These trails are best accessed from parking outside the Park, coming in from Virginia Rt. 231, which is the spectacularly beautiful road connecting Madison to Sperryville, and is on Wandering Virginia's Top 10 favorite road segments in the Commonwealth. Also, it is among the most dangerous to drive, at least for me, as I spend too much time looking at the summit of Old Rag, and not enough time looking at the road in front of me.
I've put off exploring these trails because I didn't know where to leave my car. Fortunately, I found instructions on Facebook, and I am giving them to you so you can arrive knowing where to park. Take Rt. 231 to Rt. 681, which is just north of where 231 crosses the Hazel River. Rt. 681 goes past some really nice houses and turns from pavement to gravel before you turn right onto Rt. 600, just after 681 crosses, again, the Hazel River. Follow 600 until just before a bridge, shown in the photo below. The bridge crosses, again, the Hazel River. Park at the wide spot on the right. There is room for only two or three cars here.
|View of the parking spot, which is the wide spot on the right.
The bridge just ahead is your clue that you've found parking.
Just before the bridge ahead on the left is the road to the trails.
This road takes the hiker to the Sams Ridge Trail and Hazel River Trail.
Look at the tree on the left, and there is a small sign saying "hikers only."
That is how you know you are going down the right road.
|Ladyslippers along the Hazel Mountain Trail
Now, this entire area that once contained homes is federally protected wilderness. It is amazing that wilderness exists in the eastern part of our country, and this wilderness can exist nearly right next to nice housing and small farms – virtually as soon as you cross the National Park boundary. Even more amazing is the fact that many of the areas we now call wilderness in Shenandoah were once villages and farms where people lived.
|Vistas were a rare occurrence on this hike.
The Skyline Drive cuts near the top of the far mountain in this photo.
I got talking with the group of hikers. They were very interested in what it is like to maintain a section of the A.T. after I told them that I did that, and I told them a story about Scoutmaster Me, the supposed “forest expert,” telling my scouts on a nearby hike about the Chestnut blight of 100 years ago and how it had such a huge effect on these mountain lands as all the chestnuts are long gone.
After I was done with the hike, one of my assistant scoutmasters, a professional forester, privately corrected me. “They aren’t gone. They are still all around us but they can’t grow old enough to fruit because the blight persists to this day.” He then showed me chestnuts all around, including some that were showing the effects of the blight. And I did the same to this group – there was an immature chestnut, maybe 15 feet high and two inches thick, right next to where we were talking. But its trunk was already showing the effects of the blight.
|Chestnuts, and their long sawtoothed leaves, line the Pine Hill Gap Trail.
Shenandoah boasts the largest wilderness acreage of any unit in Virginia. Like the chestnut, the wilderness land is coming back – totally different than in the days before federal protection - taking back the cleared lands of previous generations.
All four trails hiked start on Shenandoah National Park's eastern boundary at about the same elevation and climb to the same place - a flat area between Hazel Mountain and Catlett Mountain, inside the Park. Below are Elevation Profiles for each trail, showing distance and elevation as the trails climb.
It is also possible to park at the bottom of the Pine Hill Gap Trail, as shown in the photo below.
|Hiker vehicles at the eastern end of the Pine Hill Gap Trail.
From the road, the trailhead for the Pine Hill Gap Trail is pretty easy to see - look for the concrete post on the old road to the right of the gate in the photo below.
The trailhead for the Broad Hollow Trail is harder to pick out from the road. It is right next to a stream and next to a farm entrance. The photo below shows the trail and concrete post circled, as seen from the road. Not easy to see in the lush growth - so look for the tree marked "462 Weakley."
For the day, 12.8 miles total hiked, including an estimated 9.9 miles hiked in wilderness based on wilderness boundaries found in Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Map 10 – the best map available anywhere covering this region.
|Catlett Mountain from a rocky overlook just off of the Hazel Mountain Trail.
This overlook was near where the Hazel Mountain Trail became the Pine Hill Gap Trail.
Total Distance: 12.8 miles
Total Time: 5 hours, 37 minutes (including stops)