Hightop Mountain sits "high" above the southern part of the Shenandoah valley in Shenandoah National Park. It is the highest mountain in the park south of Swift Run Gap. To reach Hightop involves a short, but steep hike with some very nice views of the mountains to the West.
Hightop Mountain is far less known than other popular hikes in the park such as Hawksbill, Stony Man, Old Rag, and Mary's Rock, but it provides a chance to see a more southern part of the park, and of the Appalachian Trail. The trail is especially rocky in the Hightop Mountain area, with lots of rocks to climb off the trail.
Hightop is easily viewed as a prominent feature above Skyline Drive, and takes an hour to an hour and a half to hike round trip.
From Washington DC follow I-66 West and exit onto US 29 at Gainesville, then take US 29 all the way down past Culpepper to route 230 West, until you hit Route 33, which you take West for 8 miles until you reach Skyline Drive at the Swift Run Gap Entrance. Take Skyline Drive south for about 1 mile. The trailhead is at milepost 66.5 (Hightop Mountain Parking).
Take the Appalachian Trail for about 1.7 miles, and you will see a couple overlooks (both on the right of the trail). The second one has the best view. You can see the southern Shenandoah Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the distant mountains in West Virginia.
To get to the actual summit, you need to find the Appalachian Trail marker. It says that you are at the summit, but there is clearly higher ground. Take a left at the marker, and go 100 yards into the woods, where the summit is 30 feet above, with clear markings on the ground. When I got to the summit, there was a bucket on a tree, to the right of the summit.
Round trip hiking mileage: 3.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 950 feet
(You can also hike Hightop Mountain from milepost 68.6, at Smith Roach Gap (Elevation 2,620 feet), with a similar hiking distance and elevation gain.)
(It is also possible to do a 4 mile mountain loop from near Swift Run Gap. For information on this loop, ask the ranger when you enter Skyline Drive at Swift Run Gap.)
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 summit overlook
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.
View of Hightop from Skyline Drive
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.