Ramble On

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Loft Mountain Loop: Another Easy SNP Day Hike

With a second beautiful fall day on tap last weekend, I went back to the Southern District of Shenandoah National Park for another “easy day hike.” I chose what the guidebook I’m using calls the “Loft Mountain Loop,” in the vicinity of the Loft Mountain Wayside on Skyline Drive, approximately milepost 79.5.

As the book describes it, this trail begins on a fire road just to the north of the parking area, so you walk along the drive for a couple of hundred yards. This is a good start, but actually there is a network of trails in this area, including the Frazier Discovery Trail, which the NPS map describes as a 1.3 mile circuit, moderately easy, with beautiful views. Also, as with the Stonyman Trail, a guide book is available.
The alternative route, beginning from the fire road, heads up a gentle slope until it reaches an intersection with the Appalachian Trail, near a PATC work building and the Ivy Creek Spring (last year, I hiked another one of these easy day hikes called Ivy Creek, along the creek this spring feeds; link: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2008/09/ivy-creek-easy-day-hike.html ).
After walking through this area, and appreciating that this is where trail volunteers are based from during extended maintenance work – all the better because of the proximity to supplies at the Wayside – continue on, now following the AT’s white blazes, to the Loft Mountain summit. It’s a nice trail through a forest of young trees, with rhododendron and berry bushes crowding in from both sides. Eventually, near the top of the climb, there is a spur trail to a rocky bluff with a view to the east.

I took this photo from the bluff, looking off to the south east, I believe towards Flaptop Mountain. The view below is of Rappahannock County, pastoral, with little clusters of farms and towns. Once again, I counted myself lucky for the weather as I enjoyed the views.

Continuing along the AT here, the hike skirts the Loft Mountain summit before making a 90 degree turn to the west, to an intersection with the Frazier Discovery Trail, marked by a concrete guidepost. A slight turn to the right takes you to another outcropping, this time with a view to the west. The overlook has a strategic view of the Frazier approach – since the trail is popular with young families, a pause here offers the entertainment of young children encountering their first views of the destination of their hike, consisting of summiting the ledge.
While I paused here, a young family came up onto the ledge – I took a photo of them all before the three children all went off in different directions along the top. I helped them with directions before I headed on down the Frazier trail back to the Wayside.

On the descent, I came to this overhang. It was deeper than any I’ve seen on these easy trails – you could easily get back in there 20 feet or more, so that the overhang provided shelter. After considering the rocks and the situation, I continued on down the easy slope of the trail to the Wayside, where I enjoyed a bowl of chili before heading back to Hawksbill Cabin.

Completing this hike meant that I have done all six of the trails listed in the South District: Powell Gap, Ivy Creek, Loft Mountain Loop, Blackrock Summit, Calvary and Chimney Rocks, and Calf Mountain. That also means I have completed 19 of the 26 hikes in this book. I definitely have my favorites at this point, and I think there are some – my “freelance” trails – that could replace a few that are included here; I’m thinking that maybe a book, “Hiking Adventures on Skyline Drive,” is in order based on my experiences.

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