Thornton Hollow Overlook to Thornton Gap

View from Thornton Hollow Overlook
View from Thornton Hollow Overlook

MILE 27.6, THORNTON HOLLOW OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,460 feet. There's a wide view here—more than 180 degrees. The sketch shows only a part of it, mostly to the left of center. On your left, outside the sketch, the high mountain with four bumps is Hogback; farther left, lower and closer, is Sugarloaf. To the right of Fork Mountain (which is near the right-hand end of the sketch), the distant ridge is Oventop; and farther right, nearer and higher, is the rounded top of Pass Mountain.

Down below the overlook, and about a third of a mile away, is a mountaineer homesite, suitable for exploration by experienced hikers. It's fairly easy to reach from Mile 28.2.

Geology: Across the Drive from the south end of the overlook is an exposure of massive Catoctin basalt. It shows narrow veins and exposed surfaces of a greenish-white mineral that appears to consist of parallel fibers. (The best exposure covers several square feet; it's a few feet above eye level.) This is fibrous anthophyllite—a kind of asbestos.

MILE 28.2, HULL SCHOOL TRAIL, east, and SERVICE ROAD, west. A.T. access; Byrds Nest Shelter No 4; explorer hikes. Park in the paved parking area.

On the east side of the Drive is the former Hull School fire road, which is now a trail. It descends about two miles to the site of Hull School, where it crosses the Thornton River Trail that comes down from Mile 25.4. The Hull School Trail then continues across the saddle of Fork Mountain to join the Piney Branch Trail and the Keyser Run fire road.

To reach the old homesite below Thornton Hollow Overlook, go about a quarter of a mile down the Hull School Trail. Turn left onto an overgrown road trace, which is at first grassy and then wooded. Continue about 0.4 mile; then leave the road trace, drop down to the left, and cross the creek. On the other side you'll come to an old orchard, and beyond it the homesite. The house foundation, the well, and other signs of habitation are well preserved. The cemetery is some distance beyond the homesite and around to the left, below the overlook. Note: this is not one of the recommended hikes, because you could get lost. But it's suitable for exploration by experienced hikers.

HIKE: Byrds Nest Shelter No. 4. Round trip 0.7 miles; total climb about 485 feet; time required :50. This is a fairly easy walk. Park in the paved parking area. It's smooth most of the way, although the service road is rather steep. See map, page 117.

Take the service road and climb to the shelter, which has a drinking fountain (turned off in winter), a table, and a pit toilet. The shelter is one of four "Byrds Nests" for which materials were donated by the late Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr.

MILE 28.5, BEAHMS GAP. Elevation 2,485 feet. A. T. access, hikes. This was formerly Beahms Gap Overlook, but the treetops are now at eye level, and the view is gone. From one point in the parking area you can see the top of the Massanutten, and from another the sharp angle of Neighbor Mountain, ahead on the right. From most of the parking area you can see a nearby knob to the right; Byrds Nest Shelter No. 4 is near its summit.

When the Park was created there was a good view here, directly down Kemp Hollow; the slope below the overlook was grassy, all the way down. But now it's covered with trees, and the slope is so gradual that vista clearing is impracticable. (Across the Drive, diagonally to the left, is a rather poor view of Hogback Mountain and the Marshalls.)

Geology: The boulders on either side of the trail at the north end of the parking area, and those at the north end of the island, are epidotized basalt brecchia that shows many colors: various shades of purplish and green, with embedded white pebbles and fragments.

The A.T. crosses the Drive about 100 feet south of the parking area. Distances on the A.T.: North (on the west side of the Drive) it's 1.6 miles to a side trail that reaches the Drive at Mile 26.8. South (on the east side) it's 3.0 miles to the Drive crossing at Mile 31.4, near Thornton Gap.

I recommend three short hikes from Beahms Gap: a loop using the A.T. in Beahms Gap; a hike south to a viewpoint on Pass Mountain; and a hike north to Byrds Nest Shelter No. 4 and two viewpoints near it.

HIKE: Beahms Gap and A. T. Circuit 0.4 mile; total climb about 60 feet; time required 0:20. A very easy hike with no views and, in fact, no particular attraction. But if you've been driving for a while, and have only 20 minutes to stretch your legs, try this. Go to the north end of the parking area and take the trail that starts toward Byrds Nest No. 4. It reaches the A.T. in a little more than 200 yards. Turn left on the A.T., and follow it for about 300 yards to the Drive, passing two or more old road traces that branch off to the right. Turn left at the Drive, and return to your starting point.

