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Hemlock Springs Overlook to Timber Hollow Overlook

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Hemlock Springs Overlook
Photo taken by Jeff Logesky
MILE 39.7, HEMLOCK SPRINGS OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,380 feet. Sadly, the hemlocks are all gone or are only skeletal remains, victims of the hemlock woolly adelgid. The overlook has a view into the head of Nicholson Hollow, which bends to the right at the foot of the ridge. The high point a little to the left of center is The Pinnacle, with a "V" shaped view of the Piedmont to the right of it. Still farther right is the rounded dome of Hazel Mountain, and then the broader dome of Catlett Mountain.



 

MILE 40.5, THOROFARE MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,595 feet. The sketch identifies the principal features of the left-hand part of the view. Farther right is Robertson Mountain - sharply cone-shaped as seen from here - and beyond it the rocky face of Old Rag.

View from Thorofare Mountain Overlook

 

A hike to Old Rag summit takes a full day; but it's a very rewarding experience if you have the time. Although the peak is only 3,291 feet high, climbing it requires a great deal of effort. Old Rag stands alone. Hikes begin at the bottom, rather than on Skyline Drive. For want of a better idea, the Old Rag hikes are described here. Two options are available: a circuit hike starting at the Old Rag Parking area; and a less strenuous trip starting on the Berry Hollow fire road.


Panoramic View From Old Rag Summit
Photo taken by Jim Tavenner

Two new books are available from the Park Association that will enhance your Old Rag experience. They are:

  1. A Hiker's Guide to the Geology of Old Rag Mountain by Paul Hackley. It is well illustrated and has detailed descriptions of the basic geology of the Old Rag area, as well as localized descriptions of the rock formations keyed to 12 specific points along the hike.
     
  2. In the Shadow of Ragged Mountain by Audrey Horning. It provides a well-researched and well-illustrated look at the people and lifestyles of those who lived in Weakley, Corbin, and Nicholson Hollows before the establishment of the park. It is a must read for those interested in the former residents. It dispels many myths that earlier accounts portrayed.

These books can be purchased at the visitor centers, at the Old Rag parking area when staffed on weekends or ordered from the Shenandoah National Park Association or by phone at 1-540-999-3582.  

Map MC-4 - Old Rag Hikes

Click here for a printable map

 

View Of Old Rag In Autumn
Photo taken by Jim Tavenner

HIKE HC-14(P): Old Rag summit from Weakley Hollow in Nethers. Circuit 8.8 miles; total climb about 2,380 feet; time required 7:30. Outstanding views. No pets are allowed on the Old Rag Ridge and Saddle Trails. See Map MC-4. This is a difficult hike because of its length and amount of climbing. Parts of the trail are quite rough; parts are steep; much of the hike is a scramble over bare rocks. Be sure to wear sturdy footgear and bring water. The hike starts at the parking area, at the point labeled with a "P" for parking near right center of the map. A fee is collected at the parking area trailhead from hikers over 16 (see National Park Service for current fees). An honor system is in effect when the park rangers are not on duty. Entrance fees are used to support the park by helping to maintain trails and park facilities and to preserve historic structures.

No camping is allowed above the elevation of 2800 feet on Old Rag which includes the entire summit area. You will need a backcountry permit for camping anywhere in the park outside official campgrounds Be sure you understand and follow park regulations.

To reach Weakley Hollow fire road by car: leave the Drive at Thornton Gap, mile 31.5. Turn left on U.S. 211, and go through Sperryville to the junction with U.S. 522 at the far end of town, a little more than seven miles from the Drive. There are a number of eating options in Sperryville. Turn right on U.S. 522; go a block, and follow U.S. 522 to the left. Go 0.6 mile and turn right onto SR 231. Go about 7.8 miles to a junction at Revercombs Corner and a sign that says Old Rag Mountain, SR 602, Peola Mills Road. Turn right onto Virginia SR 602; go about 0.4 mile, cross the Hughes River on a bridge, and turn right on SR 601, Nethers Road. From here on, stay on what appears to be the main road, although its number will change from 601 to 707 and then to 600. A little less than 3.00 miles from the bridge, you will see signs for the Old Rag parking area where park rangers are on duty on weekends and maps are available. The parking for Old Rag may change, so be sure to follow the signs.

