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Thornton Gap to Stony Man Mountain Overlook

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MILE 31.6, THORNTON GAP AND SITE OF FORMER PANORAMA DEVELOPMENT. AT access. Hikes. The Thornton Gap site, formerly called Panorama, is to be updated to a new role at some future date. The old restaurant and gift shop are now closed and the building has been demolished.

The small building in the parking area has an accessible restroom and a public telephone.

AT access is via a 35-yard trail that starts at the turnaround circle at the far/southern end of the parking lot. Distances on the AT: south (to the left) it's 4.9 miles to Jewell Hollow Overlook, mile 36.4; north (to the right) it's 2.9 miles to the Drive crossing in Beahms Gap, mile 28.5.

Two hikes that begin here are described: Marys Rock, with outstanding views: round trip 3.7 miles; and Pass Mountain A T Hut: circuit 3.4 miles, a somewhat easier hike through the woods. See below.


Panoramic Winter View Of Thornton Gap from Mary's Rock
Photo taken by Matt House
 

History: The Panorama development was on the south side of Thornton Gap. The gap is named for Francis Thornton, who in about 1740 bought land and built a mansion in the Piedmont nearby. Thornton owned most of the hollow to the east, as well as the F.T. (Francis Thornton) Valley between Sperryville and Old Rag. His mansion, Montpelier, is still standing; you'll see it to the left of Highway 231 if you drive to Nethers to climb Old Rag. Look back after you pass it to see the front of the building, which has columns much like those at Mount Vernon.

The road across the mountain here is very old. In 1746 the colony of Virginia was petitioned to build a road across the Massanutten (then called Buffalo Mountain), and through the gap to "Mr. Thornton's Mill." The road was built. Shortly before the American Revolution the road was improved and operated as a turnpike by Frank Skinner (another early settler; he gave his name to Skinners Ridge, which descends from Buck Hollow Overlook, mile 32.9). After the revolution William Russel Barbee took over the toll road and surfaced it with gravel. Beside it he built Hawsberry Inn. (The historical marker beside the highway, U.S. 211, calls it Hawburg.) For many years Hawsberry served as an overnight stopping point for stagecoaches and wagons crossing the mountain. It was the birthplace of one of Virginia's most famous sculptors, William Randolph Barbee (1818-1868).

Before the park was established, food and lodging were available at the Panorama Tavern, which was beside the highway near the present entrance station. The tavern was replaced by the now closed restaurant when the Skyline Drive-U.S. 211 interchange was built in the early 1960s.

Geology: Thornton Gap lies between Pass Mountain to the north and Marys Rock to the south. A geologic fault passes through the gap, separating the lava flows of the Catoctin formation from granodiorite of the Pedlar formation. Marys Rock, 1,200 feet above the gap, is granodiorite, and towers over the much younger lava flows on Pass Mountain. The mountains south of the fault were thrust high above those to the north.  

HIKE HC-1: Pass Mountain A. T. Hut. Circuit 3.4 miles; total climb about 670 feet; time required 3:00. A medium-easy hike through fairly open woods, a part of which is overgrown pasture. No summer views; but good for exercise, bird watching, wildflowers, and relaxation. This hike is actually into the north section of the park but because you park your car on the south side of Thornton Gap it has been given central section hike and map numbers. See Map MC-1.

From the south end of the upper parking lot take the connecting trail from the turnaround to the white-blazed AT and turn right. Pass through an overgrown clearing and, 0.2 mile from the start, cross U.S. 211 watching out for traffic. Go another 0.1 mile to Skyline Drive, cross the Drive and continue on the dirt road. After 100 feet, the AT turns off to the left; stay on the road; you will return via AT.

About 0.6 mile from the Drive, as the road takes a sharp turn to the right, you'll see a large dark tank down to your left; it stored water for the former Panorama development. Beyond the turn the AT joins the road briefly, and then goes off to the left again. Stay on the road. Beyond this point you'll see evidence of former inhabitants: old road traces, and pioneer species of trees, which suggest a former clearing.

About 0.7 mile after you leave the AT, you'll pass a damp grassy area on the left, where there was once a homesite. A tenth of a mile beyond, a connecting trail from the AT joins the road on the left. Continue on the road another 100 feet to the hut, which has a picnic table and fireplace. As you approach the hut the spring is beyond it and to the left; the pit toilet is to the right. The blue-blazed Pass Mountain Trail begins here.

Start back on the service road. A hundred feet from the AT hut turn right, onto the connecting trail, which goes gently uphill for 0.2 mile to the white-blazed AT. Bear left onto the AT. It will join the service road briefly, leave it, and finally join it again. At that point turn right on the service road. Cross the Drive, pick up the AT on the other side, and return to your starting point.


 
Map MC-1 - Thorton Gap - Pass Mountain Area

Click here for a printable map

 

View From Mary's Rock
Photo taken by Matthew Singer
 
HIKE HC-2: Marys Rock. Outstanding views. Round trip 3.7 miles; total climb about 1,210 feet; time required 3:40. A medium-difficult hike. Parts of the trail are quite rough and rocky; none of it is very steep. See Map MC-2.

From the south end of the upper parking lot take the short connecting trail from the turnaround to the white-blazed AT and turn left. You now have a long, steady, fairly gentle climb - at first through woods, and later through thickets of mountain laurel. In several places the trail follows hand-laid stone terraces where the route crosses very steep slopes. Worth noting is a big oak tree beside the trail, about 1.1 miles from the start. A mile and three quarters from Panorama, the AT turns 90 degrees to the left at a concrete marker. Continue straight ahead here, and go another 0.1 mile to the viewpoint on Marys Rock. The two sketches below show part of what you can see. To the left of Three Sisters (at the left edge of the first sketch) you have a view across the Valley to New Market Gap in the Massanutten with the town of Luray filling a good part of the Valley.

The high point on Marys Rock, elevation 3,515, is about 200 feet behind the viewpoint. It's less than 100 feet to a point from which you can see far to the left, to The Pinnacle and Stony Man. If you have non-slip shoes and a good sense of balance, go a hundred feet farther to the highest point. Only a few points in the park offer a 360-degree view. This is one of them.