Map of Beahms Gap Area
Map of Beahms Gap Area

HIKE: Viewpoint on Pass Mountain. Round trip 1.6 miles; total climb about 495 feet; time required 1:40. A fairly easy hike; the trail is smooth, and only a small part of it is moderately steep. See map above.

Take the A.T. south (on the east side of the Drive) from a point a hundred feet south of the parking area. The first third of the hike goes through a former clearing; there was a homesite nearby, on the east of the trail. About three quarters of a mile from the start you'll reach a high point in the trail, beyond which it descends a few feet. There's a rock ledge on your right, but the view is overgrown. Continue another 25 yards, passing a boulder at the left edge of the trail. Turn right; leave the trail and walk directly away from it for about 50 yards. Turn right again, and go another 20 yards to a ledge with a fine, open view.

You're looking over Kemp Hollow. Straight out from the mouth of the hollow is the town of Luray, and beyond it New Market Gap in the Massanutten. To the left is Stony Man, seven miles away. To the right of Kemp Hollow is Neighbor Mountain. Near the far right of your view,, Neighbor Mountain joins the Blue Ridge. The high knob at the extreme right is the location of Byrds Nest Shelter No. 4; the shelter itself is out of sight, but you can see the clearing in front of it.

MILE 30.1, PASS MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,460. Drinking fountain (turned off in winter): short hike.

The overlook has a rather narrow view out through the mouth of Kemp Hollow and across the Shenandoah Valley to the Massanutten. The low point in the Massanutten is New Market Gap. The town that appears to fill the whole valley between the Massanutten and the mouth of Kemp Hollow is Luray. To the left of the mouth of the hollow is Pine Mountain, with divided highway U.S. 211 passing on this side of it. As the highway comes closer, it disappears between Pine Mountain and Pumpkin Hill. The ridge at the right of the hollow rises to the peak of Neighbor Mountain.

From this overlook the lights of Luray make an enchanting display after dark. Luray is the location of the famous Luray Caverns. Surprisingly, its name is pronounced with equal emphasis on both syllables, or with a slightly stronger stress on the first syllable. Origin of the name is in doubt.

Legend: One of the early settlers was a blacksmith named Louis Ramey. The town was named by taking the first syllable of his first and last name.

Legend: The first settlers were French Huguenots from Lorraine. "Luray" is a corruption of "Lorraine."

History: On August 13, 1812, the General Assembly of Virginia authorized a surveyor to lay out a town at the present site of Luray.

Legend: The parents of the man who drafted the bill were immigrants from Lorraine, and he gave the proposed town that name to honor them. But because of his poor penmanship the name he wrote appeared to be "Luray."

HIKE: Pass Mountain Overlook Loop. Circuit less than 0.25 mile. Total climb about 50 feet; time required 0:15. A pleasant, very easy walk on a smooth graded trail. Go straight out from the overlook, downhill to a rock ledge. The view here is a little wider than from the overlook. Continue downhill, following the trail around to your left, and return to your starting point via the gate in the fence.

MILE 30.2, FIRE ROAD, east side. The entrance is 125 yards south of Pass Mountain Overlook. The road goes a third of a mile up the west side of Pass Mountain, to a concrete-enclosed spring that provides water for the drinking fountain at the overlook. Just off the road, 200 yards from the Drive, is a storage area for dirt and gravel. Explore if you wish, but I don't think it's worth your time.

MILE 31.4, FIRE ROAD, east side; A. T. crossing. On the west side the A.T. descends, crosses U.S. 211, then passes near the Panorama restaurant (see below, Mile 31.6.) On the east is the service road for Pass Mountain Hut. The A.T. follows it for a short distance, then turns off to the left. There's no safe parking here. If you want to hike on the A.T., park at the Panorama development on the south side of the overpass.

MILE 31.5, THORNTON GAP. Elevation 2,304 feet. U.S. 211 interchange. For Luray, Luray Caverns, and I-81, exit here and turn right on U.S. 211. For Sperryville, Warrenton, and Washington, D.C., exit here and turn left on U.S. 211. Exit here if you want to climb Old Rag Mountain (see page 138.)

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© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved