HIKE: Hogback Overlook and A.T. Circuit 0,7 mile; total climb about 100 feet;
time required 0:35. An easy, pleasant walk. Park at small parking area at the A.T.
crossing, about 200 yards beyond Milepost 21. Cross the Drive and take the
A.T. uphill. From the edge of the Drive it's a little more than 200 yards to the
summitthe crest of one of the four humps that make up Hogback Mountain.
A hundred feet beyond the summit is a side trail that goes a hundred feet
to the left, to the boulders above the overlook. There's a view from the
boulders, but not as good as the view from the overlook.
Continue downhill on the A.T. and cross the Drive (with caution, because
of the blind curve on your left.) If you wish, continue ahead on the service road
(see Hogback Summit Hike, below.) If not, turn left and walk in the grass, back
to the overlook and your starting point.
HIKE: Hogback Summit. Round trip 0.4 mile; total climb about 115 feet;
time required 0:25. If you're curious about the radio towers on the summit of
Hogback, up to the right of your view from the overlook, the walk to the top is
short and easy. (You can get there by a slightly longer circuit route from Mile
From the north end of the overlook, continue north on the Drive for a short
distance, then turn left on the service road. The road and the A.T. are more or
less parallel, and you can take your choice. On the summit are radio
transmitting towers of various State and Federal Government agencies,
including the Park. There is no view from the summit. If you want to lengthen
the hike a little, continue on the A.T. down the far side of the crest for about
160 yards, to a side trail on the left that goes 25 yards to a hang-glide launch
site. There, at the top of a very steep slope, you have a view out into the
Browntown Valley, with Gimlet Ridge to the left and Dickey Ridge to the right.
If you go to the launch site, the total round trip from the edge of the Drive will
be 0.6 mile, and the total climb about 195 feet.
MILE 21.1, A.T. CROSSING. Hike to Overall Run Falls. There is parking
space in the grass on the west side of the Drive. Distances on the A.T.:
South (on the west side of the Drive) it's one mile to the Drive crossing at
Mile 22.0, with Rattlesnake Point Overlook in sight to the left. North (on the
east side) it's 1.5 miles to Little Hogback Overlook, Mile 19.7.
HIKE: Overall Run Falls. Semi-circuit 6.5 miles; total climb about 1,850
feet; time required 6:00. This is a fairly difficult hike; part of the trail is
moderately steep, and part is rough and rocky. (If you're staying at Mathews
Arm Campground, you might prefer the shorter and easier hike from the
campground. See page 110. The access road to the campground is closed in
Take the A.T. south, on the west side of the Drive. (See map, page 110;
you're near the right-hand edge of the map, a little above center.) About a
third of a mile from the start, turn right onto the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail,
which after a short distance becomes moderately steep and rocky. At 0.7 mile
from the A.T., at a concrete marker post, the Big Blue Trail turns 90 degrees to
the right. (The trail that continues ahead goes about a hundred yards, then
connects with the "Traces" nature trail that encircles the campground.)
From the junction, the Big Blue trail continues 1.6 miles to the Mathews
Arm fire road. Turn right on the fire road, go less than a hundred yards, then
turn left onto the Big Blue/Overall Run Trail. The trail descends and, after
about a tenth of a mile, a short side trail branches off to the left. It leads fifty
yards or so to a small overlook with a close view of the upper falls, which has a
total drop of 29 feet. Like nearly all of the waterfalls in the Park it's a cascade
down the face of the rock, rather than a sheer plunge.
Return to the main trail and continue downhill, less steeply now. The trail
goes close to the edge of a steep gorge. Watch for one or more short side trails
on the left. They lead to viewpoints at the top of the gorge, from which you can
see the big fallsthe highest in the Park. Like the smaller one, it's a cascade
down the face of the rocks; the total drop is 93 feet. When there's plenty of
water it's a beautiful sight. In an unusually dry summer there's little or no
From one of the viewpoints a blue-blazed trail descends to the base of the
falls. This trail is extremely rough going, hazardous in wet or icy weather, and
infested with rattlesnakes. Not worth the risk and effort.
