Appearing quite prominent due not to its height but rather to its nearly complete detachment from the main crest of the Blue Ridge, The Peak is nothing overly exciting and does not offer very good views but is instead a pleasant "wilderness" experience owing to the fact that there is no maintained trail to its summit. Separated from Mount Marshall, the highest and probably most interesting peak in the North District of Shenandoah National Park, by Thoroughfare Gap and dropping steeply to farmland on all other sides, The Peak does live up to its name when seen in this context.
What limited views there are will be best late fall through early spring while the trees are still bare, while April and early May will be nice for the wildflowers and October and early November for the fall colors; late May through September are not good times to visit this peak due to the dense undergrowth (and in Shenandoah this means thorns, and lots of them) and the humidity.
Because the best approach to this peak is not from Skyline Drive but from rural roads on the park's east side, and because of the aforementioned lack of a maintained trail to the summit, anyone seeking the summit of The Peak is virtually guaranteed a solitary experience after leaving the access trail. In a park where most of the best trails can be quite crowded in all seasons but winter, that is precious.
The Peak (on the left), seen from Thornton Hollow Overlook early in the morning, with some fall color still showing
At the summit area of The Peak
From U.S. 522 in the little community of Washington (known for its famous and very pricey Inn at Little Washington, reputably one of the best dining experiences in the state), turn east onto SR 622 and follow it to SR 625. Turn right onto this gravel road and drive to a parking lot, gate, and trailhead. Park here. This is the southern terminus of the Mount Marshall Trail.
Maps show an approach from the north via the Jordan River Trail, but when I tried to find that trailhead, I was unsuccessful, as the spot where the TH was supposed to be seemed to be private land. However, SP member hightinerary
provides the following useful commentary regarding that approach:
"These directions worked for me in June 2010:
66 W to Linden, 55 W, 522 S, R (W) on 630/Hittles Mill, L (S) on 628/Dearing, straight (W) onto 629 (2.8 miles from 522), 1 mile to fork, go right, 0.8 miles to gate #320. As I recall, you do begin the hike by walking past a private residence, but very soon you are on the Jordan River Trail. My notes say I got to Thoroughfare Gap in 27 minutes from the gate with #320 on it. I have climbed The Peak this way twice."
From the TH at 973', hike the trail for 1.8 mi to Thoroughfare Gap, approximately 1950'. Locate a concrete post marking the intersection of this trail with the Jordan River Trail and head up and east. Older maps show a trail here, and indeed there used to be a maintained one, so look for remnants of it as much and use it as much as possible to make the bushwhacking a little easier. But trail or no trail, keep heading up (maybe 3/4 mile) until you reach the summit, which is not marked in any way (or was not when I was there in December 2007).
RT distance is about 5 miles and elevation gain is around 2000'.
The beginning of the trail passes through private property. Please be respectful and do not jeopardize access.
When I was here in 2007, there were trailhead facilities and thus no fees, but since then, some trailheads on the park borders have "grown" fee stations, so don't be shocked if there is a day fee of something like $5 as is the case at locations such as Whiteoak Canyon and Old Rag.
There are no campgrounds nearby. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit, but you will probably have to get the permit up on Skyline Drive. Inconvenient!