 
Map MC-2 - Marys Rock and Start of Buck Hollow Trail

Click here for a printable map

How did Marys Rock get its name? Nobody knows.

Legend: Francis Thornton brought his beautiful young bride named Mary to the summit of this mountain to show her the vastness of his lands. He presented the lands to her and they christened this summit Mary's Rock.
 

View from Marys Rock. (No. 1.)


View from Marys Rock. (No. 2.)

Fact: Francis Thornton married his cousin, Frances Gregory (whose mother was Mildred Washington, aunt of George Washington). Their children were John, William, and Mary. That wipes out the beautiful young bride stories, but daughter Mary has legends of her own.

Legend: Francis Thornton brought his daughter Mary to this summit to show her the land she would inherit.

Fact: Mary inherited a great deal of land from her father, but none of it can be seen from here.

Legend: A semi-beautiful mountain girl named Mary (not Thornton) lived in Thornton Gap. She fell in love with a handsome stranger, who lived with her for a while and then moved on, promising to return. Every day Mary climbed this rock, hoping to see her lover return, until she finally gave up and jumped off. (This story has been told in many languages, in many different versions. Heatwole said his favorite was "Madam Butterfly." You see, there was this Japanese girl, and .... )



Mary's Rock Tunnel
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown
MILE 32.2, MARYS ROCK TUNNEL, North Portal. (For a note on the tunnel itself, see below.)

Geology: The rock cut at the tunnel entrance has exposed a Catoctin feeder dike, where lava surged upward through a fissure in the granodiorite. The fissure is filled with solidified lava. It's easy to see from your car; the dike is about six feet wide and inclined at an angle, so that it seems to lean against the tunnel entrance. Slow down for a look if there's nobody behind you, but don't stop here.


 


Lining Of Mary's Rock Tunnel
Photo taken by Michael Miller

MILE 32.4, TUNNEL PARKING OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,510 feet. From here you look out into the hollow of Thornton River, with Oventop Mountain extending across the view directly in front. Skinner Ridge lies to the right of the hollow; between it and Oventop you have a V-shaped view of the Piedmont, with Sperryville at the apex. To the left of Oventop you can see more distant mountains in the North District of the park: on the horizon, the two close-together summits are Mt. Marshall; farther right is The Peak, a little to the left of Mt. Marshall, and lower, is Fork Mountain.

Geology: Near the crest of Oventop, a little to the left of center, are cliffs of Old Rag granite. The cliffs that rise on the west side of the Drive, across from the overlook, are granodiorite of the Pedlar formation. The rocks are strongly foliated - cracked into parallel layers so they appear to be stratified. The rocks exposed beside the Drive, from here to Milepost 39, are granodiorite.

About the 610 foot tunnel: It was blasted through the ridge about 1932. It intercepted a number of water channels, so that water fell constantly from the rocks - in winter forming huge icicles, and piles of ice on the road. To help solve this problem, the tunnel was lined with concrete in 1959.

 

MILE 32.9, BUCK HOLLOW OVERLOOK. This is only a wide place in the road; you may be tempted to pass it by, especially if you're going south. But stop - this overlook has a fine view. The elevation here is 2710 feet.
 

View from Buck Hollow Overlook

Skinner Ridge descends straight out from the overlook, with Buck Hollow to the right of it. (Hike HC-3 - a one-way hike to the park boundary through Buck Hollow, begins at mile 33.5) To the right of Buck Hollow is Buck Ridge, which rises to eye level at your right, beyond the right edge of the sketch. Beyond the high part of Buck Ridge, and rising a little above it, is Hazel Mountain. On the sketch, the diagonal ravine under the high point on Mount Marshall is Big Devil Stairs.

MILE 33.0, HAZEL MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,770 feet. Along the outer edge of the overlook are boulders of granodiorite that you can climb up on to see the view. You're looking straight out across the head of Buck Hollow to the high part of Buck Ridge with the top of Hazel Mountain barely visible beyond it. To the right are two mountains: the nearer is Catlett Mountain; the other, more distant and more rugged in outline, is Old Rag. The high point to the extreme right of your view is The Pinnacle.

The area around Buck Ridge, Hazel Mountain, and Catlett Mountain, is known as "Hazel Country." There was a lot of tree damage here in the fires of 2000 and while much evidence remains the new growth is encouraging. Hikes into the area begin at mile 33.5 (see below).

MILE 33.5 MEADOW SPRING PARKING AREA, east side. Elevation 2,840 feet. Hikes to Buck Hollow, Hazel Country, Meadow Spring trail, No. 3, and Marys Rock.

The Buck Hollow Trail and the Hazel Mountain Trail both begin at the southeast end of the parking area. To take the Meadow Spring Trail and the AT to Marys Rock Summit begin on the west side of the Drive south of the parking area.  

HIKE HC-3: Buck Hollow Trail. One way 3.1 miles; total climb about 45 feet; time required 2:40. The start of this hike is shown on Map MC-2. This is a fairly easy, pleasant hike, all downhill, mostly beside a stream. There are some rough stretches but if you want to escape from the crowds, you can probably do so here. NOTE: You should not start this hike if there is a possibility of high water at the two stream crossings near the end of the hike. If there is any doubt, check out the stream conditions at the lower end of this one-way hike.

Because this is a one-way hike, you'll have to leave a car at the bottom of the trail or arrange for someone to meet you there. At Thornton Gap, mile 31.5, take U .S. 211 east toward Washington. Continue 3.7 miles to a small parking area on the right, at the foot of the Buck Hollow Trail marked by a concrete post. The time required for the hike, 2:40, does not include driving time.

The trail descends steeply at the beginning, then much less so, passing through a young forest of mostly mountain laurel. You may see dead hemlocks, most destroyed by the insect invader the hemlock woolly adelgid and you will pass through an area burned over in the fires of 2000. About 0.7 mile from the Drive the trail swings right and crosses a rocky stream bed, then descends along the ridge some distance from the stream. Later it swings left, descends to the stream, and turns sharp right. From here on, watch the blue blazes. After another quarter of a mile the trail turns left and crosses the stream, but you will probably miss the turn unless you're watching the blue-blazes.

