Crescent Rock Overlook to Franklin Cliffs Overlook

MILE 44.4, CRESCENT ROCK OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,550 feet. A.T. access. Hikes. The overlook provides a narrow view out through Buracker Hollow to the settlement of Ida. Beyond and to the left of Ida is Hershberger Ridge. The high point on your left is Hawksbill, with exposed basalt cliffs and talus slopes. Lower than Hawksbill, and a little to the right of it, is Nakedtop.

From the south end of the wall, a graded trail goes a hundred yards to Crescent Rock, where the view is somewhat wider. On the nearby summit to the right, the cliff a little way down the left-hand slope is Bettys Rock. Farther left and more distant, the high point is Bushytop, from which a ridge descends to the abrupt angle at Millers Head, and then to the mouth of the hollow near Ida.

Legend: Crescent Rock was formerly called Sow Rock. Two mountaineers, chasing a sow, inadvertently chased her over this cliff.

Legend: Crescent Rock was formerly called Sours Rock, because a Miss Sours ended her life by falling or jumping from it.

Conjecture: One of these legends is an illegitimate offspring of the other.

Report: Before the Park was established, guests from Skyland had frequent picnics here at Crescent Rock. The rock was often the scene of religious revivals, as well as Easter sunrise services. When the Drive was built, extra parking space was provided here so that these activities could continue.

A.T. access. The Bettys Rock trail begins at the north end of the wall at the overlook. A few feet from the beginning, a side trail on the left descends to the A.T. Distances on the A.T.: South (to the left) it's 0.5 mile to Hawksbill Gap, Mile 45.6. North (to the right) it's 0.8 mile to Timber Hollow Overlook, Mile 43.3

I will suggest three hikes from Crescent Rock Overlook: Bettys Rock; Limberlost via the Crescent Rock trail; and Limberlost via the A.T. and return via the Crescent Rock trail.

HIKE: Bettys Rock. Round trip 0.7 mile; total climb about 150 feet; time required 0:45. An easy walk to a ledge with a wide view. See map, page 146; you're at point "Q", a little below and left of center.

The trail begins at the north end of the sidewalk in front of the wall, and climbs steadily and easily. There are a few rocks in the trail, so sturdy shoes would be helpful. The two sketches identify the principal features of the view, and require no comment.

Wildflower note: Near Bettys Rock, in early spring, look for pink moss phlox, Phlox subulata. Later, a small white flower with leaves that are toothed at the end is three-toothed cinquefoil, Potentilia tridentata. Mountain laurel blooms here in June.

Report: The rock is named for Betty (Mrs. James A.) Allis, whose husband built the trail to it many years ago.

View from Bettys Rock (No. 1)
View from Bettys Rock (No. 1)

View from Bettys Rock (No. 2)
View from Bettys Rock (No. 2)

HIKE: Limberlost via Crescent Rock trail. Semi-circuit 3.3 miles; total climb about 495 feet; time required 2:40. A medium-easy hike to a grove of tall hemlocks. The trail is not steep, and most of it is smooth; there's a rough, eroded stretch about 50 yards long, See map, page 146. You're a point "Q", below and to left of center. Your route is Q-R-L-K-M-R-Q.

The trail begins at a marker post across the Drive from the overlook, 25 yards south of the north entrance. It climbs a few feet, passes through a patch of mountain laurel, and then descends steadily. Along the trail you may find scattered junk: oil drums, paint cans, bottles, broken glass, scrap iron, and the remains of an old car. About a mile from the start, and 120 yards before you reach the Limberlost trail, you pass an abandoned dump on the left. For most of its length the trail follows an abandoned road. The road was built by the mountain people who once lived here. But junk and dump are the work of the CCC, which had a camp near Timber Hollow Overlook.

You join the Limberlost trail at a concrete marker post, at point "R" on the map. Turn sharp right here, follow the circuit trail around the Limberlost, come back to this junction, and then return uphill to your starting point. I have described the Limberlost circuit, beginning at "M", on page 149.

HIKE: Limberlost via A.T.; return via Crescent Rock trail. Circuit 4.6 miles; total climb about 780 feet; time required 3:45. A not too difficult hike to the Limberlost, a grove of giant hemlocks. Because I have described most of this hike elsewhere, I will only outline the route here. (See Limberlost via Crescent Rock trail, above; and Limberlost circuit, page 149) On the map, page 146, you are at point "Q", and your route is Q-N-K-L-R-Q.

