Loft Mountain Development to Big Run Overlook

Mile 79.5, LOFT MOUNTAIN DEVELOPMENT. Beside the Drive on the west side is Loft Mountain Wayside, open from early May to late October. It offers a telephone, food, souvenirs, gasoline, water, and accessible restrooms. During the summer the Park operates an Information Center in the old gas station building. You can get information and backcountry permits here. (See below.) The rest of the Loft Mountain development is up on Big Flat Mountain, a mile or more from the Drive via the paved road opposite the north end of the Wayside parking area. Facilities—normally open late May to late October—include a campground, picnic area, amphitheater, campstore, accessible laundry and showers, and trailer sewage disposal. (See map below.) During the summer season (mid-June to Labor Day) conducted hikes and campfire programs are given. Check the activity schedules posted on bulletin boards or the Park newspaper, Shenandoah Overlook.

Map of the Loft Mountain Area
Map of the Loft Mountain Area

Loft Mountain Campground was built in 1964 on Big Flat Mountain. Loft Mountain itself is a mile and a half to the northeast; its name was taken for the campground because it sounds better than Big Flat. Origin of the name Loft is uncertain. Before the Park was created, the tops of Big Flat and Loft Mountains, the saddle between them, and the ridge that goes west to Doyles River Gap were pastures with scattered apple trees. They were part of the extensive holdings of the Pattersons—absentee owners whose lands and cattle were cared for by the Frazier family. Loft Mountain is locally called Frazier Mountain. On some old maps the name is Lost Mountain.

HIKE: Deadening trail. (From the Wayside.) Circuit 1.4 miles; total climb about 455 feet; time required 1:35. A self-guiding trail with a view. The theme of the walk is succession: the gradual change from pastureland to mature forest. The trail begins at the edge of the Drive, 20 yards north of the road that goes uphill to the campground. (See map, page 196.)

A hundred yards from the Drive, the trail forks. Keep to the right. Near the Loft Mountain summit, the Deadening Trail joins the A.T. Turn left, and look for a side trail on the left. It goes 25 yards to a cliff with a view. To your left, across Pattersons Field, you can see the campground on Big Flat Mountain. To the far right, on the east side of the Blue Ridge, is part of the Ivy Creek watershed. Straight ahead is the Big Run watershed. From the mouth of the hollow the Rocktop ridge rises to the left, and Brown Mountain, with cliffs and talus slopes, rises to the right. Farther right and nearer is Rocky Mountain.

Return to the A.T. and turn left. After 0.1 mile leave the A.T. and take the Deadening Trail to the left. Watch for a miniature natural amphitheater under an overhanging ledge. Except in dry weather water drips from the ledge, and there's a tiny pool of water at its base. To the left of the trail is a chestnut log with a groove around it. This was part of the "deadening," in which trees were girdled to kill them, and thus let light reach the ground so that grass could grow. Farther on there are girdled trees on both sides of the trail. The circuit ends when you get back to the fork in the trail. Continue downhill to the Drive.

HIKE: Loft Mountain via A.T. (From the Wayside.) Circuit 2.7 miles; total climb about 570 feet; time required 2:25. Good views. From the north end of the Wayside parking area walk 150 yards north on Skyline Drive, then bear right onto a dirt road. (See map, page 196.) At a junction 60 yards from the Drive, turn right and continue 0.3 mile to the Trail Maintenance Building which has a pit toilet and an unprotected spring. Continue about 0.1 mile downhill to the junction with the A.T. Turn right, uphill. The trail climbs Loft Mountain, swings to the right of its northeast summit, then levels off and becomes more open.

Where the trail swings right, watch for a ledge on the left with a view toward the Piedmont. To your left is Flattop, with clearings and a dirt road. County Line Mountain is right out in front of you. To the right is Fox Mountain with three peaks, then a dip, then two peaks more.

