The Hazel River circuit easily gets a difficulty rating of five. Starting on Skyline Drive the route descends almost to the bottom of the valley. On the return leg along the White Rocks Trail the grades are extremely steep. The payoff is a great waterfall at the top of Hazel River just off the White Rocks Trail.
Start out to the right through the closed gate on yellow blazed Hazel Mountain Trail (the blue blazed Buck Hollow Trail starts from the same point and descends on the left). In 0.5 miles come to the intersection of the Buck Ridge Trail.
Turn right remaining on the yellow blazed Hazel Mountain Trail. In 1.1 miles arrive at the intersection of the White Rocks Trail that you will be ascending at the end of the loop. Remain straight on the Hazel Mountain Trail and reach the intersection of the Catlett Spur Trail in another 0.7 miles.
Stay straight crossing Runyon's Run and passing the intersection of the Hazel River Trail on your left in 0.9 miles before arriving at the Sams Ridge Trail in another 0.1 miles.
Now turn left onto the blue blazed Sams Ridge Trail and in 0.1 miles pass the Broad Hollow Trail that intersects from the right. For the next 2.1 miles along the Sams Ridge Trail the grade of the descent increases as it winds towards the valley below making a sharp left turn before reaching Hazel River.
Turn left on the yellow blazed Hazel River Trail for 1.3 miles crossing the river several times before arriving at the intersection of the White Rocks Trail. Turn right onto the yellow blazed White Rocks Trail cross the Hazel River for the last time then begin an extremely steep ascent to the ridge.
At the ridge continue for 1.2 miles and reach the waterfall trail. Take the trail 0.2 miles steeply downward to Hazel River and one of the main highlights of the circuit. Return to the White Rocks Trail, turn left, and in 0.9 miles arrive back at the Hazel Mountain Trail that you descended earlier.
Turn right uphill on the Hazel Mountain Trail retracing you route, again passing the Buck Ridge Trail in 1.1 miles where you now turn left and in 0.5 miles further arrive back at the parking area.
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Reviews For The Hazel River Hike (5 Most Recent)
Usually you can expect several people on any SNP hike, but I didn't see one other person the entire time. Granted, it is mid-November and the leaves are all down, it's a Thursday, and it was drizzly and foggy all day, but I was pleasantly surprised to see no one else. I do think most people just hike down to the waterfall and back, though. I really liked this hike, as it had a bit of everything. On the ridge, the fog obscured any views, but I'm sure they were beautiful, and the mist and fog in the trees with no wind made it feel peaceful and quiet. There are several water crossings, and it may take finding a downed tree bridge a bit off the trail to make it across when the water is high and covering the rocks. I strained my knee on the long descent and it was a little difficult to manage with the leaves covering the scree and the rain dampening everything, but I wouldn't say the was a super challenging hike - maybe more around a 4 rating. The steep ascent doesn't last long, but there are a lot of short inclines after that one so it can wear you out by the end. Five hours is accurate to complete, but if you're a newbie hiker, I would recommend setting aside 6-6.5 hours for this hike. Best part was stopping at an overlook after to see the fog in the valley below at sunset - stunning!
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 25, 2015
Fantastic hike for the summer! Hiked this with my girlfriend, who is new to hiking, so I was hesitant at first given the difficulty rating. Don't let it scare you! While this is strenuous and certainly shouldn't be someone's first hike, I'd venture to say that most hikers will be able to handle it if they take their time. We did the hike as written and it gets better as you go starting off as a standard forest hike without much elevation change at first. Just know that you will deal with spider web after spider web at this first portion, which seems to be hiked rarely. The river portion is a fantastic area to take a break and possibly even swim, though we opted to swim later on at the falls. We did this in the middle of the summer and while there were not many views given the dense foliage, you could see some of the surrounding mountains at times and I imagine it would be gorgeous in the spring or fall.
The portion that earns this hike its "strenuous" rating is the steep incline at the end of the river coupled with the fact that the rest of the trail is mostly uphill. After the initial steepest portion, though, it levels out and continues with only modest elevation gains. We saw a young bear at the top of the initial steep portion.
While you will likely be tired, don't skip out on the falls/cave hike! While its a steep downhill trail, the falls are great and have a few spots to swim. The only other hikers we saw on the whole trail were at this spot, and there were a lot of them, but otherwise it was a great hike to find some solitude. I recommend having a stick to help with the climbs and spider webs if you go on this hike.