Take the Bettys Rock trail, at the north end of the sidewalk beside the wall. Almost immediately, turn left on a side trail and descend to the AT. Turn right on the A.T. and go 2.0 miles to the stable, on your left. Turn right here and walk to the paved road, which is the north entrance of Skyland. Turn right and go about a hundred yards to the Drive. Cross the Drive, enter the Whiteoak Canyon parking area, and take the trail at its north (left-hand) end.

About 0.6 mile from the Drive, cross the Old Rag fire road; continue another quarter of a mile to the Limberlost trail, in a grove of giant hemlocks. Turn right. After you cross the stream watch for a sharp right turn, where there's a hemlock three feet in diameter at the left edge of the trail. Continue about a quarter of a mile to the trail junction at point "R". Turn sharp left, and go 1.1 miles uphill to your starting point.

MILE 45.0, WHITE OAK FIRE ROAD, east side, 50 yards south of the milepost. There's room to park two cars without blocking the fire road. On the map, page 146, you're at point "J", below the middle. From here, the walk to the first falls in Whiteoak Canyon is somewhat shorter and easier than from the Whiteoak parking area, Mile 42.6. The round trip from here is 3.8 miles, compared to 4.6 from the parking area; and the total climb is about 840 feet, compared to 1,040. But this is just a dirt road through the woods—not at all scenic.

MILE 45.6, HAWKSBILL GAP. Elevation 3,365 feet. Hikes to Hawksbill summit from the paved parking area. Hikes to Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon, starting across the Drive from the paved area. Byrds Nest Shelter No. 2. A. T. access. Spring.

There's a very small cemetery here in the gap. To find it, cross the Drive from the paved parking area and turn left. Walk 160 yards north beside the Drive, to a bitternut hickory tree on the right. Under the limbs of this tree, on the south side of the trunk and 40 feet from the Drive, are at least five graves: four close together, in line, and another about eight feet away. There may be other graves whose markers have been lost. The four in-line markers, reading outward toward the Drive: Allen R. Taylor, 1933-1933; Carol R. Taylor, 1936-1937; (illegible); Robert G. Taylor, 1939-1940.

A.T. access. Take the connecting trail from the north end of the paved parking area; it starts out nearly parallel to the Drive and then swings left, reaching the A.T. less than 100 yards from the start. Distances on the A.T.: South (to the left) it's 1.9 miles to Spitler Knoll Overlook, Mile 48.1. North (to the right) it's 1.3 miles to Timber Hollow Overlook, Mile 43.3.

Spring. Walk to the A.T. (see above), and continue on an unmarked trail that follows an old road trace downhill. Go a hundred yards, to a junction where the old road trace swings left, and a very faint trail goes straight ahead. The spring is on the faint trail, 67 feet ahead; the water comes out of a pipe that ends in a clump of yellow birches. The spring is unprotected; boil the water before drinking.

I will suggest four hikes that begin in Hawksbill Gap. A round trip to Cedar Run falls; a circuit to Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon, a short, steep route to Hawksbill summit, a longer but easier route to Hawksbill summit.

Cedar Run Canyon is a narrow, rocky gorge with a modest waterfall. No mountaineers lived in the canyon, because it has no place smooth enough and level enough for a pasture or garden. Compared to Whiteoak Canyon or Dark Hollow, this is not a popular place. The trail is narrow, rough, and steep, and its surface consists mostly of loose rocks. In Cedar Run the rewards are meager compared with the exertion required, unless solitude and exertion are rewards.

HIKE: Cedar Run Falls. Round trip 3.5 miles; total climb about 1,555 feet; time required 4:00. A moderately difficult hike on a rough, steep trail to a medium-sized waterfall. Caution: This trail has a history of frequent accidents. See map, page 146. You're at point "A", left of bottom center. Your route is A-B-C-B-A.

Start at the marker post across the Drive from the paved parking area. About 80 yards from the Drive, at point "B" on the map, cross the yellow- blazed Skyland-to-Big Meadows horse trail. Continue on the blue-blazed Cedar Run trail.

