|Hazeltop Ridge Overlook to Hensley Hollow Overlook|
MILE 54.4, HAZELTOP RIDGE OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,265 feet. The
two sketches identify most of what you can see from here. On a clear day
you can look to the left of Hanse Mountain and straight up Beldore Hollow
to distant peaks in the South Section of the Park. The distant rounded
summit at the extreme left, with clearings, is Flattop.
MILE 55.1, BOOTENS GAP. Elevation 3,235 feet. Fire road, east side. A.T. access, hikes, history. geology.
Turn onto the fire road if you want to stop here. There's a parking area on the left, about 25 yards from the Drive. The A.T. crosses the fire road a few feet beyond the parking area. Distances on the A.T.: North (to the left) it's 2.9 miles to the Drive crossing in Milam Gap, Mile 52.8. South (to the right) it's 2.4 miles to the Slaughter fire road, near Mile 56.8 on the Drive.
Although Camp Hoover is easier to reach from Milam Gap, Mile 52.8, a hike from here would not be difficult. The round-trip distance is 6.7 miles. Go left on the A.T. for a little less than half a mile; turn right onto the Laurel Prong Trail and go one mile to a low point on the ridge, in Laurel Gap. Turn left and go 1.9 miles to Camp Hoover. (For a note on Camp Hoover, see page 170.)
The fire road descends a little more than a mile to the Park boundary, where it enters a Virginia Wildlife Area. There's a large wild area there, along the Conway River and its tributaries, which deserves exploring if you have the proper equipment and experience.
History: The Fairfax Line, which marked the southwest boundary of the huge land grant owned by Lord Fairfax, was surveyed from the source of the Conway River, about a quarter of a mile from here, and crossed the ridge near Bootens Gap. From here, the surveyors laid out a line across the Page Valley and the Massanutten, the Shenandoah Valley beyond the Massanutten, and then a few ranges of the Alleghenies, to the estimated location of the source of the Potomac River. They reached the Potomac at a point several miles downstream, surveyed their way upstream to the source, calculated the direction of the true boundary, then surveyed their way back to Bootens Gap, marking the Fairfax line with stone markers as they went.
On reaching Bootens Gap, the surveyors found that they had missed their starting point by only a hundred yards. This is a remarkable performance. The line was 76.5 miles long; the country was a lot rougher then than now, and surveying instruments were less sophisticated. The surveying party started from Bootens Gap on September 10, 1746, and returned on February 24, 1747. Its leaders were Thomas Lewis (whose journal is our principal source of information on this subject), and Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson, who was then three years old.)
Geology: Walk a tenth of a mile north on the Drive, to the rock cut
opposite Milepost 55. The basalt rock face shows thick lenses of pale green
epidote, and thin veins of epidote and quartz, making a photogenic display
of muted colors.
MILE 55.6, THE POINT OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,235 feet. The sketch shows the left part of the view. To the left of Hanse Mountain (at the left edge of the sketch) you can see, on a very clear day, distant peaks in the South Section of the Park. Devils Tanyard, at the right on the sketch, is a little to right of center of the overall view. Farther right, with houses on it, is the upper end of Long Ridge. The high point at the extreme right is Hazeltop.
The clump of trees below the overlook hides the middle of the view. To see it all, I suggest that you walk a hundred yards to a viewpoint. From an opening in the wall, stone steps descend to a narrow trail (which may be somewhat overgrown in late summer.) The trail swings left and goes around the grove of trees to a viewpoint ledge. The view here is more exciting than that from the overlook because of the sheer drop from the ledge, and because the Drive and cars are out of sight.
Geology: The rocks exposed in the road cut across from the overlook are Catoctin basalt with layers of volcanic tuff. The tuff, which is compressed volcanic ash, is best seen opposite the south end of the overlook where it is separating into thin shale-like flakes and falling down the bank. Many of the flakes are soft enough to crumble between your fingers, while the basalt is considerably harder.
MILE 56.4, BEARFENCE MOUNTAIN PARKING, west side. Hikes, A.T. access. In summer, conducted hikes to Bearfence summit begin here at the parking area. (For day and time see the Activities Schedule, posted on bulletin boards and available free at the Visitor Center, Mile 51.0.)
Bearfence Mountain, elevation 3,620 feet, reportedly got its name from the palisade-like rocks, resembling a fence, that surround its summit. From the summit you have a 360-degree view; this is one of only four or five places in the whole Park from which you can see all around you. The hike to the summit is fairly easy in that it's short, with less than 300 feet of climbing. It's difficult in that part of it is pure rock scramble for which you'll use both hands and perhaps from time to time the seat of your pants. But the climb is not dangerous if you observe a few simple precautions.
PRECAUTIONS: Don't take dogs, or children that have to be carried. Wear hiking boots with non-skid soles. Don't try this climb when the rocks are wet, or covered with ice or snow. Be prepared for sudden strong gusts of wind that might make you lose your balance. Look carefully before reaching for handholds on the rocks; as in any very rocky place on the mountain, rattlesnakes sometimes occur.
