Virginia Trip 2021 | Day 5 | WV to VA | Spruce Knob | Shenandoah National Park
Day 5 of our Virginia trip was our 8th wedding anniversary, and it ended up being our favorite day of this vacation. We had to be in Dahlgren that night so that Curtis could be at work early the next morning, but we still had a full day to finish driving through the mountains of West Virginia and Shenandoah National Park. The weather was absolutely gorgeous that morning when we got up and packed up our tent, and we excitedly set off on our way to Spruce Knob, our third state high point of this trip.
Curtis had looked at the trails to get to the peak, and decided that one called the Huckleberry Trail looked to be the best choice for us. It was on the East side of the mountain, and supposedly about 3 miles round-trip. However, we crossed over the mountain and drove for quite a ways, and it was nowhere to be found. We scanned the woods leading up to the peak looking for even the faintest trail, even one without any parking, but couldn’t find anything. We also didn’t have any phone service so we couldn’t look up where exactly it was. After driving what we knew to be way too far for a 1.5 mile trail, we finally gave up and drove up to the peak. It was a little disappointing, but we knew we wanted to keep going to do more in Shenandoah, and didn’t have time to do a 6 mile trail if Curtis was off on how long this trail was.
One thing that wasn’t disappointing though was the high point. The drive up to the top was pleasant with the road in good condition, and there was a nice half-mile loop trail that took us all around the top. We first walked to the tower and took our high point pictures there, then continued around the loop. My favorite views were the South and East facing ones which showed a sea of mountains in the distance. Curtis attempted a letterbox, I took lots of pictures, and we all enjoyed the beautiful morning. It was a great way to start our anniversary!
We then began driving East down the mountain, this time still looking for the trail, but we never ended up finding it. (I looked it up later, and it appears the trail is actually 11.4 miles round trip and the first mile is very overgrown making it hard to find, which was certainly the case for us! I guess Curtis maybe missed that there were two 1’s?) We continued driving over a few more mountain passes before finally entering Virginia on US-33.
After driving by a few county courthouses, we entered Shenandoah National Park and began driving on the Skyline Drive at the Swift Run Gap entrance. This national park, like many out East, is dog friendly with only a handful of trails that we couldn’t hike with Charlotte. We started out our time here by enjoying the drive with our windows down and pulling over at each of the different lookouts, but were soon itching to get out for a hike. We compared the list of non-dog friendly trails with the map of where we would be driving through, and decided that we wanted to hike Hawksbill Craig. I know that might seem like an obvious choice for us with it being the highest point in the park and all, but we really did consider all other options before landing on it. And it certainly doesn’t make this park a one-and-done for us, we hope to return here someday and do much more hiking as well as backpacking!
After stopping at a visitor’s center to get our cancellation stamps, we continued on to the parking lot for Hawksbill Craig. However, when we arrived, we found it full — it wasn’t that large to begin with, but it didn’t help that the Upper Hawksbill Craig lot was currently closed. Unable to stop and wait for someone to leave because of traffic behind us, we continued to drive and started wondering what our ‘plan B’ was. We drove at least a mile around a long bend, and pulled over at the next scenic view, which happened to be of Hawksbill Craig, the peak we had wanted to hike.
We got out of the car since Charlotte was ready to stretch her legs, and contemplated our options. Curtis tried to open his AllTrails app, but it wouldn’t load any trails. I opened up the PokemonGo app on my phone and noticed that there was a trail that connected from where we were to the Appalachian Trail, which led back to the Hawksbill Craig trail in less than a mile. I showed it to Curtis, and immediately we knew this was what we wanted to do. Backtracking didn’t add that much to our trek — and it would be doubly exciting because we’d get to hike a very small section of the AT as well! We packed up some water and snacks, and began our hike. (That makes twice this summer that PokemonGo has helped us find a trail — the last time with the trail being buried under 3 feet of snow in Washington!)
The trail connecting the lookout with the AT was all downhill, rocky and a little overgrown but thankfully easy to follow. We made it to the trail junction and began heading South. We aren’t exactly interested in backpacking the entire Appalachian Trail, but we think it’d be fun to section hike parts of it, through this park especially. The one concern about this idea that we came up with through this small stretch was the fact that it didn’t seem to have any views, and the only way to reach peaks was to hike up the connector trails to the Skyline Drive or other peaks or lookouts in the park. Of course, we only saw a half mile of the trail, so whenever we are serious about carrying out this plan we’ll have some research to do!
After a half mile, we took the other short connector trail East towards the Skyline Drive, then arrived at the trailhead for Hawksbill Craig. The lot was still full, though there were others parking on the grass anyway. We continued on our way up the trail to the peak. The trail was rocky, but wide enough to accommodate the heavier foot traffic. It was only .9 miles up to the peak, gaining 700 feet of elevation on the way. We paced ourselves and stopped often to make sure Charlotte drank water, but it still didn’t take long before we arrived at the peak.
Once at the top, Charlotte made it her mission to find us a shady spot to sit. First we went into the empty shelter with a picnic table. There was a big puddle of water on the ground which she promptly laid down in. Then we moved out to a nice patch of grass in the shade. Rather than force her to get up and walk the 20 feet further to the actual summit, Curtis and I took turns walking up to enjoy the views. It was beautiful, but warm, and the flies were pretty bad. When Char was ready to move on, we made the quick walk back down the mountain, to the AT, and back to our car. Altogether our hike was only about 2.7 miles long — honestly we’re glad we had the chance to make it slightly longer on the AT, otherwise the hike would’ve felt too short!
Satisfied with our hike, we finished our time on the Skyline Drive by exiting at the Thornton Gap and heading East to US-522. We took that to Culpeper where we picked up VA-3, and took that to King George and our final destination of Dahlgren. While we had been mostly excited for all we could do on our road trip there and back, as we were driving this stretch we started realizing how much history there was out here, and were immediately starting to have FOMO thinking about how little time we actually had to do even the few things we had planned. Oh well, tonight we just made it to our hotel, took much needed showers, and celebrated our anniversary dinner with drive-through Hibachi from Hancho’s Hibachi Box.