The trail soon begins to get worse, descending rather steeply on small, loose rocks. About a mile and a half from the start, the trail crosses Cedar Run, with a pool and miniature waterfall to your right. The trail climbs slightly, moving away from the stream and then turning back toward it; 250 yards beyond the ford you can look ahead to an impressive cliff on the other side of Cedar Run. The trail descends steeply and roughly, by switchbacks, to the stream, The falls are a little way upstream, to your left. There is no trail to the falls, and no view of the falls from the trail. Make your way upstream to a deep pool at the base of the falls. The total drop, from the top of the falls to the pool, is about 34 feet.

HIKE: Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon. Circuit 7.3 miles; total climb about 2,495 feet; time required 7:30. A difficult hike through two steep, wild gorges with nine waterfalls. This is for hikers accustomed to prolonged strenuous exercise. See map, page 146. Your route is A-B-C-D-F-H-I-B-A.

As above, to Cedar Run falls. Return to the trail and continue downstream a little less than half a mile, to the Park boundary, which is marked by red blazes on the trees on both sides of the trail. From here, take a short side trail down to the water. Look upstream, between two large boulders, to see a small but beautiful waterfall.

If you wish, you can cross the stream here; a trail of sorts continues downstream on the left bank. (At some future time this may become the trail, because the present trail crosses private property.)

On the present trail (on the right bank of the stream) continue downstream a little less than 0.2 mile to a concrete marker post. Turn left here, toward the water. (Avoid the abandoned trail that goes straight ahead on private property.) The trail swings right and parallels the stream. Less than 200 feet from the marker post, where the trail seems to disappear, you're supposed to turn left, ford the stream, and find the trail on the other side. (The red blazes on the left of the stream mark the Park boundary, not a trail.) After crossing the stream, join the trail that comes down the left bank. Then pass a side trail, on the right, that goes to the parking area in Berry Hollow.

Continue around the foot of the ridge and into the bottom of Whiteoak Canyon. Cross Whiteoak Run and reach the Whiteoak Canyon trail at point "F" on the map (page 146.) Turn left. About 0.7 mile from the junction, cross a stream that comes down from the right. This is the largest tributary of Whiteoak Run. It's also a source of some embarrassment, since its original name was Nigger Run. It was later changed to Negro Run, which didn't quite solve the problem. On the latest maps it has no name. A short distance upstream on Nameless Run are a good-sized waterfall and a pool deep enough to swim in.

Continue uphill through a narrow canyon on a steep, rough trail, past all six waterfalls of Whiteoak Run. Near the top of the upper falls, at point "H" on the map, the horse trail comes in from the right. After another 30 yards, the horse trail turns left and crosses the stream. Ford the steam here and stay on the horse trail, straight ahead and uphill. (If the water is too high, continue on the Whiteoak Canyon trail, cross the steam on a foot bridge, turn left, return to the horse trail, then turn right.)

Less than a tenth of a mile from the stream, the horse trail joins the Whiteoak fire road. Continue uphill on the fire road to point "I", where the road swings sharply to the right while the horse trail goes straight ahead. Take the horse trail to point "B", then turn right to reach your starting point. (Or, if you're very tired, continue on the fire road about 0.1 mile to the Drive, turn left, and return to Hawksbill Gap walking in the grass beside the Drive. That's a little shorter than the horse trail, and a great deal smoother.)

HAWKSBILL MOUNTAIN HIKES. Hawksbill Mountain, with an elevation of 4,050 feet, is the highest point in the Park. An observation platform on the summit offers a fine, wide view. Also on the summit is Byrds Nest Shelter No. 2, with a picnic table. There's no water up there. Camping is not permitted on or near the Hawksbill summit. There are three ways to reach the summit.

A short trail, fairly rough and steep.

A leisurely circuit via the A.T., returning by the short trail. Longer, not so steep, not so rough; much more interesting.

A third route starts from Upper Hawksbill Parking, Mile 46.7. This involves less climbing than either of the other routes, and is intermediate in distance.