Return uphill to the fire road, and turn right. To add a little variety and make
this hike a semi-circuit, continue on the fire road for a little more than 1.1
miles, to where the Traces Trail crosses. (Take another look at the map, page
110.) Turn left on the Traces Trail and walk 0.6 mile to the junction with the
connecting link. Turn left and go about a hundred yards to the junction with
the Big Blue Trail, which comes in from the left. Continue straight ahead,
uphill. Turn left when you reach the A.T., and go another third of a mile to your
|View to Right from Rattlesnake Point Overlook|
MILE 21.9, RATTLESNAKE POINT OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,105 feet.
There's a wide view from here; the sketch shows only the right-hand half of
it. At the far left of the view is Hogback Mountain, with its radio antennas.
The Peak appears over the ridge that descends to the right from Hogback.
Pignut Mountain, where the sketch begins, is a little to the right of straight
out from the overlook. About halfway between The Peak and Pignut is
Jenkins Mountain. You're not likely to see Blackrock (at the right-hand edge
of the sketch) except in winter; it's near Big Meadows Lodge, nearly 18
Geology: Across from the north (uphill) end of the overlook, and
extending north from there, is a good exposure of the Catoctin basalt.
Weathering and lichens have created a muted display of color, from pale
tan and green to dark green and brownish purple. The rocks nearest the
overlook are vesiculated. Bubble cavities in the lava were later filled by
other minerals: white, light and dark green, and even pink. This is easy to
see at the lower levels where the rock is freshly broken.
MILE 22.0, A.T. CROSSING. The crossing is about a hundred yards north
of the milepost. Don't park here; you can't pull a safe distance off the
pavement. There's ample safe parking in the grass across from the
entrance to the Piney River ranger area, a tenth of a mile to the south.
MILE 22.1 SERVICE ROAD, east side; entrance to Piney River Area. If you're
going to hike, park in the designated visitor parking area.
Look at the map on page 107; you are at point "L", near top center of the
map, on the edge of a network of trails and fire roads. A dozen or more
circuit hikes are possible, I'll describe only one of themthe Piney Ridge
and Piney Branch circuithere. (See page 100 for hikes to Little Devils
Stairs.) If you'd like to plan your own hike, use the following table to
calculate the total distance and climb. Note that the amount of climbing
between two trail junctions depends on which way you're going; it includes
the net change in elevation, as well as the ups-and-downs in the trail. From
"A" to "M", for example, the total climb is 795 feet; while from "M"to "A"
it's only 630 feet.
|Map of Piney Branch and Little Devils Stairs area|
HIKE: Piney Ridge-Piney Branch. Circuit 8.3 miles; total climb about 1,725
feet; time required 7:25. A rather difficult and tiring hike. In some places the
trail is very rough. There are four stream crossings, and except in a dry season
they are troublesome. Features: a woods hike, with no views; a mountaineer
cemetery and homesite; a stream, with two small waterfalls and numerous
cascades and pools. Since this is a circuit hike, you can go in either direction.
But if you go counterclockwise, as I describe it here, there's less chance of
mistaking road traces for the trail. And the steepest part of the hike will be
From point "L" at top center of the map on this page, your route will be K-N-I-J-K-L.
Cross the Drive and follow the service road on the east side, to Piney
Branch Trail on the left at point "K" on the map. (You will return to this point via
the Piney Branch Trail.) Piney Branch Trail crosses the A.T. in a couple hundred
feet, turn right on A.T. to the service road. Continue on the service road to
point "N", the beginning of the Piney Ridge Trail. (If you follow the service road a
hundred yards farther, to its end, you'll come to the locked Range View Cabin,
which has a pit toilet, also locked, and a spring. Please keep your distance if the
cabin is occupied. But you can occupy it yourself if you wish. Write to Potomac
Appalachian Trail Club, 118 Park Street, S.E., Vienna, VA 22180.
From point "N" on the map, the Piney Ridge Trail goes along near the crest
of the ridge for two miles. It's blue-blazed, relatively open, and smooth
compared with what's coming later. Most of the trees are black locust, pine and
other pioneer species. When the Park was established this area was a goat
pasture, with only a few trees left for shade; views from the ridge crest, they
tell me, were spectacular. There are many pine trees along the trailall of
them younger than the Park, and much younger than the name of the ridge.
