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Crescent Rock Overlook to Franklin Cliffs Overlook

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View From Crescent Rock Overlook
Photo taken by Christine Anderson
MILE 44.4, CRESCENT ROCK OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,550 feet. AT access. Hikes. The overlook provides a narrow view out through Buracker Hollow to the settlement of Ida. Beyond and to the left of Ida is Hershberger Ridge. The high point on your left is Hawksbill with exposed basalt cliffs and talus slopes. Lower than Hawksbill, and a little to the right of it, is Nakedtop.

From the south end of the wall, a graded trail goes a hundred yards to Crescent Rock, where the view is somewhat wider. On the left the high point is Bushytop, from which a ridge descends to the abrupt angle at Millers Head, and then to the mouth of the hollow near Ida.

Report: Before the park was established, guests from Skyland had frequent picnics here at Crescent Rock. The rock was often the scene of religious revivals, as well as Easter sunrise services.

Hikes from Crescent Rock Overlook include Limberlost via the Crescent Rock trail, and Limberlost via the AT with return via the Crescent Rock trail.  

HIKE HC-21: Limberlost via Crescent Rock Trail. Semi-circuit 3.3 miles; total climb about 495 feet; time required 2:40. A medium-easy hike. The trail is not steep, and most of it is smooth; there's a rough, eroded stretch about 50 yards long, See Map MC-6. You're at point "Q," below and to left of center. Your route is Q-R-L-K-M-R-Q. The hike begins at a marker post across the Drive from the overlook, 25 yards south of the north entrance. It climbs a few feet, passes through a patch of mountain laurel, and then descends steadily. For most of its length the trail follows an abandoned road. The road was built by pre-park residents. The CCC had a camp near Timber Hollow Overlook.

You join the Limberlost trail at a concrete marker post, at point "R" on the map. Turn sharp right here, follow the circuit trail around the Limberlost, come back to this junction, and then return uphill to your starting point. The Limberlost circuit hike, Hike HC-20, begins at point "M".

 

MILEPOST 45.0, WHITEOAK FIRE ROAD, east side, 50 yards south of the milepost. There's room to park two cars without blocking the fire road. On Map MC-6, you're at point "J," below the middle. From here, the walk to the first falls in Whiteoak Canyon is somewhat shorter and easier than from the Whiteoak parking area, mile 42.6. The round trip from here is 3.8 miles, compared to 4.6 from the parking area; and the total climb is about 840 feet, compared to 1,040. But the route from the parking area is more scenic.

MILE 45.6, HAWKSBILL GAP. Elevation 3,365 feet. Hikes to Hawksbill summit from the paved parking area. Hikes to Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon, starting across the Drive from the paved area. There is also a gravel parking are on the same side as the trail heads. Byrds Nest Shelter No. 2, AT access, spring.

There's a very small cemetery here in the gap. To find it, cross the Drive from the paved parking area and turn left. Walk 160 yards north beside the Drive, to a bitternut hickory tree on the right. Under the limbs of this tree, on the south side of the trunk and 40 feet from the Drive, are at least five graves: four close together, in line, and another about eight feet away. There may be other graves whose markers have been lost. The four in-line markers, reading outward toward the Drive: Allen R. Taylor, 1933-1933; Carol Ross Taylor, 1936-1937; (illegible); Robert Jean Taylor, 1939-1940.

AT access. Take the connecting trail from the north end of the paved parking area; it starts out nearly parallel to the Drive and then swings left, reaching the white blazed AT less than 100 yards from the start. Distances on the AT: south (to the left) it's 1.9 miles to Spitler Knoll Overlook, mile 48.1; north (to the right) it's 1.3 miles to Timber Hollow Overlook, mile 43.3.

Four hikes that begin in Hawksbill Gap are suggested. A round trip to Cedar Run falls (Hike HC-23); a circuit to Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon (Hike HC-24), a short, steep round trip route to Hawksbill summit (Hike HC-25), and a longer but easier route to Hawksbill summit (Hike HC-26).

