There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails a short drive from Hopkins Ordinary. The Appalachian Trail meanders through Shenandoah National Park, just 5 miles away. Some of our favorite trails include the Thornton River Trail, Little Devil’s Stairs, Buck Ridge and Buck Hollow, Pass Mountain, Tuscarora-Overall Run, Mary’s Rock, Old Rag, Whiteoak Canyon, Piney Ridge, and Piney Branch trails. For those who are interested in guided hikes, our friend Melanie can take you into the mountains for a unique experience.
The park and surrounding areas also provide opportunities for bird watching, cycling on Skyline Drive and country roads, fishing and mushroom hunting.
The following circuit hikes vary in length, but all begin at the Little Devil’s Stairs parking lot. To get to the parking lot from Hopkins Ordinary, turn left out of the parking lot and left again at the stop sign. Go over the bridge and turn right onto Rt. 211 East. Drive about 2 miles and turn left onto Rt. 622 (a.k.a. Gid Brown Hollow Rd.). Go 1.5 miles and turn left onto Rt. 614 - and go about 2 miles to the parking lot.
The Little Devil’s Stairs trailhead is on the right side of the parking lot as you approach from route 614. The Little Devil’s Stairs trail is 1.8 miles and starts with two easy river crossings, then ascends into something of a canyon, with rock walls on both sides of the trail. The trail is quite rocky and steep, and crosses water several times over the first 1.5 miles. The final quarter mile is relatively flat and easy to hike. At the top of Little Devil’s Stairs is the intersection known as Fourway.
5 mile circuit: Little Devil’s Stairs to Keyser Run Fire Road
Take Little Devil’s Stairs to Fourway (1.8 miles). Turn left onto Keyser Run Fire Road and hike 2.4 miles to the intersection with Hull School Trail (Cemetery on left). Turn left to stay on Keyser Run Fire Road another 0.9 miles, which takes you back to the parking lot.
8.5 mile circuit: Little Devil’s Stairs to Pole Bridge Link trail to Piney Branch Trail to Hull School Trail to Keyser Run Fire Road
Take Little Devil’s Stairs to Fourway (1.8 miles). Cross Keyser Run Fire Road to Pole Bridge Link Trail and continue 1 mile. Turn left onto Piney Branch Trail and hike 3.5 miles, crossing the Piney Branch several times. Turn left onto Hull School Trail, go 0.9 miles and continue forward at the intersection with Keyser Run Fire Road (cemetery on left), Keyser Run Fire Road takes you back to the parking lot.
10 mile circuit: Little Devil’s Stairs to Pole Bridge Link trail to Sugarloaf Trail to Appalachian Trail to Keyser Run Fire Road
Take Little Devil’s Stairs to Fourway (1.8 miles). Cross Keyser Run Fire Road and take Pole Bridge Link Trail 0.5 miles (mostly flat and easy) to the Sugarloaf trail. Turn right onto Sugarloaf and follow it 2.4 miles (gradual ascent) to the Appalachian Trail (AT). Turn right onto the AT and take it over Hogback Mountain and Little Hogback Mountain (some up and down here, but not too difficult), to a spur trail that will take you to the Keyser Run Fire Road. Take the Keyser Run Fire Road 3.4 miles (mostly downhill) to the intersection with Hull School Trail (Cemetery on left). Turn left to stay on Keyser Run Fire Road another 0.9 miles, which takes you back to the parking lot.
12 mile circuit: Little Devil’s Stairs to Pole Bridge Link trail to Piney Branch Trail to Appalachian Trail to Piney Ridge Trail to Piney Branch Trail to Hull School Trail to Keyser Run Fire Road
Take Little Devil’s Stairs to Fourway (1.8 miles). Cross Keyser Run Fire Road to Pole Bridge Link Trail and continue 1 mile. Turn right onto Piney Branch Trail and hike 1 mile - then turn left onto the Appalachian Trail (AT). After a short distance on the AT, you will come to a fire road, turn left, and then after a very short distance, turn left again back onto the AT. Continue along the AT until you come to another fire road intersection and turn left (downhill) and then turn right onto the Piney Ridge Trail. Take the Piney Ridge trail 3.5 miles (past the intersection with Fork Mtn. trail) to Piney Branch trail - turn right onto the Piney Branch trail. Go 0.5 miles and turn left onto Hull School Trail, go 0.9 miles and continue forward at the intersection with Keyser Run Fire Road (cemetery on left), Keyser Run Fire Road takes you back to the parking lot.
