Corbin Cabin: Hike Along the Hughes River to a Log Cabin at Shenandoah National Park

An 8.4-mile out-and-back hike leads to Corbin Cabin by way of the Nicholson Hollow Trail at Shenandoah National Park. It’s a very beautiful hike.

There are several ways to reach Corbin Cabin. This hike starts from the park’s east boundary, from the Old Rag parking lot on Nethers Road in Etlan.

Hughes River

The trek to Corbin Cabin is a moderate ascent, mostly alongside the flowing Hughes River. There are cascades and swimming holes all along the hiking trail.

It’s a quiet hike, too. I didn’t see a single person on the way to Corbin Cabin, though I did see two sets of twosomes on the return hike to the trailhead.

Trail Stats
Length8.4 miles
Trail TypeOut-and-Back
Elevation Gain1,204 feet
Duration3.5-4.5 hours
TerrainMostly dirt & rock trails
Fee$30 per vehicle (good for seven days)
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Corbin Cabin

Corbin Cabin is one of six cabins within Shenandoah National Park that are owned and managed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).

Many of the PATC cabins, including all six within the national park, are primitive, so there is no heat, air conditioning, electricity or bathroom.

Corbin Cabin

The chestnut log cabin was built by George Corbin in 1910. He and his wife, Nee, lived in Nicholson Hollow along with other mountain families.

It’s said that Corbin Cabin is haunted by the ghost of Nee Corbin. She died giving birth to the couple’s child on a cold winter day in 1924.

Not only is Corbin Cabin frequented by unsettled spirits (allegedly), but also by snakes, including copperheads and rattlesnakes.

I did not see any snakes, but a “SNAKE ALERT” sign on the cabin’s exterior alerted visitors to the presence of venomous snakes in the area.

Venomous Snakes Sign at Corbin Cabin

George Corbin lived in the cabin until 1938 when his land was purchased by the Commonwealth of Virginia and he was forced to move outside the park.

The four-room Corbin Cabin can be rented out from the PATC for $35/night during the week or $50/night on weekends.

Corbin Cabin is the only intact log cabin in the park and is the only PATC cabin on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been on the register since 1988.

Trail Parking

If you opt to hike to Corbin Cabin by way of the Nicholson Hollow Trail, park at the Old Rag parking lot. Your best bet is to park at lot two (upper lot).

Old Rag Parking Lot

The entrance for lot two is just past lot one (lower lot), which is the main parking lot. Lot two is primarily for RVs and horse trailers, but also for cars.

On your GPS, key in 3577 Nethers Road, Etlan as the parking lot address. You may not see any cars in lot two.

Old Rag Ranger Station

Note that there are vault toilets and porta-potties, as well as a ranger station, at the front of lot one. You’ll pay the entrance fee at the ranger station.

Nicholson Hollow Trail

From lot two, return to Nethers Road and continue northwest on Nethers Road until you see a concrete trail marker. Turn right here onto a private drive.

Nicholson Hollow Trail Marker

In less than 0.1 miles, you’ll see the trail head for the Nicholson Hollow Trail, which also notes that the first 0.5 miles of the hike is on private property.

That noted, be respectful and stay on the trail. Turn right at the sign to enter the dense forest that abuts the national park.

Nicholson Hollow Trail

It’s not long before you reach two easy-going water crossings. The first guides you over Brokenback Run. The second guides you across the Hughes River.

Both have large well-placed rocks that make it a cinch to cross the gently-flowing waters with relative ease.

Hughes River

The blue-blazed Nicholson Hollow Trail parallels the Hughes River nearly all the way to Corbin Cabin. At times, the river is entirely obscured by trees.

Hughes River

At other times, you’re walking just steps away from the river. Keep your eyes open for stealth camping sites that are tucked off the trail, too.

There are plenty of spots along the trail where you can step out on the banks of the river. You can even enjoy a splash in one of several swimming holes.

At the 1.1-mile mark, keep your eyes open. A spur trail on the left leads to a small waterfall and a relaxing watering hole that’s perfect for a cool off session.

Waterfall on Hughes River

You’ll be tempted to cross over the Hughes River at the 1.4-mile mark, but stay on the right side of the river to continue on the Nicholson Hollow Trail.

