Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Shenandoah Wilderness: Nicholson Hollow Trail and Corbin Mountain Trail

Although 42% of the acreage within Shenandoah National Park is federally designated wilderness, this isn't something that is obvious to the hiker.  Unlike wilderness areas in the national forests, there are no signs telling you that you are entering a wilderness area.  The differences between wilderness areas and non-wilderness areas are subtle, at best.

A recent hike in Shenandoah National Park brought me into part of this wilderness via a loop using the Nicholson Hollow Trail, the Indian Run Trail, and the Corbin Mountain Trail.  I had several reasons for taking this hike.  I had never hiked a majority of the day's trails, and I am checking off unhiked trails in Shenandoah National Park.  I wanted to see the park's Corbin Cabin, located along this route.  I wanted to work on learning the DeLorme inReach Satellite Communicator, which I am testing out for one of the organizations I volunteer for.  And I wanted to log another 10 mile hike within a wilderness area as I work toward completing 12 such hikes before September, 2015 as a part of the "Dirty Dozen Wilderness Hike Challenge" from the Wilderness Society.  This would be my third hike of the dozen required.

Starting on this hike means parking at the Old Rag Parking Lot and experiencing a ton of cars and other hikers.  Even at the end of December, the lot must have had 50 vehicles.  Previous experience had taught me, however, that those folks would be joining me only for the road walk at the beginning. Within 500 yards of the Nicholson Hollow Trail, I was only to see a PATC Trail Maintainer (on Corbin Mountain Trail, and he thanked me for having my dog on a leash) and a group of 3 folks with a couple of dogs.  Nobody else until I returned to Route 600 some 12 miles later.
Winter woods on Corbin Mountain
During the loop, there are plenty of opportunities to soak in the solitude during the 8.6 mile loop between the Corbin Mountain Trail and the Nicholson Hollow Trail.  Climbing Corbin Mountain, I had several views of Old Rag nearby, with its Ridge Trail no doubt backed up in spots, while virtually no one had chosen instead to hike into the wilderness.  This loop does not have the views or the climbs that make Old Rag so popular and the parking lot so large.

Winter views aplenty along the Corbin Mountain Trail.  This view looks down Nicholson Hollow eastward.
Instead, there is a small waterfall part way up Corbin Mountain, some evidence of communities that predate the establishment of the Park, a rental cabin that dates back to those times, and numerous stream crossings - some treacherous.  And solitude.

Corbin Mountain Cabin at the intersection of two trails.
One crossing was particularly difficult - crossing the Hughes River on the Nicholson Hollow trail between intersections with the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail and the Hannah Run Trail.  Trail maintainers placed large boulders at strategic spots in the river, but mid-stream forced a decision: I could either soak my feet or my whole body.  I chose to keep my body wet below the ankles only.

Crossing the Hughes River proved harrowing.
At the end of the hike my body had that "good workout ache" telling me that I had burned some holiday calories.  I could return home and grab an extra helping of lasagna.  And I did.

Hike details.
PATC Difficulty Factor: 340.3
Total Distance: 13.5 miles 
Total Time: 5 hours, 08 minutes, including stops.
Steepest Uphill: from 2.3 miles to 2.8 miles; 15.2% average grade.  

Starting Elevation: 835 ft.
Low Point: 826 ft.
Highest Point: 3131 ft.
Difference: 2305 ft.


  1. One of my favorite hikes in the SNP. Lots of indications of those who lived in the area before the park was established. PATC book explains why Corbin Cabin is located in Nicholson Hollow. Planning on this hike again this Spring.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Garrie! It occurred to me on this hike that it was amazing I waited so long to explore this area, because I used to take a Shenandoah map with me to high school back in the Chicago area and dream of exploring around Corbin Cabin. It is a really nice section of the park.

  2. Hi Jeff. I am thinking of taking this hike tomorrow.... Did you start up the Nicholson Hollow trail, or did you take the first left and finish by coming DOWN the NH trail? Thanks!


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