Book Excerpt Below
Top Trails SHenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a scenic mountain haven of the eastern seaboard, a glittering jewel in the Appalachian range. So what makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive, which runs the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah, where bears furtively roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest, allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley.
Trail #44 Furnace Mountain via Blackrock
Trail Use: Dayhiking, backpacking
Length: 6.8 miles, 4.0-5.0 hours
Vertical feet: +900/-900/+-1800
Trail Type: Out & Back
Take this view-laden trek when the skies are clear. You will be amply rewarded.
Finding the Trail
Blackrock parking area is at milepost 84.8 on Skyline Drive, on the west side. From Rockfish Gap entrance station, it is a 19.9 mile drive to the trailhead.
This is an outstanding hike that shows off special features of Shenandoah, namely its interesting geology that results in huge outcrops rising above the forest and open talus slopes where rocks by the thousands carpet the mountainsides. Once you finish soaking in the outstanding views of Blackrock Summit with other hikers, enter one of the park’s more remote areas, availing maximum solitude. Be careful, the trail is rocky. Therefore, take your time and enjoy the solitude of Furnace Mountain.
Leave the Blackrock parking area, passing around a pole gate on the wide roadbed of the Trayfoot Mountain Trail. Locust, ferns and grasses border the track. Begin climbing and intersect the slender, shady Appalachian Trail at .1 mile. Head left, south on the level-running master path of Shenandoah. The Trayfoot Mountain Trail runs parallel to the AT at this point and is within sight. It isn’t long before the woods give way and you enter the open stones of Blackrock. To your left, huge boulders rise in crazy formations, making for exciting scrambling opportunities. To your right, a gray talus slope recedes down the mountain, opening up stupendous highland panoramas. Furnace Mountain, your destination, rises to the west. Madison Run cuts a wooded swath between Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain. The valley is known as Dundo Hollow. Austin Mountain forms a rampart to the north. More peaks rise in the distance, while the Shenandoah Valley fades to the horizon. This is one of the finest spots on the Appalachian Trail, in my opinion.
The AT curves left to intersect the Blackrock Spur Trail at .4 mile. Turn right, joining the spur. Make a stony passage through boulders, opening onto a rocky ridge with plentiful panoramas, limited only by how many outcrops you want to visit. Trailside views are numerous, too. Trayfoot Mountain stands brazen, with its talus slopes forming breaks in the forest. The valley of Paine Run falls away to your left. This is a place linger. Trees eventually overtake the protuberance and you intersect the Trayfoot Mountain Trail at .7 mile.
Turn right on the Trayfoot Mountain Trail, traveling westerly on a slender ridge. Enter the Shenandoah Wilderness, though you will note no difference, save for lack of other hikers. Note the lesser used trailbed. Reach a gap, then begin climbing a grassy ridge, bordered with brushy, younger locust, sumac and blackberries. This area was hit hard by the gypsy moth. The moths defoliated trees. They were introduced to the northeastern United States from Europe in 1869. The insects reached Shenandoah in 1983, wrought havoc and their legacy still can be seen three decades later.
Ascend to an intersection at 1.3 miles. Here, it is but .2 mile to the summit of Trayfoot Mountain. You are at the high point of this hike, over 3,000 feet. Leave the Trayfoot Mountain Trail and turn right on the Furnace Mountain Trail. I have never seen another hiker past this point. Oak halls shade the path, along with hickories and low slung sassafras. Drop off the northern flank of Trayfoot Mountain and pass through a talus slope. The loose rock makes for tough footing. The trail loses elevation steadily, making two sharp turns, first to the left, then to the right. Arrive at a gap at 2.3 miles. The ridge narrows here as you cross an open forest of oaks, pines, and mountain laurel. Blueberries form a ground cover, and will be ripening in July.
Surmount a knob then meet the side trail to Furnace Mountain summit at 3.0 miles. Turn right on the spur trail and begin climbing through pine-oak and laurel, mixed in with burnished quartz. As you ascend, wide views of the Shenandoah Valley open to your left. Bisect a small scree slope at 3.2 miles, then level off in a flat. Descend slightly from the small wooded flat on the north side of Furnace Mountain to reach a distended rock outcrop. Here, you can overlook the lower canyon of Madison Run in Dundo Hollow. Directly across the canyon stands Austin Mountain. Rockytop rises behind Austin Mountain. The main crest of the Blue Ridge stretches to your right. Relax and enjoy the view, you’ll most likely have it all to yourself.
0.0 Blackrock parking area, milepost 90.0
0.1 Appalachian Trail
0.3 First rate view from Blackrock
0.4 Blackrock Spur Trail
0.7 Trayfoot Mountain Trail
1.3 Furnace Mountain Trail
3.0 Spur to Furnace Mountain summit
3.4 Furnace Mountain summit