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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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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: Rob Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, July 09, 2016
A friend and I went up for an overnight backpack. The forest road is a steady ascent to the junction with the AT, and the heat of the season accentuated the difficulty, so bring a water bladder and hydrate as needed. Since school is out, we passed numerous hikers young and old on the way up as they were descending. Two or three other groups were ascending at the same time that we did. Trail markings are distinct all the way up, and the short spur hike to Spy Rock, a looming monolith, is easily recognizable. If you do not want the awesome experience of the scramble, do not immediately take on the rock and opt to go left (clockwise) around the monolith a full 180 degrees, keeping in mind to hug to the right as you make your way. There is an easy, walkable section of the rock on the far end of the rock that you can take to the top. From the top, you can see west up the gap into Rockbridge County, and I believe that you can see the twin ridges of House Mountain rising above the Valley floor. The sun set directly behind it and made for an incredible view, one of the best I have ever seen. A large family reunion was camping on the trail that night. The shortness of the trail and current season probably lends some variability to the solitude factor. Two other distinct groups, including two section hikers making their way to The Priest (4.4 miles from Spy Rock) also camped along the spur area. Despite the numbers, there was more than ample space for privacy. On Sunday morning, we found what appeared to be bear droppings at the far end of the short spur trail immediately adjacent to the rock. We did not hear or witness any disturbances during the night, but we know that the droppings were not there when we left the rock at sunset. We also saw droppings of the same size and pattern on the way down the fire road the next morning. I sent a report of this to the GWNF site and asked for verification. Be vigilant during the warmer months, as there was a sign noting increased bear activity, though there are not any reports of run-ins. Be sure to take up an extra trash bag to collect any litter that you see. Litter is not a problem here, but we picked up a few items around the camp sites before the other groups arrived. Leave no trace, and have fun.

By: CStepp80 Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, January 16, 2016
We left the spy rock/AT parking lot around 11:45 am on Saturday. The walk up the private road/fire road were took us a little by surprise as they were a little more steep than anticipated, but not bad by any means. Definitely do pay attention to the funky looking tree and make sure to hang a left when you see it. The AT part of the hike is well maintained and is a steady climb up to the camping spot on top of the ridge. As you approach the rock, you will have a couple of options of how to get on top. My friend and I chose to scale the face of the rock, which was fun, and not extremely difficult. The other option is to follow the pink marker tape tied to the trees around the backside of the rock, with a much more gentle walk up. If it is dry, a decent pair of hiking shoes or boots will be more than enough to scale the front, for an added piece of fun. The view from on top of the rock is incredible - full 360 with clear shots of Three Ridges, Wintergreen, Lovingston, and towards Raphine. I'd recommend hiking north on the AT for about a mile, until you reach the rock slide that is pictured on the Spy Rock Crabtree falls combo hike. the winter time offers unobstructed views to the south, which is nice.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, November 24, 2015
I've been hiking up to Spy Rock for over thirty years (I have a vacation cabin in the area). You will be on private road/property most of the way, there are multiple drive ways and trails on the way up that can be confusing (especially at night) so follow the blue blazes all the way to the gap and head north (left) on the AT trail (white blazes). There are no camping sites until you get to the National forest - red blazes and bands around trees mark NF boundary. If you are planning on a weekend hike, expect the AT parking lot at Montebello to fill up fast. If you block gates/roads/driveways, your car may not be there when you get back (overflow parking is below the fish hatchery). There are two alternate routes to Spy Rock from Meadows lane road. Meadows lane road is a state maintained gravel road off Route 56 that goes to a parking lot at the top of Crabtree falls trail (called Crabtree meadows). Most cars can travel on this road in normal weather. These alternate hiking routes are slightly longer in distance but not as difficult to hike (less elevation change). They are both on National forest property so camping is allowed everywhere (follow NF camping rules). If you are going to camp or want a more relaxing, beautiful, less crowded hike then this is a better option: Take Meadows lane towards Crabtree meadows, at about 3.2 miles, you will see a 4WD dirt road heading off to the right and a bunch of car camping sites. Hike up this dirt road past a gate until the road crosses the AT trail, head south (right) on the AT trail towards Spy Rock. The second (longer hike) option would be to continue to Crabtree meadows parking area (3.8 miles), there is a public bathroom/outhouse at this parking lot. Park here and hike uphill on Meadows lane road until it crosses the AT trail and head south (right) towards Spy Rock. E-mail me if you have questions...

By: Rick & Martha Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, November 21, 2015
As a couple in our mid-sixties, we found this hike to be a bit arduous, as there is only one spot where the trail levels off, and that's almost at the top. Starting at halfway up, the trail is filled with large loose rocks that were covered with autumn leaves, making our footing a little unsure. Fortunately for us, there is a "back way" to scale the summit. Several very nice teenagers from Waynesboro came down off the top to lead us up the back way, which still involved a little "rock-scrambling." Views at the top were stupendous! It took us 2 hours up, and 1.25 hours down.

By: Charlie Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, November 13, 2015
We had a great time on this hike. The view was spectacular. It's a little hard to make it to the top (you have to climb the last rock) but it's manageable. Definitely want to do it again! Make sure after you are done to check out the nearby falls.

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