Shenandoah National Park is home to some of Virginia's lovliest mountains. The northern entrance in Front Royal, Virginia is the closest to Washington DC, but offers few climbs in the first 10 miles of the park.
However, at milepost 10.4 (Compton Gap) there is a trail to Compton Peak, perhaps the first large mountain accessible from the North entrance of Shenandoah National Park. A short, steep trail reaches the summit in less than a mile, but two small trails near the summit lead to very nice viewpoints of the Shenandoah Valley and the surrounding Shenandoah mountains. These side trails also provide rock climbing opportunities.
Compton Peak is not the highest mountain in the park, nor the most spectacular, but it is a worthy climb, and one of the underrated mountains in the park.
From Washington DC, take I-66 West to exit 13, and follow signs to Skyline Drive. About 6 miles after you get of I-66, you will reach route 340. Take that southbound to the North entrance to Skyline Drive. Compton Peak is accessible via Compton Gap (mp 10.4). It is also climbable via Chester Gap, an 11 mile hike with 2200 foot elevation gain which ascends the AT from a road off of Rte 522 to the top of Compton Peak. For this trail, you would need a detailed topo map of the area.
Park at the Compton Gap parking area. Take the Appalachian Trail South for about 0.8 miles where you will see an AT marker. From here, you can go right (towards the summit) or take a left to a fabulous viewpoint.
If you take a right:
You will reach the wooded summit of Compton Peak in about 0.1 miles. If you go past the summit for another 0.1 miles there is an excellent viewpoint to the Northwest.
If you take a left:
You will descend a trail about 200 feet, and you'll find an excellent viewpoint to the Southeast. There are excellent views of Mount Marshall
and Hogback Mountain
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
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.