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Hawksbill Mountain / Franklin Cliffs - SNP, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
9.2 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
5.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
1980 ft
Shenandoah National Park
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Park at Hawksbill Gap on Skyline Drive at mile 45.5. 38.55562, -78.38655

The first half of this circuit is a forest walk that passes 2 feeder streams for Rose River, and the second is vista after vista from both the Appalachian Trail and Hawksbill Summit. The views from Franklin Cliffs look out on the Massanutten range to the west, and there is a spectacular 270 degree panorama from the Hawksbill Summit with a view of Old Rag.

From the parking area start down the Cedar Run Trail for 50 yards to the intersection of the Big Meadows Horse Trail. Turn right on the yellow blazed Big Meadows Horse Trail and in 1.0 miles pass under the Old Rag overlook on Skyline Drive, then in 0.1 miles there is a campsite on the left. 0.2 miles after the campsite the trail will meet the intersection of a blue blazed connector trail that leads to parking on Skyline Drive.

Stay left on the yellow blazed Big Meadows Trail as it now heads downhill before turning back to the right and crossing the first of two streams in 1.7 miles. In another 0.4 miles cross the second and final stream. The Big Meadows Trail now continues for 0.7 miles to the intersection of the blue blazed Rose River Loop Trail. Turn right uphill remaining on the yellow blazed Big Meadows Trail for 0.5 miles to the intersection of a fire road.

Turn right on the fire road passing a chain gate and crossing Skyline Drive. Continue down the fire road for 100 yards to the intersection of the white blazed Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

Turn right on the A.T. and in 0.1 miles reach the first of several spectacular westerly vistas. Pass underneath Franklin Cliffs, then in 1.4 miles there is a side trail to a Skyline Drive parking area. From this point it's 1.0 miles to the Hawksbill Summit blue blazed trail.

Turn right on the blue blazed Hawksbill Mountain Summit Trail for 0.6 miles to a westerly vista. Shortly thereafter the trail turns left on a fire road on its way to the summit. Pass the shelter then in 50 yards reach Hawksbill Summit where there is 270 degree vista.

From the summit go back past the shelter for 25 yards, and turn left downhill on the continuation of the Hawksbill Summit Trail for the remaining 0.8 miles back to the Hawksbill Gap parking area.

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Hiker Reviews For The Hawksbill Franklin Cliffs Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Olivia Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, May 15, 2017
This hike was great! I went on a nice day in May.

Although the first part of the hike was just a, "walk in the woods," there were a lot of wildflowers, and when I did it I had two bear encounters.

The outlooks are absolutely gorgeous. The last mile or so down from the summit is pretty steep and rocky. I was glad to take this route because the elevation climb is a bit more gradual.

Otherwise, pretty smooth hike overall. Encountered nobody until the cross of the Rose River on the Big Meadow Trail, and then had a few encounters after crossing Skyline Drive on the Appalachian Trail. Lots of people at the summit.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, December 22, 2016
Nice loop hike on the slightly longer end (FWIW, my GPS read 8.3 vice the listed distance). Nothing too steep or rocky, gain comes over a pretty good distance. If you're willing to bushwack a bit, you can also cut the corner on the Horse Trail down to Rose River falls (did so on a previous loop), and cut some distance at the cost of some additional gain.

Good day for this on balance - didn't see anyone else until I hit the Hawksbill Trail. As noted below, some deadfall but nothing too bad. . .also several sections with deeper leaves, so a need to step carefully for rocks.

By: Mike H Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, December 03, 2016
The description for this hike says that the first half of the circuit is a forest walk, and that is perfectly accurate. The first half is very unremarkable and in truth rather boring. There are no vistas or stream crossings, just a walk in the woods with some uphills and downhills mixed in. But the first half of the circuit exists to deposit you near the Fishers Gap / Franklin Cliff area. The second half of the circuit along Franklin Cliffs is mostly ridge hiking with spectacular views to the west and north the entire way, eventually reaching the Byrd's Nest shelter and observation deck. From the Hawksbill Gap parking lot, one could simply hike uphill one fairly strenuous mile to reach the Byrd's Nest and reach the same climax as the full circuit however, doing the hike this way would cut out the views along the Franklin Cliffs part of the trail. The observation deck gets a lot of foot traffic, mostly from folks who do the much shorter hike.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, November 27, 2016
We hiked the circuit as described here, taking the bridle trail south, the AT north, and finishing up and over Hawksbill.

I enjoyed this not terribly strenuous hikes. I read complaints about rocks on the bridle trail from some reviewers, but they're about the same rocks you'll find on the AT in this section, and are nothing compared to the rocks we've been hiking on lately over in GWNF, which we have foregone now during hunting season. There was a lot of new deadfall on the bridle trail clearly not much used since the big storm two weekends ago.

Enjoyed the stroll through the woods south, more so now that there are no leaves on the trees than in the summer. No wildlife on the bridle trail though we have seen bear before here. The return leg along the AT has view after view in the Franklin Cliffs area and was a great spot for lunch. If you wanted to do shorter hike with all of the view and none of the bridle trail walking, you could start at the Red Gate Fire Road and take the AT north to Hawksbill and return by retracing your steps.

From the AT, the climb up Hawksbill on the Salamander Trail was really easy the trail down to the Lower Hawksbill parking lot is much steeper. We didn't encounter any other people all day until just before the Salamander Trail-AT junction. Up at the top, there were a dozen people some most inappropriately shod and clad, all either come directly up from one of the two parking lots or having made the short loop trail around from the north on the AT.

Really the only downside to this hike is the continued proximity to Skyline Drive and its vehicular traffic.

The views up top are glorious, especially of Old Rag. Climbing Hawksbill is a must-do hike best done in the late fall-winter for the spectacular leaf-free views, smaller crowds, and fewer cars zooming by on Skyline Drive.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, November 10, 2016
I hiked to celebrate the Anniversary of the Marine Corps on this day. Only 2 hours and 30 minutes from Richmond, VA area. Around 10:30 AM I went up the Lower Hawksbill trail from the parking lot on the Skyline Dr. I only had a couple of hours and this was a great short trip maybe a mile total. This allowed for some great time at the top. This path is a little steep and rocky but an easy walk/climb. I only saw a few people on this trail. The view at the top is one of my favorites. My favorite view is Spy Rock for the 360 viewing perspective. Great weather yesterday around 65 degrees and windy at the summit. There were many people at the summit but most came up the Upper Hawksbill trail. HIGHLY recommend this for a quick day trip. Great place to have lunch near the shelter.

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