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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:
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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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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: Nancy Parsons Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Many of the previous reviews were very misleading, like the trial itself. The trek began with scaling a 'No Trespassing' gate and trudging up a mile hilll, through private property, before the distinguished mile and half to spy rock. Once past this and on National Parks property, the concerning lack of signs made navigating to the rock confusing and dangerous. There were two signs along the mile and a half trail to the rock, very discrete and hidden among the trees, be SURE to keep an open eye. I made the serious mistake of not searching each tree for these signs and ended up hiking an extra 2 miles or so passed the rock. After finally getting back, I was even more let down to find out that scaling the rock itself was next to impossible. Again, the lack of signs made it dangerous and sincerely disappointing. It is needless to say that after the experience, I was ecstatic to be back in the parking lot.

By: Van Taylor Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
I decided to hike this as a sunset hike after Crabtree. It's not exactly as easy as a more populated trail because one of the new residents on private property put lots of no hiking/no trespassing signs on the fire road. I assume they will work that out with the national parks at some point because it's not going to stop people from hiking. The gravel road is very easy to follow but there are some places were people could go the wrong direction. If you are hiking upwards, follow the blue marks painted on the trees and always choose up. Once you reach the appilachian trail, turn left and there will be a fairly new sign that says ' spy rock 0.5' and follow that trail and the white paint until you reach a clearing with a grassy woods. The rock is very difficult to climb if you are unfamiliar with the rock because there are two ways to get up and down. The hardest is straight forward from the grass and requires some finesse and rock climbing skills to get your footing right and into rock crevices, and it has the highest risk of serious injury if you don't pick your footing well, also I wouldn't suggest going down from the top of the rock this way unless you wish to slide down. The other way is very easy to get down but not completely easy up. From the grassy area take a left on a somewhat visible dirt path around the rock and through some decently tricky rock and dense bush areas. There arent any significant climbing situations until you reach a dry riverbed on the opposite side of the rock from the grassy clearing. The real trick is to choose between a tough climbing situation or a really tough navigating situation. I assume the reason it isn't as beginner friendly is because there are numerous pieces of vegetation around the rock and to make it easier would cost the living environment. Overall it's a great hike but be sure to have a keen sense of adventure and navigation.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, April 09, 2017
We did this hike on a warm spring day.  It was a confusing start, because someone (the landowner?) has put up a large gate and a sign in front of the start of the trail/fire road.  Maybe he/she is trying to block access and eventually have the easement cancelled? Not sure what the motive is, but don't let it deter you.  Go right around the gate and you'll be on the fire road that leads you to the AT.  It is a steady uphill pretty much the entire way to spy rock.  Not terrible, but enough to get your heart rate up and make you feel like you're getting a decent workout for such a short hike.  Not much to see on the way up, but after a little scrambling up the rocks at the top, you are rewarded with fantastic 360 views.  Definitely take some time at the top to walk all around and take in the different views.  You couldn't ask for a prettier Spring day when we hiked it, so we saw several other groups of hikers, but everyone was spaced out so it still felt secluded.  I hope the issue with the gate and sign gets worked out, because it seemed to deter some people, and I'd hate for anyone to miss this fantastic view.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, March 10, 2017
Fun short hike.  About 1.75 miles parking lot to summit, with a sustained average uphill grade of 12% (~1,100 feet total).  Lots of signage around the trail head: look for the large metal gate that says 'No Trespassing' and hike right on up that road.  There is a path that looks more welcoming that has a sign that says something like 'not the right road': believe it.

The strange looking tree mentioned several times in earlier reviews was indeed strange.  It is on your left at a T junction: head left.  When you reach the AT junction, take a hard left: full 90 degrees.

When I got to Spy Rock itself I went left around the base, and then hard right after about 15 or 20 feet, and up a sloping rock to the base of the steep section.  I suspect that you could easily get to the same spot by heading initially right and cutting back left.  There is a 3-4 inch wide crack running up 15 feet or so the crux of the climb is right at the start.  My boots got stuck a few times, but in general following the crack up was pretty easy.  When there are few handholds, try leveraging a hand in the crack and leaning against it (kind of a mini chimney).

The view from the top is stellar - I was fortunate to have the summit to myself - quite windy, but great visibility.  Full round trip (not including time on the summit) was under 1.5 hours.


By: Neil Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, January 20, 2017
Great hike straight up a fire road for 1.9 miles. Then another 0.5 miles to the top of a 360' view of the Religious Range to the NE and Cold Mtn to the South. At 3477 ft, the view is amazing for a sunset hike.

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