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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)
Review the Hawksbill Franklin Cliffs hike here!   Average Rating:   Share Hike: 

By: Margaret Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, August 09, 2015
Did this yesterday.  It's a nice hike, and certainly a worthwhile way to spend a day.  Not my absolute favorite, though.  The horse trail portion is kind of monotonous, and the trail is a bit treacherous so you'll spend some of your time looking where you're putting your feet.  I found it slippery, though my boots are admittedly not great on rocks.  Actually, since it probably affected my experience of this hike, I should mention that it was the final straw that has convinced me I need to buy new boots I've had mine for 10 years and there's just not enough room in the toe box anymore. 

Anyway, other than that, it was pretty but eerily devoid of wildlife.  I saw one squirrel for the first half of the hike, which may be because of proximity to the Drive, but I saw some other squirrels, birds, and chipmunks on the AT coming back, which is closer to Skyline Drive.  Anyhow, the first half of the hike is pretty woods with a few brief patches of meadow.  Pretty average scenery, although in winter I bet you get some great views.

The AT side is nicer - better trail, more variation in scenery, and of course some spectacular vistas.  The Hawksbill summit, though annoyingly crowded with energetic, fresh-faced tourists in totally impractical shoes, does give you that vertiginous feeling of being on top of the world.  I arrived there just in time to see a fog bank swallow the view.  It was pretty spectacular to watch.  I had a nice spotting of a pileated woodpecker, some towhees, and a really cute chipmunk.  Coming down from the summit was the worst - but that's totally my hiking boot issues.  It's a steep grade and loose gravel, and if your toe box is a little too small... well, ow.  Still, a nice day in the woods all told.  I do think it's worth considering doing the Hawksbill summit first, and hiking this backward - it seems like that would split the climb a bit. 

By: Upward and Onward Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, July 30, 2015
By far the most wildlife we have seen in one hike. Most of the hike is shaded which is also very nice. The views are very beautiful. About a mile into the hike we walked by two large deer that came about two feet away from us. We also saw some large birds shortly after that. We saw one small and timid bear about 5 or 6 miles into the hike that was hiding and then scampered up a tree when it saw us. There were very few people we passed by when we did this hike. Very close to the summit there is a nice view and a hut to enjoy lunch in. The summit has a gorgeous scenic overlook. The summit is only about a mile away from the end of the hike, but the rest is downhill. The rocks were slick from the rain we got during the hike and we slipped several times, so take care at the end of this hike. However, the best part of the day was when we were leaving in the car and spotted a bear cub hanging out at the edge of Skyline Drive. The whole hike took less than 4 hours and we measured it at 8.6 miles. This was definitely one of my favorite hikes!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, July 18, 2015
Overall a good, easy hike with great views, don't let the negative reviews deter you. I'm not sure why people do not think the views from this hike are amazing, the 270-panorama from the top of Hawksbill Mountain Summit is absolutely beautiful, with views of Old Rag and the surrounding area.

The hike itself is pretty easy for a 9-mile hike, the first half of the hike is just another walk in the woods, while the second half (on the AT), is vista-after-vista looking west. No part of the hike was particularly difficult or exciting. We followed the Hiking Upward directions exactly and without difficulty.

So why only 3-stars? First, this hike suffers from vista overload. After a few, beautiful westerly vistas, you actually start taking them for granted, making the 270-panorama from the top of Hawksbill Mountain less dramatic.

But the main issue for me is the proximity of this hike to Skyline drive and parking lots. You are walking along Skyline drive for a good part of this hike and there are large parking lots at multiple spots. The summit of Hawksbill Mountain is accessible by an easy <1 mile walk from a parking lot, so at the summit of your 9-mile hike, you'll be joined by a bunch of people in jeans and sandals who just walked out of their car. This diminishes your feeling of accomplishment, and for me, that bumps the rating down to 3-stars, from what could have been a 4-5 star hike.

On a bright note, its proximity to Skyland Resort gives you a great place to go and grab a celebratory drink afterwards. We enjoyed our day on this hike and having some drinks/snacks at Skyland afterwards (as did our dog), but not sure we'll be back very often. (Which is in contrast to Old Rag, which I've done numerous times.)

By: Herb Wilburn Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, July 07, 2015
Don't let the "lousy view" reviews keep you from this hike. It's a nice walk, not too strenuous, and the views (when you get to them) are actually pretty nice. I think it's a good summer hike, as it keeps pretty cool due to the leaf cover. I saw a bear about halfway to Rose River, always a treat. The final view from the Hawksbill lookout is really something to see, a clear day would be spectacular there.

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.

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