Take another look at Map MC-4. You will climb Old Rag via the Ridge Trail, continue across the summit and descend on the saddle trail, then return to your starting point via the Weakley Hollow fire road. The trail actually begins about 0.8 mile further up Nethers Road from the parking area. You will be walking from the parking area to the trailhead. Review the map posted at this point to locate the start of the trail. It climbs easily but steadily for about three quarters of a mile, then becomes much steeper as you climb the ridge. After another half a mile, more or less, you reach the top of the ridge and come out on the rocks. This is where the rock scramble begins. Most hikers find this part a lot of fun, though it helps if you have someone to give you a hand or a boost. You'll climb over granite boulders, or around them. At many points you'll have a wide view of the Piedmont to the left, or across Weakley Hollow to the Blue Ridge on the right.

The trail is blue-blazed; if you're in doubt where it goes, follow the blazes. Remember that a double blaze means a change in direction. At one point, the trail passes between sheer walls of granite, less than three feet apart, where the rock underfoot forms a rough natural stairway. This is a dike, where molten lava once poured through a fissure in the granite. The lava has been completely eroded from the top of Old Rag, except in the dikes. The rocks that form the natural stairway between the granite walls are vestiges of the ancient lava. (See views from the Old Rag summit, below.)

The Ridge Trail has several "false summits." You'll climb what appears to be the summit, only to see another, higher crest farther on. The real summit has a concrete marker post. Walk twenty yards beyond the marker, turn right, and go past the boulders to the view. From the top of the highest boulder you have a view of 360 degrees. The two sketches identify the principal mountains that you see from here. Part of the view to the left is cut off by a second, slightly lower summit of Old Rag. When you're ready, return to the trail and turn right; go about 200 yards, and take the side trail on the right to Old Rag's second summit. From there you can look back to the first summit and, from another point, across the Old Rag saddle toward the mountains to the west and southwest.


A "Buzzard Bath" On Old Rag
Photo taken by Mark Pillsbury

Before you leave the second summit, look for a number of large holes, usually filled with water, in the surface of the granite rocks. Locally, these potholes are called "buzzard baths". How did they get there? One possible explanation is that pockets of softer material, once enclosed by the granite, have eroded away. Or perhaps this was once a river bed, and holes were eroded by sand and rocks in the swift current.

Now return to the trail. You can shorten the return trip and total time by going back the way you came on the Ridge Trail - 2.8 miles. But you'll have to scramble over all those rocks again. If you turn right, you can go back by the Saddle Trail and fire road. This route is longer - 4.4 miles - and somewhat rough; but it's downhill all the way, it is very pleasant, and there's nothing to climb over. The longer route is preferred by most hikers and is recommended if you have the time.

To return via the Saddle Trail, turn right, and descend along the ridge crest for 0.4 mile to a marker post in the Old Rag saddle, with Byrds Nest Shelter No. 1 in sight ahead. Turn right; descend for 1.1 miles to the Old Rag Shelter and spring. Continue on the fire road. (In spring, look for showy orchids and a large patch of periwinkles beside the road, both on the right.) About 0.4 mile from the shelter you'll reach a double junction. Here the Berry Hollow road goes to the left. The Old Rag fire road continues straight ahead, and reaches the Drive at milepost 43.0. Turn right onto the Weakley Hollow fire road, which goes 2.6 miles to your starting point.

History: The former village of Old Rag was near here, and the Old Rag Post Office was at the old road junction. Originally, the park intended to preserve some or all of the homes in this area. But maintenance proved too difficult, and the houses were torn down shortly after the end of World War II. A photograph, taken from Old Rag summit in 1934, shows a number of houses in Weakley Hollow. Cornfields extended more than halfway up the steep slope of Robertson Mountain, on the west side of the Hollow.

Wildflower note: Along the Weakley Hollow road Heatwole found several species that are not common in the park, including pennywort, Obolaria virginica; water carpet, Chrysosplenium americanum; and sweet pinesap, Monotropsis odorata. About a mile from the junction, in the second half of May, look for showy orchids in bloom on both sides of the road.

A mile and a quarter from the fire road junction you reach the mouth of Corbin Hollow, where the Robertson Mountain Trail, and then the Corbin Hollow Trail, come in on the left. (Both go to the Old Rag fire road.)

The residents of Corbin Hollow were not as well off as those in Nicholson and Weakley Hollows. The fault lies in the hollow itself: it's narrow and rocky, not as suitable for farming. Brokenback Run flows from Corbin Hollow and the road crosses it on a bridge. You'll cross it once more on a bridge, a tenth of a mile before you reach the foot of the ridge trail. Proceed down the road to the parking area. There is a fee collected on the honor system at the parking area. See the description at the start of the Old Rag summit hike above for further information.


