Bearfence Mountain is a splendid destination where the path to the summit includes two rock formations with stellar views. The trail to the summit is a welcome change from the basic hike in the woods common to most Shenandoah mountains. Bearfence isn't like Old Rag
with significant climbing required, but it is a fun romp over rocks. There are several viewing points along the trail. The first is a clearing on top of some rocks which has some very nice views. 1/4 mile beyond is a beautiful 360 degree panorama on top of some steep rocks.
In fact these rocks, called the "Bearfence Rocks" are often confused with the actual summit of Bearfence Mountain. Bearfence Mountain is a little further up the trail, and actually involves some fun rock climbing to get there. Most people hike to the rocks and don't bother with reaching the true summit.
View to the Northwest
As you can see from the photo above, Bearfence Rocks may be one of the prettiest spots in the entire park. Another viewing point can be found near the true summit, while the summit itself is in the trees.
This hike can be done via the short trail from the Bearfence Mountain parking lot or via the longer Bootens Gap Appalachian Trail (AT)/Bearfence Mountain trail route. You can reach the summit, and avoid the rock climbing via an Appalachian trail loop, but that would also keep you from viewing the 360 degree panorama, and defeats the purpose of hiking the mountain in the first place.
Whether you make this a day hike, or just a short climb up the rocks, Bearfence is one of the best spots to visit in Shenandoah National Park.
From Washington DC follow I-66 West and exit onto US 29 at Gainesville. Follow to Warrenton, and take 211 West. Take 211 to Sperryville until you reach Skyline Drive. Take Skyline Drive south towards Big Meadows. Pass the big meadowns and drive down to either Bootens Gap (mp 55.1) or the Bearfence Mountain Parking Area (mp 56.4).
RoutesBootens Gap (3235')
4 miles round trip/650 feet of elevation gain
Appalachian Trail (AT)/Bearfence Mountain trail route:
Park at Bootens Gap. Pass the entrance to the gravel path, and take an immediate right on the AT (South). You will lose elevation first, and then gain about 330 feet, up towards Bush Mountain. In a little less than a mile, you will be near the top of Bush Mountain. The AT then descends about 200 feet, until you reach the Bearfence Mountain Trail. Follow the blue marks and take the rocky trail up to the 360 degree panorama rocks, and then continue on to the summit.
Bearfence Mountain Parking (3295')
1.2 miles round trip/380 feet of elevation gain
From Skyline Drive, cross the road where a sign points to Bearfence Rocks. Follow the blue marks and take the rocky trail up to the 360 degree panorama rocks, and then continue on to the summit. This trail is short, but steep and mostly a class 2 scramble up and down rocks.
Shenandoah National Park cost $30 for an annual pass. If you do not live in the DC area, you can pay the $15 fee to enter Skyline Drive ($10 from December-February).
When To Climb
View from the rocks
Climb all year. The park, or sections of the park, may be closed if road conditions are poor. Check with the park at 540-999-3500.
Campsites are not always open during the winter and spring. Backcountry Camping Permits are required and are available free from park headquarters, visitor centers, and entrance stations. Appalachian Trail hikers may self-register for permits on the AT near Rockfish Gap (south) and Chester Gap (north).
Campfires are not permitted (except at pre-constructed fireplaces at backcountry huts and day-use shelters). Groups may not exceed 10 people. For more info consult the park website.
Check with the park at 540-999-3500.