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

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

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. 

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