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North Entrance to Signal Knob Overlook

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MILE 0.0 Skyline Drive begins at U.S. Highway 340 near the south edge of Front Royal. You can find food and lodging at many locations in Front Royal.


A Black Bear Walking Along Skyline Drive
Photo taken by Larry W. Brown

MILE 0.05, PARKING AREA. Elevation 590 feet. Dickey Ridge Trail. As you enter Skyline Drive from U.S. 340, you come immediately to an extended shoulder parking area on the west (right) side of the road. Pull off and stop for a minute. This is the lowest point on the Drive, and the only place in the park where the basement rock is limestone. But you can't see it, because it's covered by soil and broken rock that has washed down from the Catoctin formation on the ridge.

From this point the Drive climbs steadily on Dickey Ridge, finally reaching the Blue Ridge at Compton Gap, mile 10.4. The Dickey Ridge Trail begins at this parking area. It goes more or less parallel to the Drive for 9.2 miles, then joins the AT (Appalachian Trail) near Compton Gap. A short walk up the Dickey Ridge Trail (Hike HN-1) returning by the same route is described below.

HIKE HN-1: Dickey Ridge Trail. Round trip 2.7 miles; total climb about 440 feet; time required 2:10. A pleasant, easy walk beside a small stream. See Map MN-1.

The blue-blazed trail starts at the marker post on the west side of the Drive before the parking area. The first half of your walk goes through an area that, when the park was established in 1935, was pasture with only an occasional tree. Now it's grown up with spindly black locusts and other pioneer trees, and it's carpeted and festooned with Japanese honeysuckle. This area shows what your front yard may look like if you do not mow the lawn for eighty years.

The stream bed may be dry where you first see it, but there's water after you walk about 0.4 miles. Beyond that point, look for tall young sycamores on the right. Sycamores are not common in the park; they occur only near streams at low elevations.

About half a mile from the start, a side trail goes left for 200 yards, and reaches the Drive just south of the entrance station. A little more than a hundred yards farther on the main trail, another side trail (actually an old road) also goes left to the Drive. Just beyond, you cross the stream on a small but sturdy bridge.

Throughout the rest of your hike you'll see evidence of the former residents: stone piles, stone walls, and traces of old roads. At about 0.4 mile beyond the stream crossing, look for the remains of a stone chimney, now filled in, to the left of the trail. This is all that remains of a homesite.

About three quarters of a mile beyond the bridge the trail leaves the stream and, at a concrete marker post, switches back sharply to the right. It is suggested that you return to your car from this point. Ahead, the trail climbs rather steeply for half a mile to the Drive crossing at mile 2.1.


Map MN-1 - Map of Dickey Ridge - Fox Hollow Area

Click here for a printable map

MILE 0.6, FRONT ROYAL ENTRANCE STATION. Elevation 705 feet. There's a parking area just south of the entrance station. Beside it, on the west side of the Drive, are several Kentucky coffee trees, a species rare in the park.

Geology: The Front Royal fault crosses the Drive here, separating the limestone and dolomite of the Rockdale Run formation from the lava flows of the Catoctin formation.

MILE 1.4, PARKING AREA, west side. Elevation 970 feet. There are two modest attractions here:

Waterfall: Cross the Drive and walk south (uphill) about a hundred feet, then look to your left. There, directly in front of you, is a charming cascade of water some 60 feet high. This is the only waterfall that's visible from Skyline Drive. And like all the park's falls, this one is at its best in spring or after heavy rains. It may be completely dry in summer.

Geology: The rocks across the Drive from the parking area are basalt of the Catoctin formation; they were molten lava about 800 million years ago. In a fresh break the rock is mostly gray-green - the green color caused by the mineral epidote (calcium aluminum iron silicate). Here, weathering has produced a variety of colors: gray-green, light brown, and dark gray-purple.

Near the downhill end of the rock cut you can see pale tan spots, 1/4 to 3/4 inch in diameter, on the purplish rocks. These were once gas bubbles in the lava, which were later filled by minerals. At no point do the Catoctin lavas have the porous appearance of recent lava. They have been metamorphosed by the pressure of other rocks above them, so that no bubble spaces remain except where the minerals that filled them were later lost by weathering.

Mile 2.0, PARKING AREA, west side. A paved parking pulloff, about 100 feet north of the milepost, with room for several cars. Park here if you want to hike on the Dickey Ridge Trail from the crossing at mile 2.15.