HIKE: Hawksbill summit via short trail. Round trip 1.7 miles; total climb about 690 feet; time required 2:00. The trail is rough, rocky, and steep. It starts near the middle of the paved parking area and goes straight into the woods. See map, page 157. Hawksbill Gap is at the lower right. Less than 50 yards from the start, look for a big white oak on the right; tumerous growths have weakened it so that the center has rotted out, and you can see all the way through it. A quarter of a mile from the start, a concrete post marks a side trail on the left; it goes 25 yards to a reliable but unprotected spring. (Boil the water before you drink.)

Climb steadily for another half mile, to a trail junction at the top of the ridge. Turn right; continue past the shelter to the observation platform, less than 0.1 mile from the junction. For a note on the shelter and the view from the platform, see page 156.

HIKE: Hawksbill Summit via A.T. Circuit 2.9 miles; total climb about 860 feet; time required 2:50. Parts of this route are moderately rough. The steepest parts are downhill. See map, page 157.

Take the trail at the north end of the paved parking area. It starts out nearly parallel to the Drive, then curves left and joins the A.T. less than 100 yards from the start. Turn left on the A.T. and climb steadily. A little more than 0.4 mile from the start; the trail crosses the first of three talus slopes—slanting rock piles formed by rocks rolling down from the disintegrating cliffs above. But there's no reason to feel nervous about crossing a talus slope; there has been relatively little movement of the rocks since the end of the last ice age.

Beyond the first talus slope, the next half mile is a rock-garden hike. The mountainside to your left consists of tiers of wild rock gardens, one above another, with a rich assortment of ferns, mosses, and lichens. The plants with broad lily-like leaves are yellow beadlily, Clintonia borealis, which blooms in late May and early June. (The flowers are yellow; the plant is sometimes called blue beadlily because its fruits resemble blue beads.) Smaller plants with thick fleshy leaves, growing where a small amount of soil has collected on the rocks, are Allegheny stonecrop, Sedum telephioides. It blooms steadily from mid-July to mid-September, with flowers that vary from deep salmon-pink to nearly white.

Sixty yards beyond the first talus slope is a second, with a view to the right across Timber Hollow, The highest point in sight, with rocky cliffs on its left face, is Stony Man. Nearer, and a little to the left, is the rounded summit of Bushytop, from which a ridge descends toward the left to the abrupt angle at Millers Head.

After another 200 yards cross the third talus slope, with an overgrown view. Worth noting in late summer are several mountain ash trees, with compound leaves and masses of bright red berries. (The mountain ash is not an ash, but a member of the rose family.)

About half a mile beyond the third talus slope, the main trail splits at a narrow angle. Take the left-hand fork, which climbs 0.9 mile to the summit. The climb is steady, but not difficult. As you near the top you will pass several ledges on the left. All of them offer interesting views, but of course none can compare with the view from the summit. At two or more points a side trail branches off toward the right; keep left at all such junctions, until you come out in front of the shelter. This is Byrds Nest No. 2, the second of four open shelters for which materials were donated by the late Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. Camping is not permitted on or near Hawksbill summit.

Continue 75 yards beyond the shelter to the observation platform, elevation 4,050 feet, the highest point in Shenandoah National Park. There's a broad view here. At the far left is the town of Stanley; just to the right of it, and much closer, is the rounded crest of Nakedtop, with cliffs on its right-hand slope. To the right of Nakedtop is Buracker Hollow, with the town of Ida at its mouth. From Ida a ridge rises toward the right to the angle at Millers Head, then to the rounded summit of Bushytop. The high point, with rocky cliffs on its left face, is Stony Man. Farther right and closer, down below you, is Crescent Rock. Still farther right, in the distance, is the rocky summit of Old Rag.

As you return, take the trail that goes to the left of the shelter and another 60 yards to a junction. Turn left; from here the trail descends steeply for 0.7 mile to the parking area at your staring point. Two-thirds of the way down is a concrete marker post, from which a side trail on the right descends 25 yards to a spring. (This is an unprotected water supply; boil the water before drinking it.)

MILE 46.5, OLD RAG VIEW OVERLOOK, elevation 3,585. The profile of Old Rag is diagonally left. There's no other view here. For hikes to Old Rag summit, see page 138. Across the Drive from the north end of the overlook is a single yucca plant, rare in the Park. It sends up a flower stalk every four or five years.