 
 
View from Old Rag Summit (No. 1.)



View from Old Rag Summit (No. 2.)
 
HIKE HC-15(P): Old Rag summit from Berry Hollow. Round trip 5.4 miles; total climb about 1,760 feet; time required 5:20. See Map MC-4. No pets are allowed on the Old Rag Ridge and Saddle Trails. This is a fairly difficult hike, via fire road and the Saddle Trail. The Saddle Trail is rough and rocky, and sometimes steep. Nevertheless, this is the easiest route to Old Rag summit. The hike starts from the small parking area at the park boundary in Berry Hollow (which was named for its early settlers, the Berry family). To reach the starting point by car:


Sunrise At Old Rag
Photo taken by Eric Sturdivant
Berry Hollow Parking Area. From Thornton Gap, Mile 31.5, follow the directions for Weakley Hollow fire road until you reach the sign that says Revercombs Corner. Do not turn here. Continue ahead another 2.2 miles to Etlan, and turn right onto SR 643. Drive 4.5 winding miles to a road junction where 643 turns sharply to the left. Turn right onto 600, and follow it for about 4.7 miles to the parking area at the park boundary. Note: you will pass the parking area for the lower end of Whiteoak Canyon on your left before the road begins its last climb to the Berry Hollow parking area.

The hike begins at the parking area (near the lower left corner of Map MC-5). Take a good look at the weather-proofed map posted at the start. There is a self registration station for the park entrance fee on the honor system. This fee contributes to trail maintenance projects. Take the fire road uphill, beyond the chain, and continue about 0.9 mile to the junction with the Old Rag fire road. Turn right, and go 0.4 mile to the end of the road; the Old Rag Shelter is in view ahead on the right. Turn left onto the Old Rag Saddle Trail and climb steadily. Near the top of the ridge there's a ledge, on the right side of the trail, with a view across the hollow to Robertson Mountain.

On the ridge top, a mile from the Old Rag Shelter, is a concrete marker post. Byrds Nest Shelter No. 1 is in view on your right. Turn left and climb a little less than half a mile to Old Rag summit, which is also marked with a sign post. At the sign, turn left; go around the boulders to find the view. See the notes on the Old Rag summit, and sketches of the view. Return via the same route to your starting point.


MILE 41.7, SKYLAND, NORTH ENTRANCE. Elevation 3,680 feet (highest point on Skyline Drive). Food, lodging, gifts, taproom. See Map MC-5; you're near the middle of the map. The hikes begin at the Stony Man Trail parking area, which is on your right after you turn in on the entrance road. To reach the office and dining hall follow the signs.


North Entrance Sign At Skyland
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown
 

There may be evening campfire programs and Ranger guided walks at Skyland during the summer. For information on time and place of activities see the posted bulletin boards or consult the park visitor guide "Shenandoah Overlook."

The Skyland Resort is much older than the park. It was founded by George Freeman Pollock, a self-made legend in his own time. If you'd like to know more about him and the good old days at Skyland, read "In the Light of the Mountain Moon: an Illustrated History of Skyland," by Reed Engle. This well-illustrated and well-referenced publication makes the current day setting come to life.

The conference hall is on a paved loop that surrounds a grassy area. (See Map MC-5.) A short distance uphill from the left (south) end of the loop, you come to Massanutten Lodge on your right. It was built by Addie Nairn Hunter in 1911, the summer before she married George Freeman Pollock. The lodge has been recently restored to its 1916 appearance with appropriate furnishings. The ranger led tours of the restored lodge are very popular, so be sure to check the schedule.

Two hikes, both beginning at the Stony Man Trail parking area are suggested: the Stony Man Trail (Hike HC-16), and a circuit (Hike HC-17) using the Passamaquoddy Trail and the Stony Man Trail. A hike to Millers Head (Hike HC-18) is described from the south entrance to Skyland. Ranger led hikes to Millers Head are sometimes offered. Check the schedule in the park visitor's guide, Shenandoah Overlook or at a visitor center.

 

HIKE HC-16: Stony Man Trail. Round trip 1.6 miles; total climb about 340 feet; pets are not allowed on this trail; time required 1:40. An easy, gradual climb to the cliffs of Stony Man summit; part of the trail is rather rough. The hike is self-guiding, using a pamphlet but also see Map MC-5. The pamphlet dispenser is beside the trail at its beginning in the corner of the parking area nearest the Drive. In addition there are scheduled Ranger led hikes to Stony Man so check the schedule in the "Overlook" visitor guide you received on entering the park.