MILE 2.15, DICKEY RIDGE TRAIL CROSSING. Elevation 1,155 feet. There's no marker or sign here, and the trail is hard to see from your car. Use the parking area at mile 2.0 if you want to hike from here. On the west side, the trail goes 1.9 miles to its origin at mile 0.05 on the Drive. On the east side it goes 2.6 miles to the Fox Hollow Trail, across the Drive from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

MILE 2.8, SHENANDOAH VALLEY OVERLOOK. Elevation 1,390 feet. The view here is quite worthwhile, and if the air is fairly clear give it a little time. Use binoculars, if you have them. You look across the Valley, 800 feet below at a stretch of the Shenandoah River, to the two ridges of the Massanutten Mountain, with Signal Knob at their right-hand end. The Massanutten divides the Shenandoah Valley, separating the north fork of the Shenandoah River, on the far side of the Massanutten, from the south fork on this side. The two meet at Riverton, a few miles north of Front Royal.

Front Royal is toward the right of your view, two to three miles away. After dark, the lights of Front Royal make this overlook a very worthwhile stop.

MILE 4.6, DICKEY RIDGE VISITOR CENTER. Elevation 1,940 feet. Information, publications, film, exhibits, telephone, rest rooms, water; Hike HN-2 Fox Hollow Trail (self-guiding); access to Dickey Ridge Trail.

The visitor center was built in 1938 as a dining hall, and the concessioner had cabins for rent in the area just north of the building. The dining hall was closed during World War II, and did not reopen when the war ended. It was converted to a visitor center in 1958. The cabins were moved to Elk Wallow, Skyland and Lewis Mountain with the smaller cabins going farther south because they had to fit through the tunnel south of Thornton Gap. The visitor center was remodeled in 2003 and new restrooms added.

An excellent and updated film about the park is also shown at frequent intervals and on demand if the center is not crowded. From the film and exhibits, you will learn the why, what, and how of exploring Shenandoah. The information desk is manned by park rangers who can answer your questions and help you plan your park visit. The Shenandoah National Park Association maintains a book store in the visitors center with a wide range of publications and related items including an array of guides and references on park history, flora and fauna. Included are many items geared to children.

There are views to both east and west from the building. If you walk down to the edge of the grassy area you can look west across the Valley to the Massanutten. To the far left is Hogback Mountain, with four separate bumps along its crest. Between Hogback and here is the Browntown Valley. Across the Drive, to the east you'll view open fields which were once a U.S. Army remount facility and are now the home of the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center, managed as part of the National Zoo.

The Dickey Ridge Trail is about 80 yards to the east of the Drive, on the side across from the visitor center. From here the trail goes 2.6 miles north to the Drive crossing at mile 2.15; and 2.5 miles south to the Drive crossing in Low Gap at mile 7.9.


Map MN-2 - Map of Dickey Ridge - Fox Hollow Area

Click here for a printable map

HIKE HN-2: Fox Hollow Trail. Circuit about 1.2 miles; total climb about 310 feet; time required 1:20. This is a pleasant self-guiding trail through two former homesites. The trail is easy; no part of it is steep or rough. Pets are not allowed on this trail. See Map MN-2.

You can buy a self-guiding pamphlet at the visitor center, or from the dispenser at the trail head. Here's a summary: The trail begins in the grass across the Drive from the visitor center. Where the trail forks, a few feet from the Drive, keep left and in less than 100 yards you'll reach the Dickey Ridge Trail. Keep to the left here; continuing on the Dickey Ridge Trail for 0.2 mile, then turn right at the junction onto the Fox Hollow Trail. You will pass piles of stones that several generations of the Fox family cleared from their fields and pasture. The trail turns sharp right when it reaches the walled cemetery. The vine that grows inside the wall is periwinkle, vinca minor, which has blue flowers in the spring. Periwinkle was sometimes called "cemetery plant." It was used in cemeteries because it makes a good ground cover and doesn't have to be mowed.

Continue past the site of the Fox family garden and house, then turn sharp left at a concrete-enclosed spring (which was built to supply water to the Dickey Ridge development when the building there was a restaurant rather than a visitor center. Pass an old millstone near the site of the Fox family barn. (There was no mill here; the stone was brought into the hollow for ornamental purposes.) Cross the stream and continue to a dirt road. Edgar Merchant had his home here. The house was on the flat area to your left; the barn covered the rock-bordered hole on your right.

Turn right on the old road. Follow it uphill for a little more than 0.4 mile, then take the trail that goes uphill to the right. Cross the Dickey Ridge trail and continue uphill to your starting point.


MILE 4.7, DICKEY RIDGE PICNIC GROUND.
Elevation 1,935 feet. Entrance is at the south end of the visitor center parking lot. A one-way road takes you through the picnic ground, and rejoins the Drive at mile 5.0. There are tables, fireplaces, several drinking fountains (turned off in winter), and a comfort station.