(A double blaze means the trail is about to change direction. If you run out of trail, and can't find any blazes, cross to the left bank of the stream; you'll find the trail there, within a hundred feet of the water.)

For a considerable distance, the trail follows an old road that once went to a sawmill farther up the hollow. From time to time traces of old logging roads join the trail, but there's no chance of getting lost; if in doubt, look for the blue blazes. The park and PATC trail crews have done extensive work in this area and as of 2005 the trail was in relatively good shape. The trail crosses the stream again and after another quarter of a mile leaves the road trace, narrows, and becomes much smoother. It promptly crosses the Buck Hollow stream for the last time, then crosses the Thornton River. Both crossings are easy unless the water is unusually high.

U.S. 211 is less than 200 yards away, through what was once a grassy clearing near an old homesite. The area is now overgrown with black locust, Ailanthus, and Japanese honeysuckle. In summer you may find pink phlox in bloom here, still surviving from an old flower garden.



 
 HAZEL / NICHOLSON HIKES
 
Map MC-3 - Hazel Mountain - Nicholson Hollow Area

Click here for a printable map

The area shown on Map MC-3, from Hazel Mountain and Hazel River southwest to Nicholson Hollow, was well populated before the area became a park. It included dozens of homesites, and a network of roads and trails built by the former residents. A portion of the old Hazel Mountain road was maintained by the park as a fire road until 1976, when it was reclassified as a trail. Some of the roads and trails are now maintained as blue-blazed and yellow- blazed trails by the park staff and volunteer members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. Others have been abandoned and allowed to revegetate and fade away.


Hawkins Cabin Chimney
Photo taken by Linda Lavender
Some of the homes were torn down after the park was established. Here in the Hazel/Nicholson country several cabins were left standing. Their shingled roofs have long ago caved in, and their walls have fallen. Some, but not all, were destroyed by fire in 2000. Some remains can be found in Nicholson Hollow, Hannah Run, Broad Hollow, and along the Hot-Short Mountain trail.

Throughout the area you'll find evidence of the former inhabitants if you're looking for it: old road traces, rock walls, rock piles that were accumulated in clearing space for gardens and cornfields, and many abandoned orchards. As stated many times in this guide, observe but do not disturb any evidence of the former residents.

As you can see on Map MC-3, the Hazel/Nicholson country has a network of interconnecting trails that offer a wide choice of hikes. Only three hikes in the area will be described:

From here (the Drive at mile 33.5) to Hazel River Falls and Cave - Hike HC-4. The route on the map is A-B-C-B-A.

From Pinnacles Overlook, mile 35.1, down Hannah Run - Hike HC-6. The route on the map is J-K-Q-R-S.

From mile 37.9 on the Drive to Corbin Cabin - Hike HC-10. The route is L-P-L or a circuit: L-P-O-N-M-L.

Using the map, and the table and notes that follow, you can put together a hike of any desired length and difficulty. Because different letter are assigned to each trail head and junction you can lay out your route, add up the distances and amount of climbing, consult the notes that follow the table, and then decide if your proposed hike is feasible. (Caution: note that the amount of climbing depends on which way you're going. Thus the total climb from A to B is 15 feet; while from B to A it's 625 feet.)
 

From To Dist.
miles
Climb
feet

A B 1.55 15
B A 1.55 625
B C 1.1 60
B D 1.6 445
C B 1.1 370
D B 1.6 130
D E 0.18 15
D H 0.5 50
E D 0.18 0
E F 2.32 20
E G 2.2 20
F E 2.32 1590
G E 2.2 1445
H D 0.5 45
H I 0.55 10
H K 1.2 365
I H 0.55 0
I R 2.16 75
J K 1.24 100
K H 1.2 230
K J 1.24 745
      
From To Dist.
miles
Climb
feet

K Q 2.45 140
L M 0.04 0
L P 1.47 30
M L 0.04 5
M N 0.77 245
N M 0.77 225
N O 0.17 20
O N 0.17 20
O P 1.81 25
P L 1.47 1065
P O 1.81 1070
P Q 2.06 30
Q K 2.45 1540
Q P 2.06 800
Q R 0.23 15
R I 2.16 1390
R Q 0.23 60
R S 1.73 60
S R 1.73 355
S T 0.3 40
T S 0.3 0

A to B and B to C are described below, as part of the hike to Hazel River Falls and Cave.

B to D. From falls road junction to Hazel School site. About 0.6 mile from the junction at "B" the trail crosses a branch of the Hazel River. Forty feet short of the crossing, the Catlett Spur trail comes in on the right. About 0.8 mile further on, the Hazel River trail joins on the left; it descends 2.8 miles to the boundary. After less than a quarter of a mile more, the trail curves rather sharply to the right. Here, in the overgrown clearing on your left, was the Hazel School.

D to E. From Hazel Mountain trail to junction of Sams Ridge and Broad Hollow trails. Blue-blazed. At the junction, the Sams Ridge trail goes left; the Broad Hollow trail goes right.

D to H. Hazel Mountain trail, from Hazel School site to Catlett Mountain trail. As you reach point H, the Catlett Mountain trail (H to K) comes in on the right at a concrete marker post.

E to F. Sams Ridge trail from Broad Hollow trail to Virginia SR 600. Blue-blazed. About 0.4 mile from the start is a former homesite on the right; the evidence includes a stone foundation, apple trees, rose bushes, and a spring. The trail leaves the park after 1.4 miles. It continues down the ridge on private property, and then swings left and reaches a road 2.0 miles from the start. The Hazel River is just beyond the road, and the Hazel River trail comes in from the left here. Turn right on the road, and go 0.3 mile to Virginia SR 600.

E to G. Broad Hollow trail from Sams Ridge trail to Virginia SR 707. Blue-blazed. Along this route are at least five homesites with ruins of cabins still visible; three of them can be seen from the trail.

H to L. Hazel Mountain trail from Catlett Mountain trail to Hot-Short Mountain trail. As you reach point I, the Hot-Short trail comes in on your right at concrete marker post. Ahead is the Pine Hill Gap trail.

H to K. Catlett Mountain trail. Blue-blazed. There are many signs of former habitation, such as overgrown clearings, a stone wall, old road traces, and an old orchard. About 0.1 mile before you reach point K, the Catlett Spur trail comes in on the right.

