacle. In another .25 mile, reach a service road and follow it a short distance to Byrds Nest #3, a day-use shelter with piped water. The service road leads another .25 mile to Skyline Drive (milepost 33.9). The AT continues, climbs moderately, and reaches a side trail in .75 mile.
The side trail leads a short distance to the right to a view north. In another .1 mile, you will see the jagged rocks (a short distance to your right) that form the north peak of The Pinnacle. The trail continues for .1 mile along the crest of the ridge, which has spectacular views of the mountain's sheer western slopes. At mile 4, you will reach the highest point of The Pinnacle (elevation 3,730 feet) and begin a descent through mountain laurel. In another .75 mile, you will reach the junction with the blue-blazed Leading Ridge Trail, which leads left .1 mile to Skyline Drive. The AT continues to descend through white pine.
In .1 mile, you will pass below the Jewel Hollow Overlook (elevation 3,335 feet) at Skyline Drive (milepost 36.4). In another .25 mile, you will reach a side trail that heads back a short distance to the Jewel Hollow Overlook. The trail continues, climbing moderately along the crest of the ridge, where there are views to the west across Jewel Hollow. Hike .1 mile past the side trail that reaches and then parallels the entrance road to the Pinnacles Picnic Area (milepost 36.7). The AT follows the right fork (unpaved) and skirts the picnic area through laurel.
Pass restrooms and a water fountain in another .25 mile, then enter the woods, climbing briefly and descending again. At mile 5.7, pass a notable white pine to your left, and in another .1 mile, cross under powerlines. Climb to the knob at the head of Nicholson Hollow, and in another .4 mile, turn sharply to the right and descend to a good viewpoint of Nicholson Hollow and Old Rag Mountain.
In .1 mile, you will reach an abandoned trail to your right that will take you .25 mile downhill to a spring near the former site of the Shaver Hollow Shelter. From the side trail, hike .6 mile to the blue-blazed Crusher Ridge Trail, which crosses the trail on an old woods road (Sours Lane). At mile 7, reach the junction with the blue-blazed Nicholson Hollow Trail. The side trail leads .1 mile to Skyline Drive. You will reach another side trail in .25 mile that heads left a short distance to the southern end of the Stony Man Mountain Overlook (milepost 38.6). This is also Hughes River Gap (elevation 3,097 feet). Water and restrooms are provided at this overlook. The trail continues around Nicholson Hollow, parallels Skyline Drive, and ascends.
Reach the side trail to Little Stony Man Parking Area in .4 mile. The short side trail heads left to Skyline Drive (milepost 39.1). The AT climbs Stony Man moderately on switchbacks and reaches another trail junction at mile 8. Follow the AT left at the fork (the right fork, the Passamaquoddy Trail, heads 1.4 miles to Skyland Lodge and is a former AT route). The left fork continues another .25 mile to the cliffs of Little Stony Man and ascends .6 mile to another trail junction.
You have two options you can follow a .4-mile loop trail to the summit of Stony Man, or continue along the AT, descending .4 mile to the Stony Man Nature Trail Parking Area. Don't follow the horse trail to the nature trail. The parking area is .25 mile to the left of Skyland Lodge and Dining Hall, and .1 mile to the right of Skyline Drive (milepost 41.7).
From the parking lot, cross the paved road that leads to Skyland, climb gradually through the woods, and reach the service road to Skyland in .25 mile. From here, it is .25 mile to the right to Skyland Lodge and Dining Hall. Continue to climb, and soon reach an open field with a large green water tank. Descend .6 mile to Skyland Road. The road heads left to Skyline Drive and right to Skyland Development. Continue on the AT and hike along the cliffs under Pollock Knob (elevation 3,560 feet) in another .25 mile. Pollock Knob and the Passamaquoddy Trail (which means"abounding in Pollock") were named for George Pollock, the founder of Skyland.
The trail begins to descend via switchbacks at mile 10.9, with great views of Hawksbill Mountain and Ida Valley. Paralleling Skyline Drive, you will pass through a thicket of laurel and reach an open area in .5 mile. A side trail to the left heads a short distance uphill to the Timber Hollow Parking Overlook at Skyline Drive (milepost 43.3).
In .1 mile, the trail ascends a small ridge and then descends the western slopes of Blue Ridge, passing some interesting trees with contorted limbs. An oak, in particular, offers the tired hiker a seat on an extended limb. In .6 mile, you will reach a concrete post that marks a side trail that heads right .1 mile uphill, just north of Crescent Rock Parking Overlook (milepost 44.4) to good views at Bettys Rock. The trail continues under the Crescent Rock cliffs. Enjoy great views of Nakedtop and Hawksbill Mountain.
At mile 12.6, you will reach Hawksbill Gap. A side trail turns right downhill and reaches a spring in a short distance. To the left, a short distance away, is Hawksbill Gap Parking Area on Skyline Drive at milepost 45.6 (elevation 3,361 feet). From the gap, the AT climbs up the northern side of Hawksbill Mountain (site of a peregrine falcon release program) and continues along under cliffs. Look behind you for good views of Crescent Rocks, Stony Man, and Old Rag Mountain, and ahead for views of Ida Valley and Luray.
At mile 13.6, you will reach the sag between Hawksbill and Nakedtop; there is a side trail that heads left .9 mile to the summit of Hawksbill. The AT continues for another .25 mile through deep woods before it arrives in an old orchard that is rapidly becoming overrun by other trees. A service road enters from the left that looks like a grassy meadow. (No camping allowed.) The road heads left for .25 mile to Skyline Drive (milepost 47.8). Continue along the AT and reach the side trail (with signpost) that heads right .25 mile to Rock Spring Cabin, which can be rented through PATC, and Rock Spring Hut, where you can stay overnight. From late May through June, AT long-distance hikers are likely to fill the shelters in the Shenandoahs, but there is still room to camp in the area.
