Humpback Rocks is a very popular hike due to its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and
I-64 near Afton Mountain. Most people do it as a 1.0 mile up and back. We decided to add a few miles for the return trip by following the Appalachian Trail North and a couple of un-named blue-blazed trails.
We parked at the Humpback Rocks parking area (MP6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway). The blue-blazed trail begins to the right of the kiosk . The trail wastes no time ascending with park benches scattered every so often if you need to take a break. Don't be fooled by the 1.0 mile to the top, if you are not used to hiking you will find muscles sore that you forgot you had!!
There will be an intersection on your left in 0.5 miles, ignore it and stay straight on the blue blazed trail. For the next 0.4 miles the trail is very rocky but there are both wooden steps and rock steps for some of the more difficult parts. If it has rained be prepared that the trail can be a little muddy and in some places becomes a temporary stream. At the next intersection bear left on the spur trail to the Rocks and some incredible views. There are multiple places to take photos, just be careful especially if wet. We were a little disappointed in the amount of graffiti at the Rocks but try to ignore it and concentrate on the views.
Return to the intersection with the 'Rocks' sign, ignore references to the A.T. as those are old signs when it ran close to the Rocks before it was re-routed years ago. At the 'Rocks' intersection, go straight on the blue blazed trail towards Humpback Picnic Area and reach the A.T. in less than 0.10 miles.
Turn left onto the white-blazed A.T. North (*for additional views see A.T. South Out and Back directions below). This begins a 2.7 mile gradual descent for most of the trail back to the Parking area. We saw lots of wildlife: eastern newt, deer and tons of chipmunks - they are too fast to get a decent photo. The mountain laurel and rhododendrons were blooming all over this section of the trail. Returning this way made for a very pleasant stroll and we ran in to only a couple of hikers. The next intersection is in 2.7 miles. Bear to the left, onto a blue-blazed trail to return to the Humpback Rocks Parking area.
*A.T. South Out and Back for Additional Views
If you prefer seeing more great views without the crowds take the A.T. South instead of North at the Intersection mentioned in the previous paragraph. If you take in all 3 additional views in this out and back you will add about 4 miles to your trip. In 0.4 miles from the intersection you will come to an unmarked spur trail to take you out to the first view. These rocks are very similar to Humpback Rocks but not as massive. You will see these rocks on your left as you are on the trail and at the top of the hill you will come to the spur trail. Continue south on the A.T. for 0.7 miles to reach the second view on your left looking out to Rockfish Valley on the east and Shenandoah Valley on the west. The last view will be 0.9 miles beyond the second view. About 30 yards before the last view you will pass a great campsite with room for about 6 tents. We actually did this as a short overnight backpack and spent the night at this campsite taking in one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen in Virginia. You will have an almost 180 degree view of Rockfish Valley, Wintergreen Resort, and finally the Shenandoah Valley. This is your turn around point. Note: If you do camp here, bring plenty of water as there are no water sources on this section of the A.T.
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Reviews For The Humpback Rocks Hike (5 Most Recent)
A friend of mine and I got to the Parking lot about 8:45am and there was only a couple of other cars. Couldn't have been a nicer day in the mid 70's and Beautiful sunshine. We started immediately and as others have noted it is quite a leg-stretcher to the Rocks. I noticed it in my breathing almost immediately :) We made it to the Rocks in about 45 minutes and there was about 4 others enjoying the tremendous views.( My advice is to beat the crowds just make sure you start before 9am.) We also had a great conversation with a Thru-hiker who had started in Maine back at the end of June. We didn't see any Trash and the Graffiti is unfortunate but not overbearing. We started back down and took the AT North route. This part is very level and quite enjoyable. Didn't see much wildlife besides a very small Garter Snake. At the last Intersection we decided to add on a few miles by not going directly back to the Parking lot. Instead, followed the AT North and once we reached the Albright Trail we just headed South from there back to the Parking Lot. This added about an extra 2 miles on making our total hike a little over 6. It took us about 4 hours but that was at a leisurely pace while talking to others on the Trail. An excellent hike and day.