Cedar Run Canyon is a beautiful, narrow, rocky gorge with a modest waterfall. No one lived in the canyon, because it has no place smooth enough and level enough for a pasture or garden. Compared to Whiteoak Canyon or Dark Hollow, this is less visited. The trail is narrow, rough, and steep, and its surface consists mostly of loose rocks. In Cedar Run the rewards are for solitude and exertion.


 

HIKE HC-23: Cedar Run Falls. Round trip 3.5 miles; total climb about 1,555 feet; time required 4:00. A moderately difficult hike on a rough, steep trail to a medium-sized waterfall. Caution, this trail has a history of frequent accidents. See Map MC-6. You're at point "A", left of bottom center. Your route is A-B-C-B-A.


Cedar Run Falls
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

Start at the marker post at the north end of the gravel parking area. About 80 yards from the Drive, at point "B" on the map, cross the yellow- blazed Skyland-to-Big Meadows horse trail. Continue on the blue-blazed Cedar Run Trail.

The trail soon begins to get more difficult, descending rather steeply on small, loose rocks. About a mile and a half from the start, the trail crosses Cedar Run, with a pool and miniature waterfall to your right. The trail climbs slightly, moving away from the stream and then turning back toward it; 250 yards beyond the ford you can look ahead to an impressive cliff on the other side of Cedar Run. The trail descends steeply and roughly, by switchbacks, to the stream. The falls are a little way upstream, to your left. There is no trail to the falls, and no view of the falls from the trail. Make your way upstream to a deep pool at the base of the falls. The total drop, from the top of the falls to the pool, is about 34 feet. Return the way you came.


 

HIKE HC-24: Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon. Circuit 7.3 miles; total climb about 2,495 feet; time required 7:30. A difficult hike through two steep, wild gorges with nine waterfalls. This is for hikers accustomed to prolonged strenuous exercise. See Map MC-6. Your route is A-B-C-D-F-H-I-B-A.

As above, to Cedar Run Falls; after viewing the falls return to the trail and continue downstream a little less than half a mile, to the park boundary. Look for boundary markers on trees. From here, take a short side trail down to the water. Look upstream, between two large boulders, to see a small but beautiful waterfall.


Whiteoak Canyon Falls #1
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

Continue downstream a little less than 0.2 mile, turn left here, toward the water (avoid the abandoned trail that goes straight ahead on private property across the stream) and find the trail on the other side. Turn left onto the blue-blazed Whiteoak Cedar Run Link Trail. (Cedar Run Trail continues down to the Whiteoak Canyon boundary parking area.)

Continue around the foot of the ridge and into the bottom of Whiteoak Canyon. Cross Whiteoak Run and reach the Whiteoak Canyon Trail at point "F" on Map MC-6. Turn left. About 0.7 mile from the junction, cross a stream that comes down from the right. This is the largest tributary of Whiteoak Run. A short distance upstream on this tributary is a good-sized waterfall and a pool deep enough to swim in.

Continue uphill on the blue-blazed Whiteoak Canyon Trail through a narrow canyon on a steep, rough trail, past all six waterfalls of Whiteoak Run. Near the top of the upper falls, at point "H" on the map, the horse trail comes in from the right. After another 30 yards, the horse trail turns left and crosses the stream. Ford the steam here and stay on the yellow-blazed horse trail, straight ahead and uphill. (If the water is too high, continue on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, cross the steam on a foot bridge, turn left, return to the horse trail, and then turn right.)

Less than a tenth of a mile from the stream, the horse trail joins the blue-blazed Whiteoak fire road. Continue uphill on the fire road to point "I," where the road swings sharply to the right while the horse trail goes straight ahead. Take the horse trail to point "B," then turn right to reach your starting point. (Or, if you're very tired, continue on the fire road about 0.1 mile to the Drive, turn left, and return to Hawksbill Gap walking on the grass beside the Drive. That's a little shorter than the horse trail, and a great deal smoother.)

 


View of Hawksbill from Crescent Rock
Photo taken by Kaleen Vaden

HAWKSBILL MOUNTAIN HIKES. Hawksbill Mountain, with an elevation of 4,050 feet, is the highest point in the park. An observation platform on the summit offers a fine, wide view. Also on the summit is Byrds Nest Shelter No. 2, with a picnic table. There's no water up there. Camping is not permitted on or near the Hawksbill summit. There are three ways to reach the summit.