I to R. Hot-Short Mountain trail from the Hazel Mountain trail to Nicholson Hollow trail. Blue-blazed. There were at least eight homesites along this route. Several chimneys and house ruins are visible from the trail.

J to K. Hannah Run trail, from Pinnacles Overlook to Catlett Mountain trail. Blue-blazed. No view, no homesites.

K to Q. Hannah Run trail from Catlett Mountain to Nicholson Hollow trail. Ruins of three homesites and a chimney are visible from the trail.

L to M. From Skyline Drive at mile 37.9, at the head of Corbin Cabin Cutoff trail, to the AT. This short connecting trail begins diagonally opposite the head of the Cutoff trail across the Drive and parking area.

L to P. Corbin Cabin Cutoff trail, from Skyline Drive at mile 37.9, to Corbin Cabin. Blue-blazed. Ruins of two homesites are visible from the trail.

M to N. Appalachian Trail, from side trail to Corbin Cabin Cutoff trail, to side trail to Nicholson Hollow trail. White-blazed. (Near point N, the AT crosses an old road trace. This is the Crusher Ridge trail).

N to O. Head of Nicholson Hollow blue-blazed trail (mile 38.4) to A T. To reach the AT from the top of the Nicholson Hollow trail, turn left (south) and walk along the Drive a little less than 100 yards. Cross the Drive and continue on what appears to be an overgrown fire road, gently uphill. About 50 yards from the Drive, the blue-blazed Crusher Ridge trail comes in on the right. The connecting trail continues ahead, narrows, and descends to the white-blazed AT (if you're going north on the AT, you can use the Crusher Ridge trail as a shortcut; the AT crosses it less than 200 yards from its beginning).

0 to P. Nicholson Hollow trail, from the Drive at mile 38.4 to Corbin Cabin. Blue-blazed. The blue-blazed Indian Run Trail comes in on the right, about 150 yards before you reach Corbin Cabin.

P to Q. Nicholson Hollow Trail, from Corbin Cabin to Hannah Run Trail. Blue-blazed. There are a number of former homesites along this trail.

Q to R. Nicholson Hollow Trail, from Hannah Run trail to Hot-Short Mountain trail. Blue-blazed.

R to S. Nicholson Hollow Trail, from Hot-Short Mountain Trail to Weakley Hollow fire road. Blue-blazed About 1.4 miles from the Hot-Short Trail you cross the park boundary, and then continue on private land. There are two streams to ford: first the Hughes River, and then its tributary Brokenback Run. Neither crossing is easy except in dry weather. When the path dead-ends in a well-defined private road, turn left and go less than 100 yards to the Weakley Hollow fire road and continue east to the Old Rag parking area. Because the parking in this area may change follow any signs regarding parking. (To reach this point by car, see Weakley Hollow fire road directions.)


 
HIKE HC-4: Hazel Mountain Trail, Falls, and Cave. Round trip 5.3 miles; total climb about 1,070 feet; time required 4:45. Mostly easy walking, with about 200 yards of very steep trail near the falls. See Map MC-3; the route is A-B-C-B-A.

Take the Hazel Mountain Trail (yellow-blazed) on the east side of the Drive, at the south end of the parking area. About 0.3 mile from the Drive, the Buck Ridge Trail comes in on the left. Continue, mostly downhill, through an area heavily burned in the fires of 2000, but still with occasional good-sized trees, and a great deal of mountain laurel - some of it quite old.

About 1.6 miles from the Drive, the trail forks, at point "B" on the map, take the White Rocks Trail (yellow-blazed) and continue through a former clearing, 0.8 miles to the junction near point "C" on the map. From the concrete marker post at the junction, take the narrow foot trail that goes to the right. It starts off easy, but soon becomes rough and steep. After 50 yards you reach a point a hundred feet short of the Hazel River; turn right. About 150 yards upstream you come to a small natural amphitheater.

Ahead is the falls - not very high, but pretty nevertheless - with a pool at its base into which most hikers soak in hot weather. On your right rises a 40-foot cliff, and the rock overhangs to form a nearly horizontal ceiling eight or nine feet above the ground. At the downstream end of the overhang is a modest cave. You can explore all of it by daylight or, at night, by the light of a single match or preferably a flashlight.


 
Built in 1930 for members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, who used it as a base camp while laying out trails in the area. It was torn down in 1939, and a larger cabin was built by the Park Service. The new cabin burned down to the ground on Thanksgiving Day, 1946, leaving the stone foundation and chimney.
Remains Of Meadow Spring Cabin
Photo taken by Matthew Singer
HIKE HC-5: Marys Rock via Meadow Spring Trail. Round trip 2.9 miles; total climb about 830 feet; time required 2:55. Magnificent views. A medium-easy hike, with a few rough spots and a few short stretches that are moderately steep. (See Map, MC-3. You're just below point "A," near the upper left.) About 25 yards from the start, the trail takes a sharp switchback to the left; watch the blue blazes here. The Meadow Spring is about 0.4 mile from the Drive, on your right, just before the trail makes a 90-degree turn to the right. Fifty feet beyond the turn you'll see the ruins of Meadow Spring Cabin at the left edge of the trail. The original cabin was built by Perry Sisk in 1930 for members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club who used it as a base camp while laying out trails in this area.

Continue uphill to the junction with the AT, 0.7 mile from the Drive. (From here, Byrds Nest Shelter No. 3 [day use only] is 0.7 mile to the left.) Turn right, and follow the AT for a little more than 0.6 mile, to a junction where the AT turns 90 degrees to the right and a side trail goes 0.1 mile to the left, to a viewpoint on Marys Rock. Turn left onto the side trail. (See notes on Marys Rock, and sketches of the view.)


MILE 33.9, FIRE ROAD, west side. Elevation 2,850 feet. This is the service road for Byrds Nest Shelter No. 3 (day use only). You can hike to the shelter from the Meadow Spring parking area, mile 33.5. (See above.)

MILE 35.1, PINNACLES OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,320 feet. Hikes. The overlook has an impressive view down the hollow of Hannah Run and across the foot of Corbin Mountain to Old Rag. To the right outside the sketch, but in your view, you can see part of the profile of Stony Man.
 