The Buck Ridge - Buck Hollow circuit is about 6 miles long and relatively strenuous, especially the ascent on Buck Ridge which is quite steep. To get there from Hopkins Ordinary, exit the parking lot to the right. At the stop sign, turn left onto Rte. 211 West, and drive about four miles. The parking lot is on the left side of Rte. 211 just one mile beyond the park boundary as you leave Sperryville.
There are two river crossings within the first tenth of a mile, and then the trail comes to a fork, with Buck Ridge to the left and Buck Hollow to the right. We prefer going left onto Buck Ridge, as this is the steepest section of trail and we would rather climb than slide down. After about a mile of steep uphill (made much easier with newly installed steps) the trail levels out for a relatively easy walk, with a couple of nice views, to the Hazel Mountain Trail. Turn right onto the Hazel Mountain Trail, walk three-tenths of a mile and turn right again onto the Buck Hollow Trail. The Buck Hollow Trail is quite scenic, with the South Fork of the Thornton River crossing the trail several times. After about two and a half miles you will come to the only difficult river crossing. Shortly after this, the trail re-joins the Buck Ridge Trail and takes you back to the parking lot.
Alternate parking is available at the Meadow Spring parking lot, on the left side of Skyline drive about six-tenths of a mile beyond mile post 33 as you are driving south from Thornton Gap.
Mary’s Rock is a rock outcropping (with great views) along the Appalachian Trail (AT) that can be accessed from the north or the south. It is best hiked on clear calm days when the view can be best enjoyed. To get to Mary's Rock from Hopkins Ordinary, turn right onto Main Street and then left onto Route 211 West. After about seven miles, take the Thornton Gap entrance for Skyline Drive (Shenandoah National Park) and after passing the entrance station (fee permit required) veer left to go South on Skyline Drive.
From the North
Park at the Panorama parking lot, about one tenth of a mile south of the Thornton Gap Entrance on Skyline Drive. The trailhead is at the back of the parking lot. Hike down the access trail and turn left onto the AT. After a short distance, the AT becomes somewhat rocky and steep. After 1.7 miles, there is a fork in the trail; stay right to go to Mary’s Rock (about another tenth of a mile). If you are feeling adventurous, a 360 view is attainable; climb the rocks to the south of the primary rock outcropping. There is a geological survey marker on the highest rock.
From the South
Park at the Meadow Spring parking lot on the left side of Skyline drive, about six-tenths of a mile beyond mile post 33 as you are driving south from Thornton Gap. From the parking lot, cross Skyline Drive and hike uphill, a little more than a half-mile on the Meadow Spring Trail to the AT. Turn right onto the AT and hike about eight-tenths of a mile, and then turn left at the spur trail to Mary’s Rock.
The Pass Mountain Trail is one of the easier hikes in the park, yet there is about 1,200 feet of elevation gain over the course of three miles. There are no stunning views or waterfalls to be seen, but the tranquility of being alone in the woods makes this hike worthwhile. To get there from Hopkins Ordinary, exit the parking lot to the right. At the stop sign, turn left onto Rte. 211 West, and drive about five miles. The parking lot is on the left side of Rte. 211 about two miles beyond the park boundary as you leave Sperryville.
From the parking lot, you must cross Rte. 211 and walk west along the road about 100 yards to the trailhead. The trail ascends very gradually at first. After six-tenths of a mile on the trail, there is a trail marker and the trail turns to the left. The trail continues its ascent to the Pass Mountain Hut (a three-sided hut for AT through-hikers) and then on to the AT.
