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Blue Ridge Parkway
The Humpback Rocks Recreation Area is located near the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway between milepost 5.8 and 8.5. It is south of Shenandoah National Park as well as I-64 and Rockfish Gap. It's main feature is Humpback Rocks, a rock outcropping with outstanding views.
Humpback Rocks is a massive greenstone outcrop near the peak of Humpback Mountain with a summit elevation of 3,080 feet. The rock is so named for the visual effect of a "hump" it creates on the western face of the mountain.
The area includes the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, Humpback Gap Parking Area plus the Humpback Rocks Picnic Area. This area provides visitors the perfect introduction to the cultural and natural riches of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Humpback Rocks Visitor Center has water, rest rooms, a small gift shop and information for guests. The gift shop includes books and maps for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Also located here is a replica mountain farm and an interpretive trail with the trail guide sold at the gift shop for only 60 cents (price as of 2006).
The Mountain Farm Trail is an easy .25 mile hike through an outdoor museum that is reminiscent of an 1890s mountain farm. During the summer months, costumed interpreters demonstrate southern Appalachian mountain life at the turn of the 20th century. The gravel path leads past the cabin to other outbuildings associated with many mountain farms. The slightly inclined gravel path can accommodate wheelchairs.
The trail passes by a rail fence, gardens, an orchard, log cabin, brood coop, chicken house, bee gums, root cellar, gear loft, a barn, pig pen, cowshed, beetlin' block and a spring house. The trail ends at milepost 6 of the Parkway. You can either turn around or cross the parkway to the Humpback Gap Parking Area for access to the Humpback Rocks Trail.
The rock outcropping of Humpback Rocks
The Humpback Rocks Trail, which begins at the south end of the Humpback Gap parking area, provides access to Humpback Rocks (1 mile), Humpback Mountain (2 miles), and the Humpback Rocks picnic area (3.9 miles). The strenuous 700+ foot climb to the Rocks rewards hikers with spectacular views of the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys.
This blue-blazed trail was at one time a punishing part of the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, which has since been rerouted to the east. At 0.5 mile, you crest at a junction where the old trail used to go left. That extremely steep ascent along the ridge, with a right turn onto the rocks, was closed in the early 1980s but is still useable for hardcore hikers. The new trail bears right (actually straight) and flattens, going beneath the towering crags of Humpback Rocks with great uphill views.
The trail soon ascends a staircase of wooden steps, then switchbacks a half dozen times over increasingly rocky turns to a gap and a junction with two signs at .9 mile. Take a left and in .1 mile you reach the cloven crags of Humpback Rocks. The best pictures are from the left crag of people on the right crag. The round trip hike is two miles, and if you take your time, it can be a moderate hike.
The Humpback Rocks Trail near the junction of the Appalachian Trail
The trip to Humpback Mountain is only another mile. Don't turn right back down the mountain but go straight at the signed junction. In .2 mile, turn right on the Appalachian Trail at about 1.2 miles. Continue another mile up the ridgeline, through a gap, and then to the 3606 foot summit at 2.2 miles. The view soars north and the rolling Piedmont of Virginia ripples off to the east. Retracing your steps, the round trip is 4.4 miles.
Beyond the summit, the trail winds a half-mile along the top of a cliff and turns right off the AT leading to the Humpback Rocks picnic area. Generally, the Humpback Rocks Trail is marked with blue blazes on trees, rocks, and other natural features. At times, however, the trail is also part of the Appalachian Trail and may be marked in white. A single blaze indicates the trail continues straight while a double blaze indicates an upcoming turn.
Most hikers only go as far as Humpback Rocks. There have been numerous reports of hikers making the wrong turn for their return trip from the Rocks and ending up hiking to Humpback Mountain or even worse, becoming lost. Always be prepared for an overnight in the wilderness.
The Dobie Mountain Trail heads one miles north from the Humpback Gap Parking Area to the Appalachian Trail. It skirts the southeastern slope of 2690 foot Dobie Mountain. The Old Howardsville Turnpike begins at Humpback Gap Parking Area and descends 3.5 miles into Rockfish Valley. The Turnpike was built between 1846 and 1851.
The old road connected the trade markets of the Shenandoah Valley with the James River canal system. Original rock walls are still along this historic trace, however the roadbed is not maintained. Part of the old road coincides for a very brief time with the famous Appalachian Trail. Some hikers use the old road to create a loop of Humpback Rocks/Mountain, but be prepared as the old road is not marked.
The Humpback Rocks Picnic Area has 91 picnic tables, most with grills. The picnic area is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 8.5. The secluded area is set in the woods. There are two trails that are available from the picnic area and they are located right next to each other in the farthest reaches of the picnic area. The 0.3 mile unmarked Catoctin View Trail leads to a nice view of the Shenandoah Valley. The other trail is a blue blazed connector trail that leads 0.2 miles to the Appalachian Trail.
Humpback Mountain and the Rocks can also be reached utilizing the AT from the Humpback Rocks Picnic Area. Take the blue blazed side trail to the left that reaches the AT in 0.2 mile. Take a left and reach Humpback Mountain in about 2 miles (4 miles round trip).
That's about the same distance as the hike past Humpback Rocks from Humpback Gap, but the elevation gain is only 520 feet, less than half the climb from the start of the Humpback Rocks hike. This becomes a six mile hike if you continue past Humpback Mountain to the Rocks and it boasts a lot more solitude compared to the hike from Humpback Gap.
The Catoctin View
Hiking Recommendations: Start out by checking out the visitor center, then enjoy the Mountain Farm Trail. Continue across the Parkway to Humpback Gap and head up to Humpback Rocks. Retrace your steps and return to your car at the visitor center for a round trip hike of 2.5 miles.
Drive to the Humpback Rocks Picnic Area, have a snack, lunch or dinner and the hike the classic Blue Ridge Parkway leg stretcher; the Catoctin View Trail for a 0.6 mile round trip hike.
For more information on this hike, as well as many other hikes along the Parkway, get the hiking guide book Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Camping is available nearby in the Sherando Lake Recreation Area in the George Washington National Forest off the Blue Ridge Parkway a few miles south via Reeds Gap. The campground is open usually from April 1 - October 31 with tent sites starting at $20.
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