Monday, October 13, 2014

Scaling Elliott Knob from the West

Elliot Knob is located west of Staunton, Virginia and is the highest point in the George Washington National Forest.  It is the 3rd most prominent mountain in Virginia, behind Apple Orchard Mountain and Mount Rogers (List).  The mountain tops out at 4462 feet in elevation, over 400 feet higher than Hawksbill Mountain, the highest point in nearby Shenandoah National Park.
Elliot Knob and North Mountain as seen from Deerfield, to the west.
Elliot Knob is a popular day hike because the views from the top are fantastic.  Most folks probably approach the peak from the north, as the trail starts on the ridge where Old Parkersburg Turnpike crosses the crest and does not require much climbing.  Or they also come from the east, as it is close to nearby towns and features a small waterfall, though there is also a steep road to the top.  There is also access from the south, which is also on the ridge but the trailhead is further from Staunton and Charlottesville, and on a windy forest road called Hite Hollow Road.  Few people use this trailhead because of access.  Ditto for the western access, which requires the longest journey from most of civilization.  That was my ascent.

About 15 years ago when staying with friends in Deerfield, a tiny hamlet in western August County, I was dropped off south of the mountain and, after summiting Elliot Knob, hiked with several folks down the western slope on the Cold Springs Trail to a car shuttle.  I remember the Cold Springs Trail to be a really steep drop, but had never returned since I started collecting GPS data on my hikes to confirm.  Recent news of a fighter jet pilot who crashed in the Deerfield area had me thinking again of this trail (News Link). On Saturday, September 20th I had the excuse to return, as I had to resupply my son who was camping nearby at the Boy Scout camp in Swoope.

Sign at Cold Spring Road
The directions to the trailhead are given at the end of this posting.  The trailhead is marked by a trail sign on Cold Springs Road, and though I remembered a parking area on my last trip, my memory had deceived me.  Instead, I was met by a rutted road with several small turnoffs.  I used one of these as my parking spot.

Walk up the road a little ways and you pass an old campsite and cross a small creek before the trail cuts left at 0.6 miles to climb at a pretty constant 17% grade, which translates to 900-1000 feet gained per mile. There are many steeper trails in this part of the George Washington National Forest.  

The trail is well constructed, hugging the western slope of the mountain.
While climbing up the mountain, I marveled at how nicely constructed the trail was - the forest service knew how to build trails back in the day.  At 2.2 miles, the Cold Springs Trail ends at the North Mountain Trail - you are almost to the top.  Take a left here and follow the trail a short distance, through a grove of pine trees that would be a great place to camp, then take a left on the gravel access road that comes up from the eastern slope and Virginia Route 42.  There are a number of antennae near this point, including television transmitters for the local PBS station.  
Cold Springs Trail ends at the North Mountain Trail.
Just after starting uphill on the road is a nice rock to sit on while soaking in the beauty of the Deerfield valley, shown below.  You can see the town of Deerfield, along with Walker Mountain to the south and Shenandoah Mountain to the west.  
At the 2.5 mile mark you reach the top.  At the very summit is a wonderful rarity - a still standing fire observation tower that provides a 360 degree view.  Note, however that the tower is surrounded by fencing and I would never recommend that anyone trespass onto the tower, even a hiker who wishes to proceed at his or her own risk! Here is a video of the fire tower I found on Youtube: Link.
Fire Tower at the top of Elliot Knob.
In the spirit of that warning, I cannot say how I obtained the photo below.  You will have to draw your own conclusions.  But the photos should confirm that Elliot Knob is a worthy destination, from any direction - especially on a clear day - even though this climb seems rather easy compared with many of the hikes I tend to report on.  Check it out sometime.

View looking northwest past Crawford Knob.
Trail Map.

Hike details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 153.4 (out and back)
Total Distance: 5.09 miles 
Total Time: 2 hours, 48 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 6.4 miles to 6.6 miles; 22.2% average grade.  

Average elevation gain: 7.9% up Hemlock Ridge, 9.7% up Peters Mountain.
Starting Elevation: 2492 ft.
Low Point: 2470 ft.
Highest Point: 4501 ft.
Difference: 2031 ft.

Directions to Trailhead: 
From Charlottesville, drive west on I-64 to the Staunton bypass, which is the first exit after merging south onto I-81 and is known as State Route 262.  From here, you can go one of two ways.  

You can exit west onto the Parkersburg Turnpike (Rt 254), then take a right onto Old Parkersburg Turnpike (Rt 688) just after driving through Buffalo Gap (0.7 miles after the road becomes Rt 42 - there is a church at the turn).  Stay on this over the mountain and back down the other side before turning left onto Cold Spring Road after just under 6 miles.  Drive 3.7 miles to the trailhead.

OR, you can stay on the Staunton bypass until you reach U.S. 250, drive west through Churchville, take a left on Rt 629 in West Augusta (Deerfield Valley Road), then another left after 3.1 miles onto Old Parkersburg Turnpike where the road forks.  Then look for Cold Springs Road, take a right and follow that 3.7 miles to the trailhead.  

The parking lot's GPS coordinates are N38° 10.583' W79° 20.456'

Like what you see?  Check out my other blog postings!  LINK.


  1. Comment security on this site makes me want to scream.

  2. Thanks for sharing your trip through your blog. I have done this hike via Falls Hollow and then the rest of the way up that access road on foot. It was beautiful, but I would rather avoid that access road for any future trips. steep and not meant for hikers! Your route chosen was quite pretty! Elliott's Knob was visible from my front yard when I lived in Va. Now I live in Walland, TN about 12 miles from the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park .

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.