Last Updated on January 2, 2022
I was eager to see mountain vistas across Virginia, so I headed to Shenandoah National Park’s South District for a handful of hikes.
Many of the hikes I’ve completed lately have been on breezy coastal trails, so the elevation gains have been minimal. All under 100 feet. Sometimes under 10 feet.
I motored to the Hightop Mountain parking area for my first hike, to the summit of Hightop Mountain. At 3,587 feet, this is the highest point in the South District.
The far-reaching mountain panoramas were spectacular and the elevation gain was 912 feet over 1.5 miles (one-way, to the summit). I’d say I achieved my goal.
|Elevation Gain||912 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt & rock trails|
|Fee||$30 per vehicle (good for seven days)|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
Arriving at the Trailhead
The Hightop Mountain parking area is located on the west side of Skyline Drive at milepost 66.7. This is just two miles south of the Swift Run Gap entrance station.
It’s a small parking lot, with only enough spaces for eight cars. You will see a hiking trail set off into the woods from the north side of the lot, but this is not your trail.
Instead, cross over Skyline Drive to pick up a southbound section of the Appalachian Trail. There is no “Hightop Peak Trail” as AllTrails lists this hike.
The First Steps
Across Skyline Drive there is a trail marker stamped with the AT symbol. The hike starts here and the gradual climb to the top of Hightop Mountain begins.
You won’t get lost on this switchback-laden trail. It’s well-marked with iconic white blazes. There’s not a lot to see on the way to the summit, but it is shaded.
At the .2-mile mark, you’ll see cool rock formations. At the very least, it’s a nice break from the trees that make up the bulk of the scenery on the way up.
The trail leads off on the right at the 1.4-mile mark. It looks like there may be a view, but there’s not, at least not in summer. Continue on. You’re almost there.
In a few more steps, you’ll see a backcountry camp site tucked away 10 or 15 feet off the trail on the left. It’s well-cleared with space for at least one or two tents.
At the 1.5-mile mark, you have arrived. It’s quite dramatic too as you first see mountain vistas through a small opening in the trees.
Walk out onto the rocks for 180-degree west-facing vistas. Sit and stay awhile to savor breathtaking panoramas. From here, re-trace your steps to the parking area.
From the parking area, this hike took me 75 minutes, including time spent ogling the views across Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley from the peak of Hightop Mountain.
You can tackle the hike to South River Falls as either a loop (5.1 miles) or an out-and-back (4.6 miles). This is one of my favorite Skyline Drive hiking trails.