Cat Knob is a mountain summit that rises to the south of the Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. It can be reached via a short 4 mile round-trip hike from Skyline Drive. The route to the summit is hiked on the side of a mountain and the views are very pretty along the way. The view at the summit isn't too impressive, as all you will see are views through the trees. However, this is one of the higher-elevated summits in the park, and offers a good challenge. If you want a longer hike, you can do the Mill Prong/Laurel Prong trail to Camp Hoover, and add Cat Knob as a side trip. By doing this, you will bag two summits, Cat Knob and Hazeltop
3812', the 3rd highest in the park.
From Washington DC follow I-66 West and exit onto US 29 (South) at Gainesville. Follow to Warrenton, and take 211 West. Take 211 past Sperryville, and drive up the winding mountain road until you reach Skyline Drive. Take Skyline Drive south and drive past Hawksbill and past the Big Meadows. After you pass the Big Meadows, you will park at one of two trailheads. Just past Big Meadows is the Milam Gap Trailhead at mp 52.6. This is for the longer route. For the shorter route you will drive another 2.6 miles to Bootens Gap (mp 55.1). The trailheads are about 2 hours drive from Washington DC.
-The Laurel Gap Route
Bootens Gap to Laurel Gap Trail
Start the hike from Bootens Gap, mp 55.1 (elev. 3243'). Hike Northbound on the Appalachian Trail for about 0.4 miles to the Laurel Prong Trail, which goes gradually downhill for most of the way. Take it for about 1 mile to Laurel Gap, and continue straight for about 0.5 miles to the summit. The hike is about 4 miles round trip, and climbs about 600 feet up to the summit, with some of the elevation gain in the first 1/2 mile, but most of the elevation gain in the last 0.5 miles. Round-trip you will face about 800' of uphill hiking.
Mill Prong to Laurel Prong
This is a loop hike that includes Cat Knob and Hazeltop. You will start from the Milam Gap Trailhead at Milepost 52.5. From the parking area you have to cross Skyline Drive on the Appalachian Trail (South). Take the first left (The Mill Prong Trail) off the Appalachian Trail after you cross Skyline Drive. You take the Mill Prong Trail to Camp Hoover, and to the Laurel Gap Trail (blue blazes). At Laurel Gap, take the Cat Knob Trail to the summit. Then, head to the Appalachian Trail (a mile from Laurel Gap) and take the AT (North) past the summit of Hazeltop, about 2.4 miles back to Milam Gap. This hike will be about 8.5 miles and you will gain over 2000' of total elevation.
When To Climb
You can climb all year. Fall colors are gorgeous in this area, but the trail can be overgrown at this time. Watch for poison ivy during the spring, summer, and fall. You should be fine if you stay on the trail. Winter is a good time to hike in this area, but after big snowstorms and any icy cold fronts, the park, or sections of the park, may be closed if road conditions are poor. Check with the park at 540-999-3500.
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 the park ($10 from December-February).
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.