Crossing over the river puts you on the Corbin Mountain Trail, but this hike follows the Nicholson Hollow Trail all the way to Corbin Cabin.

That noted, you’ll reach two more forks in the trail, at the 1.9-mile mark (Hot Short Mountain Trail) and at the 2.1-mile mark (Hannah Run Trail).

Trailer Marker on Nicholson Hollow Trail

In both instances, stay left to continue on the Nicholson Hollow Trail. In between the two, you’ll hop-scotch across Hannah Run.

You’ll reach one final water crossing at the 2.7-mile mark when you cross back over the Hughes River. There’s a fantastic swimming hole here, too.

Final Steps to Corbin Cabin

Up to this point, the hiking trail has been mostly flat and easy-going. It’s in this last 1.5 miles to the cabin where you’ll experience the bulk of the elevation change.

Honestly though, it’s very manageable. It’s an elevation gain in the neighborhood of 500 feet, but it’s spread out over 1.5 miles.

Primitive Camp Site

The final steps are mostly forested. There’s not much to see, except for a primitive camp site adjacent to the trail at the 3.9-mile mark.

Corbin Cabin comes into view on the left at the 4.2-mile mark. On the right, a few wooden steps lead to the Hughes River for a refreshing splash.

As I noted above, snakes have been seen in the area, so I was fairly quick to retreat after taking a few photos of the cabin.

It’s hard to tell whether PATC is still renting out this cabin. A sign on the cabin noted that the area was closed due to the presence of venomous snakes.

Nicholson Hollow Trail

However, on the PATC website, it simply states that snakes may be spotted in the area and those not keen on snakes should book an alternative cabin.

Once you’ve checked out Corbin Cabin, simply re-trace your steps to the trailhead. Your hike is complete at the 8.4-mile mark.

Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail

A shorter hike to Corbin Cabin starts on Skyline Drive, leading hikers on a 1.5-mile descent to the cabin by way of the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail.

Look for a small parking area on the north (west) side of Skyline Drive. The Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail sets off on the south (east) side of Skyline Drive.

Skyline Drive

It’s a relatively steep descent, then ascent, as you hike back to the trailhead. The overall elevation gain is 1,000 feet over 1.5 miles one-way.

This is a much shorter hike, but not as scenic as the Nicholson Hollow Trail. You will only see the Hughes River in the final steps to Corbin Cabin.

Wine Pairing: DuCard Vineyards

There’s nothing like a glass of wine to celebrate completion of a hike. Wine and hiking, they just go together. It’s hard to find a more perfect pairing.

Thankfully, DuCard Vineyards is an easy 15-minute drive from the start of the quiet, forested Nicholson Hollow Trail, which leads to Corbin Cabin.

Glasses of Red Wine at DuCard Vineyards

This hike pairs nicely with a glass of Norton, a vibrant red made with Virginia’s native wine grape. Norton is also the oldest wine grape in the United States.

As Corbin Cabin is a piece of state history, so too is the robust and hardy Norton grape, which figures prominently in DuCard’s Norton wine. 

This complex wine has a strong personality too, like George Corbin, the cabin’s namesake who lived deep in Nicholson Hollow with other mountain families. 

DuCard Vineyards Love Sign in Etlan, Virginia

It’s easy to settle in on the outdoor patio for the afternoon with a glass of Norton. Take in the aromas of wildflowers, spices, even bacon (yes, bacon).

On weekends, look for live music, even the occasional food truck, as you take in the mountain views from the patio at this scenic Shenandoah winery in Etlan.

Wrap-Up Notes

From the trailhead, this hike on the Nicholson Hollow Trail took me three hours, including time spent at the cabin and along the Hughes River.

If you were to continue past Corbin Cabin on the Nicholson Hollow Trail, you would reach Skyline Drive in 1.8 miles.

Swimming Hole

In warm weather months, plan to bring water shoes to enjoy splashing in the refreshing waters of the Hughes River.

This is one of several hikes near Sperryville, Virginia, including Old Rag and Robertson Mountain, both of which also begin from the Old Rag parking lot.