View from Pinnacles Overlook

Hannah Run is of interest to anyone who wants to study the remaining evidence of the former residents. Three former homesites and a free-standing chimney are visible from the trail. The Hannah Run trail connects with a network of other trails. (See Map MC-3. If you want to plot your own course through the network, see "Hazel/Nicholson Hikes". Here, a one-way hike down Hannah Run is described and a fairly strenuous circuit hike via Hannah Run, Hot-Short, and Catlett Mountain trails is outlined.

HIKE HC-6: Hannah Run Trail, from Pinnacles Overlook to Weakley Hollow fire road. One way 5.7 miles; total climb about 315 feet; time required 4:25. Ruins of former homesites. A moderately difficult hike. Parts of the trail are rough, and about 250 yards of it are quite steep. See Map MC-3; your route is J-K-Q-R-S. Since this is a one-way hike, you'll have to leave a car at the bottom, or have someone meet you there. For directions, see directions to Weakley Hollow fire road. Because this one way hike involves stream crossings near the end, do not attempt it if you suspect high water without checking the lower end. Be particularly careful in cold weather.


Pinnacles Overlook - Looking North
Photo taken by Ryan Wick
The trail begins at an opening in the wall, near the north end of the overlook. It descends along the ridge crest with a few switchbacks, and is smoother than most of the blue-blazed trails. For a portion of this hike you will see the results of the 2000 fires, one of which may have been caused by people in the Pinnacles picnic grounds. A little more than 0.4 mile from the Drive, at the right side of the trail, is a rather remarkable, although now dead, "deer" tree - a result of breakage many years ago in an ice storm. Note that a twin tree of the same size and age was undamaged in the storm. The trail continues downhill, with several short easy climbs to skirt two knobs on the ridge crest.

About 1.1 miles from the Drive, at a concrete marker post, the Hannah Run Trail turns 90 degrees to the right. (Ahead is the Catlett Mountain trail.) Up to now you've been following a fairly new trail that was cleared for park visitors. Now you'll follow an old mountain trail to the first homesite and then what used to be a road.

After you turn right at the junction, the trail is almost level for a while, then begins to descend, and then descends steeply. The next 250 yards are steep and slippery - slow going. Descend to Hannah Run; then climb the ridge on the other side. Go forty yards more, and note the stone piles on your right. This is all that remains of an early structure here.

After another forty yards the trail makes a sharp left turn, at the corner of a former homesite. This one was about 20 feet square. Years ago you could still see the remains of a loft of the same size, and a ten- by twenty-foot lean-to. There must have been a porch on the left, since the door there is three feet off the ground. All that is now gone and all that remains is the stone foundation. When people lived here, the area was cleared for a third of a mile downstream (to the left as you sat on the porch), and the ridge straight ahead was cleared to the crest and beyond. So this was a porch with a view.

The next former homesite (lost in a fire) is 0.2 mile farther, on the left. It's smaller and older than the first. There must have been a porch on the side farthest from the trail, with a view down the hollow. After another 150 yards you reach another ruin, also on the left. This is much the oldest of the three - well along in the process of fading into the land. Only the chimney and some foundation stones remain.

From here on it's obvious that you're following an old road. Numerous piles of rocks on each side of the trail mark locations of previous fences, outbuildings and homes. This is a delightful walk as the woods are open and spacious, with some good sized trees. Hannah Run is down a small ravine on your left. The grade of the trail is gentle.

A mile and a half from the last homesite, the Hannah Run trail dead-ends at the Nicholson Hollow trail. To the right, it's 2.1 miles to Corbin Cabin, and 3.9 miles to Skyline Drive at mile 38.4. To the left it's 2.0 miles to your destination - the Weakley Hollow fire road. Turn left, cross an eroded wash, and later descend to cross Hannah Run on the rocks. (Both stream and ditch once had a bridge strong enough to support an automobile - the abutments remain.) About a hundred yards beyond the stream, the Hot-Short mountain trail comes in on the left.

Continue ahead on the old road, which in places is rough and eroded. Hughes River, on your right, flows among large boulders, with an occasional good pool. It's 1.4 miles from the Hot-Short junction to the park boundary. Go another quarter of a mile on private land to a ford at Hughes River. Crossing on the rocks is not difficult in dry weather, but can be very difficult or impossible when the stream is high.

After a few yards more, cross a second stream - Brokenback Run (sometimes mistakenly called Weakley Run) - easier than the Hughes River crossing, but still no cinch. Beyond the second stream, the trail dead-ends in a private road. Turn left and go 90 yards to the Weakley Hollow fire road. From here, the main Old Rag parking area is to your left.

As we write this the parking situation is subject to change. Before you begin this hike you should checkout two things. First, make sure you know the location of the parking; and second, make sure that the stream crossings at the base are safe.


HIKE HC-7: Hannah Run, Hot-Short and Catlett Mountain Trails. Circuit 9.1 miles; total climb 2,755 feet; time required 8:50. This is a long, difficult, and tiring hike, which is offered as a possible alternative to the one-way trip described above. See Map MC-3. Your route is J-K-Q-R-I-H-K-J.

As above, to the junction of the Nicholson Hollow and Hot-Short trails (point "R" on the map). Turn left onto the Hot-Short Trail. The trail follows an old mountain road up the hollow between Hot Mountain on the right, and Short Mountain on the left. There were at least eight homesites in the hollow; you can see the ruins of three of them from the trail.

When you reach the Hazel Mountain Trail, turn left; walk a little more than half a mile to a marker post where the Catlett Mountain Trail comes in and turn left. The trail skirts the north slope of Catlett Mountain. There were many signs of former inhabitants in this area, but now it is so overgrown that it is hard to see anything more than a few yards off the trail. When you rejoin the Hannah Run Trail at point "K" on the map, 1.2 miles from the Hazel Mountain Trail, keep straight ahead and continue another mile and a quarter to your starting point.



Jewell Hollow
Photo taken by Charlie Johnson

MILE 36.4, JEWELL HOLLOW OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,320 feet. AT access; hikes. Two hikes that start here are suggested: A round trip to The Pinnacle, and a one-way hike via Marys Rock to Thornton Gap - both have outstanding views.