A short Lower Hawksbill Trail, fairly rough and steep (Hike HC-25).

A leisurely circuit via the AT, returning by the Lower Hawksbill trail that is longer, not so steep, not so rough, but much more interesting (Hike HC-26).

A third on Upper Hawksbill Trail starts from Upper Hawksbill Parking, mile 46.7. This involves less climbing than either of the other routes, and is intermediate in distance (Hike HC-27).  

 

HIKE HC-25: Hawksbill summit via Lower Hawksbill Trail. Round trip 1.7 miles; total climb about 690 feet; time required 2:00. See Map MC-7. The trail is well maintained, but steep. It starts near the middle of the paved parking area on the right and goes straight into the woods. Hawksbill Gap is at the lower right. Less than 50 yards from the start, look for a big white oak on the right. Climb steadily for another half mile, to a trail junction at the top of the ridge. Turn right; continue past the shelter to the observation platform, less than 0.1 mile from the junction. See the note on the shelter and the view from the platform.

 

HIKE HC-26: Hawksbill Summit via AT. Circuit 2.9 miles; total climb about 860 feet; time required 2:50. Parts of this route are moderately rough. The steepest parts are downhill. See Map MC-7.

Take the trail at the north end of the paved parking area. It starts out nearly parallel to the Drive, then curves left and joins the white-blazed AT less than 100 yards from the start. Turn left on the AT and climb steadily. A little more than 0.4 mile from the start, the trail crosses the first of three talus slopes - slanting rock piles formed by rocks rolling down from the disintegrating cliffs above. But there's no reason to feel nervous about crossing a talus slope; there has been relatively little movement of the rocks since the end of the last ice age.

Beyond the first talus slope, the next half mile is a rock-garden hike. The mountainside to your left consists of tiers of wild rock gardens, one above another, with a rich assortment of ferns, mosses, and lichens. The plants with broad lily-like leaves are yellow bead lily, Clintonia borealis, which blooms in late May and early June. The flowers are yellow; the plant is sometimes called blue bead lily because its fruits resemble blue beads. Smaller plants with thick fleshy leaves, growing where a small amount of soil has collected on the rocks, are Allegheny stonecrop, Sedum telephioides. It blooms steadily from mid-July to mid-September, with flowers that vary from deep salmon-pink to nearly white.

Sixty yards beyond the first talus slope is a second, with a view to the right across Timber Hollow, The highest point in sight, with rocky cliffs on its left face, is Stony Man. Nearer, and a little to the left, is the rounded summit of Bushytop, from which a ridge descends toward the left to the abrupt angle at Millers Head.

After another 200 yards you cross the third talus slope, with an overgrown view. Worth noting in late summer are several mountain ash trees, with compound leaves and masses of bright red berries. (The mountain ash is not an ash, but a member of the rose family.)

About half a mile beyond the third talus slope, turn left on the blue-blazed Salamander Trial which climbs 0.9 mile to the summit. The climb is steady, but not difficult. As you near the top you will pass several ledges on the left. All of them offer interesting views, but of course none can compare with the view from the summit. At two or more points a side trail branches off toward the right; keep left at all such junctions, until you come out in front of the shelter. This is Byrds Nest No. 2, the second of four open shelters for which materials were donated by the late Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. Camping is not permitted on or near Hawksbill summit.


Hawksbill Summit
Photo taken by Christine Anderson

Continue 75 yards beyond the shelter to the observation platform, elevation 4,050 feet, the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. There's a broad view here. At the far left is the town of Stanley; just to the right of it, and much closer, is the rounded crest of Nakedtop, with cliffs on its right-hand slope. To the right of Nakedtop is Buracker Hollow, with the town of Ida at its mouth. From Ida a ridge rises toward the right to the angle at Millers Head, then to the rounded summit of Bushytop. The high point, with rocky cliffs on its left face, is Stony Man. Further right and closer, down below you, is Crescent Rock. Still farther right, in the distance, is the rocky summit of Old Rag.

