|View from A.T. near Loft Mountain Campground|
HIKE: Viewpoint on the A.T. Round trip 1.5 miles; total climb about 260
feet; time required 1:15. The view is similar to that from the amphitheater, but
it's a pleasant, easy walk. It starts from the amphitheater parking lot (see map,
Take the paved walk toward the amphitheater from the north end of the
parking area, and after 30 yards, bear left where the trail forks. After a quarter
of a mile, the A.T. joins from the left; continue ahead on the A.T., through a
former pasture on the ridge crest, with apple trees here and there. From late
April until September, you'll find a succession of wildflowers here. Three-tenths
of a mile beyond the trail junction, a side trail on the right leads 50 feet
to a fairly good viewpoint. Continue on the A.T. for another 200 yards, to a big
flat rock on the right. This is your destination.
Looking more or less straight ahead from the rock you'll see a sharp crest
on the main Blue Ridge, and under it a stretch of Skyline Drive south of
Rockytop Overlook. A little farther left is Rocky Mountain. Still farther left is
Brown Mountain, which descends to Big Run portal. Rising on the left of the
portal is Rockytop ridge.
MILE 81.1, DOYLES RIVER PARKING. A.T. access. Hikes. Doyles River
Cabin. Doyles River Trail. There's a large parking area, just off the Drive on
the east side. The Doyles River Trail goes downhill from the parking area, and
crosses the A.T. after 50 yards. Distances on the A.T.: North (to the left) it's
1.1 miles to the Loft Mountain Amphitheater. (Continue straight ahead
when the A.T. turns sharp right.) South (to the right) it's 0.9 mile to Doyles
River Overlook, Mile 81.9.
Geology: (Rock lovers only; for others it's too much trouble.) Walk north
(i.e. away from the overlook) beside the Drive to Milepost 81. The rock
exposed here is of the Weverton formationwith layers of phyllite,
sandstone, and quartz gravel. The Weverton formation is younger than the
Catoctin lavas, and should therefore lie above them. But in this area the
contact has been overturned. The Catoctin formation is exposed beside the
Drive a short distance to the north, and it forms the summits of Loft and Big
Flat Mountainshigh above you to the east. Continue north along the
Drive for less than 200 yards, to a culvert and deep hole on the right.
Continue another 50 yards to a rock exposure on the right. This is
porphyritic Catoctin basalt. "Porphyritic" means that the purplish basalt
contains crystals of feldspar; many of them are stained red. They're best
seen about six feet above the road surface. Climb a couple of feet up the
bank for a close look.
I will describe three hikes that start here at the parking area. First, a
relatively easy round trip to the upper falls of Doyles River. Second, a longer
one-way hike past two waterfalls on Doyles River and one on Jones Run, to
the Jones Run parking area at Mile 84.1. Finally a circuit that returns from
Jones Run parking to the starting point via the A.T.
HIKE: Upper Doyles River Falls. Round trip 2.7 miles; total climb about 850
feet; time required 2:45. A not-too-difficult hike to a small but very pretty
waterfall. (See map, page 200.)
Take the Doyles River Trail downhill from the parking area. Cross the A.T.
and descend rather steeply for 0.3 mile to an unprotected spring that flows
from a pipe in a stone wall on the left. Just beyond the spring, the trail forks.
(The left fork climbs rather steeply for 400 feet to the locked Doyles River
Cabin. To rent the cabin write Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, 118 Park
Street, S.E., Vienna, VA 22180.) Keep right, and continue about 0.6 mile to
the Browns Gap fire road. (To the left, the road goes 1.4 miles to the Park
boundary, where it becomes Virginia secondary road No. 629. To the right it
goes 1.7 miles to Browns Gap, at Mile 83.0 on the Drive.)
Cross the road and continue on the Doyles River Trail, which crosses the
Doyles River after 250 yards. Go another 300 yards. Here, as the trail begins
to turn right, the top of the falls is about 25 feet to your left; but you can't see
the falls from the top. Follow the trail to the right, away from the falls. It
swings left in a wide 180-degree curve, to a low point with a marker post.
The falls are in sight to your left, in a natural amphitheater, surrounded by
giant trees. It's a beautiful thing to see, even (or maybe especially) in winter
when it's frozen solid.
|Map of Doyles River Area|
HIKE: Doyles River and Jones Run Trails. One way 4.8 miles; total climb
about 1,410 feet; time required 4:35. A medium-difficult hike with three
waterfalls. Since it's a one-way hike, you'll have to leave a car at the Jones Run
parking area, Mile 84.1, or have someone meet you there. See map above.
As above to the upper Doyles River falls. Continue downhill on the Doyles
River Trail, through a narrow gorge with the stream downhill on your left, and
sometimes pools and cascades worth looking at. The sides of the gorge rise
steeply, and you pass some of the biggest trees in the Park. The top of the
lower falls is 250 yards from the concrete marker near the upper falls. Again a
short side trail on the left goes to the top of the falls, and again there's not
much to see there.
Follow the trail to the right, away from the falls. After a hundred yards, look
out for a big patch of poison ivy. Fifty yards more and the trail takes a sharp
switchback to the left on a slippery slanting rock. Then back through the
poison ivy and down to the base of the falls, which is mostly hidden by trees.