The trail begins across the Drive from the parking area, and goes uphill from the edge of the grassy bank. (The trail that goes downhill into the woods from the parking area leads nowhere, and soon disappears.)
I will recommend two hikes: to the summit and back; and a circuit that continues beyond the summit and returns by A.T.
MILE 56.4 to 56.8. Wildflower note: Mountain laurels, scattered along the bank on the east side of the Drive, bloom in June.
MILE 56.8, PARKING. A. T. access; Bearfence A. T. Hut; explorer hikes. On the west side of the Drive the Meadows School trail descends for 1.4 miles to the Park boundary. The Meadows School and two mountaineer homes were beside the road, just inside the boundary.
On the east side, the Slaughter fire road crosses the A.T. about a hundred yards from the Drive, near a small parking area. Distances on the A.T.: North (to the left) it's 2.4 miles to Bootens Gap, Mile 55.1. South (to the right) it's 1.0 mile to Lewis Mountain Campground. Beyond the A.T. the fire road forks. The right branch goes to the Bearfence A.T. Hut. The left branch is the fire road; it descends to the Park boundary at the Conway River, 3.3 miles from the Drive. If you turn left there you'll enter a Virginia Wildlife Area, then continue upstream beside the river, near the boundary between the Wildlife Area and the Park. This is wild and beautiful country, and I recommend it for exploration by experienced hikers.
MILE 57.25. Wildflower note: Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, grows on the rocks here, on the west side of the Drive. It's fairly common along the Drive, but this is one of the easiest places to see it from a moving car. It starts blooming in the second half of May, and the flowers look like strings of bright red firecrackers.
MILE 57.5, LEWIS MOUNTAIN FACILITIES. Elevation at entrance, 3,390 feet. Picnic area, cabins, conducted walks and campfire talks, campstore, telephone, campground, showers, A.T. access. Open about mid-April through October. (The Lewis Mountain development was opened in 1940 "for negroes". Segregation ended in 1950.) For schedules of walks and talks check the Park bulletin boards.
After you turn in on the entrance roads the second side road on your left is the beginning of a one-way loop around the picnic area. The amphitheater is a short distance to the right of the loop, near its beginning. Beyond the entrance to the picnic area you come to the campstore (with telephone) on the right, and a row of furnished cottages on the left. Each cottage has a bathroom, lights, heat, towels, linen, and a covered cooking area with a fireplace, grill, and picnic table. You can buy supplies and rent cooking utensils at the campstore. To reserve a cottage write ARAMARK Virginia Sky-line Co., P.O. Box 727, Luray, Va., 22835, telephone 1-800-999-4714.
Beyond the campstore begin the one-way clockwise loops around the campground. The A.T. passes around the picnic area and the campground, and can be reached from several places. For example: as you enter the campground, keeping to the far left, there's a short access trail on your left, opposite the first campsite. Celandine, Chelidonium majus, blooms along the access trail in May and June. It's yellow, with four petals.
MILE 57.5 to 60.2. Wildflower note. Two flowers that might attract your attention are scattered along the Drive in this area. Both bloom in May. Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum urnbellatum, is a small white lily with grass-like leaves. Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana, has rather large, dark blue-violet three-petaled flowers, and slender blade-like leaves about a foot long.
MILE 58.6 to 58.8. This is, unofficially, the "Green Tunnel." Branches meet above the road to form a green tunnel in summer, and sometimes an ice tunnel in winter.
MILE 59.1, THE OAKS OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,125 feet. The view is overgrown. You can look above the treetops and across the Page Valley to the Massanutten. The town a little to left of center, between the overlook and the south end of the Massanutten, is Elkton.
MILE 59.5, POCOSIN FIRE ROAD, east side. Elevation 3,125 feet. A. T. access, hikes, Pocosin Cabin. There's a small parking area at the left of the fire road, 60 yards from the Drive. The A.T. crosses the road about 0.1 mile from the Drive. Distances on the A.T.: North (to the left) it's 1.8 miles to Lewis Mountain Campground. South (to the right) it's 3.4 miles to the South River Falls trail near South River Picnic Area.
I will recommend two hikes that start here: a round trip to the ruins of Upper Pocosin Mission, and a rather long circuit hike that includes the mission ruins, a mountaineer cemetery, and South River Falls.
Conjecture: Pocosin is of Indian origin, possibly from the Algonquin pakwesen meaning damp or wet land.
Less than 0.1 mile beyond the A.T. crossing, a broad trail leaves the fire road on the right and goes 200 feet to the locked Pocosin Cabin. Feel free to go look it over unless it's occupied. If you'd like to rent the cabin for your own use, write Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, 118 Park Street, Vienna, VA 22180.
MILE 61.3, BALDFACE MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,345 feet.
The view here is especially attractive because of the rocky ledge beyond the
wall. The sketch names some of the things you can
Trivia: I can't find "Baldface Mountain" on any map. The nearby summit to your left is nameless on the maps. In the 1930's there was a CCC camp half a mile south of here; its mail was addressed to "Baldface, Va.," but was delivered through the Elkton Post Office.