If you are experienced at bushwhacking and feeling adventurous, there is an old abandoned trail (formerly known as the Oventop Trail, as it traverses Oventop Mountain) that can be accessed via the Pass Mountain Trail. While this trail is no longer maintained, it is possible to bushwhack along the old trail to some nice views. At the trail marker six-tenths of a mile along the Pass Mountain Trail, instead of staying on the maintained trail, turn to the right (not straight). The path climbs rather steeply at first, but then becomes more gradual. Look for cairns (stacked rocks) along the path, as these may help you find your way back. After about three-quarters of a mile, the landscape opens up, exposing a view of Mary’s Rock.
As the most popular trail in the park, and most difficult, we recommend hiking Old Rag during the week when it is not so crowded. Bring plenty of water and a pair of gloves. Because a large portion of this hike is across rock scrambles, good hiking boots are essential, and wet and/or icy weather may make the trail impassible.
To get to the Old Rag parking area from Hopkins Ordinary, turn left out of our parking lot and continue straight at the stop sign onto Rte. 522 South. After 1/2 mile, turn right onto Rte 231 South (F.T. Valley Rd.). Drive south eight miles and turn right onto Peola Mills Rd. At the T intersection, turn right onto Nethers Road and follow this road about three miles to the parking lot on your left.
From the parking lot, walk along the road, uphill, to the end of Nethers Road. The circuit hike is about 9.4 miles total distance (including the walk along the road). The trailhead is at the end of the road; turn left onto the Old Rag Ridge Trail. This trail begins with a gentle ascent, but soon becomes steeper with several switchbacks; after about a mile, the terrain becomes rougher and the trail becomes quite rocky. Soon, you will be walking across large boulders and you will be using your hands to help lift yourself over and between rocks. It is a good idea to wear gloves to protect your hands. After about a mile of rock scramble, you will come to the first false summit. Continue for about another mile to the summit, where the Ridge and Saddle Trails join. Explore the summit (to the right of the trail) and enjoy the views. When you are ready to come down, follow the Saddle Trail downhill past Byrd’s Nest Shelter and just before reaching the Old Rag Shelter turn right onto the blue blazed access road to stay on the Saddle Trail, and after another half-mile, turn right again onto the Weakly Hollow Fire Road, which takes you back to the trailhead.
The waterfalls along Whiteoak Canyon Trail are some of the most stunning in the park. We especially like hiking this trail in winter when some of the falls are frozen, and you may spot climbers on the sheer cliffs of ice. Like Old Rag, this is a very popular trail and more enjoyable during the week.
To get to the Whiteoak Canyon parking area from Hopkins Ordinary, turn left out of our parking lot and continue straight at the stop sign onto Rte. 522 South. After ¾ miles, turn right onto Rte 231 South (F.T. Valley Rd.). Drive south 10 miles and turn right at the town of Etlan, onto Rte. 643 (Etlan Rd.). After four miles, turn right onto Rte. 600 (Weakly Hollow Rd.) and the parking lot is on your left after another four miles. The trailhead is at the far end of the parking area.
The largest waterfalls are two to three miles from the parking area, and the trail is steep and rocky in places. At the top of the waterfalls, there is a horse trail that comes in from the right (the Skyland/Big Meadows Horse Trail). At this point, you can turn around and hike back to your car, or continue onto a circuit hike.
The circuit hike is 8.3 miles total distance. After you pass the horse trail, continue on the Whiteoak Canyon Trail to the bridge that crosses the river to the left. On the other side of the bridge, turn left to find the Whiteoak Canyon Fire Road (which is also the Skyland/Big Meadows Horse Trail). This fire road climbs uphill but has easier tread. After 1.5 miles, stay left at the fork. Hike another half mile, then turn left onto the Cedar Run Trail. There are more waterfalls and accessible swimming holes along this trail. After three miles on the Cedar Run Trail, you will be back at the Whiteoak Canyon Trail - turn right and return to the parking area.