The Brandywine Recreation Area, on the border of Virginia and West Virginia, has two totally different hikes within its borders. The strenuous High Knob hike up to a spectacular 360° view at the fire tower, and the Saw Mill loop which is an easy 3.7 mile walk along two of the areas creeks.
The Brandywine Recreation area is a perfect spot to go for the weekend. With a man made beach on Brandywine Lake plus 32 campsites, clean bathrooms and hot showers, and potable water throughout the camping area. Also, if you come with a large group there is a group/overflow camping spot with picnic tables and fire rings at the back of the main camping facilities. Please Note: Both hikes are rated for camping because of the camping facilities at the Brandywine Recreation Area, not for campsites on the trails.
High Knob Fire Tower:
This hike is rated strenuous because of the steep grade of the trail. The trail does not make any switchbacks on its 2.9 mile climb to the fire tower.
The High Knob trail starts at the right front of the Group Campground. Start up the yellow blazed High Knob trail as it steeply climbs for the first 0.2 miles before becoming an easier grade along the ridge. The trail will again become very steep for the last 0.5 miles then reach the intersection of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail.
Saw Mill Loop:
The Saw Loop is an easy walk in the woods compared to the hard climb up to High Knob. There are several open wildlife clearings as well as two seasonal creeks.
From the back loop of the campground follow the purple blazed Saw Mill Loop trail for 0.3 miles to the beginning of the loop portion of the hike. From here turn right and follow the loop 3.1 miles back to the same point. On the first part of the loop Hawes Creek is on your left, then cross a small ridge on the back side of the loop and follow a feeder stream back to the beginning of the loop before turning right for the 0.3 miles back to the hike start point.
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Topo Hike Map (PDF)
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Reviews For The Brandywine Recreation Area Hike (5 Most Recent)
The weekend a friend and I decided to hike to high tower knob and the fire tower was a particularly dreary one, having just snowed and expecting some more. We did not start from Brandywine rec but the parking lot right off route 33 and the state line. Conditions were extreme on the section before Brandywine trail meets high knob trail. 2 inch thick slick ice, little to no room for safe footing. A lot of slips and falls on the way up.
Service road conditions were better with more slush. Once to the tower there were high winds enough to realize we shouldn't pitch the tent and stay.
On the hike down we thought to follow the service road knowing it would be safer with less ice and more room to walk. The service road was much much safer with crunchy snow and more areas to place feet. We came to a fork in the road and decided to keep left on the road rather than take the unmarked right. (Was told that this may have been the right way to go, after a little while we may have seen a yellow blaze indicating the High Knob trail).
We continued to walk on the service road and I knew we were closing in on 33. I was relieved knowing we didn't have to slip and slid down the slick trail but then -
We approached a cabin and car on the service road, two young individuals came out and told us to turn around. We told them the truth as we saw on the map (Google satellite) we could take a safer route on the service road. They told us the map is not true and leads onto their land. After that I practically pleaded to just pass through to 33 telling them that the descent would be treacherous (also losing daylight fast). I also told them that I had fallen 3 times on the way up to the tower. The young man seemed to be sympathetic but the young lady said "we should have thought about that". I was at a loss for words because of the lack of moral servitude. We had nothing to say and turned around.
We hiked back up the service road and down the icy trail. It was literally terrifying on the descent.
Loved the tower and views! Unfortunately we made a decision out of safety to walk the service road and had that confrontation.
If it has recently snowed and you expect ice could be present - do not go without proper footwear. The trail was the only thing iced over, and with the steep mountain slopes on either side, there was no where to place feet. We did not have proper footwear but we also drove 3 hours just to hike this trail (from Richmond).
DO NOT GO DOWN THE SERVICE ROAD - EVEN IF THERE IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION. They don't care...
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 15, 2011
The High Knob trail is a beast! You are basically hiking 3 miles up the spine of a ridge from the campsite all the way to the WVa., Va. border. It was one never ending hill! Once you get to the fire tower it is totally worth it though. Great 360 degree view. The campsite is really awesome too. We will be heading back!
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 08, 2011
SAW MILL TRAIL DANGERS: POORLY BLAZED, POORLY MAINTAINED
We are two very experienced hikers and looked forward to hiking Saw Mill Trail. Before we went on this camping trip, we looked for trail information online (Forest Service Web site, Hiking Upward Web site, etc). We thought this 3.6-mile woodland trail would be relatively easy. But the poor choice of blaze color (faint violet against murky grey tree bark), the unusually long distances between blazes, many trail crossings into steep and rocky streambeds, and many large tree windfalls made it a challenging obstacle course. This trail looks as though it has not been maintained for many years.
Because of the poor trail conditions, we lost the trail at least 5 times during the hike and only managed to find our way back to the trail after one of us scouted ahead while the other stood behind where the trail gave out.
This dark, rocky trail is poorly described in the site brochure, giving few clues to the trail's actual terrain, or the accurate number of stream bed crossings (see enclosed). The trail map is crudely sketched and all but worthless, except that gives a broad concept of trail loop and direction.
Thankfully we had printed out a good topo map from www.hikingupward.com and brought our compass and knew how to use it. A novice hiker without these way finding aids or who had them but didn't know how to use them could easily get lost on trail.
If hiking trails have become badly degraded (due to storm damage or lost trail blazes), and there is no plan to maintain them, they become an "attractive nuisance" to unsuspecting hikers. The Saw Mill Trail should be closed until these issues can be resolved.
Date of Hike: Thursday, August 11, 2011
Started the hike to High Knob at 5:30 pm and was back at 8:30. It is a tough climb even with hiking sticks. I think this hike can be extended on Shenandoah Mtn Trail to Bother Knob, then it will be a whole-day activity. The campground is awesome: abundant water, clean bathrooms, and of course the lake!
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 18, 2010
Hiked to High Knob on a warm, sunny, Saturday afternoon with my wife. I liked this one due to the combination of great views and historical marker, all on the ridge dividing Virginia and W. Virginia. You can see from Harrisonburg east all the way to all the nothingness that is to the west (I counted back 7 major ridges), and you also get a rare view of the historic Sugar Grove naval/air force communications base (I'm pretty sure that's what it is, but don't quote me on it) that is nestled deep in the forest.
Some notable points are
1 - Give yourself an hour there, and hour back, and at least 30 minutes at the top. You can do it much faster, but this is a good general rule for this hike.
2 - There is one place where you get to a service road that goes onto some private property. It's not exactly clear where to go once you get to this road, but turn right on the road until you see a blazing to your left. If you keep going on the road, you'll see a "private property" sign and know you've gone too far. Otherwise the trail is well marked.
3 - the flies can be pretty bad at the top of the fire tower, so buyer beware here. And it gets hit with lightning a lot, so watch out for lightning (obviously).
For the historically inclined, I'd recommend reading up on the Sugar Grove base (lots of history here), the history and restoration of the High Knob Fire Tower, and the town of Brandywine.