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Jenkins Gap to Gravel Springs Gap

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MILE 12.35, JENKINS GAP. Elevation 2,350 feet. AT access; Bluff Trail circuit hike (HN-14) alternate start. Plenty of parking space in the grass on the west side. An old road that went down the west side of the mountain to Browntown starts here. The first part is now a service road; 80 yards from the Drive is a dirt and gravel storage area on the right. The white-blazed AT is less than 70 yards further. Beyond the AT the road is now a yellow-blazed horse trail, that descends rather steeply to the park boundary.

Distances on the AT, from its junction with the road trace: to the right (north) it's 2.0 miles to Compton Gap, mile 10.4. To the left (south) it's 1.7 miles to the Drive crossing at Hogwallow Flats, mile 14.2. See Hike HN-14, AT and Bluff Trail circuit, which could alternatively begin here.

MILE 12.4, JENKINS GAP OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,355 feet. The gap is named for one of the early settlers. Before the park was established, sixteen families named Jenkins owned a total of 850 acres in this area. Most of them were descended from a Timothy Jenkins, who was born about 1735.

From the overlook you have a narrow V-shaped view into the Piedmont. The hollow below the overlook is drained by the Burgess River, which divides just outside the park boundary and flows off in two different directions. The high point to your left is Compton Peak. If you have binoculars, look a little way down and to the right from the highest point. The rock ledge there is one of the objectives of the Compton Peak, Hike HN-9.

MILE 12.5, MOUNT MARSHALL TRAIL, You may park at Jenkins Gap parking area on the west side if the Drive. The Mount Marshall Trail is a former fire road. This is an additional starting point for Hike HN-14, Bluff Trail and AT circuit which starts at mile 17.6, Gravel Springs Gap. With two vehicles or a non-hiking driver you can make this a one-way hike to Gravel Springs Gap on either the AT or the Bluff Trail.

MILE 13.8, HOGWALLOW FLATS OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,665 feet. From here you have a wide view of the Piedmont, which extends 70 miles east to the coastal plain. The small town you see is Flint Hill adjacent to which is one of the seven resettlement areas into which displaced families were moved when the park was established in 1935. The high point toward your right is the Peak.

Piedmont is from an Italian word meaning "foothill." It applies to any foothill region, but especially to the plateau between the Appalachian Mountains and the coastal plain – including parts of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Waterfalls and rapids occur where rivers cross the fall line – the contact between the rocky, resistant Piedmont and the softer, more easily eroded soils of the coastal plain. A number of major cities were developed along the fall line, for two reasons: first, it was as far inland as ships could navigate; second, the falls served as a source of power.

Most of what you see from this overlook is in Rappahannock County. About a fifth of the county's 274 square miles are within the park. This is the only county near Washington D.C. that has remained almost completely rural. It has no railroad, no industry, and as of 2007, still no traffic signal lights.

MILE 14.2, HOGWALLOW FLATS. Elevation 2,745 feet. AT crossing. There's a grassy parking pullout on the west side of the Drive. Distance on the AT: North (on the west side) it's 1.6 miles to Jenkins Gap, where an old road leads a short distance to the Drive. South (on the east side) it's 2.1 miles, via the north summit of Mt. Marshall, to the Drive crossing between the two Marshalls at mile 15.95.

MILE 14.9, BROWNTOWN VALLEY OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,890 feet. To the left of your view is Hogback, with a notch where the Drive crosses it at Hogback Overlook. Descending to the right from Hogback is Gimlet Ridge. The view looks straight out across the Browntown Valley to the Massanutten, with Signal Knob at its right-hand end.

To the right you can see a part of Dickey Ridge. Browntown is visible from the north end of the overlook, near the center of the view.

This overlook, and the Drive for a half mile or more to the south, lie on a shelf formed by one of the many lava flows that now cap the two summits of Mount Marshall.

MILE 15.95, AT CROSSING. Elevation 3,075 feet. Hikes to both peaks of Mt. Marshall, with a pleasant view from each. Distances on the AT: North (on the east side) it's 2.1 miles to the Drive crossing at Hogwallow Flats, mile 14.2. South (on the west side) it's 1.6 miles to the Drive crossing in Gravel Springs Gap, mile 17.6. A paved parking area is on the east side of the Drive.
 