At mile 14.5, you will reach another side trail (with signpost) that heads a short distance uphill to Skyline Drive at Spitler Knoll Parking Overlook (milepost 48.1). The AT continues along the slopes of Blue Ridge before passing a concrete post marking the side trail to the left, which heads uphill .25 mile to the north end of Franklin Cliffs Overlook. In another .25 mile, the AT passes another side trail, also marked by a post, that heads left .25 mile to the south end of Franklin Cliffs Overlook.
At mile 15.8, you will reach the intersection with Red Gate Fire Road in Fishers Gap (formerly Gordonsville Turnpike). The road heads right to Virginia 611 and left to the north end of Fishers Gap Parking Overlook. After passing below the overlook, you will pass another post marking a side trail that heads left a short distance to the Fisher Gap Parking Overlook. In another .1 mile, you will pass to the right of a split rock, climb up to a hemlock grove, and cross a small stream twice.
At mile 16.8, locate David Spring a short distance to the right of the AT where a trail enters from the left. The AT skirts the north edge of Big Meadows Campground. Pass several unmarked trails that lead to the campground. Camping and lodging along with food, and water, are all available at Big Meadows. Enjoy views along here of Hawksbill Mountain. Stony Man Mountain, Knob Mountain, and Neighbor Mountain.
Cross a small, rocky knob called Monkey Head in .25 mile, then skirt the western edge of the ridge, and pass below the open-air amphitheater in Big Meadows in another .25 mile. In .1 mile, you will pass a concrete post that marks the intersection of the AT with the trail to Lewis Falls (1.2 miles to the right) and the Lodge Trail (left to the amphitheater parking area). The AT continues straight ahead, passing under the sheer cliffs of Blackrock in .25 mile. From the rocks at the right, there are outstanding views of the Shenandoah Valley, the Massanuttens, Great North Mountain, with the Alleghenies rising in the distance.
At mile 17.9, a side trail heads left for .1 mile to a view at Blackrock, and at mile 18.1, another trail leads to Big Meadows Lodge. The AT descends down the ridge for .4 mile to a service road, which leads .25 mile left to Skyline Drive (milepost 51.4). The service road reaches the Drive .1 mile south of Big Meadows Wayside, where you'll find meals and supplies, and the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center. Just past the service road, the AT reaches the outlet of the boxed Lewis Spring and continues to descend through the woods for another .6 mile before reaching Tanners Ridge Cemetery on the right.
The AT continues along a level footpath from here to Milam Gap, just over a mile away. About .25 mile after leaving the cemetery, you will pass a spring a short distance to the left of the AT. Reach Skyline Drive (milepost 52.8) at mile 20, south of Milam Gap (elevation 3,257 feet). The AT continues east through a field before reaching a concrete post marking the intersection with the Mill Prong Trail to the left. From here, the trail climbs the north ridge of Hazeltop, bearing right at the crest in .4 mile and climbing moderately to the north end of Hazeltop at mile 21.5.
In another .4 mile, you will cross the tree-covered crest of Hazeltop (elevation 3,812 feet), the highest point on the AT in the Shenandoahs. Note the red spruce and balsam on the summit that is marked by a sign. After .5 mile, you will reach the intersection of the blue-blazed Laurel Prong Trail, which heads 2.8 miles left to Camp Hoover. In another .4 mile, you will reach Bootens Gap (elevation 3,243 feet) and the gate across Conway River Fire Road. Skyline Drive (milepost 55.1) is a short distance to the right. The AT descends moderately for .25 mile before paralleling Skyline Drive with little change in elevation for the next .5 mile.
Begin to climb again along the western slope of Bush Mountain before reaching another trail junction in .5 mile. The blue-blazed side trail heads right for 1 mile to Bearfence Mountain Parking Area on Skyline Drive (milepost 56.4). For excellent views, follow the side trail left over some rough boulders. You will pass a loop trail over Bearfence Mountain in .25 mile, which makes a figure eight with the AT.
Continue along the AT and reach the loop trail noted above in .25 mile, where it leaves the AT to the left. The loop is only a short distance longer than the length of the AT between the trail junctions of the loop, and the loop offers outstanding views. But if you continue on the AT, you will reach the second junction with the loop in another .25 mile. From here, the trail descends by switchbacks for .6 mile to a gap where it intersects the yellow-blazed Slaughter Trail. The side trail heads left .1 mile to the access road to Bearfence Hut, then right a few feet to Skyline Drive (milepost 56.8).
At mile 25.3, another side trail leads left for .1 mile to Bearfence Mountain Hut, which is designated for long-distance hikers. There is a spring a short distance south of the hut that is often dry in the summer. From the hut, the AT climbs moderately up Lewis Mountain, leveling off at 3,400 feet. You will pass several paths that lead right to Lewis Mountain Picnic Area and Campground (open May through October), but don't leave the AT until you reach the post marking the side trail that leads right 100 yards to the campground at mile 26.3. Take this side trail to the campground and its parking area.
The Appalachian Trail crossing at Thornton Gap (US 211) is .1 mile west of Skyline Drive. US 211 can be reached via Interstate 81 at New Market or via US 15/29 at Warrenton near Washington, D.C.
Lewis Mountain Campground is off Skyline Drive at milepost 57.5.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication