Hikes that have our hearts at Shenandoah Mountain
Rugged trails, sparkling lakes, forest covered mountains, crystal trout streams, rocky cliffs. This is what makes Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountain in the George Washington National Forest so iconic, boasting what some would consider the most spectacular, uninterrupted views in the Southern Appalachians.
Shenandoah Mountain is surrounded by 90,000 acres of pristine public lands, making it one of the largest stretches of undeveloped lands east of the Mississippi River and a potential candidate to receive congressional protections as a National Scenic Area. This federal designation would permanently protect this area and its recreational opportunities for future generations, while strictly limiting industrial development, including logging, fracking, powerline crossings and pipeline construction.
This year for National Hiking Day—November 17, 2019—we wanted to share some of our favorite trails in the area that will help you get out to experience this natural wonderland.
High Knob Tower
In this moderate, three-mile out-and-back hike, you’ll start your journey on the Shenandoah Mountain Trail and follow it just a hair less than a mile south from the parking lot. You’ll then take High Knob Trail, blazed in yellow to make sure to stay off private property, to the George Washington National Forest’s historic High Knob Fire Tower. Built in 1939 with native rock from the mountaintop, U.S. Forest Service fire wardens once stood guard here as they monitored the expansive national forest for wildfires. During the assent to the historic fire tower, hikers will encounter a few steep sections along the trail, but the views from the top are worth the extra effort.
North River Gorge
This fairly easy trail near Shenandoah Mountain takes hikers along the North River Gorge where wild mountain waters flow. Hikers will walk along the top of the gorge to what is perhaps the area’s biggest draw—a unique hanging bridge that sometimes sways softly in the wind. The two-mile trip to the bridge is fairly easy, making it a great attraction for families and nature lovers of all sorts to visit year-round. The spring and fall are the most scenic times to visit the area, as hikers can catch the flowers blooming in the spring or the autumn leaves falling.
Hone Quarry Loop
The nearly 5.5-mile loop you’ll hike on your journey to and from the Hone Quarry Ridge Trail overlook—and the small stream you’ll have to traverse during your last mile—is well worth the unmatched views of gorgeous Reddish Knob and its surrounding ridges. And for a more accessible experience, the nearby Hone Quarry Recreation Area offers trails for all skill levels, a lake for fishing, a historic picnic area, a campground, and more.
In 2014, the U.S. Forest Service recommended designating Shenandoah Mountain as a National Scenic Area in its revised forest management plan for the George Washington National Forest. This congressional designation is a federal protection for public lands that hold outstanding natural, scenic and recreational value. Currently, the Southern Environmental Law Center is part of a larger coalition, including Friends of Shenandoah Mountain and the Virginia Wilderness Committee, looking to keep this special place wild and scenic forever by seeking these congressional protections.
If passed, the designation would permanently protect this tract of public land and all of its recreational and scenic value from industrial development. Perhaps most importantly, it would preserve the North River Gorge, High Knob Fire Tower, Hone Quarry, and the rest of our favorite hiking spots in this area for future generations.