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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: aldikuma Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, May 27, 2016
*The Hawksbill Summit viewing platform is now open.* I really enjoyed this hike. The views are plentiful and beautiful. I never got tired of them and stopped to soak in the scenery from each one. The only drawback is the proximity to Skyline at times but I only noticed the traffic noise a few times. I would recommend doing this early on a weekend or on a weekday to keep the solitude as high as possible. When I first pulled up to the parking area, I was surprised by how many cars there were, but quickly realized that most are heading straight up to the Hawksbill Summit. Once you get onto the yellow Horse Trail, it's highly unlikely you will see another person until you get to the intersection of the Rose River Loop Trail - loved the solitude. Be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots for the yellow trail - it's not treacherous, but the footing changes frequently. Once past that, you will be joined by others heading on the AT or up to the Summit. You can't beat the view from the top. I stayed up there for 45 minutes! The 3 difficulty rating is accurate, and the uphills are never really steep. I really liked the change in elevation throughout - great workout. Looking forward to returning in the late fall/winter.

By: aldikuma Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, May 23, 2016
Have not yet hiked this, but it's second on my list! Just an update that the trails are open, but the observation platform is currently closed for repairs, according to the SNP website. No timeframe for reopening.

By: Nick Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 23, 2016
I wanted to note that right now a section of the trail is closed if you go this way - the side trail that goes up to Hawksbill summit blue blazed trail towards the end of the hike. Kind of stinks but you can just continue on down the App Trail for about a mile and you will get back to the Hawksbill Gap/Cedar Run parking lot. Not sure how long this will be closed as I can't really find any info saying it is closed currently.

By: Mac Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, April 01, 2016
There's an "alerts" notice on the main SNP page detailing trail closures. The trail should re open on April 30.

Upper Hawksbill Parking Lot, Upper Hawksbill Trail, Salamander Trail, Lower Hawksbill Trail, Byrds Nest 2 Shelter, Hawksbill Observation Platform and the summit area of Hawksbill Mountain will be closed Wednesday, April 20 through Friday, April 22 and Monday, April 25 through Friday, April 29

By: Ellen and Tim Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 26, 2016
Dear people coming from Skyline Drive at the base of Hawksbill Summit, looking for Big Meadows. As soon as you start on the trail down from Skyline Drive, you will see a concrete post with an aluminum band around it. Embossed on the aluminum band are the names of the trails and arrows pointing in the direction of each trail. The turn-off for Big Meadows is there, at that concrete post. To your right. Straight ahead is Cedar Run. If you are looking for Big Meadows, turn right.

Those concrete posts with aluminum bands are a standard form of trail marking in the Shenandoah National Park.


The hikers on Cedar Run

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