MILE 46.7, UPPER HAWKSBILL PARKING. Elevation 3,635 feet. This is a large paved parking area on the west side, with a bulletin board and a drinking fountain (turned off in winter). Hikes: Hawksbill summit; and a circuit hike to Hawksbill summit via Rose River falls.

HIKE: Hawksbill Summit. Round trip 2.1 miles; total climb about 520 feet; time required 2:00. A fairly easy hike on a graded trail and a fire road. Good views from the summit. See map, page 157. You're near bottom center.

The trail goes into the woods from the drinking fountain. After a short steep stretch you have a steady, easy climb through young oak forest. Two-thirds of a mile from the start, the trail dead-ends in a dirt road. Turn right. (To the left, the road goes about half a mile to the Drive at Mile 47.1.) After another quarter of a mile, a trail crosses the road at a sharp angle. To the left it goes about 0.8 mile to the A.T.; to the right, 0.8 mile to Hawksbill Gap, Mile 45.6. Continue on the road to the shelter, then go another 75 yards to the observation platform. For notes on the shelter and the view, see above.

Map of Hawksbill — Fishers Gap area
Map of Hawksbill — Fishers Gap area

HIKE: Rose River Falls and Hawksbill Summit. Circuit 9.7 miles; total climb about 2,465 feet; time required 8:45. This hike is difficult, tiring, and fun. It includes a view from the highest point in the Park; one of our prettiest waterfalls; a mountaineer homesite, and a touch of history. See map above. Upper Hawksbill parking is near bottom center.

Cross the Drive from the south end of the parking area. Turn right and walk in the grass beside the Drive, less than a hundred yards, to a large wooden sign. Turn left, and enter the woods on an abandoned road. Less than 400 feet from the Drive, the horse trail comes in from the left and joins the old road. Note: you will walk three miles on the horse trail; horses have the right of way.

About half a mile from the Drive, watch for a concrete post on the left, that says "Mile 6.5 Horse Trail." (That's the distance back to the stable at Skyland.) Beyond, the trail begins to swing to the right. About 0.3 mile beyond the marker, look for two wooden signs: the first says "Horse Trail to Skyland", and the second "Horse Trail to Big Meadows." Beyond the second sign, the trail narrows abruptly. Between signs, 30 feet from the first one, the old road trace leaves the horse trail and goes 30 degrees to the left. It resembles a game trail, overgrown with bushes; it goes less than 0.2 mile to a mountaineer homesite. If you want to explore, you might note the direction of the sun as you leave the trail, so that you can return by keeping the sun in the opposite direction. Here's how to reach the homesite:

About a hundred feet from the trail, the road trace passes six feet to the left of an oak tree with a double trunk. Thirty yards farther, look for a big sharp rock sticking up in the middle of the road. Continue a hundred feet more. Then, with another double-trunk oak 40 feet ahead, and the remains of a rotting rail fence on your left, leave the road trace and go 30 degrees to the right. (As an alternative, if the road trace seems easy to follow, stay with it; it swings to the left, then makes a sharp switchback to the right and heads directly for the homesite.)

After leaving the road trace and going 30 degrees to the right, continue in a straight line, joining a rotting rail fence on your right. About 120 yards from the road trace, look for a spring on the left, and two abandoned cars on the right. You'll see rock piles and scrap metal all around you, including a bedspring, buckets, and tubs. (Don't collect souvenirs; leave the junk for others to enjoy.) In sight ahead are the gateposts of a former picket fence, and the filled-in remains of a chimney.

Return to the horse trail. If in doubt, go directly uphill. If you have a compass, go northwest, Turn left on the horse trail.

Watch for the Mile 7.5 marker post on the horse trail; less than 300 yards beyond it, the trail swings to the right, where an older trail, now abandoned, goes steeply downhill straight ahead. Pass through a grove of hemlocks, and cross three small branches of the Rose River. Then, a few hundred yards beyond the Mile 9 marker on the horse trail, join the Rose River Falls trail. Turn sharp left, downhill, passing a post that says "No Horses."

Continue downhill for about 0.4 mile, to a point where the trail turns sharply to the right. For the next half mile the route parallels the Rose River, with a number of cascades and pools visible from the trail. From a low point on the trail, 0.7 mile from the horse trail, you have a good view of the falls, on the left. If you like, continue a few feet more to where the trail swings up to the right; ahead on the side trail are some rocks that offer sitting places with a view of the falls.