As you return, take the trail on the left at the far side of the shelter and another 60 yards to a junction with a concrete marker post. Turn left onto Lower Hawksbill Trail and from here the trail descends steeply for 0.9 miles to the Hawksbill Gap parking area at your starting point.


MILE 46.5, OLD RAG VIEW OVERLOOK, elevation 3,585. The dramatic profile of Old Rag is diagonally left. For hikes to Old Rag summit, see hikes HC-14P and HC-15P. They begin outside the park. Across the Drive from the north end of the overlook is a single yucca plant, rare in the park. It sends up a flower stalk every four or five years.

MILE 46.7, UPPER HAWKSBILL PARKING. Elevation 3,635 feet. This is a large paved parking area on the west side, with an informational bulletin board. Hikes: Hawksbill summit; and a circuit hike to Hawksbill summit via Rose River falls.  


Hawksbill Summit
Photo taken by Darren Barnes

HIKE HC-27: Hawksbill Summit. Round trip 2.1 miles; total climb about 520 feet; time required 2:00. A fairly easy hike on a graded trail and a fire road. Good views from the summit. See Map MC-7. You're near bottom center.

The trail goes into the woods from the bulletin board. Note the apple tree to the left of the bulletin board. Also note that heavy browsing by deer has thinned the understory. After a short steep stretch you have a steady, easy climb through young oak forest. Two-thirds of a mile from the start, the trail dead-ends in a dirt road. Turn right. (To the left, the road goes about half a mile to the Drive at Mile 47.1.) After another quarter of a mile, Salamander Trail on the left goes about 0.8 mile to the AT; to the right, Lower Hawksbill Trail goes to Hawksbill Gap, Mile 45.6. Continue on the road to the shelter, then go another 75 yards to the observation platform. For notes on the shelter and the view, see Hike HC-26.

 
Map MC-7 - Hawksbill - Fishers Gap area

Click here for a printable map

 

HIKE HC-28: Rose River Falls and Hawksbill Summit. Circuit 9.7 miles; total climb about 2,465 feet; time required 8:45. This hike is difficult, tiring, and fun. It includes a view from the highest point in the park; one of the park's prettiest waterfalls; and a touch of Civil War history. See Map MC-7. Upper Hawksbill parking is near bottom center.

Cross the Drive from the south end of the parking area. Turn right and walk in the grass beside the Drive, less than a hundred yards to a concrete marker post. Turn left, and enter the woods on an abandoned road. Less than 400 feet from the Drive turn right on the yellow-blazed Skyland-Big Meadows horse trail. Note: you will walk three miles on the horse trail; horses have the right of way.

About half a mile from the Drive, watch for a concrete post on the left that says "Mile 6.5 Horse Trail." (That's the distance back to the stable at Skyland.) Beyond, the trail begins to swing to the right. About 0.3 mile beyond the marker, look for two wooden signs: the first says "Horse Trail to Skyland," and the second "Horse Trail to Big Meadows."


Rose River Falls (Oct. 1966)
Photo taken by Henry Heatwole
Continue on the horse trail in the direction of Big Meadows, watching for the mile 7.5 marker post on the horse trail; less than 300 yards beyond it, the trail swings to the right. An older trail, now abandoned, goes steeply downhill straight ahead. Pass through a grove of now dead hemlocks, and cross three small branches of the Rose River. Then, a few hundred yards beyond the mile 9 marker on the horse trail, join the blue-blazed Rose River Falls Trail. Turn sharp left downhill on the blue-blazed trail, passing a post that says "No Horses."

Continue downhill for about 0.4 mile, to a point where the Rose River Trail turns sharply to the right. For the next half mile the route parallels the Rose River, with a number of cascades and pools visible from the trail. From a low point on the trail, 0.7 mile from the horse trail, you have a good view of the falls, on the left. If you like, continue a few feet more to where the trail swings up to the right; ahead on the side trail are some rocks that offer sitting places with a view of the falls. Follow the blue-blazes to stay on the trail as it makes several sharp turns.