MILE 61.8, SERVICE ROAD, west side; ABANDONED ROAD, east side. A.T. access. See map, page 181; you're a little left of upper center. There's parking space in the grass on the east side, just north of the abandoned road.
The service road on the west side was once used by the Park's maintenance division for earth storage. It goes about a thousand feet, then ends. The area is fairly level, and still relatively open.
Along the east side of the Drive here, on both sides of the abandoned road, there was a CCC camp during the 1930's. The abandoned road goes an eighth of a mile to the A.T., then continues for 75 yards to a sort of amphitheater in front of the quarry face. There is little evidence of the CCC occupation except a few bricks, a few lumps of coal, a little scrap metal, and some piles of decaying chestnut boards near the quarry.
MILE 62.7, SOUTH RIVER OVERLOOK, elevation 2,950 feet. The overlook has a V-shaped view down the valley of South River and out to the Piedmont. The high point diagonally right is Saddleback. A few feet north of the overlook, a fire road leaves the Drive on each side.
On the west, the Dry Run fire road goes about 2.0 miles to the Park boundary. The Dry Run falls are off the road, but worth a trip by experienced explorers. About 1.8 miles from the Drive, the fire road makes a sharp turn to the right. After you complete the turn the falls will be diagonally ahead and left, straight downhill, about an eighth of a mile away. If there's a good flow of water, you should be able to hear the falls from the road. As I said, experienced hikers only.
On the east, the South River fire road (point "G" on the map, page 181) crosses the A.T. about a quarter of a mile from the Drive (at point "F".) The road is an alternate route to the South River falls; but I recommend starting from the picnic area, a tenth of a mile to the south.
MILE 62.8, SOUTH RIVER PICNIC AREA. A.T. access; hikes to South
River Falls and South River Trail Maintenance Building. Open all year; drive
in. The head of the South River Falls trail is on your right as you drive into
the third parking area. It crosses the A.T. about 150 yards from the road.
Distances on the A.T.: North (to the left) it's 3.4 miles to the Pocosin fire
road near Mile 59.5 on the Drive. South (to the right) it's 3.0 miles to the
Drive crossing in Swift Run Gap, Mile 65.5.
South River Falls is at the head of a deep and precipitous rocky gorge. It's the third-highest falls in the Park, with a drop of 83 feet in two stages: first, a single stream falls to a pool about halfway down the cliff, where it divides and falls the rest of the way in two separate streams. The falls are best seen from an observation point a little way downstream, on the left bank of the gorge. I will suggest three different hikes to the falls, listed here in order of increasing difficulty. See map above.
MILE 63.1, SERVICE ROAD, east side. This is the service road for South River Trail Maintenance Building; it joins the A.T. less than 200 yards from the Drive. I don't consider this an A.T. access because there's no safe parking here. To reach either the A.T. or the South River Trail Maintenance Building, start at the South River Picnic area. (See the Hike to the South River Trail Maintenance Building, above.)
MILE 63.2, PARKING AREA, west side, for visitors to the Dean Cemetery, which is less than 200 yards from the Drive. If you're deeply interested in the history of the mountain people, this cemetery deserves a visit. There are more than 100 graves here. The oldest I could find is that of James Deanborn January 15, 1797; died May 22, 1862. But many graves are marked by uninscribed fieldstone, and some of these may be older.
MILE 64.4, HENSLEY HOLLOW OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,560 feet. The
sketch names the principal features of the view. The cleared strip that goes
over Lick Ridge is not a road, but a power line. The town of Elkton is shown
on the sketch. The town of Shenandoah is on the far side of the Valley, and
just to the left of Huckleberry Mountain. The relatively nearby ridge this
side of Grindstone Mountain has no name on the maps.
History: The town of Elkton, at the junction of routes 33 and 340, began on the bank of the Shenandoah River at the mouth of Elk Run. It was named for Elk Run in 1881. Before that it was called Conrad's Store.
Geology: The rock exposed in the road cut across the Drive is of the Swift Run formation. It's mostly phyllitea slaty rock with lustrous surface in a fresh break, due to thin scales of mica. This is hard to see on the weathered, lichen-covered rock. But it's easily seen where the rock is disintegrating, and you can pick up a freshly broken piece from the bottom of the rock face.
MILE 64.5, Wildflower note: The feathery flowers that grow on the bank on the east side of the Drive, blooming in late May and early June, are Allegheny goatsbeard, Aruncus dioicus, a member of the rose family.
MILE 64.9, PARKING PULLOUT, west side. This parking area is not an overlook but the site of the former Swift Run entrance station. There's a view of sorts from the north end. To the left you can see some of the ridges in the South Section of the Park. Hanse Mountain, a little to the left of center, is mostly hidden by the trees. The town of Elkton is a little to the right of center.
Wildflower note: There are dogwood trees on both sides of the Drive in
this area. They bloom in early May. In some years they put on a spectacular
show; in others the bloom is skimpy. It all depends on the weather.