OverviewThe Massanutten Mountains are divided into two distinct sections by New Market Gap. The first peak south of New Market Gap is Big Mountain. It ranks as the fifth highest summit in the Massanutten range. The summit of Big Mountain is covered with TV towers and related buildings, but the journey is still worthwhile. There are opportunities to view the Shenandoah Valley and the Massanutten Mountains, gain 1,000 feet of elevation in one mile, and appreciate the wildflowers. As Summitpost member surgent pointed out, some mountaintops “have to 'take one for the team.'”
From Luray, go west on US 211; the road climbs toward New Market Gap. When you reach the crest of the ridge, you will see the Massanutten Visitors Center on the left. Turn into the Visitors Center lot and park here.
The Wildflower Trail starts at the end of the parking lot close to the Visitors Center. Hike on the white-blazed Wildflower Trail, which goes gently downhill for nearly 0.3 miles. Turn right at the intersection with the orange-blazed Massanutten South Trail, and hike steeply uphill for the next mile. On the right, there are side trails to an overlook with views to the west and north.
So far, you've gained 1,000 feet of elevation in one mile, taken in some good views of the Shenandoah Valley, and depending on the season, seen some beautiful autumn colors or wildflowers. If you're determined to bag the summit, continue on the Massanutten South Trail, which is mostly a level hike. After 2.1 miles, reach a forest road (FR 375) and make a left turn. Continue past the gate and hike up the road for 0.5 miles to the summit.
Round trip: 7.8 miles with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet.
Red TapeBig Mountain and the entire route to its summit are on public land in the George Washington National Forest. There are no fees or permits required. Please respect private property near the trailhead and at a point before the overlook. The Massanutten Visitors Center is closed until further notice.
CampingFree camping is permitted throughout the George Washington National Forest except in the immediate vicinity of picnic areas and a few other locations. It is unwise to camp outside of winter near any of the mounds of dirt that you will see on the ridgetop. While the Massanutten Mountains are too far north for fire ants, the ants that will crawl out of these mounds can cause plenty of annoyance.
When to ClimbBig Mountain can be climbed nearly all year round. Fall colors can be spectacular in mid to late October; there still may be foliage in lower elevations as late as mid-November. Summer is the worst time for mosquitoes and ticks, and undergrowth is at its thickest. The Wildflower Trail is particularly attractive in spring.
Hiking should be avoided in the National Forest during the period in late November when it is permissible to hunt deer with modern firearms. In 2013, deer season runs from November 16 through November 30.
External LinksGeorge Washington National Forest- Lee Ranger District
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains the trails in the Massanutten Mountains, and provides maps, guidebooks, and other information.