View From Little Stony Man Cliffs
Photo taken by Darren Barnes

The trail follows the white-blazed AT for a short distance. About 0.4 mile from the start, the trail leaves the AT. Continue straight ahead for less than 150 yards, to a junction where the trail rejoins itself after making a loop around the summit. Keep right. In less than 0.3 mile, reach a broad clearing with a horse hitching rail. (You have passed the inconspicuous summit of Stony Man - elevation 4,010 feet, the second-highest point in the park - on your left.) Straight ahead is a 100-yard path to a viewpoint on the cliffs. The horse trail comes in from the left. The trail that goes sharp left is your return route back to the AT.

Go straight ahead, to the viewpoint on the rocks. By moving around a little, you can piece together a magnificent view of more than 180 degrees. Ahead is a broad view of the Page Valley, with the Massanutten Mountain beyond it. The town of Luray is a little to the left. To the far left, the highest point in sight is Hawksbill. Farther right you can look down on Skyland and beyond it the rounded summit of Bushytop. The ridge that descends to the right from Bushytop abruptly changes slope at the observation point on Millers Head.


Little Stony Man Trail Sign
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown
Looking down the ridge to your right, you can see the two-tiered cliffs of Little Stony Man. Beyond them are two short stretches of the Drive, with Stony Man Mountain Overlook to the left of the second one. In line with the second stretch of Drive, but five miles away, is the grassy area at Thornton Gap. The sharp peak to the right of the gap is Marys Rock; still farther right, closer, and not so sharp, is The Pinnacle.

History: There was once a small copper mine near the summit of Stony Man. Some ore was mined in the early 1800's, but operations were stopped before 1850. In 1881 the Richards Mining Co. bought the copper-mining rights on 340 acres for $1500, and began to work a quartz vein that was only an inch thick at the surface, though it widened to four inches farther down. The vein assayed 12.5 percent copper, mostly as green copper carbonate. In 1882, nine men were employed in drilling and blasting, and a sample assayed at 47 percent copper, and one-half percent silver. In 1883 the shaft reached a depth of 100 feet, and was then abandoned. The value of the ore in the narrow vein was less than the expense of extracting it.

 
Map MC-5 - Skyland, Stony Man, and Limberlost Area

Click here for a printable map

 

HIKE HC-17: Passamaquoddy Trail. Circuit 3.5 miles; total climb about 770 feet; time required 3:10. An interesting, not very difficult walk, with outstanding views from Stony Man Summit and Little Stony Man. (See Map MC-5.)


Little Stony Man Cliffs
Photo taken by Charlie Johnson

From the Stony Man Trail parking area, follow the sidewalk west (away from the Drive), and go 50 feet beyond the parking area to the yellow- blazed horse trail. Turn left, go to the paved road, and turn right. Walk beside the road, keeping to the right where it forks. The Passamaquoddy Trail crosses the road about 0.2 mile from the parking area. Turn right on the Passamaquoddy Trail, go about .15 mile to a dirt road, and turn right. Pass a little used side road that goes uphill on the right, and continue to a fork in the road. The right branch goes 50 yards to a no-longer used pump house. The left branch, with a yellow chain, is the old Skyland-to-Luray road which provided access to Skyland before the Drive was built. The Passamaquoddy Trail resumes on the far side of the road, at a concrete marker post. Fifty yards from the marker, the enclosed pump house at Furnace Spring is set into the hillside on the right. Excess water, if any, runs under the trail. This spring once supplied water to a copper smelter; hence its name. It now supplies water to the Skyland development, as it has since the earliest days of Skyland.

Trivia: The 0.8-mile section of trail between Furnace Spring and Little Stony Man is the original Passamaquoddy Trail route, In 1932 Pollock, then still proprietor of Skyland, had a trail built between these points. In several places you can see a trace of the old trail just a few feet up the bank. Pollock called this the Passamaquoddy Trail because, he said, Passamaquoddy is a Maine Indian word meaning "abounding in pollock" (an abundant salt water fish on the Maine coast).

Continue, with some ups and downs, along the steep slope below the Stony Man cliffs. Less than half a mile beyond the spring, where the trail is wide and nearly level, there are big overhanging rocks on the right. In wet weather they drip, and in winter they are often draped with icicles. The Stony Man cliffs are directly up the slope, high above you. Please stay on the trail or on bare rock to protect sensitive trailside plants.