Date of Hike: Tuesday, April 28, 2015
I don't like water crossings for the sake of water crossings, and this trail has plenty of that. However, it's a real nice hike with a couple caveats.
As of my hike date, the Hazel River Trail segment was in need of attention. 5 large trees blocked the trail at a few different points. The last three river crossings weren't safely passable without wading in 6-12 inches of fairly fast water. I had to go off-trail to find a suitable crossing point for one of the crossings - even wading would be dangerous. The crossings may be a seasonal issue and the park will likely fix the trees soon enough. For now, I strongly suggest bringing reliable hiking sandals and switching in to them once you get to the river trail and switching out just before you start the steep climb.
I agree with some others - this trail is not easy but the steepness is a bit overstated. The steep section is right after the Hazel River Trail segment and while quite steep is mostly graded with a few small flat sections to catch your breath. Much easier than stone step steep sections (like those on the Cedar Run/White Oak trail). Honestly the toughest part was going down to and up from the falls. Very steep stone steps. But you shouldn't skip out on the falls - it's a real nice lunch spot.
Once they fix up the Hazel River Trail segment, this is a 5 star hike. Until then, make sure to prepare for the tricky Hazel River Trail segment and a couple tough steep sections.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 12, 2015
Followed @Odospamkill's advice (thanks!) and shortened the hike into a neat 8.5-mile loop with the challenging climb early on by parking near Hungry Horse Lane (plugged into WAZE navigation app for directions with no problem). This has you starting at the bottom of the loop and cuts out the back-and-forth connection to Skyline Drive. The final stretch of driving to Hungry Horse Ln was a bit intimidating due to dirt road, leaving me wondering if I was in the right place or if I'd miss the parking / trail-head. The road, however, is well maintained and easily passable in any car (though probably not advisable after significant rainfall) and there's no way to confuse or miss the spot.
Walk about 0.2 miles up Hungry Horse Lane and the trail-head is on your right (not immediately after the National Park sign where a path crosses the river, just up from that). There are multiple river crossings and not always good rocks to stay dry, so had to get a bit creative finding the right spots to cross. The hike starts off very easy and beautiful through the woods for about 2/2.5 miles. Always keep right, cross the stream one last time and then climb. It is steep but quick, and well maintained.
Going down to the Falls is the first left after the climb. It is 0.2 miles out of the way in each direction, and also very steep. The Falls themselves were underwhelming but still worth the detour. Back on the main path, stay left at the next intersection, straight at the one after that (Hazel River trail goes off to the left, keep right and instead take a left about 0.1 miles later at the next intersection onto the blue-marked Sam Ridge Trail). The next intersection keep left, going back down to meet the trail again just past the trail-head at Hungry Horse Lane. I printed the map / directions here and figured the route out easily despite the modified approach.
Given a relatively late start we didn't encounter any other hikers. The overall difficulty was moderate, the climb not tough, but the river crossings are a challenge, the descent also steep, and the trail wasn't always well maintained (many large fallen trees). I would not recommend the hike for anyone with knee or balance problems or for young children.
A great hike, would definitely do it again, with many thanks for the recommendation for the shortened loop.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 09, 2014
We decided to shorten this hike by starting at the bottom and cutting out the out and back to skyline drive.
There is maybe space for 4 cars to pull off Rte 600 near Hungry Horse Ln. You go up this road to the trail-head.
You have to cross Hazel river about 7-8 times. Even with low water, some crossing are not easy - best to just walk through the water. The stream is pleasant company for the first quarter of the hike. The trail going up to the ridge is steep but easily done because you tackle it right in the beginning.
The falls are not to be missed even though the trail going down is a bit steep. It is well maintained with steps. There are a couple of caves at the falls.
The next half of the trail is mostly gentle up and down or flat. The trail is narrow and you are surrounded by thick growth most of the way.
Sam Ridge trail is Bear Alley. We saw at least a dozen bearscat in span of a mile. We also surprised a Bear and its two cubs who promptly climbed up a tree right on the trail. Mama and the 2 cubs then settled down to watch us closely. After some debate, we concluded that the bears were high enough to not feel threatened, and we walked past them.
Besides the falls and the bears, we saw a tortoise, a small snake sunning itself on the trail. No rattlers.
The descent from Sam Ridge is steep, but ends soon.
The total distance is about 8 miles, and elevation gain is probably about 1800 ft.
Overall, a very nice hike with a good variety of flora and fauna. We saw only one other group on the trail.