It had been nearly six weeks since I’d visited Shenandoah National Park, so I was eager to get back to this national park to check out a few new hiking trails.
I picked a great day, too. It was in the mid 90’s in Northern Virginia, but it was a balmy 83 degrees in the mountains. Sadly, that does not mean there were no bugs.
On my last visit, I hiked to Cave Falls by way of the Hazel Mountain Trail. This hike shares a trailhead with the Buck Hollow-Buck Ridge loop hike that I did this week.
The 6.1-mile Buck Hollow-Buck Ridge loop in the park’s Central District has loads of good reviews on AllTrails. I liked this hike, but I do have some thoughts for you.
|Elevation Gain||1,752 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt and rock hiking trails|
|Fee||$30 per vehicle (good for seven days)|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Arriving at the Trailhead
Park at the Meadow Spring parking area at milepost 33.5 on Skyline Drive. There are 12 parking spaces, including nine pull-in spots and three parallel spaces.
The trailhead is easy to find on the south side of the parking area. You’ll see a concrete trail marker and a path that descends into the leafy forest.
The marker reads “Hazel Mountain Road,” but no worries, you’re in the right place. The gravel path splits into two separate hiking trails in just a few steps.
The First Steps
Once you walk by the concrete trail marker, you will shortly reach a fork in the trail. Stay to the left for the blue-blazed Buck Hollow Trail.
From here, it’s an easy-going descent through the forest along a lush leafy trail. Slowly, slowly you descend into Buck Hollow.
At the .7-mile mark, you’ll have your first opportunity to cross the Buck Hollow stream. Sadly, the day of my hike, the stream was almost completely dry. Oh well.
As you continue along, the Buck Hollow stream will be on your left, but in summer, there’s not much to this stream. As in, not much flowing water.
At the 1.8-mile mark, you will cross over the Buck Hollow stream again. There was definitely water and this was easily the best view of the hike. It was rather relaxing.
On this day, despite temps in only the low-80s, the bugs were at the ready. The further I descended into Buck Hollow, the more noticeable (annoying) the bugs were.
You’ll cross over the Buck Hollow stream one last time at the 2.7-mile mark. Another really nice view at the crossing. Then, bugs. Bugs, bugs, more bugs.
The low point of the hike – elevation-wise and bug-wise – arrives at the 2.9-mile mark. Here, you’ll turn right to ascend along the blue-blazed Buck Ridge Trail.
If you were to turn left, you would reach a small parking area on State Route 211. This is an alternate trailhead for this loop hike and a way to avoid the park fee.
At the marker for the Buck Ridge Trail, the bugs were at their absolute worst. I was eager to climb back up the trail to my car. Little did I know what was in store.
In a few steps – at the 3.1-mile mark – you will reach wooden stairs. There are more than 600 (yes, I counted), but you will be thankful to be away from the bugs.
As you begin your ascent, you will find that the cool mountain breezes quickly blow the bugs away. It was a beautiful thing.
Continue ascending along this forested trail. You’ll catch glimpses of nearby mountains through the trees, but there are no wide-open views on this trail.
At the 5.6-mile mark, you’ll reach a trail marker. Turn right here onto the yellow-blazed Hazel Mountain Trail. You’ll take this nearly all the way to the end.
You’ll see the parking area at the 6.1-mile mark. Turn left here to re-trace your steps and complete your hike.
I like hikes that begin on Skyline Drive because they are generally easy to find. It’s hard to give or follow directions to a parking area on the side of a state road.
If I were to do this hike again, I would go up the Buck Hollow Trail to walk facing the stream and walk down the Buck Ridge Trail to face the mountains.
This is opposite what AllTrails suggests, but this can be done either by starting on Skyline Drive or from the parking area on State Route 211.
From the parking area on Skyline Drive, this hike took me nearly 2.5 hours, including time spent snapping photos and swatting at flying insects here and there.
I think there are two perfect times to do this hike, and neither are summer. One good time is early-spring when the water is flowing and the bugs aren’t out in full force yet.
Alternatively, go in late-fall or winter when the leaves have fallen. I think there will be a lot of great views that were obscured on my hike due to the dense foliage.