Less than a third of a mile beyond this point, the upper cliffs of Little Stony Man begin on your right, and continue for nearly 200 yards. Near the end of the upper cliffs you approach a wide viewpoint at the top of the lower cliffs. The view here is exciting because as Heatwole wrote, "there's nothing between you and all those cubic miles of air that begin just beyond your toes". (For a note on the view and the geology here, see the description of Hike HC-16.)

Beyond the viewpoint the trail swings right, and in 200 yards reaches a marker post where the AT comes in on the right. To the left, the AT goes 0.4 mile to the Little Stony Man parking area at mile 39.1 on the Drive. Turn right, uphill. The white-blazed AT climbs by switchbacks to the top of the upper cliffs, swings left through laurels and scrub oaks, and then emerges in fairly open woods. You now have a steady, easy climb to the trail marker at the junction with the Stony Man Trail.

Turn right onto the Stony Man Trail and climb to Stony Man summit. Return to the trail junction and AT to reach your starting point. You can now turn right onto the yellow-blazed horse trail, or go straight ahead on the white-blazed AT back to your starting point.

 


South Entrance Sign
By Larry W. Brown

MILE 42.5, SKYLAND, SOUTH ENTRANCE. Elevation 3,515 feet. Food, lodging; hikes, stables, horseback riding. See Map MC-5. To reach the lodge reservation office and dining room turn in here, take the first turn to the right and then, after a tenth of a mile, to the left. The parking lot for the stables is only a hundred yards from the Drive, on the left side of the Skyland road. For information on horseback rides, ask at the stables.  
 

HIKE HC-18: Millers Head. Round trip 1.6 miles; total climb about 450 feet; time required 1:35. A fairly easy hike somewhat rocky trail, down a ridge to an observation platform with a fine, nearly 360-degree view.


Dottie, a popular Piebald Whitetail At Skyland
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

Turn in toward Skyland, and pass the stables on your left. Where the road forks, keep to the left (see Map MC-5). Watch for a gravel road on your left; turn in there, and park in the grass.

Note: The Skyland area is closed in winter. To hike to Millers Head in winter, park in the Whiteoak Canyon parking area (mile 42.6) and walk along the Skyland entrance road to the Millers Head parking spot. The round trip to Millers Head from the Whiteoak parking area is 2.3 miles, with a total climb of about 600 feet.

From the Millers Head parking spot, walk 80 yards up the paved road to a sign on the left that marks the Millers Head Trail. Turn left onto the trail, which enters the woods at the downhill edge of a locust grove. On the Bushytop summit the shack with a microwave antenna on the roof is part of the telephone system: it's cheaper to connect the Skyland telephones to the valley by radio than by wires. If you hear a humming sound from inside the shack it's the power transformer - not bees.

A hundred feet beyond the Bushytop summit the trail switches back sharply to the left; a side trail goes 30 feet straight ahead to a viewpoint that overlooks Kettle Canyon. (On October 14, 1951, Swami Premananda scattered the ashes of George Freeman Pollock into the head of Kettle Canyon.)

The main trail descends steadily, by switchbacks, to a low point with a concrete trail marker. About 250 yards beyond the marker is a view to the left, across Buracker Hollow. The rock at your feet here is covered with rock spikemoss (Selaginella rupestris), which is rather rare in the park; it's not really moss, but a somewhat higher plant. Please stay on the trail or on bare rock to protect sensitive trailside plants.

A little farther on, the trail comes out on the ridge crest, with Buracker Hollow on the left and Kettle Canyon on the right. Beyond, the trail drops down to the right side of the ridge by a double switchback. Note the rock face on your left: a miniature rock garden with several species of moss and several of ferns, especially polypody. Continue another 200 yards to the observation platform on Millers Head, elevation about 3,465 feet.

The view from the left wall (i.e. to the left of the steps as you mount the platform), from left to right: Pollock Knob, Timber Hollow Overlook, Bettys Rock, and Hawksbill Gap. The high point is Hawksbill, with Nakedtop a little lower and to its right. From there the ridge descends to the community of Ida, at the mouth of Buracker Hollow. (The clear area a short distance below the observation platform is a hang-glider launching site. To obtain a hang gliding launch permit, call Park Headquarters, 540-999-2243.)

From the front wall you look across Page Valley to Massanutten Mountain, with the town of Luray a little to the right of center.

From the right-hand wall you see Bushytop at the far right; to the left of it are some of the buildings at Skyland. The high point is Stony Man; to the left of that is The Pinnacle. Still farther left, and more distant, are the sharp peak of Marys Rock and the grassy clearing at Thornton Gap. To the left of The Pinnacle, and closer, is Stony Man Mountain Overlook.

