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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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e.g. 12000 Government Center Parkway 22035 or Fairfax VA
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: Sanh Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, August 02, 2014
We were disappointed by the views on this hike. With the rating of 6, we had high expectations. I would not rate this hike as a 6 for views - the views don't come close to old rag, strickler knob, spy rock, or even humpback rocks for that matter. They are also all pretty typical of what you can see from viewpoints along skyline drive. The other thing that was kind of annoying is that the hike is close to skyline drive most of the time, so you can hear car traffic for much of the hike. Also, we noticed that most of the viewpoints - of old rag, to the west, and from hawksbill summit - are each very close to parking areas (between 0.1 and 0.8 miles from parking for each one), so there wasn't that much sense of accomplishment or reward - you can easily reach these viewpoints without doing the full loop hike listed here. The rest of the hike is a tunnel of trees and not particularly noteworthy. We clocked it at 8.76 miles for the loop, not 9.2. It took us 4 hours including lunch.

By: Jess Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, July 20, 2014
I was kinda bummed by the views on this hike. I was expecting jaw dropping views because it was rated 6 but I really think they should be rated as a 5. Unfortunately I completely missed the little path off to the right of the parking area and ended up hiking straight up to the lookout instead of doing the loop. From the lookout I tried to do the loop backwards, but missed a turn, and ended up at a different parking lot. By the time I got back up to the summit I was worn out and I hiked back down and went home. Definitely pay attention to the directions or you may end up making the same mistake I did! The trail you're supposed to start out on is very small and tucked away to the right, don't let the main trail you see distract you! Although the views weren't as extensive as I had hoped, they were still beautiful even on an overcast day. Read more about my hike here:

By: Kilandra Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 14, 2014
The first part of this hike is woodland/forest area on a horse trail. For two hours I didn't see another soul. Part of that two hours also had me wondering if any horses had been on that trail in the last year due to the amount of overgrowth and down trees on the trail. No sooner did I cross the last big creek and there were three horse riders passing through. I sure hope they made it through ok! This first part of the hike was quiet without much in the way of views (though the creeks were nice). Once you turn off the horse trail, people seemed to come out of the woodworks. That stops quickly as you enter the AT. There were just a few folks in certain areas of the AT and several spots with nice views. This part of the trail was well maintained, with a nice elevation change and fairly quiet to boot. On the summit trail, there's a super nice rock area to sit down and enjoy the vista. Once you get to the actual summit, there are tons of people. The worst part of the trail was the steep (on rocks) down hill from the summit to the parking area. Good workout overall but the views don't come in until you're close to the end of the hike.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, October 20, 2013
Overall a very nice hike. Although the initial horse trail is not very exciting, there were a few nice streams and of course fall foliage. The overlooks on the AT are quite nice and the views closer to the summit are also very good. View from the summit is good but not great, I don't know if I would call this a 6. Also every inch of available rock on the summit was occupied by people who walked up from the parking lot, so that's definitely a detractor. Be careful to choose the correct trail back to the parking lot... if you choose the wrong one you will be walking along Skyline Drive to get to the correct one.

By: Sky2lane Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 08, 2013
Great hike. Left at 1230pm. Shady walk through the woods for the first two hours and never saw a soul. Cross the road then more solitude with killer views on the AT. Elevation changes are surprisingly gradual. Crowded at the top as expected. Hardest part was walking down the steep descent to the car in the last .8 miles. Old knees!! Back at 445pm going at a fairly relaxed pace with black lab and wife. The two streams were flowing nicely and I would definitely rate the view a "6" at the top. Add this hike to your list.

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