Even by Shenandoah National Park standards, Rocky Mountain is a low peak. In fact, many overlooks on Skyline Drive are higher than this mountain is. But Rocky Mountain, which gets its name from its white sandstone-quartzite outcrops, clearly visible from Skyline Drive, does have a few things to recommend it and which make it one of the nicer peaks in the park to visit:
• The peak is in a remote area of the park that sees relatively few visitors.
• The mountain is close to some beautiful wilderness cliffs that offer some nice climbing (see attached route page).
• The mountain, along with its neighbors Rockytop and Rocky Mount, is among the few mountains in the park that have open talus slopes on them.
• Brown Mountain, a lower peak just beyond Rocky Mountain and an easy walk from it, has a sandstone ridge streaked with fossilized wormholes (from sea worms, at that) that are around 500 million years old. Look for long and slender cylinder-shaped markings around an eighth-inch in diameter. These are the wormholes.
The peak is in Shenandoah’s South District, in the wilderness setting of the Big Run watershed. Big Run is a beautiful stream, and its lower end (in the park) sports spectacular cliffs, some of them rising directly from the stream’s edge, but its lack of waterfalls and the long hiking required to explore it place it well down on the list of the park’s most popular hikes.
Why is there no picture of the mountain from a distance? Frankly, the mountain isn’t too exciting a sight after you’ve seen the mountains in the Western U.S., and I’ve never seen it with the cloud and lighting conditions that I think make for good photographs. Also, shooting from an overlook means one can’t avoid including some of the development in the Shenandoah Valley beyond the peak, and I strive not to include anything human-made in my photographs if there is not a compelling purpose for showing it. But the mountain is plainly visible from several Skyline Drive overlooks, giving you a chance to preview the peak and see if it interests you. A few overlooks with nice views of it: Twomile Run, Brown Mountain, Rockytop, and Big Run (listed north-south).
Getting ThereIf you’re only interested in Rocky Mountain, follow the instructions here. If, however, you’re up for something more, plus some cliffs to climb, then please check out the attached Rocky Mountain-Big Run Loop page.
Enter Skyline Drive and drive to the Brown Mountain Overlook, just north of MP 77. This is the trailhead. For 0.7 miles, the trail drops 450’ to its junction with Rocky Mountain Run Trail. Continue straight ahead, though, and 0.9 miles and 450’ will get you to the first, and lower, of Rocky Mountain’s summits (2800’). The lower summit has the better views and rock outcrops, and scramblers can have plenty of fun here. After another 0.6 miles of hiking takes you past, but not onto, the higher summit, which requires a short off-trail hike to reach. If you’re interested in Brown Mountain and looking for its fossilized wormholes, that 2500’ summit is another 0.9 miles away.
Red TapeIt costs $15 to enter the park, and that provides access for a week. Annual passes cost $30. The interagency pass, good for yearlong entry to areas managed by NPS, USDA Forest Service, USFWS, BLM, and the Bureau of Reclamation, costs $80.
The park is open all year, but Skyline Drive does sometimes close after snow or ice storms. The park site does not give current road conditions, so call ahead (540-999-3500).
To reduce poaching, Skyline Drive is subject to closures during hunting season. The information below, copied and pasted from the park site, illustrates the 2006 restrictions—
From November 13, 2006, through January 6, 2007
• between Front Royal (Mile 0 at U.S. Highway 340) and Thornton Gap (Mile 31 at U.S. Highway 211), and
• between Swift Run Gap (Mile 65 at U.S. Highway 33) and Rockfish Gap (Mile 105 at U.S. Highway 250),
will be closed daily between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.
The central portion of the Drive, between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap, will remain open for overnight access to Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Campground until those facilities close on November 26.
Then, beginning November 27, 2006, through January 6, 2007, the entire length of the Skyline Drive will be closed daily from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m.
CampingThe closest campground is Loft Mountain, which has showers, water, flush toilets, and a store. The access road for the campground is at MP 79.5. The campground is open from mid-May through October, and you can make reservations to stay there, though only 10% of the sites are reservable (see park link for more details). It is the park’s largest campground, but it will usually fill on holiday and October weekends. The fee for a campsite is $15 per night (as of 2007, higher if you reserve).
Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain are to the north and require from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to reach. Big Meadows usually is open from early March until just after Thanksgiving; the others open in May and close earlier in the fall. Reservations are strongly advised for Big Meadows. For more comfort, consider staying in a cabin or lodge room at Lewis Mountain, Big Meadows, or Skyland (around MP 40). The lodges, too, are seasonally open, with Skyland opening the earliest. See the links section for more information.
External LinksOfficial park site