Now back to the left front corner of the platform: relax, look, and listen. On a typical summer day, if the wind is not too strong, Heatwole observed you may hear all of these sounds within a few minutes: trucks and cars, cows, a train, a sawmill, hammering, a gunshot or two, and the nearby humming of flies and bees and the chirping of a cricket.

 

MILE 42.6, WHITEOAK CANYON PARKING, east side. Elevation 3,510 feet. This is a long, paved parking area that begins a few feet south of the south entrance to Skyland. The Whiteoak Canyon Trail begins near the north end of the parking area.

Whiteoak Canyon has been called the "scenic gem" of Shenandoah, which is an understatement. It's a place of wild beauty - a shady place of great boulders, of cascades and pools and sheer rock walls, and a steep gorge with six waterfalls. Although named Whiteoak Canyon it was also known for outstanding hemlocks which have now been lost to the ravages of the alien hemlock woolly adelgid. The trail, from the Drive to the first (and highest) waterfall, is in good condition, and the walking is easy. But farther down it gets steeper, and parts of it are rough and rocky.

As you might expect, this has always been one of the most popular places in the park. Long before there was a park, Whiteoak Canyon was the principal playground for the guests at Skyland. At that time the first falls could be reached by road. At the top of the falls were a bridge, a dam, a swimming pool, and bath houses. This spot was the scene of picnics and barbeques throughout the summer. Now the top of the falls has returned to its original wild state. But its popularity continues. The parking area holds 40 cars. On summer weekends you'll find the parking area full and the canyon crowded.  

Map MC-6 - Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run Area

Click here for a printable map

The map above shows the principal trails in the Whiteoak Canyon area. The parking lot, at mile 42.6 on the Drive, is at point "N", near the left-hand edge of the map. (Point "P", at the upper left corner of the map, is at the north entrance to Skyland.) Several hikes are described in the area represented by the map:

From mile 42.6, Whiteoak Canyon to the first falls. (N-K-L-H, and return by the same route.)

From mile 43.0, a circuit through the Limberlost (M-R-L-M).

From Crescent Rock Overlook, a hike to Limberlost via the Crescent Rock Trail (Q-R-L-M-R-Q); and a circuit hike using the AT and returning via the Crescent Rock Trail (Q-N-K-L-R-Q).

From Hawksbill Gap, Mile 45.6, a circuit that includes all the waterfalls in Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon (A-B-C-D-F-H-I-B-A).

With the help of the map, and the notes and table that follow, you can put together a number of other hikes.

From To Dist.
miles
Climb
feet

A B 0.05 0
A J 0.60 60
B A 0.05 10
B C 1.72 40
B I 0.66 80
C B 1.72 1475
C D 0.82 80
D C 0.82 695
D E 0.60 20
D F 0.90 120
E D 0.60 240
E F 0.75 275
E G 1.10 450
F D 0.90 140
F E 0.75 75
F H 1.90 1395
G E 1.10 0
H F 1.90 70
H I 1.74 760
H L 1.50 705
      
From To Dist.
miles
Climb
feet

H O 1.25 705
I B 0.66 85
I H 1.74 20
I J 0.16 60
J A 0.60 20
J I 0.16 0
K L 0.25 0
K M 0.16 15
K N 0.59 205
K O 0.82 150
L H 1.50 60
L K 0.25 60
L M 0.78 100
M K 0.16 0
M L 0.78 25
N K 0.59 10
O H 1.25 0
O K 0.82 150
O P 1.35 440
P O 1.35 70


Table of Distances, Whiteoak - Cedar Run area. See Map MC-6.

 

By using the Old Rag fire road, which goes along the top of map MC-6, you can climb Old Rag from here if you have enough time and energy. Old Rag Shelter, which appears at the upper right corner of the map, is in the lower left part of Map MC-4.

If you follow the Whiteoak Canyon Trail all the way to the bottom, you reach a parking area in Berry Hollow, at point "E" on the map. To reach point "E" by car: Leave the Drive at Thornton Gap, mile 31.5. Turn left onto U.S. 211, and go through Sperryville to the junction with U.S. 522 at the far end of town, a little more than seven miles from the Drive. Turn right on 522; go a block, and follow 522 to the left. Go 0.6 mile and turn right onto SR 231. Go about ten miles to Etlan, and turn right onto SR 643. Drive 4.5 miles to a junction where 643 turns sharply to the left. Turn right here, onto 600. Go about 3.6 miles, and cross the stream on a concrete-paved ford. Immediately turn left onto an unpaved road, to a small parking area. Continue, crossing a small bridge, to the parking area at point "E". A park entrance fee is collected at this boundary entrance by rangers or by honor system when they are not on duty. Fees collected are used to help support trail maintenance and other park programs.  