Now turn around and go back three-quarters of a mile, to the junction with the horse trail, which comes in from the right. Go straight ahead, uphill another half mile to a gravel fire road. This was formerly the Gordonsville Turnpike. In November 1862, Stonewall Jackson passed this point, going from right to left, with about 20,000 men and a number of supply wagons on his way to Fredericksburg. Turn right onto the Redgate fire road, go 40 yards uphill, and cross the Drive. Continue about a hundred yards on the Redgate fire road (it's the one on the right, the paved road on the left goes into Fishers Gap Overlook) to the white-blazed AT, and turn right.


Rock Spring Cabin
Photo taken by Ryan Wick
The AT passes several ledges with views to the left and, a third of a mile from the fire road, goes along a ledge below Franklin Cliffs. Continue 0.9 mile to a side trail on the right that goes to Spitler Knoll Overlook; then another 0.6 mile to a side trail on the left that goes to Rock Spring Cabin. Less than 0.3 mile beyond the Rock Spring Cabin Trail, watch carefully for a side trail, the Salamander Trail, that doubles back sharply to the right. Turn right onto this blue-blazed trail; it climbs steadily for 0.9 mile to Hawksbill summit. Continue to the right on the fire road until you come out in front of the shelter on the summit. The observation platform is 75 yards beyond the shelter. See the note on the shelter and the view from the platform.

Return past the shelter and take the service road that starts near the far rear corner. Follow the road downhill about a third of a mile, to a trail that comes in from the left at a marker post. Turn left onto the Upper Hawksbill Trail, and walk two-thirds of a mile to your starting point.

 

MILE 47.1, FIRE ROAD, west side. This is the service road for the Byrds Nest Shelter No. 2, on Hawksbill summit.

MILE 47.25, GEOLOGY. Rock lovers only. If you're going south, park in the grass on the right, just before the beginning of the curve. Look out for a ditch and culvert, marked with a white pipe. Going north: park in the grass on your right, at about the middle of the curve. Near the south end of the curve, on the east side, look for basalt with veins of sedimentary rock one to four inches thick, and five to ten feet above road level. The veins show a variety of colors, from yellowish to pale dull purple. The sedimentary material was picked up by the cooling base of the lava flow as it advanced over the sediments of an ancient stream.

MILE 47.8, FIRE ROAD, west side. This is the service road for the PATC Rock Spring Cabin. There's a parking area for people using the cabin; it's at mile 48.1, at the north end of Spitler Knoll Overlook.
 

View from Spitler Knoll Overlook

 


Winter View From Spitler Knoll Overlook
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

MILE 48.1, SPITLER KNOLL OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,285 feet. AT access. Parking for Rock Spring Cabin is at the north end of the overlook. The ridge behind the overlook is the former site of Spitler ranch. This is a very long, curving overlook. From the middle: the high mountain to your left, about 1.5 miles away, is Blackrock - the site of Big Meadows Lodge and campground. The above sketch shows only a small part of the view, to left of center. Straight out from the middle of the overlook is the town of Stanley, at the foot of Roundhead Ridge. To the right of center, on this side of the valley, is Hershberger Ridge. At the far right, the relatively nearby rounded summit is Nakedtop. AT access is via a short trail from the north end of the overlook. Distances on the AT: south (to the left) it's 1.3 miles to Fishers Gap, mile 49.4; north (to the right) it's 1.9 miles to Hawksbill Gap, mile 45.6.

Geology: Here, and for a quarter of a mile in each direction along the Drive, the exposed rocks are granodiorite of the Pedlar formation.



Southern View From Franklin Cliffs Overlook
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown
MILEPOST 49, FRANKLIN CLIFFS OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,140 feet. The overlook has a narrow view down the hollow to the Shenandoah Valley, and to the Massanutten Mountain on the far side. The town of Stanley, a little to left of center, is at the foot of Roundhead Ridge. Farther right, and more distant, is the larger town of Luray. To your left, the high summit is Blackrock; a little way down from its high point, and a little to the left, is Big Meadows Campground. Still farther left you can see Fishers Gap Overlook, with a short stretch of the Redgate Road below it.

The AT passes along a ledge at the foot of the cliff, but it's not readily accessible from the overlook. Heatwole's research indicated that the cliffs were named for General William B. Franklin, a Union officer in the Civil War.

   
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