Continue on the A.T. across a more or less open saddle to the southwest summit of Loft Mountain. At a concrete trail marker, the Deadening Trail joins from the right. After about a tenth of a mile, watch for a side trail on the right; it goes 25 yards to a cliff with a fine view (see the Deadening Trail hike, above). Return to the A.T., turn right, and continue to the Deadening Trail junction. Turn right. Follow the Deadening Trail downhill to the Drive, where the Wayside is in sight to your left.

HIKE: Loft Mountain Summit. Round trip 3.5 miles; total climb about 515 feet; time required 2:50. Views. The hike starts from the campstore (see map, page 196.) At the bulletin board, as you face the store, turn right and walk to the edge of the lawn, where you have a fine view of the Piedmont. Take the trail that goes 100 yards downhill to the A.T., and turn left onto the A,T. The trail goes at first through former pastures that are still grassy and fairly open. Later you pass through clumps of young black locusts, and then oaks—most of them rather young.

The trail follows the right-hand side of the ridge where, in May, pale blue flowers of Phacelia carpet the ground. It passes through a small forest of Ailanthus (Tree-of-Heaven), then swings left and climbs to the crest, where the Deadening Trail joins from the left. Continue to a side trail on the left, which goes 25 yards to a viewpoint. (See the Deadening Trail hike, page 197.)

You can go back the way you came or, if you wish, return to the junction where the Deadening Trail goes to the right. Turn right. Follow the Deadening Trail for a few yards, then strike out across Pattersons Field toward the campground, If you're quiet you have a good chance of seeing a deer, or maybe a small herd of them. You'll see birds and, in late spring and summer, wildflowers. (CAUTION: Pattersons Field is thick with bushes and brambles and black locust. Crossing it requires a venturesome spirit, and clothes that are either indestructible or expendable.) Follow the field to its low point, bear left to the A.T., and then turn right.

HIKE: Big Flat Mountain Hike. Circuit 1.8 miles; total climb about 265 feet; time required 1:15. This is a rather easy circuit around the campground and picnic area, with an outstanding view.You can start at any of several points. See map, page 196. The following description starts at the amphitheater parking area.

Take the paved walk toward the amphitheater from the north (downhill) end of the parking area. At a junction 30 yards from the start, bear left, walk a quarter of a mile, mostly downhill, to the A.T. Turn sharp left, uphill. The trail climbs steadily for 200 yards to a crest, where a side trail on the left goes 230 yards uphill to the campground at the parking area for A-8 tent sites. To the right of the trail here, and at several points in the next three-tenths of a mile, are rocky ledges with worthwhile views. The sketch shows what you can see from the best of them.

Out in front and below is the Doyles River watershed. As you follow the course of Doyles River from right to left below you, note that there are two coves going up away to the right. The second and larger one, which comes in at the front of Cedar Mountain, is Jones Run. There are beautiful waterfalls on both the Doyles River Trail and the Jones Run Trail. (See page 200.) With binoculars you can make out the six antenna towers of the FAA radio installation on Bucks Elbow Mountain. Most of Bear Den Mountain is hidden behind Calf Mountain, but with binoculars you can see an antenna tower on top of it. On a very clear day you can see mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway, far to the south of Calf and Scott Mountains.

As you continue on the A.T. you'll see several trails that go uphill to the left, into the campground. Use any of them if you want to shorten the walk and return to your campsite. The last of these side trails is marked by a concrete post, not quite one mile from the start of the hike. To complete the circuit, stay on the A.T. for another 0.6 mile, to a second marker post. Turn left here. Climb the hill, pass the campstore, and then turn left onto the paved walk beside the campground road. Continue another 0.15 mile to your starting point.

View from A.T. near Loft Mountain Campground
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, page 196.)

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 formation—with 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 Mountains—high 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
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
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 Overlook.

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 Run—one 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
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 Overlook.

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.

[Previous | Up | Next]
© Copyright 1997 Antony Heatwole, All rights reserved