Humpback Rocks: A Scenic Hike Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Central Virginia
Not long ago, I hiked to the top of Humpback Rocks. I graduated from UVA in Charlottesville – barely one hour away. Yet, I never made it to the trail in college.
Located at milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this very popular hike in the George Washington National Forest stuns with 360-degree summit views.
The most-trafficked route to the rocky summit on the Humpback Rocks Trail is barely one mile, but it’s a fairly strenuous 700-foot climb.
You can do this Humpback Rocks day hike in Central Virginia as a 2.0-mile long out-and-back hike or as a 4.3-mile long loop hike.
The latter includes a switchback-laden section of the Appalachian Trail. A third way to go would be longer still, an out-and-back hike that clocks in at 6.6 miles.
This third route avoids the popular and steep section to the summit, instead traversing the Appalachian Trail to and from Humpback Rocks.
A friend and I opted for the 4.3-mile counter-clockwise loop via the Appalachian Trail. The return trip hike from the summit to the car was more manageable.
Not only was the return hike less steep, but we encountered far fewer people on the Appalachian Trail on the way to the parking area.
|Elevation Gain||1,099 feet|
|Terrain||Mostly dirt & rock trails, some steps & rock scrambles|
|Driving Directions||Click Here|
One more option is to add in Humpback Mountain to create a 6.0-mile out-and-back hike that begins at the back of the Humpback Rocks Picnic Area.
Humpback Rocks Hiking Trail
While the summit hike is the most popular, there are several other Humpback Rocks hiking trails that set off in the area near the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center.
The hike to Humpback Rocks begins from the Humpback Gap Overlook parking area at milepost 5.8. There are parking spaces for only a couple dozen cars.
We arrived by 8 am on a Friday in October and were able to nab one of the last spaces. When we returned to the lot post-hike, there were many, many more cars.
At the parking area, you’ll find at least one picnic table and six porta-potties.
Humpback Rocks Hike
I’ll walk through the loop hike below, though the first one-mile will be the same whether you opt for a loop hike or an out-and-back hike.
From the parking area, look for a large trail kiosk. It’s to the left of the porta-potties. You’ll see a steep trail just past the sign. This is the start of the hike.
Dig deep and begin to follow the blue blazes. You’ll see at least three or four benches on the way up the trail. Then, a set of wooden steps.
At the .55-mile mark, you will reach at least two dozen steps before you can continue this blue-blazed trail. Keep your mind occupied with the scenic beauty.
From here, the hike gets a bit more precarious as you encounter some rocky steps, rock scrambles, even a massive downed tree to navigate.
Then, you know, more steps before reaching a trail sign. At last, Humpback Rocks is a mere 800 feet to the left on the trail.
Get ready for spectacular views across Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The rocky outcrops at Humpback Rocks are plentiful.
But then again, so are the number of hikers on a busy day on the mountain.
Take time to savor the great views from this prominent rock outcrop. To the north, you can see the southern section of Shenandoah National Park.
Once you soak in all the scenery, re-trace your steps to the trail sign. Here, you can turn right for a direct route back to your car for an out-and-back hike.
Alternatively, walk past this sign for the Humpback Rocks Trail. This is a short spur trail that leads to the white-blazed Appalachian Trail at the 1.3-mile mark.
Turn left at the next trail sign onto the AT. On the way down this northbound section of trail, you’ll encounter more than a dozen switchbacks.
It’s a fairly uneventful hike through thick woods along the Appalachian Trail, but it was less-trafficked and rather quiet, which was a delight on a fall morning.
At the 3.5-mile mark, stay to the left when the AT rubs up against another trail. Then, at the 4.0-mile mark, veer left again to stay on the Appalachian Trail.
In less than .3-mile, you will close the loop and arrive at the back of the Humpback Gap Overlook parking area. Your hike is complete, so celebrate.
From the Humpback Rocks parking area, the loop hike took us nearly 2.5 hours, including time to settle in for a snack with a view atop Humpback Rocks.
We completed this hike mid-morning, but this is a fantastic sunrise or sunset hike, thanks to 360-degree views from the summit. Bring a headlamp for safe hiking.
Humpback Rocks Visitor Center
If time allows, stop in the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center at milepost 5.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Look for a mountain life museum and a historic farm.
The easy .25-mile Mountain Farm Trail guides visitors through an outdoor museum designed to look like an 1890’s mountain farm.
In summer months, costumed interpreters showcase Appalachian mountain life at the start of the 20th century.
The farm features a cabin, chicken house, barn, pig pen and spring house.
You’ll also learn how Humpback Rocks served as a guidepost for settlers traveling in wagon trains on the old Howardsville Turnpike in the 1840’s.
Humpback Rocks Picnic Area
A few miles down the byway, at milepost 8.5, you’ll find the Humpback Rocks picnic area. Here you’ll find plenty of picnic tables and green space.
You can also access the short .3-mile Catoctin Trail from the picnic area. This leg stretcher hike leads to the Greenstone Overlook with west-facing valley views.
For those eager for more than one hike in a day or a weekend, here are a few more hikes you may want to consider after you hike the Humpback Rocks Trail:
#1: Jack Albright Loop
The 3.8-mile hike on the Jack Albright Loop (also known as Dobie Mountain) shares the Humpback Gap parking area with the Humpback Rocks hike.
The Glass Hollow Overlook at the 1.0-mile mark (counter-clockwise) wows with panoramas of the Rockfish Valley. Also, the remains of a 1960’s plane crash.
#2: Dripping Rock South
The short Dripping Rock South hike originates across the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Dripping Rock parking area at milepost 10 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The 2.8-mile out-and-back hike guides hikers along a forested southbound section of the Appalachian Trail. Along the way, plan to be wowed by two scenic overlooks.
#3: Crabtree Falls
In Montebello, Crabtree Falls is a stunner for its dramatic cascades and rewarding views across the Blue Ridge Mountains from the top of the 1,214-foot-tall falls.
This waterfall wows with five tumbling cascades that are within view nearly every step of this 1.7-mile hike (one-way) to the top along Crabtree Creek.
Ready for another great hike? Here are more hikes near Charlottesville, hikes near Staunton and hikes near Waynesboro, plus hikes near Wintergreen Resort.
Erin Gifford is the editor of Go Hike Virginia. She has completed more than 300 hikes in Virginia. She is also the author of three hiking guidebooks from Falcon Guides. Need help finding a hike? Check out the Trail Finder feature or send Erin a message.