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 31, 2014
My wife and I hiked this one backwards around both big loops and the AT and then up to the rocks. Getting there wasnt bad at all. All trails were blazed and clear. Once we got to the rocks it got bad. It was packed with people. Graffiti and trash on the rocks. I picked up as much trash as I could but I would say this one is a lost cause. The state needs to fix this! The hike down to the parking lot was pretty much straight down. Switchbacks would make this a lot more enjoyable. Needless to say, I won't hike this one again.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 02, 2014
For a bit of background, I try to hike every weekend and am in pretty good shape overall. We recreational hike and only do day hikes. Humpback Rocks is a good hike as long as you come for the views and only the views. The hike itself can be pretty brutal if you're not used to hiking. It's a straight shot that makes you feel like you're being herded as fast as possible up the mountain. (Noting here that I typically just do the 1.0 mile up and back, not the loop as described here.) It gets the heart pumping, but it's pretty boring. The "rock scramble" is really just trail that's been battered down to the rocks and gets frustrating because it bottlenecks frequently. It's crowded and many of the people aren't used to hiking etiquette. Be prepared to have to jockey around slower people, hustle around hikers who let their dogs run loose (and perhaps their children as well...there were a few times I had to stop myself from trying to pull a child back from the ledge because their parents weren't watching them), trash and noise pollution. Basically, if you're looking for solitude, this is not the hike for you.
However, the only reason it gets 2 stars is that view. It really does take your breath away (if you're lucky enough to get a spot on the rocks to enjoy it...). I would say do Humpback once, but once is really enough.
Date of Hike: Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Humpback Rocks is by far my favorite hike so far in Virginia, I have done it a half dozen times during the past month. Did it the first time on 7/5/14 in the direction everyone does, up the very steep ascent from the parking lot. It is tough but manageable if you are in decent shape. The views at the top are spectacular but depend on the weather of course. If it is windy it can feel a little sketchy stepping close to the edge. Trek poles are recommended.
The best part of this hike in my opinion is the portion that 90% of people never both to travel, which is the 2.5 miles of the AT looping out from the lookout point and traversing down across the mountain side. Hiking down this portion of the AT is an absolute pleasure as it is all slightly downhill until the last 0.3 miles back up to the parking lot. Very easy and scenic. I have seen black bears on two different hikes along this portion of the trail. If you are looking for a good workout I suggest heading the opposite direction from the start at the parking lot, and heading UP this portion of the AT. It is a tremendous 1 hour plus cardio workout, with the perfect amount of short flat runs to catch your breath and take water. The PERFECT moderately difficult hike if you don't have a lot of time. The only drawback to going in this opposite direction is that the steep descent back down the rocks and gravel main trail can be hard on your feet/ankles/knees. Again, trek poles are your friends!
Expect to see a lot of people no matter what day or time you go. On the 4th holiday weekend there were literally 30+ people at the top and HUNDREDS of people along the main climb. We had to park way back at the entrance from the main road. Road access and parking are both free, and Humpback Rocks is only about 30 minutes from Staunton, just 5 miles south of exit 99 from Rt.64. Very Convenient!
Date of Hike: Friday, May 23, 2014
Nice hike, a bit more challenging than might at first appear so bring sturdy shoes and grab a walking stick along the way. The elevation gain comes all at once at the beginning so drink water before you head up and don't rush it or your legs and lungs will feel it. The rocks can be a bit tricky and the fall would not be fun, so try to keep three points of contact at all times. Taking a loop down the AT North is the way to go if you want to make the time getting there worth it. Catch the trail at the intersection of the Humpback Picnic Area trail and the AT North trail (there is a wooden marker that will make it easy). Follow the white rectangles on the trees, and stop from time to time to enjoy the sounds of the forest (too many people just march through and don't enjoy the solitude, its not a race, its nature). The trail is fairly well traveled but loose rocks and tree roots can catch you by surprise (another reason to bring sturdy shoes). I only gave it three stars because other than the view from the rocks there is not much else to see, but it is a nice, doable hike (2-2.5 hours).