Austin Mountain stands at the western end of one of the smaller ridges in the South District of Shenandoah National Park that connects to the Rockytop ridge. To the north of Austin Mountain, Lewis Peak and Lewis Mountain are also on ridges that connect to the Rockytop ridge. To the south, Austin Mountain's (2658') neighbor Furnace Mountain (2657') is on the other side of Madison Run.
In spite of being only one foot taller than Furnace Mountain and offering very good summit views to the south and more limited views to the north and west, Austin Mountain is visited much less often. The Austin Mountain trail goes over numerous rock slides and it is necessary to bushwhack to the summit.
From Elkton, follow US Route 340 south until reaching SR 659, which is a little north of the town of Grottoes. Make a left on SR 659 and follow it until you pass SR 708, which will be on the left. At this point SR 659 ends and becomes a fire road.
There is parking on the side of the fire road. Hike about 0.9 miles on the yellow-blazed fire road before making a left onto the Austin Mountain Trail. Follow the blue-blazed Austin Mountain trail over several rock slides (from which there are fine views of Furnace and Trayfoot Mountains) for about 1.4 miles until you gain the ridge. At this point, turn left into the woods, make another quick left and start bushwhacking along the ridge for 0.4 miles and reach the summit. The bushwhack is mostly B1 on the Bushwhacking Scale
, but becomes more of a B2 as you approach the summit because of the branches and thorns that impede your progress.
Views to the north include Lewis Mountain, Lewis Peak, and Rockytop. Views to the south include Furnace Mountain, Hall Mountain, and Trayfoot Mountain.
There is a summit trail on the old topographic maps that runs off the Austin Mountain Trail. However, it is highly likely that the trail no longer exists. It's much easier to bushwhack up the ridge than it is to follow the trail.
Round trip: 5.4 miles, with an elevation gain of about 1,300 feet.
Austin Mountain can also be accessed from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. To get there, follow US Route 33 east from Elkton until reaching Skyline Drive. Go south on Skyline Drive and follow it to the Browns Gap parking lot, wreaching the Blackrock Summit parking area and trailhead, which is about 0.1 miles north of MP 83 (miles are marked in ascending order from north to south).
From the Browns Gap parking lot, hike down the Madison Run Fire Road for 0.8 miles. Turn right onto the Big Run Spur Trail and follow it for for 0.3 miles to the intersection with the blue blazed Rockytop Trail. Turn left on the Rockytop Trail and hike for 0.4 miles until reaching the intersection with the blue blazed Austin Mountain Trail. Turn left on the Austin Mountain Trail and follow it for about 1.8 miles, then bushwhack for 0.4 miles to the summit.
Round trip: 7.4 miles
Entry to Shenandoah National Park is free from the boundary. The $15 entry fee is only applicable if you come in via Skyline Drive.
Please do not block the fire road and remember to respect private property on the left side of the road.
Views from Austin Mountain
When to Climb
Austin Mountain can be climbed all year round. The best season to bushwhack is winter, when hostile flora and fauna are minimized. Summit views are best (especially to the north) are best from late fall through early spring. Fall colors arrive in October and November, and wildflowers can be seen on the trail as late as mid-October. Summer is the worst time for mosquitoes and ticks. The heat and humidity are also at their worst in summer, and views tend to be more limited by haze. The best time for a summer hike is early in the morning.
Free backcountry camping is allowed throughout Shenandoah National Park. The required permit can be obtained through mail or at entrance stations, park headquarters, or visitor centers. Campfires are only permitted at pre-constructed fireplaces at backcountry huts and day-use shelters.
If you enter the park via Skyline Drive, the nearest campground to the Blackrock Summit parking area is Loft Mountain, which has showers, water, flush toilets, and a store. The access road for the campground is located at MP 79.5. The Loft Mountain campground is open from mid-May through October. Reservations can be made, but only 10% of the sites are available (see Shenandoah National Park link for more details). It will usually fill on holiday and October weekends even though it is the park's largest campground. The campsite fee is $15 per night (it may be higher if you reserve).
External linksShenandoah National Park
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
maintains the trails in the Shenandoah National Park, and provides maps, guidebooks, and other information.