Compton Peak: Hike to Scenic Views & Geological Wonders at Shenandoah National Park

The Compton Peak hike wows with spectacular mountain and valley views, but of course, so do many hikes at Shenandoah National Park. 

Compton Peak affords rewarding views, but this 2.4-mile out-and-back hike is a gem because it also allows hikers to study unmatched geological wonders.

Appalachian Trail leading to Compton Peak at Shenandoah National Park

Snake along Skyline Drive from the park’s Front Royal Entrance until you reach the Compton Gap parking area at milepost 10.4.

There are lots of spectacularly scenic pull-outs along the way to take in the views. One of my favorites is Gooney Run Overlook at milepost 6.8.

Trail Stats 
Length2.4 miles
DifficultyModerate
Trail TypeOut-and-Back
Elevation Gain679 feet
Duration1.5-2 hours
TerrainMostly rocky
Dog-FriendlyYes
Fee$30 per vehicle (good for seven days)
Driving DirectionsClick Here

Appalachian Trail 

The white-blazed Appalachian Trail picks up across Skyline Drive from the parking area. There are 14 parking spaces, so arrive early so you can nab a space.

You may be able to park alongside Skyline Drive too, but I always prefer an actual pull-in space in the Compton Gap parking area.

The rocky trail begins with a healthy ascent to a four-way intersection at the .8-mile mark. Here you can start left or right (east or west).

Before the hike is complete, you will see where both short spur trails lead. If you proceed past the trail marker, you will continue along the Appalachian Trail.

An Appalachian Trail Marker at Shenandoah National Park

The east and west-facing spur trails each clock in at .2 miles one-way. Both trails on this Compton Peak hike are delightful in their own way.

Compton Peak 

The westbound trail is rocky and largely downhill, ultimately leading to Compton Peak. The northwest-facing mountain views are never-ending from the overlook.

This is a fantastic spot to settle in to re-hydrate and re-fuel. Once you’ve taken in every ounce of the views, retrace your steps.

Views from Compton Peak at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

At the four-way trail marker, continue past the marker for .2 miles on the Compton Peak eastbound spur trail.

This section of the hike can be difficult because it is quite steep with a steady stream running along the rocky trail. However, the payoff is just a few steps away.

Columnar Jointing 

As you descend, you will reach a geological feature called a columnar jointing. I had never heard of such a natural wonder.

However, I was quickly awed to see such an other-worldly rock that had formed in such hexagonal patterns. You may wonder how this is possible in nature.

Several logs at the base make great seats to stare up at the geological geometry of this Compton Peak rock formation.

Columnar Jointing on the Compton Peak hike at Shenandoah National Park

From here, retrace your steps to the trail marker, then turn right to hike back down the hill to the Compton Peak parking area along this well-shaded trail.

Hike Options

For a longer hike, park your car at the Jenkins Gap parking area at milepost 12.8 for a 3.3-mile out-and-back hike to Compton Peak from Jenkins Gap.

You will approach the four-way intersection (east, west spur trails) from the south, enjoying the same views, and return the same way via the Appalachian Trail.

For a short waterfall hike, try Lands Run Falls. This easy 1.3-mile loop trail begins and ends at the Lands Run parking area at milepost 9.2. 

Wrap-Up Notes

From Compton Gap, it took me 25 minutes to reach Compton Peak (one mile). The entire hike took me one hour to go the 2.3 miles along this trail.

I saw a few people hiking, including two thru-hikers, but the route was not especially crowded.

Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at Shenandoah National Park

Before or after this hike, stop in the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center at milepost 4.6. Here you’ll find restrooms, a short park orientation film, exhibits and a bookstore.

Pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Booklet for kids ages 7-12. They can complete activities, then be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and earn a badge.

A Plein Air Painter at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at Shenandoah National Park

At the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center, there is also an overlook for sweeping views and a small picnic area. From here, it’s a 20-minute drive to Front Royal.

You’ll find plenty of restaurants to stop for a bite, like Mom’s Country Kitchen. There is nearly every available fast food restaurant in Front Royal, too.