A little less than two miles after you leave the service road, the Dwyer
family cemetery is 200 feet off to your right. It's about 25 yards square surrounded
by a falling-down wire fence, and in the process of returning to
wilderness. No effort will be made to maintain it. There are two metal
markers, and eleven inscribed stones of marble or granite, plus a dozen or more
uninscribed fieldstone markers. The most recent burial was in 1927.
According to one of the markers, Mary G. Dwyer died in 1867 at the age of
75. Some of the graves marked with uninscribed fieldstone may be older.
When the Park was established, seven families of Dwyers, owning a total of
850 acres, were displaced.
Fifty yards farther down the Piney Ridge trail is a double blue blaze (which
means be alert for a change in direction). On the right, two large stones mark
the former entrance road to the cemetery. (If you want to see the cemetery,
but missed it, you can find it from here. Turn around, facing back the way you
came. It's now 45 degrees on your left, and about 100 yards away.)
Just ahead at the trail junction, an abandoned trail goes to the right, with
a decaying split-rail fence beside it. The Fork Mountain Trail follows an old
road trace straight ahead, and a mile from the start dead-ends at the Hull
School Trail (lower left on the map, page 107.) The Hull School Trail descends
to meet the Piney branch Trail at point "H" on the map. The cemetery to the
left of point "H" is not visible from the trail; it's 50 to 75 yards uphill, in the
woods. This is the Bowen cemetery (not to be confused with the Bolen
cemetery at point "E"). It's well along toward returning to wilderness; the stone
markers are leaning or fallen.
Now, back to the junction near the Dwyer cemetery. Turn left on the blue-blazed
trail. In the next 300 yards you'll pass a former "ghost forest" of large
chestnut trees, all of them now fallen. About 200 yards after the trail begins to
descend steeply, you come to a former clearing, still fairly open, and a number
of rock piles. There was a homesite here, on the left. The rocks were cleared by
hand from garden and pasture. There is still evidence of habitation here:
foundations, broken brick, tile, and crockery; a walnut tree, and an old
grapevine three inches thick. Explore if you wish, but don't collect souvenirs.
From this point the trail follows an old road trace for a short distance, then
swings right and a little uphill, while the road trace continues ahead. Watch
the blue blazes here. About 0.9 mile beyond the homesite, where the trail
makes a fairly sharp switchback to the right, another rather well-worn trail
comes in on the left; but it goes nowhere. Follow the blue-blazed trail to the
right for another 0.2 mile, until it dead-ends at the Piney Branch Trail. You are
now at point "I" on the map. Turn left.
Less than 300 yards from the junction is the first stream crossing. On the
other side, the trail swings left and follows a dry stream bed for a short
distance, then actually becomes a branch of the stream, so that you have to
walk beside the trail rather than on it. This is very rough going, but there's only
about 500 feet of it. Watch for a double blue blaze, where the trail swings right
and becomes a little smoother.
The second stream crossing is 0.6 mile from the first; some 50 yards before
the crossing is a waterfall on the lefta double cascade with a total drop of
about 25 feet. (A guess; I didn't measure it.) Three hundred yards after the
second crossing, look for a somewhat smaller waterfall down to the right. The
trail follows an old road trace here, and during the rest of the hike it will
repeatedly join and leave old road traces.
After another stream crossing, the trail continues for a mile and a third to
the junction at point "J" on the map. During most of this distance the stream
is down to your left, often out of sight. Which is too bad, because it has many
attractive small cascades. Walking beside the stream is rough going, and will
take more time than walking on the trail. But if you have time and energy to
spare, you may enjoy it.
Turn left at point "J" and cross the stream for the last time. Continue uphill
another 1.2 miles to the service road at point "K" on the map. As you go, the
trees become younger and younger, until it's obvious that you're in a former
clearing. If you pass some rusting oil drums and other junk, they have nothing
to do with the mountain people who once lived here. This is refuse that was
abandoned when the CCC left the Park about 1942.
At point "K" turn right on the service road and follow it back to your car.