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Spy Rock - Nelson County, Virginia


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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
3.1 mls N/A
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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)
Review the Spy Rock hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

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.

By: mdturnip Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, January 18, 2017
My first time here. This was a very nice hike. A little hard on me since I am out of shape. Trail seems to be a constant 45 degree incline until you get to the base of the rock. Got fooled by the trail going to the right when I got to the base. The actual trail is to the left past a campsite. View was incredible. Temp was 45 at bottom of trail. I am sure it dropped at least 10 degrees by the time I got to top, maybe more. Wind was blowing about 15-20 so it was pretty chilly. Got pushed a little bit by wind. Plan on doing this again.

By: Jonathan Henson Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 15, 2016
It was a fun hike, but the wind at the top was absolutely brutal. We couldn't even get our tents staked down. The actual rock has a great view, and I love it.

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.

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