The overlook includes a bulletin board in the north part. AT access is via a hundred-foot trail from either end of the overlook. Distances on the AT: south (to the left, from the south end of the overlook) it's 1.2 miles to the parking area beside the Drive at mile 37.9; north (to the right, from the north end of the overlook) it's 5.0 miles to Thornton Gap at mile 31.6 on the Drive.

The overlook has a view into the head of Tutweiler Hollow, which joins Shaver Hollow just this side of the lake and dam. Jewell Hollow is to the right of Leading Ridge, which forms the right-hand side of Tutweiler Hollow. In the distance, toward the right, is the sharp angle of Neighbor Mountain. A more distant peak, still farther right, is Knob Mountain.

Geography: Three counties meet near the south end of the overlook: Page County to the west; Rappahannock to the north and northeast, and Madison to the south and southeast.


Legend: Outlaws hid in this area because it was easy to evade a county sheriff, or even two of them, by stepping over a county line.


HIKE HC-8: Jewel Hollow Overlook to the Pinnacle. Round trip 2.1 miles; total climb about 460 feet; time required 1:55. Views. A moderately easy hike, though part of the trail is rough and rocky. See Map MC-3.

Take the access trail at either end of the overlook, go about 100 feet to the white-blazed AT, and turn right. After you leave the overlook the trail climbs upward - not steeply but steadily - often between walls of mountain laurel. About a mile from the start the trail levels off, goes gently down for a few feet, then gently up to a second summit. Just as you start to descend for a second time, watch for a viewpoint on the left. This is your destination. Use some care here; the rock slopes downward to a sheer drop, and there is a point of no return.

The view looks across Jewell Hollow, with the sharp angle of Neighbor Mountain in the distance beyond it. The distant mountain with four humps, to the right of the Neighbor, is Hogback. To the right of Hogback, and much closer, is the rugged summit of Marys Rock. Return by the way you came.


Panoramic View From Top Of The Pinnacle
Photo taken by
Matt House
HIKE HC-9: Jewel Hollow Overlook to Thornton Gap via the Pinnacle and Marys Rock. One way 5.3 miles; total climb about 805 feet; time required 4:30. A medium-difficult hike with good views; parts of the trail are rough and rocky, but the steepest parts are downhill. See Map MC-3; Jewell Hollow Overlook is at left of center. Since this is a one-way hike you'll have to leave a car at the Thornton Gap parking area mile 31.6, or have someone meet you there.

As above, to the Pinnacle. Continue north on the white-blazed AT. About 0.2 mile beyond the summit, and after three switchbacks, watch for a side trail that goes back at a sharp angle on the left to a cleared viewpoint. You'll have an interesting view of Marys Rock straight ahead with more distant mountains in the North District on either side of it. Farther right is a view out into the Piedmont and, about 90 degrees to the right, of Hazel Mountain.

Return to the AT and continue downhill, by switchbacks, to a low point on the ridge at Byrds Nest Shelter No. 3. From the front of the shelter, in winter, there's a good view, framed by trees, across the Valley to the Massanutten. Luray is a little to the left of center.


View From The Pinnacle
Photo taken by Jon Bilous

Beyond the shelter, the trail and service road coincide for a hundred yards. Then the road swings right and descends to the Drive at mile 33.9; the white-blazed AT goes a little to the left. Stay on the trail. About 0.6 mile beyond the shelter, the trail reaches a crest on the ridge and swings right. At this point look for rocks about 15 feet to the left with a view over Jewell Hollow. To the left are The Pinnacle and Stony Man; to the right is Neighbor Mountain.

Less than 200 yards beyond this viewpoint, the Meadow Spring Trail comes in on the right. (It descends for 0.7 mile to the Drive at Mile 33.5. The spring is a little less than halfway down.) About 0.4 mile beyond the Meadow Spring Trail, look for two rocks on the left. The second has a good view. From left to right: New Market Gap in the Massanutten, Neighbor Mountain, the four humps of Hogback and then, farther right and much closer, Marys Rock.

After another quarter of a mile, the AT turns 90 degrees to the right; a side trail goes 90 degrees to the left, 0.1 mile to the viewpoint on Marys Rock. Go to the viewpoint, even if you're tired; it's well worth the extra effort. (See notes on Marys Rock and sketches of the view.

Return from the viewpoint to the white-blazed AT junction, and continue straight ahead. Descend steadily for 1.7 miles to a side trail on the right, which goes about a hundred feet to the turnaround circle in the parking area at Thornton Gap.


MILE 36.7, PINNACLES PICNIC GROUND. Elevation 3,350 feet. AT access. The road makes a loop around the picnic ground; the AT parallels the west side of the loop about 15 feet from the pavement. The comfort stations are to the right of the road near the beginning of the loop, with pit toilets for winter use behind them. Picnic tables, fireplaces, and several drinking fountains (turned off in winter) are scattered around the picnic ground. Within the loop is a sheltered pavilion with tables and fireplaces, so you can have a picnic in the rain. There's a frost-free faucet, for winter use, about 50 yards north of the covered pavilion. This is a very popular summer destination for families and larger groups from the urban areas to the east.

From the far end of the loop, at the second parking area, you can walk 120 yards south on the AT to a viewpoint. This is an easy walk on a smooth trail. The view duplicates that from Jewell Hollow Overlook, but you can see farther to the right. Toward the right, the highest thing on the horizon is Hogback with four humps. Immediately in front of Hogback is Pass Mountain. Farther right, on the horizon, are the two peaks of Mount Marshall. You can just barely see the rocky summit of Marys Rock at the right end of the view.

MILE 37.3, SERVICE ROADS, both sides. Elevation 3,230 feet. The road on the east is no longer in use. Fifty yards to the south, the road on the west side goes a hundred yards to a closed-to-the-public scientific research facility, at the site of a former CCC Camp.

MILE 37.9, PARKING AREA, west side. Elevation 3,000 feet. AT access. See Map MC-3. You are at point "L", near the lower left.

