This pleasant section hike along the Appalachian Trail takes you between Shenandoah National Park’s two large, historic lodges. You can eat breakfast at Skyland, do the hike, enjoy the view at Rock Spring, and then have lunch at Big Meadows. This hike offers a great mix of open views and passages through deep, fern-carpeted woods.
The terrain along the Appalachian Trail is varied and diverse. Some sections are smooth dirt, others are jagged and rocky. The vegetation along the trail is beautiful – alternating between lush expanses of fern, thick stands of mountain laurel and majestic groves of trees. Occasionally, the trail passes beneath a scenic overlook on Skyline Drive. Uphill from the trail, you can see families taking in park scenery from the comfort of their cars.
The trail skirts around the western side of Hawksbill Mountain – Shenandoah’s tallest. Shortly after passing Hawksbill, a spur trail leads .1 miles down to two structures maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). The Rock Spring Cabin is rented out by the PATC and is available to the general public. The cabin has a beautiful view of the valley beyond. The cabin is quite cozy and well equipped. The other structure in the area is the Rock Spring Hut. It’s a three-sided building with an elevated sleeping platform. A spring for fresh water and a privy are located close by. The hut was put in place to provide shelter to thru-hikers and section hikers along the Appalachian Trail. This stretch of trail after leaving the Rock Spring area passes several nice overlooks from rocky ledges.
After walking across the Fisher’s Gap Overlook, the trail takes a distinct uphill turn toward the Big Meadows area. In the last mile hikers ascend almost 700 feet in elevation. It’s the only tougher climb on the entire hike – most other ascents and descents are 200 feet or less. Near the end of the climb, the trail passes very close to the Big Meadows Campground.
Directions to trailhead:
On Skyline Drive, park at the Stony Man trailhead (located at the northern entrance to Skyland – near mile marker 42). You will see an Appalachian trail marker near the parking lot. You will see two AT cement posts, but the one that starts the trail is further away from Skyline Drive. Follow the trail south from this point.