HIKE HC-19: Whiteoak Canyon to upper falls from Skyline Drive, Mile 42.6 Whiteoak Canyon Parking. Round trip 4.6 miles; total climb about 1,040 feet; time required 4:15. See Map MC-6. Please note that, like all other waterfall hikes starting from the Drive, you have an easy downhill walk, but the work comes on the hike back up to your starting point. The trail starts gently downhill, swinging first right and then left around a swampy area. (In early spring those vigorous green shoots in the swamp are false helibore, Veratrum viride.) Cross a small stream and, 0.6 mile from the start, cross the Old Rag fire road. After another quarter of a mile you reach and should cross the Limberlost Trail.


An Example Of Columnar Jointing
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown
 

Going straight ahead past the junction, after a couple of hundred yards a small stream, a mere trickle, comes in from the right and flows beside the trail. (Geology: note the disintegrating basalt boulder on your left is a good example of columnar jointing.) One of the pleasures of the Whiteoak Canyon hike consists in watching this trickle grow, and join other trickles and grow some more, until it plunges over the falls. In a dry August, it is a somewhat larger trickle, in spring, an awesome torrent. During a spring thaw, especially after a rain, Whiteoak Canyon is saturated. Water streams from every pore in the soil, and gushes from every crack in the cliffs. There's running water wherever you look, including the trail under your feet.)

Continue, downward. Pass cascades and pools and more tall trees (including an occasional white oak.) Pass cliffs and ledges and surrealistic boulders. Then, a mile and a third from the Limberlost Trail, you come to another trail junction with a concrete marker post. The trail turns left here, crosses the stream on a bridge, and then continues downstream on the left bank to where the trail widens, and there's a hitching rail for horses. The top of the falls is ahead on your right, but there's no point in stopping or going there; it can be very dangerous and you can't see the falls from the top.

Thirty yards farther, the horse trail comes in on the left. Continue straight ahead another 400 feet, to another widening in the trail. Diagonally ahead to the right are two rocky ledges. From the downstream ledge you have a fine view of the falls, which has a total drop of 86 feet. The stream, by the way, is Whiteoak Run. It was originally called Island Run, because of the island near point "E" on the map. It's the principal source of the Robinson River.

This is the upper and highest of six waterfalls on Whiteoak Run. Their heights are (numbered from top to bottom):
No. 1:  86 feet.
No. 2:  62 feet.
No. 3:  35 feet.
No. 4:  41 feet.
No. 5:  49 feet.
No. 6:  60 feet.

Below the upper falls the canyon is narrow, and the trail is steep and rough. If you continue down the canyon to the sixth falls, and then return, you will add 2.7 miles and 1,110 feet of climbing to your hike. If you want to see all the falls, an alternative possibility is the Cedar Run - Whiteoak circuit hike from Hawksbill Gap, HC-24. Please plan your hike according to your group's hiking ability and physical stamina. There is no shuttle service available for tired hikers if you are unable to complete the hike back up to the parking area. Remember when you descend into the canyon, you still have to hike back up.

 

MILE 43.0, Limberlost Trail and Old Rag fire road. At the sign for the Limberlost Trail, turn into a paved road on the east side of the Drive. Drive 0.1 mile to a small parking area on the left. If the lot is filled, park along the gravel road, taking care not to block it.  

HIKE HC-20: Limberlost Trail. Circuit 1.3 miles; total climb about 130 feet, (pets are not allowed on this trail), time required: 55 minutes, but you will probably want to take longer to enjoy this beautiful trail. See Map MC-5, and it also is shown on Map MC-6. The Limberlost Trail is the park's first accessible trail, with a crushed greenstone walkway, wooden boardwalk and bridge, and many benches to sit on. It is an easy hike on a gentle grade.


Trail Signs At Limberlost
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

The Limberlost Trail was originally developed to allow visitors to experience an area dominated by large hemlocks that thrived in the moist environment. The hemlocks in turn created a shade that was too dense for many plants, and their fallen needles created an acid mulch in which the seeds of most plants could not germinate and thus the undergrowth is thin. A unique mix of plants and animals thrived in the shady moist environment. The previously described hemlock woolly adelgid changed all that. The hike is still strongly recommended. It remains accessible. The park staff has cut down most of the dead hemlocks to prevent limbs or trunks from falling on the trail and creating a safety problem. More importantly, the experience offers several important lessons. First, it dramatically illustrates how much damage an alien invasive species can do in a very short period of time. The hemlock wooly adelgid was first found in the park in 1986 and in less than twenty years devastated a cherished park feature. Smaller hemlocks are currently receiving treatments to save them. Now with sunlight reaching the ground many species are moving in from the margins and a new cycle of plant evolution is well underway.