AT access is via a 50-yard trail which begins at the south end of the parking area. Distances on the AT: south (to the left), it's 1.2 miles to Stony Man Mountain Overlook, mile 38.6; north (to the right) it's a mile and a quarter to the Jewell Hollow Overlook, mile 36.4.

The Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail begins across the Drive from the north end of the parking area. This is the shortest route to Corbin Cabin and Nicholson Hollow, which has ruins of former homesites and other evidence of the former residents. At Corbin Cabin the Cutoff Trail reaches the Nicholson Hollow Trail, which in turn connects with a network of other trails. (See map MC-3.) Two hikes that start here are suggested: Corbin Cabin via the Cutoff Trail, round trip; and a circuit hike to the cabin, returning via the Nicholson Hollow Trail and the AT. If you'd like to devise other, longer hikes, see the discussion of "Hazel/Nicholson Hikes.


Corbin Cabin
Photo taken by Ryan Wick
HIKE HC-10: Corbin Cabin. Round trip 2.9 miles; total climb about 1,095 feet; time required 3:10. See Map MC-3; your route is L-P-L. The upper half of the trail is somewhat rough and rather steep; the lower half is easy. All along this hike, and others in this area you will notice evidence of fire. In October of 2000 two human caused wildfires occurred, one in the Pinnacles picnic ground, and the other on Old Rag Mountain. Fanned by gusty winds, the fires burned 24,000 acres in the hollows below and on Old Rag before they were contained. The fires destroyed the remains of several former home sites.

Except at the beginning, the trail follows a path used by the former residents. At first it descends along a ridge crest through mountain laurels and young forest. Half a mile from the start, it swings left and descends the side of a ridge for about 200 yards, then turns right beside an intermittent stream. About 0.4 mile farther on, as the trail makes another turn to the right, look for a stone wall on the right at a homesite. This was the home of John R. Nicholson. It is impressive to contemplate the work that must have gone into these simple walls. Many of the rocks are heavier than one man can lift. It must have taken a prodigious effort to construct these walls, while raising your family's food, cutting fire wood, and all the other backbreaking tasks folks had to do to live in this area.

When the hollow was inhabited by the Nicholson family this home was near one corner of a large clearing - nearly half a square mile in area - extending to Corbin Cabin and well beyond it, and from there nearly a mile downstream on both sides of the Hughes River, serving as garden space, cornfields, and pasture.

Continuing on the trail, it's another 0.3 mile to Corbin Cabin. This stretch is rich in evidence of the former inhabitants. There are ruins of several small farm buildings, old grape vines, and piles and walls of rock. All are a byproduct of the struggle to create a workable garden plot - to expose enough soil in one place for a patch of corn. The trail descends to cross a small stream. About 250 yards beyond it is an old cemetery, a short distance to the right of the trail. It's not easy to find; the graves are marked only by uninscribed fieldstones.

When you cross the second stream, the Hughes River, you will be at the junction with the Nicholson Hollow trail, at point "P" on the map. To your left, it's 4.0 miles downhill to State Route 600 (Nethers Road); to your right it's 1.8 miles uphill to Skyline Drive at mile 38.4. Directly ahead is the locked Corbin Cabin. If it's occupied, please keep your distance. If you'd like to rent it for your own use, contact the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club at their website.

Corbin Cabin was built by George Corbin, an in-law of the Nicholsons, in 1909 when he was 21. According to Mr. Corbin's own account, he borrowed $500 to remodel the cabin and put on a tin roof, shortly before future park lands were taken by the state through condemnation. It was condemned in 1936 and taken over by the park. George Corbin received $500 for the whole property - land, cabin, and new tin roof. Members of PATC repaired and enlarged the cabin in 1953-54, and have since been responsible for its maintenance. Corbin Cabin is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

About twenty families, most of them Nicholsons, lived in Nicholson Hollow between Corbin Cabin and the park boundary. All the land that was reasonably flat was cleared for gardens, cornfields, potato patches, pastures, and orchards. There was a school about two miles downstream from Corbin Cabin, near the mouth of Hannah Run. In early days the school also served as a church, and a preacher came from Sperryville once a month. Later the Hughes River Church was built near the schoolhouse and Warren Corbin, a brother of George, served as preacher. A doctor came to the hollow from Criglersville when he was needed.

The average landholding for members of the Nicholson family was 100 acres in the 19th century and of that acreage 25 was cultivated. In 1932, property records indicate that no residents of Nicholson Hollow were squatters and only a handful were renters, For a definitive treatment of the families who lived in Nicholson, Corbin, and Weakley Hollows see "In the Shadow of Old Rag Mountain", by Audrey Horning. It is available from the Shenandoah National Park Association, 3655 US Highway 211 E, Luray, VA. 22835, or from their website. It is also on sale at the visitor centers.

Aaron Nicholson lived in a two-story house about 0.2 mile downstream from Corbin Cabin. In winter, when the leaves are down, you can see the ruins of the house from the trail.


 
HIKE HC-11: Corbin Cabin. Circuit 4.3 miles; total climb about 1,350 feet; time required 4:20. A medium-difficult hike; part of the trail is rough. See Map MC-3; your route is L-P-O-N-M-L.

As above, to Corbin Cabin. At the trail junction, as you face the cabin, turn right onto the blue-blazed Nicholson Hollow Trail. From here to the Drive, the trail follows an old mountain road. The lower half of it is badly eroded, and in places you have to scramble over rocks that vary in size from a quart to a bushel. About 250 yards from the cabin, the blue-blazed Indian Run Trail swings off to the left. (This was once a road. It climbs to the saddle of Thorofare Mountain, joins the Corbin Mountain Trail, and continues to the Old Rag fire road. Fun for experienced hikers with lots of time.)

Continue on the Nicholson Hollow Trail. Less than a quarter of a mile from Corbin Cabin, the trail crosses Indian Run (no relation to the Indian Run in the North District of the park). About 1.1 miles beyond the stream crossing, the walled-in Dale Spring is at the left edge of the trail; it's unreliable in dry weather. The trail swings gently right around the head of Nicholson Hollow, then turns sharp left for a final nearly-straight stretch through scrub oaks and mountain laurels.