MILE 5.1, SNEAD FIRE ROAD, east side. This road leads to an old homesite; the hike is interesting and easy. It is recommended that you park and start your hike at the south end of the Dickey Ridge Picnic Ground or at the visitor center.

HIKE HN-3: Snead homesite. Round trip 1.6 miles; total climb about 190 feet; time required 1:25. See Map MN-2.


Snead Farm
Photo taken by Charlie Johnson
Take the exit road, cross the drive and walk south to the fire road; proceed on the fire road, cross the Dickey Ridge Trail and then, a tenth of a mile from the Drive, come to a fork in the road. The right-hand fork climbs to the highest point on Dickey Ridge, which is occupied by a navigation aid belonging to the Federal Aviation Administration. It is closed to the public. Take the left fork. Walk a tenth of a mile through an old apple orchard to a second fork; keep to the right here. The other road goes down to the pump house, a part of the Dickey Ridge water system. The Snead homesite is 0.7 mile from the Drive. The house has been torn down, but the barn is in fairly good condition. The small structure in back may have been a root cellar.

The road continues beyond the barn to the site of the Snead house on the right, where a wall and steps still remain. Originally it belonged to the Carter family, who were farmers and fruit growers in comfortable circumstances. They owned extensive orchards; and the land now occupied by the visitor center was, in 1930, Carter's cornfield. This property is now called the Snead place. Snead, a retired Rappahannock County judge, owned it for only a few years. The 200-acre property was added to the park in 1962 to provide water resources for the Dickey Ridge area developments.

You can go back the way you came, or make a circuit that adds about one mile to your hike by continuing on the Snead Farm Loop Trail for 0.7 mile to the Dickey Ridge Trail. Turn right, and go 1.2 miles through a pleasant forest with occasional views to the east, back to the Snead Farm fire road and follow it to your starting point.


MILE 5.3, PAVED PARKING PULLOUT,
west side. Elevation 1,985 feet. There is room for about six cars. This is obviously an overlook, though it has no name and does not appear on the park's list of overlooks. From here you look westward across the Shenandoah Valley, and several loops of the Shenandoah River, to the Massanutten. To the far right is a part of Dickey Ridge; Front Royal is hidden behind it. Here, as at many of the overlooks in the North District, you can study the farms, roads, and ponds through binoculars. The barn that you see at the foot of the ridge is about eight hundred feet below you.

MILE 5.7, SIGNAL KNOB OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,090 feet. To the far left you can look up the Browntown Valley to the two peaks of Mt. Marshall and, farther right, the four humps of Hogback. Below you is the Shenandoah Valley, with the south fork of the Shenandoah River meandering through it. The first two ridges on the far side of the Valley are the Massanutten, with the Fort Valley between them. The Massanutten divides the Shenandoah Valley for a distance of nearly fifty miles.

Legend: Massanutten is an Indian word meaning "three-topped."

Legend: Massanutten is an Indian word meaning "Indian basket," referring to the supposedly basket-shaped Fort Valley.

History: In 1726 a group of Germans moved into the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania, and established a settlement, which they called Massanutten, to the west of today's town of Luray. They called the ridge to the west of the settlement not Massanutten, but Peaked Mountain. (This name is still used locally for the peak at the southern end. It's pronounced with two syllables: peak-id.) The Massanutten colony survived in peace until about 1754, followed by a dozen years of Indian attacks. Homes in the area, some of them still standing, were built like forts.

Sometime before 1750, the name of Peaked Mountain changed to Buffalo Mountain. The deep gap near the middle, now called New Market Gap, lay just to the west of the Massanutten settlement, and was therefore called Massanutten Gap. The name of the Massanutten was later applied to the whole 50-mile ridge.

Signal Knob is the high point at the right end of the Massanutten. Although there was no Civil War action on the mountain itself, there were battles on both sides of it. Signal Knob was a Confederate Army signal station. (It may also have been used briefly by Union troops.) Signals were relayed to another knob farther south on the Massanutten, and from there to Stony Man, on their way to Richmond.

Geology: Cross the Drive at a point a little south of the middle of the overlook, and look at the rocks from the edge of the Drive. At about eye level there is a band of sandstone, two-and-a-half to three-feet thick. It separates a dark lava flow (below) from a later, lighter-colored lava flow above.

The sandstone is banded with colors varying from tan to reddish to reddish-purple, showing that it was formed from various kinds of sand and mud. We can conclude that many years, or more likely many centuries, elapsed between the two lava flows. During that time streams eroded higher ground, depositing sand and mud here. The reddish color of the sandstone is probably the result of mineralization by the upper lava flow.

   
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