by Patressa Kearns
Robert Frost was right: Taking the trail less traveled by does make all the difference. Especially in this busy national park in its busiest time of year.
Nature is popular all year round, but it’s especially sought after in autumn, when trees explode with color and there is a months-long-awaited crispness in the air. Everyone wants to take a trek—at least a stroll—through the woods in fall, kicking leaves along the path, breathing in the aroma of rich, humus-y leaf litter and perhaps a little wood smoke from somebody’s campfire. Hundreds, thousands, of visitors flock to prominent spots like Whiteoak Canyon Falls and Dark Hollow Falls, Hawksbill Summit and Old Rag. But those trails account for only a small percentage of Shenandoah’s 500-plus miles of hiking trails.
When you’re planning your fall hikes in Shenandoah, consider some of these less-traveled trails:
Compton Peak East and Compton Peak West – Park at Compton Gap parking, mile 10.4, cross Skyline Drive and start hiking. This is a 2.4-mile round trip hike to a great view (west) and a gander at columnar jointing (east), a geologic formation that is (take our word for it) much more cool than it sounds! There is a free map for this trail on the Park’s website; maps are also available at Park visitor centers.
Passamaquoddy Loop Hike – Park at Stony Man parking, mile 41.7. You’ll hike to the popular Stony Man summit, then proceed to less-famous-but-also-stunning Little Stony Man Cliffs and the Passamaquoddy Trail, which takes you under the cliffs of Stony Man and offers less dramatic but lovely views of the Shenandoah Valley and the graceful geology of the Stony Man Cliffs’ underbelly. The 3.4-mile Passamaquoddy Loop Hike is on the Skyland map, which is on the Park’s website and also available at Park visitor centers.
Chimney Rock – A not-too-difficult 3.4-mile round trip hike to a breathtaking view of the Valley. If you want to make a day of it, do the whole 9.8-mile circuit, which is one of this writer’s favorite hikes in Shenandoah. Start at Riprap parking, mile 90. This hike is on the Riprap Area Road and Trail Map.
Turk Mountain – Park at Turk Gap parking, mile 94.1, cross the Drive and head south on the Appalachian Trail. This is a not-too-easy, not-too-hard 2.2-mile round trip hike to a rather intimate west-facing view of talus slopes and the Shenandoah Valley. This Turk Mountain hike is described on the Riprap Area Road and Trail Map.