When you reach the Drive go left (south) for nearly a hundred yards. Cross the Drive and look for an old road trace. It's blue-blazed and has a large rock sitting in the middle of it. Follow the old road to where the blue-blazed Crusher Ridge Trail comes in on the right. You can, if you wish, continue straight ahead to the AT at point "N" on the map, then turn right. But it is suggested that you take a shortcut by turning right onto the Crusher Ridge Trail. Go about 150 yards, turn right onto the white-blazed AT and go about 0.6 mile to a trail junction with a concrete marker post. The parking area at your starting point is 130 feet to the right.


MILE 38.4, NICHOLSON HOLLOW TRAIL. Elevation 3,100 feet. The trail goes east from the marker post. There's plenty of parking at Stony Man Mountain Overlook, mile 38.6.

The trail head is at point "O" on the Map MC-3. As you can see, this trail connects with a number of other trails, which have been described earlier under "Hazel/Nicholson Hikes". Here only a one-way hike to the mouth of the hollow is outlined.  

HIKE HC-12: Nicholson Hollow Trail to Weakley Hollow fire road. One way 5.8 miles; total climb about 130 feet; time required 4:20. Former homesites, stream, cascades, pools. Your route on Map MC-3 is O-P-Q-R-S. Even though it's nearly all downhill, this hike is classified as moderately difficult because parts of the trail are rough and rocky. This is a one-way hike, so you'll have to leave a car at point "S" on the map, or arrange for someone to meet you there. (See directions for reaching point "S" by car.) Note also that you have stream crossings at the end of the hike so do not start out if there is a chance of high water at the stream crossings unless you have checked it out. It is possible to make this a circuit hike by returning up either Hannah Run or Corbin Mountain /Indian Run Trails, but both of those involve adding a lot of miles, almost all uphill. There are good overnight options, but unless you are young, athletic and looking for a strenuous workout, the circuits are not day hikes.

From its beginning the trail descends for 1.8 miles, following an old mountain road, to Corbin Cabin. (For notes on Corbin Cabin, Nicholson Hollow, and the Nicholson family, see the Corbin Cabin Hikes, above.) Continue in the same direction beyond Corbin Cabin and the Cutoff Trail, for 2.1 miles to point "Q" on the map, where the Hannah Run Trail comes in on the left. This stretch of Nicholson hollow is similar to Hannah Run as the grade is gentle, the woods fairly open. There are signs of the former residents and the trail is always close to the stream. After you pass the Hannah Run cross a wash and then descend to cross Hannah Run on the rocks. A hundred yards beyond, the Hot-Short Mountain Trail comes in on the left. Continue passing the junction with the Corbin Mountain Trail on the right for ,1.4 miles, with the Hughes River on your right, to the park boundary; then another quarter of a mile on private property. Cross the Hughes River, and then Brokenback Run. (Both crossings may be difficult unless the water is low.) The trail dead-ends in a private road. Turn left here, and go less than a hundred yards to State Route 600, Nethers Road, at point "S" on the map. Turn left to the Old Rag parking area. Because changes are contemplated in the Old Rag parking, note where you left your car.


MILE 38.6, STONY MAN MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Hughes River Gap. Elevation 3,100 feet. AT access. (As you approach the overlook from the south, the high point ahead is The Pinnacle. As you enter the overlook at its north end, you look directly ahead to the profile of Stony Man.) The view here is straight out to the town of Luray, in the Page Valley. Beyond it, the low notch in the Massanutten on the far side of the valley is New Market Gap. Because of the lights of Luray and other towns in the valley, this overlook is well worth a stop after dark.

This is a long overlook, in two parts, with a bulletin board near the middle. A short trail goes from the south end of the overlook to the toilets, and continues to the AT. Distances on the AT: south (to the left) it's 2.0 miles to the dining hall at Skyland; north (to the right) it's 1.2 miles to the parking area at mile 37.9 on the Drive.

Trivia: This is the second-longest overlook in the park. Hogback Overlook, mile 20.8 to 21.0, is 75 feet longer.

MILE 39.1, PARKING AREA, west side. AT access, hikes. The AT is less than fifty yards uphill from the parking area. Several hikes can be started here, but only one is described. Little Stony Man. (Hikes to Stony Man summit and hikes on the Passamaquoddy trail are best started from mile 41.7.)

Geology: The hidden contact between the Pedlar and Catoctin formations crosses the ridge a hundred feet north of the parking area. From this point south, for about 25 miles, nearly all the rocks exposed beside the Drive are greenstone - ancient lavas of the Catoctin formation. Exceptions will be mentioned at appropriate points.  


Autumn Sunset From Little Stony Man Cliffs
Photo taken by Darren Barnes
 
HIKE HC-13: Little Stony Man. Round trip 0.9 mile; total climb about 270 feet; time required 1:00. See Map MC-5. Sheer cliffs with good views. An easy hike, though part of the trail is rather rough.

Go to the white-blazed AT and turn left. The trail climbs steadily for a third of a mile, then swings right and climbs to the ridge crest. There, at a concrete marker post, a side trail on the left goes first to the upper cliff of Little Stony Man, and then to Stony Man summit. Continue straight ahead, to the viewpoint on the lower cliff of Little Stony Man.

Looking to the left from the viewpoint, you can see the higher cliffs of Stony Man. With a little imagination you can make out the eye notch, nose, mustache, and beard. The town of Luray is straight out in the Valley. To the right you can see two stretches of Skyline Drive, with Stony Man Mountain Overlook on the left of the more distant one. In the distance, a little to the right of the overlook, is the sharp peak of Marys Rock; farther right, and a little closer, is The Pinnacle. Little Stony Man is a good place to watch the sunset, especially if you've brought a flashlight, so you can stay awhile after the sun goes down.

Geology: You're standing on top of the second Catoctin lava flow. The cliffs that rise above you are lava of the third flow. When enough time elapsed between eruptions, soil and sediments collected on top of the older lava. That's what happened here. As the molten lava of the third eruption advanced it churned up soil, sand, and mud. The rock that rises beside the trail here is worth close study. The greenstone contains red-brown, lumps of ancient mud and soil, grains of sand, and some silvery schist that may have been formed from a layer of volcanic ash that fell before the lava flow. (The rocks are also dotted with white, green, and gray lichens.)

 

   
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