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Spy Rock - Nelson County, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
3.1 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
1.5 hours plus a 1/2 hour for lunch
1,260 ft
George Washington National Forest
Montebello Camping and Fishing Resort
The Cabins at Crabtree Falls
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e.g.. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
Stay on Route SR 690 until the last Hatchery Building and then bear right onto a small gravel road with a sign for parking and Spy Rock. Park at the rear of the Fish Hatchery on SR690. Google maps directions for this last section are inaccurate. 37.84191, -79.13126

Spy Rock would be a great hike to do after hiking Crabtree Falls as it's just a few miles up VA56 from Crabtree Falls near Montebello, VA. Our original intent was to map this as a day hike and continue on the A.T. to The Priest Shelter and camp the night. Deep snow (1 to 2 feet) prevented us from continuing so we spent the night at Spy Rock There are plenty of good campsites here but no water sources. Two feet of snow in the winter does not count as a reliable water source!

We also did this hike in May so there will be photos from then plus photos from our snow hike. The views from Spy Rock are spectacular (360 degrees) giving you a great view of the Religious Range: The Priest, The Little Priest, The Friar, The Little Friar, and The Cardinal. This is a short hike but well worth it to see the views from Spy Rock.

From VA56 turn onto SR690 to the Montebello Fish Hatchery. A small parking area for hikers is available beyond the hatchery buildings (follow the sign). From the parking area cross the road towards the yellow road barriers and head up this uneventful fire road, with occasional blue blazes for 1 mile until you reach the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) intersection. The fire road looked nice in the snow but during normal times it is your basic fire road. In about 0.5 miles the road bears to the left with a very unique tree to your left, keep your eyes open.

At the A.T. intersection take a left towards Spy Rock which you will reach in 0.6 miles. There is a short Spur Trail to take you over to Spy Rock. A little bit of scrambling , winter view, is involved to reach the summit. This is a short hike but well worth it to see the views from Spy Rock, late Spring view. As an overnight backpack in better weather I'm sure the sunsets would be great from the top of Spy Rock.

HikingUpward Note: We hope to be back in this area to map out a 2-3 day shuttle A.T. backpack from the Montebello Fish Hatchery to Reeds Gap near Wintergreen, our original intent with this hike.

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Hiker Reviews For The Spy Rock Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, April 30, 2015
Please respect private property when parking and hiking up to Spy Rock. I did my weekly hike up past Spy rock and found evidence of camping fires on my property. Two weeks ago, the parking lot got so filled up that some people drove past the yellow gate and parked in one of the land owners driveway (blocking the driveway). If the lot is full (which happens fast on a weekend), please park down at the Fish Hatchery. The popularity of this hike is great but the downside is the amount of traffic. If you see someone parking outside of the parking lot, driving above the yellow gate, or camping anywhere along the trail all they way to the saddle, please politely remind them that the entire area is private land. Thanks!! Please enjoy the hike.....

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, April 22, 2015
My girlfriends and I have decided every Wednesday to pick a different location to hike. 4/22/15 we chose Spy Rock. For us, the fire road was relatively steep, but very well maintained. Our problem came when we got to the "unique" tree. As stated, from coming up the fire road, the tree is on your left, but there are 5 different trails leading off when you reach the tree. After heading up different paths (finding a few "Private property" signs, and a few tree stands), and not seeing many markings, we would turn around, and come back to the tree. We finally chose a path, and we saw the blue blazes. Follow those blue blazes for awhile, and you will finally come to the intersection with the AT. GO left. The AT from there was one of the roughest parts of the AT I have ever seen. When you finally get to Spy Rock, we couldn't find the path that led to the top of the rock, so we did a little rock scrambling. The view itself was definitely rewarding with the amazing views, but it was so windy and cold, we didn't stay long. The views are worth it, but the hike itself was very rocky, and we wasted a lot of time trying to find the correct path coming from the fire road.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, December 21, 2014
This was my first time hiking to Spy Rock. I started at Crabtree Falls and took the Appalachian Trail south from Crabtree Meadows. This is about a 14 mile hike. I knew Spy Rock had great views but I did not realize it was a fully exposed rock dome. You can see Spy Rock from the AT south from multiple vantage points, it looks like a huge bump rising from the ridge below Maintop Mountain. When you get to the rock the trails disappear and it is a scramble to the top. Easy going up but much more difficult going down because there were ice sheets in multiple spots. The view north of The Priest is easily the best vista. Due south was terrible for photos - mid-afternoon in the winter meant the sun was directly behind these mountains. If it wasn't so bright I may have been able to locate Mt. Pleasant and other peaks. I probably could've spent an hour on Spy Rock but time was a factor. I skipped the short bushwhack to Black Rock, but it looks easy in the winter with no foliage.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, September 20, 2014
Incredible, 360 degree views. Roughly a two mile hike from the parking lot to the top of the ridge--where the trail flattens and opens up into a sprawling plateau of trees and greenery that resemble a scene from The Chronicles of Narnia. From there, you can choose your own route to scale "Spy Rock" to reach the overlook. The climb is roughly 15-20 feet, but the natural characteristics of the boulder(s) allow for a relatively easy ascent. The three of us wore Chaco sandals and had no problem with the slope gradient or with traction. At the top, the stunning ambiance and the depth of Spy Rock's vistas left us completely galvanized. We passed hikers of almost every age--roughly 10 and up. The rewards of this place encompass much more than just the view from the top (and the imminent fall colors will only enhance its allure). Take a hike. (-

By: Matthew Growney Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 21, 2014
The road into the parking lot seemed fine to us. We saw civics and low riding sports cars that seemed to make it in with no issues.

The first 3/4 of a mile was uneventful. It is a very smooth and wide dirt road with some houses along the way. Keep in mind this section is private property so be respectful as you pass through.

At about 1/2 mile in there is a fork were you turn left and follow the blue trail blazes. That is where the burl covered tree can be found, we stopped for some pictures. A little further up the road is less developed, you pass a gate at which point motor vehicles are no longer allowed and the trail gets a little more challenging, though all in all the trail is rather tame and was easily hiked by my 4yo son. Once you hit the intersection with the AT the trail blazes turn to white and the trail narrows slightly. At the top there are several nice established campsites with stone fire rings. We picked the one closest to the rock, though I wouldn't recommend this site to fellow ground sleepers as its tent pad was sloped and rocky.

The climb up the rock itself can be a little challenging, be prepared for some minor rock climbing. There are a number of ways up and down the rock so take a moment to orient yourself once you reach the top.

One thing that bothered me was trash, there is no place for slobs in a place like Spy Rock so if you can't hike out that empty bottle or can please stick to the city.

All in all a nice easy hike with a great reward at the end.

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