 


North Marshall Mountain
Photo taken by Ryan Wick
HIKE HN-10: North Marshall. To the viewpoint, round trip 0.75 miles; total climb about 105 feet; time required 0:45. To the summit, round trip 1.3 miles; total climb about 295 feet; time required 1:15. See Map MN-4. An easy walk; the trail is mostly smooth and not steep.

Take the white-blazed AT on the east side of the Drive at the end of the parking lot. The trail is nearly level at the start, and then climbs gradually with several switchbacks. Less than 0.4 mile from the start, the trail turns 90 degrees to the right. There, on your left, is a fine view from an open ledge with a sheer drop of about 60 feet. To your left you can look over nearby Pignut Mountain to higher, more distant peaks: the Pinnacle, Marys Rock, Stony Man, Millers Head, and Pass Mountain. (If you'd like to identify them for certain, see the right-hand end of the Range View Overlook sketch.) Farther right and nearby you see a stretch of the Drive on south Marshall, with Hogback beyond it. Continuing to the right you see Browntown Valley, Shenandoah Valley, and Dickey Ridge, with the Drive and two overlooks in sight.

If you like, continue to the summit of North Marshall; there's no view from the summit, but the trail is easy. A hundred yards beyond the first viewpoint is a second, just off to the left. This view is not as wide as the first; but from late August to early October, the view is framed on the right by the bright red berries of mountain ash. Return the way you came.


 


Mt Marshall Overlook Sunrise
Photo taken by Jeff Logesky
HIKE HN-11: South Marshall. To the viewpoint: round trip 1.6 miles; total climb about 295 feet; time required 1:20. See Map MN-4. A fairly easy walk; the trail is smooth, and not very steep.

Take the white-blazed AT south on the west side of the Drive, 200 feet north of Milepost 16. The trail climbs easily to the summit. You will know you are at the summit when the trail flattens out. There's no view from the summit. Keep going, and begin the descent on the far side. You'll pass several narrow, somewhat overgrown viewpoints on the right. Keep going. A hundred feet beyond the point where the trail jogs right, then left, (and a quarter of a mile beyond the summit), the trail turns left, and a side trail on the right goes 25 yards to the viewpoint ledge.

The view is not quite as wide as that from North Marshall. But Heatwole found it more exciting because the treetops below the ledge are a long ways down, so that the view includes a lot of mountain air. What you see from here is practically the same as what you see from North Marshall, except that you can't see South Marshall because you're standing on it.


 
View from Range View Overlook



Range View Overlook - Winter Sunset
Photo taken by Charlie Johnson
MILE 17.1, RANGE VIEW OVERLOOK.
Elevation 2,810 feet. Unless it's a very hazy day, be sure to stop here. Heatwole called this overlook "the superstar" of the North District. Toward the south-southwest you're looking lengthwise down the Blue Ridge, all the way to Stony Man, fourteen miles away. The sketch shows only about half the view. To the right of Pass Mountain, and considerably nearer, you can see Skyline Drive at Mt. Marshall Overlook. Farther right, the high point with the radio towers is Hogback, from which Gimlet Ridge descends to the right. Beyond Gimlet Ridge you can see two ridges of the Massanutten and, sometimes, the Alleghenies far beyond.

MILE 17.6, GRAVEL SPRINGS GAP. Elevation 2,665 feet. Hikes: AT crossing. There's a paved parking area on the east side of the Drive. Distances on the AT.: north (on the west side of the Drive) it's 1.6 miles to the Drive crossing at mile 15.95 on the saddle between the two peaks of Mt. Marshall; south (on the east side) it's 1.3 miles to the Drive crossing at mile 18.9.

The old Browntown-Harris Hollow Road crossed the mountain here. On the west side it's now yellow-blazed and classified as a horse trail. On the east it's used as a service road until it reaches Gravel Springs Hut. It then continues as a yellow-blazed horse trail to the park boundary.

 
MN-4 – Map of Big Devils Stairs and the Bluff Trail Area

Click here for a printable map

There are three hikes that you might take from here. See Map MN-4. You're near the upper left corner of the map. 

