Bushytop is a peak that is high by Shenandoah standards but which is shaded for much of the morning due to its being literally in the shadow of Stony Man Mountain, Shenandoah’s second-highest peak. The summit is mostly disappointing since it is wooded and is “graced” with radio towers or something like that, but there is a rocky ledge that offers a decent view north over deep, trailless Kettle Canyon to the rocky summit of Stony Man, where the park’s only known pair of peregrine falcons resides.
Millers Head is a point on a west-branching ridge of Bushytop. At the summit, there is a stone platform that provides excellent views north, west, and south. The best part of the view might be Hawksbill Mountain, which is Shenandoah’s highest peak; the view of it stretches across a wild hollow that has no trails or other visible signs of human development. Winter is an especially nice time to visit Millers Head; the denuded forest reveals the talus slopes, cliffs, and rock outcrops on Hawksbill and Stony Man dramatically.
A visit to Millers Head requires losing a few hundred feet of elevation from the summit of Bushytop and therefore regaining it on the return hike, but it is a worthwhile trip. Hiking only to the summit of Bushytop is not worthwhile.
For almost 15 years now, I have been hiking, scrambling, climbing, and exploring in Shenandoah National Park. It took me 14 years to “discover” Bushytop and Millers Head. For some reason, I never paid any attention to the description in my guidebook, perhaps because the locations are in the developed Skyland area, which is nice for a weekend getaway but not, due to its popularity, the greatest place for those who can’t stand seeing lots of other people on trails.
Getting There and Route Information
Exit Skyline Drive at about MP 43 to access Skyland, drive past the horse stables, and reach the southern end of the Skyland lodging complex. Look for a sign indicating the trail to Millers Head. Park by the nearby cabins (you really shouldn’t unless you’re a lodge guest, but it’s a short hike), in a gravel lot near the trailhead, or back near the horse stables.
The trail has a one-way distance of 0.8 mi. It is 0.2 mi to the uninspiring summit of Bushytop, and then the trail drops at a moderately steep grade and almost immediately assumes the feel of a true Shenandoah backcountry trail. The elevation loss between Bushytop and Millers Head is about 400’.
The park has an entrance fee of $15, payable at entrance stations. The fee covers a week of access to the park. Annual and interagency passes are available; they cost more but are good deals for frequent visitors to Shenandoah and other national parks.
During deer-hunting season, but starting after Skyland closes following Thanksgiving weekend (thus late November through early January), Skyline Drive in the Central District is closed (gated) from 5 P.M. until 8 A.M. daily. This is to deter poaching. The North and South Districts have the same closures, but they begin around early November when the hunting season starts.
Camping and Lodging
The closest park campground is Big Meadows, the turnoff for which is between MP 51 and MP 52. The campground is open April through Thanksgiving weekend and often fills on weekends. Half the sites are open to reservations via recreation.gov. The 2008 fee was $17/night. Flush toilets, showers, a restaurant, and a camp store are available.
Cabins and lodge rooms at Skyland typically run from $100-150 per night. Many Skyland rooms are on the crest of the Blue Ridge and have nice views (with porches and decks) of the valley below. These rooms make great places to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun sets over the hazy ridges to the west. Many have a view of Bushytop and Millers Head.
There is also lodging at Big Meadows.
Call 540-999-3500 for more information, especially about weather forecasts and road conditions. The park's website is useful for information about campgrounds and lodges.