Fifty yards farther, at a concrete marker, a very rough and rocky side trail on
the left goes back to the base of the falls.
About 0.2 mile farther down the gorge you cross a small stream, with a
cascade just to the right of the trail. From there it's 0.4 mile to a marker post
at the low point of your hike. Here you take the Jones Run Trail, which
swings right and starts uphill beside Jones Run. Where the trail crosses the
stream, note the big sycamore just 60 feet to your left. It shows how far down
you've come; in Shenandoah, sycamores grow only at lower altitudes.
Continue past cascades that get bigger and more frequent as the trail gets
steeper. This is a pleasant walk. In places the whole hillside to your left is
terraced with ledges of rock covered with dripping mosses, ferns, and nettles.
As you reach the top of a long, gliding cascade, you can see Jones Run Falls up
ahead. A nearly vertical cliff blocks the gorge, and the stream plunges over it.
The trail swings left to skirt the cliff, makes a sharp switchback, returns to the
head of the falls, then turns sharply left, uphill. Less than a quarter of a mile
above the falls, the trail swings left and crosses a long shallow ditch that may
have been a Civil War trench.
Conjectural history: During the Civil War this area was probably a wide-open
pasture. General Jubal A. Early was retreating through Browns Gap,
pursued by General Phil Sheridan. If Sheridan had been able to take a few
artillery pieces to the head of the falls, he would have made it impossible for
the expected reinforcements to reach Early by way of the Browns Gap road.
(See map, page 200.) So Early may have had an outpost here.
Half a mile farther up the hollow, the trail joins an old road trace that comes
in from the left. The trail crosses Jones Run and later swings left, away from
the road trace. It reaches the A.T. about half a mile beyond the stream
crossing, and continues to the parking area.
HIKE: Doyles River, Jones Run and A.T. Circuit 7.8 miles; total climb
about 1,825 feet; time required 7:00. A rewarding but fairly long and tiring
hike with three waterfalls. See map, page 200.
As above, but turn right onto the A.T. just before you reach the Jones Run
parking area. Walk three miles north on the A.T., crossing the Drive twice,
passing Browns Gap and Doyles River Overlook. Turn left at the marker post
when you reach the Doyles River Trail, and go fifty yards uphill to the Doyles
River parking area.
|View from Big Run Overlook|
MILE 81.2, BIG RUN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,860 feet. Hikes. This is one
of the most beautiful overlooks in the Park, with a deep wide view nicely
framed by trees. The sketch shows the right-hand part of the view. To the
left, outside the sketch, Rockytop ridge joins the main Blue Ridge. Near the
right-hand edge of the sketch is Rocky Mountain, with cliffs and talus
slopes of white Erwin quartzite. Farther right, outside the sketch, is Rocky
Mount. Still farther right, and closer, you can see Brown Mountain
Geology: Across the Drive is a small exposure of Weverton sandstone,
with veins of quartz pebbles.
I will describe two hikes that go from the south end of the overlook into
the head of Big Runone a round trip and the other a somewhat longer
circuit that returns via A.T. (Park in the Doyles River parking area, 100
yards to the north.)
|Map of the Big Run Area|
HIKE: Head of Big Run. Round trip 4.4 miles; total climb about 1,250 feet;
time required 4:00. An interesting walk on a good trail with a few steep parts.
See map above.
The trail starts from the overlook and descends by switchbacks. After two-
thirds of a mile it switches back sharply to the left and swings around a branch
of Eppert Hollow. There are views across the hollow to Patterson Ridge, about
a mile away, with parts of Brown Mountain and Rocky Mountain visible
beyond it. The trail reaches a ridge crest at 1.2 miles, descends along the
crest, then levels off. (In spring, look for dwarf Iris here.) After a final
switchback to the left the trail descends to the site of Big Run Shelter, which
was removed when Big Run was made a Wilderness Area in 1976. Explore at
will, then go back the way you came.
HIKE: Big Run Loop Trail; A T. Circuit 5.8 miles; total climb about 1,365 feet;
time required 5:00. See map, page 202.
As above, to the head of Big Run. Take the road trace to the right and then,
almost immediately, turn left onto the trail and start climbing. About 1.3 miles
from the old road you reach a trail crossing on the ridge crest. (The trail ahead
descends 0.3 mile to the Madison Run fire road. The Rockytop trail, to the
right, goes to the lower end of Big Run.) Turn left. The trail ascends to the crest
of the Blue Ridge, then descends briefly to the A.T. Turn left onto the A.T. and
go 1.6 miles (crossing the Drive once and passing through Doyles River
Overlook) to the marker at the junction with the Doyles River Trail. Turn left,
go 200 feet to the Drive, then turn left again and walk 100 yards to Big Run
BIG RUN VALLEY is worth all the time you can give it. I can't tell you what
to look for. If you like wildlife or flowers, you'll find them here. Big Run has
more water, and probably more fish, than any other stream in the Park. (If
you don't care for fishing, try fish watching.) I've seen more small lizards
here than anywhere else in Shenandoah. The stream has pools deep
enough and wide enough to swim in. In one of those pools, to the left of the
road above the first ford, I once saw more than a hundred mallards.
If you have time, check with the rangers about current regulations for
backcountry camping. If the regulations permit, consider spending several
days exploring the Big Run valley.