Monday, October 15, 2012

Explore Some Wilderness in Shenandoah National Park!

It seems like all the backpackers head for the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. While the AT offers some great seasonal hiking, don't forget Shenandoah's awesome side trails like the Big Run area in the southern part of the park. Whether out for a day wander or a multi day backpack trip using the many trails available to create your own hikes, The Big Run Wilderness offers some great hiking, pristine wilderness, and wildlife.

A Great Day Hike or Two Day Backpack Trip - Rockytop Trail and Big Run Portal Trail Circuit Hike. 
14.2 to 14.6 miles. PATC Map 11 Shenandoah National Park, South

Fall Views along the Rockytop Trail
Starting at Browns Gap on the Skyline Drive (milepost 83), this circuit hike uses the Appalachian Trail, Rockytop Trail, Big Run Portal Trail, and the Big Run Loop Trail for the return. You can then take the AT back or make it a true circuit by using the Madison Run Link to Madison Run Fire Road for a 14.2 mile day hike. Or hike along Rockytop to the Big Run and take advantage of several nice campsites once you reach the river area. You will see several on the right side of the trail as after you cross the metal bridge along the Big Run Portal Trail.

The Rockytop Trail is indeed just as it says, rocky in many places, though none of the trail is steep. In early August this trail goes by some magnificent blueberry bushes for great berry picking. But the bears like it too, so be sure to keep an eye out for them on the trail in late summer. There are plenty of places along the ridge for fine views of the Shenandoah Valley.

Rocky footing along the Rockytop Trail. May see snakes in warm weather.

Once you descend off Rockytop, the trail ends at the Big Run Portal Trail. This trail runs alongside Big Run, a large trout stream. Depending on the time of year, you can rock hop at the water crossings you will find (and there are around six of them). But in high water, you will need wading shoes. I find traditional Crocs work well, and the trail is flat enough that you could hike in your crocs to each water crossing until you get past the turn-off for the Patterson Ridge Trail.

Big Run in the Big Run Wilderness

Big Run is a beautiful stream and well worth some time if you wish to do some backpacking. Again bears have been sighted, so be sure to use bear proof technique with your food.

Once you reach the Big Run Link Trail, you can can complete the circuit by a modest hike of long switchbacks to return to the ridge. From there you can take the Rockytop Trail back to the AT and your car or use the Madison Run spur trail (directly across) to the fire road and return to your car that way. It is slightly shorter to go this way.

I have done this hike multiple times using the many trails in the system and rarely see anyone. So if getting out on your own and away from crowds for wilderness adventure is your style, check out the Big Run area.

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