 

Gravel Springs Hut
Photo taken by Charlie Johnson

HIKE HN-12: Gravel Springs Hut. Circuit 0.8 mile; climb about 190 feet; time required 0:50. See Map MN-4.

Take the white-blazed AT on the east side of the Drive; it starts out parallel to the service road and just a few feet to the right of it. After less than 300 yards the trail divides, with the AT going right and the Bluff Trail left. Take the left fork, and continue about 0.2 mile to the service road; the spring and hut are both in view to your right. The hut has a fireplace and a table, and there's a pit toilet a short distance beyond it. The old Browntown-Harris Hollow road used to continue downhill beyond this point. It is now maintained as a connector trail to Harris Hollow Trail.

You can return to your car the way you came or, for variety, make it a circuit hike by returning on the service road. It rejoins the AT at the parking area.

 

HIKE HN-13: Big Devils Stairs, to the bottom of the canyon and return. Round trip 5.7 miles; total climb about 1,850 feet; time required 6:50. See Map MN-4.

From Gravel Springs Gap, start out as above (Gravel Springs Hut Hike). Continue across the service road on the blue-blazed Bluff Trail.


At Bottom Of Big Devils Stairs
Photo taken by Jeff Logesky

The Bluff Trail continues through the disintegrating lava flows on the side of South Marshall. About 0.6 mile beyond the service road, there's a ledge on the right; in the winter, when the leaves are down, there's a view through the bare branches of a part of what you can see from Range View Overlook, that is more or less straight uphill from here. Continue 0.8 mile farther to the junction with the blue-blazed Big Devils Stairs Trail, about 1.6 miles from Gravel Springs. Turn right onto the trail.

The canyon is spectacular and steep, with cascades, waterfalls, and huge boulders between high sheer walls of rock. Most of the trail is, however, routed away from the edge of the canyon, so it is possible, especially in summer, to hike much of it without seeing the canyon. The best view comes about a half-mile from where you turned off the Bluff Trail. The path swings right and descends to a rock ledge that over looks the canyon. For the next few hundred yards the trail follows the rim and provides spectacular views of the gorge and the cliffs on the far side. Shortly after it leaves the edge and returns to the woods there is a second viewpoint, look for some large rocks about 50 yards off the trail on the right. From here the trail remains in the woods until it meets the stream at the bottom of the canyon. This is the park boundary. The private land down stream is heavily posted. Do not trespass. Because there is no access to Big Devils Stairs from SR 622, you must return the way you came.

You should enjoy the hike, although you may be tired by the end of it.

 
HIKE HN-14: Bluff Trail and AT. Circuit 12.8 miles; total climb about 2,495 feet; time required 10:30. This is a difficult hike because of its length and amount of climbing. Parts of the Bluff Trail are moderately rough. See Map MN-4. Be sure to check the concrete marker posts at all trail junctions and where you cross the Drive to insure you stay on the circuit. Also note on the map that this hike can be started at a number of alternate points where the circuit crosses the Drive.

Follow the white-blazed AT and then the blue-blazed Bluff Trail to the head of Big Devils Stairs, as described above. Continue on the Bluff Trail for a little more than two miles, to the blue-blazed Mt. Marshall trail (a former fire road). Turn left and follow the Mt. Marshall trail, mostly uphill, to the Drive. Turn right on the Drive, pass Jenkins Gap Overlook, and go another hundred yards to a trailhead and paved parking area on the west side. Follow the blue-blazed Jenkins Gap Trail for about 100 feet to the white-blazed AT, and turn left. The AT crosses the Drive (at Mile 14.1) and then climbs the north crest of Mt. Marshall. There's no view from the top; but as you descend you reach a ledge on the right side of the trail, less than 0.3 mile beyond the summit, with a fine view described in the text of Hike HN-10 North Mt. Marshall.

Cross the Drive (at mile 15.95) and ascend the south peak of Mt. Marshall Again, there's no view from the summit. But after you descend a quarter of a mile on the far side, the trail turns to the left, and a side trail on the right leads 25 yards to a good viewpoint. Continue downhill until the AT joins another fire road. Turn left, cross the Drive, and you are at your starting point.

   
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