You can hike this loop trail in either direction, but these directions take you counter-clockwise, starting from the trail post at the south end of the parking area.

Soon after you begin your walk and pass the first bench, you'll enter an open area thick with mountain laurel bushes on both sides. There are a few S curves on a gentle downgrade, and a sharper left turn just before the fourth bench. In this area, you may spot chipmunks, squirrels, and perhaps a deer. After less than half a mile, you'll reach a swampy area with a boardwalk running across it. Immediately after the boardwalk, the Crescent Rock Trail comes in on the right, at a trail post.

About 0.6 miles from the start, the trail makes a sharp left turn in an area of that formerly supported big hemlocks, from 350 to 400 years old, called the Limberlost. The name was given by Addie Nairn Pollock wife of George Freeman Pollock, the founder of Skyland. She took it from the novel Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter.

It's only because of Addie Nairn Pollock that these big trees survived as long as they did. They were scheduled to be cut down before the park was established. She paid the lumbermen $10 per tree to leave them standing.

Continue, crossing the wooden bridge over a small stream. This is a principal source of Whiteoak Run which, after growing considerably, forms the six beautiful waterfalls of Whiteoak Canyon. Beyond the crossing, note the tall red maple on the left; in early October, it's a mass of brilliant color.


Columnar Jointing (the boulder mentioned at left)
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

 

About 150 yards beyond the stream crossing is the junction with the Whiteoak Trail. To the right, the Whiteoak Canyon Trail goes 1.6 miles to the upper falls in the canyon. As you approach the trail junction, notice the boulder ahead on the right. It's worth a closer look, because it shows a fine example of columnar jointing.

Soon after you pass the Whiteoak Canyon Trail crossing, you'll cross the Old Rag fire road (which is also a horse trail). You'll begin to see more hardwoods, as you weave around some S curves in the trail and pass several more benches.

Gradually mountain laurel will appear again and you'll come to a second crossing of the Whiteoak Canyon Trail. More sun reaches this area, so you'll see wildflowers in late spring, violets, bluets, garlic, mustard, and golden ragwort among them. After passing a final bench, you'll be back at the parking area.

 

MILE 43.1 to 43.2. The Drive passes along the edge of an old orchard. Many apple trees are visible from the Drive; they bloom in late April and early May.

MILE 43.3, TIMBER HOLLOW OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,360 feet. AT access. Timber Hollow is the upper end of Buracker Hollow, which you can see down below, with a house and clearing. (Most members of the Buracker family pronounce the name BURR-uh-k'r, with the "uh" so soft that it's almost inaudible.)

To the far left, looking straight down the Drive, you see a high rocky ledge near the viewpoint on Bettys Rock. Farther right and more distant, the highest peak is Hawksbill, with Nakedtop to the right of it. A ridge descends from Nakedtop to the settlement of Ida - one of the seven resettlement locations to which residents of the park area were relocated when the park was established. The nearby crest on your right is Pollock Knob, elevation 3,580 feet, named for George Freeman Pollock, the founder of Skyland. It was dedicated on October 14, 1951, by Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr.

History: Almost directly across the Drive from the overlook was CCC camp No. 1 - the first CCC camp in the park, and one of the first in the United States.

AT access. From an opening in the wall, a trail descends a flight of stone steps and continues another hundred feet or so to the AT. Distances on the AT: south (to the left) it's 1.3 miles to Hawksbill Gap, mile 45.6; north (to the right) it's 1.8 miles to the dining room at Skyland.

Geology: Here, and for about a mile to the north and a quarter of a mile to the south, the exposed rocks are granodiorite of the Pedlar formation. Going from the overlook to the AT you pass a ledge of granodiorite on the right; in it are several veins of light-green epidote - probably the result of mineralization by the lava flow that once covered this area. Beyond Ida, at the mouth of the hollow, is Hershberger Ridge, consisting of sedimentary rocks of the Erwin formation. Beyond the ridge is the limestone of the Shenandoah Valley. Thus, successively younger rocks are to be found at successively lower elevations as you go west - a result of the deep folding of the earth's crust that took place here.

 

   
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