Now turn around and go back three-quarters of a mile, to the junction with the horse trail, which comes in from the right. Go straight ahead, uphill, another half mile to a gravel fire road. This was formerly the Gordonsville Turnpike. In November of 1862 Stonewall Jackson passed this point, going from right to left, with about 20,000 men and a number of supply wagons, on his way to Fredericksburg. Turn right onto the fire road, go 40 yards uphill, and cross the Drive. Continue about a hundred yards on the fire road (not the paved road into Fishers Gap Overlook) to the Appalachian Trail, and turn right.

The A.T. passes several ledges with views to the left and, a third of a mile from the fire road, goes along a ledge below Franklin Cliffs. Continue 0.9 mile to a side trail on the right that goes to Spitler Knoll Overlook; then another 0.6 mile to a side trail on the left that goes to Rock Spring Cabin. Less than 0.3 mile beyond the Rock Spring Cabin trail, watch carefully for a side trail that doubles back sharply to the right. Turn right onto this trail; it climbs steadily for 0.9 mile to Hawksbill summit. Where side trails branch off toward the right, keep left, until you come out in front of the shelter on the summit. The observation platform is 75 yards beyond the shelter. For a note on the shelter, and on the view from the platform, see page 156.

Return past the shelter and take the service road that starts near the far rear corner. Follow the road downhill about a third of a mile, to a trail that comes in from the left at a marker post. Turn left onto the trail, and walk two-thirds of a mile to your starting point.

MILE 47.1, FIRE ROAD, west side. This is the service road for Byrds Nest Shelter No. 2, on Hawksbill summit.

MILE 47.25, GEOLOGY. Rock lovers only. If you're going south, park in the grass on the right, just before the beginning of the curve. Look out for a ditch and culvert, marked with a white pipe. Going north: park in the grass on your right, at about the middle of the curve. Near the south end of the curve, on the east side, look for basalt with veins of sedimentary rock one to four inches thick, and five to ten feet above road level. The veins show a variety of colors, from yellowish to pale dull purple. The sedimentary material was picked up by the cooling base of the lava flow as it advanced over the sediments of an ancient stream.

MILE 47.8, FIRE ROAD, west side. This is the service road for Rock Spring Cabin. There's a parking area for people using the cabin; it's at Mile 48.1, at the north end of Spitler Knoll Overlook.

View from Spitler Knoll Overlook
View from Spitler Knoll Overlook

MILE 48.1, SPITLER KNOLL OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,285 feet. A.T. access. Parking for Rock Spring Cabin is at the north end of the overlook. The ridge behind the overlook is the former site of Spitler ranch. This is a very long, curving overlook. From the middle: the high mountain to your left, about 1.5 miles away, is Blackrock—the site of Big Meadows Lodge and campground. The sketch shows only a small part of the view, to left of center. Straight out from the middle of the overlook is the town of Stanley, at the foot of Roundhead Ridge. To the right of center, on this side of the valley, is Hershberger Ridge. At the far right, the relatively nearby rounded summit is Nakedtop.

A.T. access is via a short trail from the north end of the overlook. Distances on the A.T.: South (to the left) it's 1.3 miles to Fishers Gap, Mile 49.4. North (to the right) it's 1.9 miles to Hawksbill Gap, Mile 45.6.

Geology: Here, and for a quarter of a mile in each direction along the Drive, the exposed rocks are granodiorite of the Pedlar formation.

MILE 49.0, FRANKLIN CLIFFS OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,140 feet. The overlook has a narrow view down the hollow to the Shenandoah Valley, and to the Massanutten Mountain on the far side. The town of Stanley, a little to left of center, is at the foot of Roundhead Ridge. Farther right, and more distant, is the larger town of Luray. To your left, the high summit is Blackrock; a little way down from its high point, and a little to the left, is Big Meadows Campground. Still farther left you can see Fishers Gap Overlook, with a short stretch of the Redgate Road below it.

The A.T. passes along a ledge at the foot of the cliff, but it's not readily accessible from the overlook. I've read that the cliffs were named for General William B. Franklin, a Union officer in the Civil War.

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