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)
First things first...I got there at 8:30 on a Saturday morning and there were 3 cars. When I finished my hike around 1:30 the parking area was jammed with cars parked everywhere. I didn't realize the hikes starting here were so popular. The hike itself was great. There's not much to see until you get to Hazel River, but after that this circuit dishes out a lot. Before you get to Hazel River, be prepared for several steep descents on the Sam's Ridge trail, especially the last mile or so. My knees were beginning to ache and it was a relief to finally walk some flat and gently ascending trail. The climb out after the final river crossing was as steep as promised. Very strenuous and the climbs keep coming all the way to the ridge. The ridge itself offered some nice views of the surrounding mountains. At one point there is a very short unmarked trail to a big rock (on the right) that you can climb to get better views and pictures. The climb down to the waterfall was the steepest set of rock stairs I've climbed, but the view of the waterfall itself was worth the climb back out. From that point the hike is relatively easy. There are still some uphill climbs, but none as steep as what's already been climbed. My GPS measured ~2600 vertical gain on this hike which is 450 feet more than the description here. Regardless of how much it is, it's not the total that is bad. It's that almost all of it happens over a short distance. Overall a real tough hike in spots, plenty of easy terrain to get your legs back, and a good waterfall and decent views.
Date of Hike: Saturday, December 21, 2013
Well, that was a day's work. I hiked it this weekend for the falls, but took the long loop for the exercise. Both needs were met in spades! The hike is really nice, but it is a brutal climb out. I'm 55 and not totally over the hill, but I took many "catch my breath" breaks. The river was up, what with the melt, so I had to wade three of the crossings, which didn't make the climb any easier (wet socks and shoes). But the payoff was the falls, the full river meant beautiful falls, roaring over the rocks at almost ear-splitting volume. I only saw one hiker on the trail all day, and that was on the Sams Ridge portion. I'd suggest if you're only interested in the falls, think photography, reverse the route and go the short way. You'll need a tripod and maybe some filters, so the extra weight will make the prescribed route a little tougher. Trust me, I lugged a photo backpack the whole way.
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 24, 2013
A beautiful hike but no kidding - if you do the hike as written it's a tough one. I'm in very good physical condition and I was beat at the end of this hike. But the waterfall was as pretty as any I've seen and I enjoyed the challenge. Be sure to wear long pants. We saw a lot of poison ivy and we were poorly prepared as we were in shorts (because we don't usually encounter poison ivy on these well-traveled SNP trails.) We were carefully trying to avoid it. Guess I'll know in a few days if we were successful.
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 04, 2013
We decided to do this starting at Hungry Horse Road off of Route 600 instead of from Skyline Drive. This worked well, as we had lots of fresh energy for the climbing. Had a cold dip in the pool under the falls. Hardest part was the steep, long descent at the end and the climb up from the falls - super steep but short. Nice views during the upward climb and pretty to walk along the Hazel River - though we ended up with wet feet during some of the crossings. Most gorgeous August day I remember - not hot and blue sky with fluffy clouds.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 29, 2012
A most under appreciated hike. Started from Skyline about 10:15, saw less than 8 people the whole trip on a beautiful fall Saturday with leaves turning. Is the "strenuous" rating scaring folks away? It is a bit longer than others and descending, it felt like I was going all the way back down to DC (old knees alert: bring hiking poles). But you don't have a steep staircase to plunge down as with Buck Hollow/Mary's Rock. And while you only get 1 waterfall versus 4 or 5 on White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run, you also don't have the slippery rocks which can become treacherous during or after rainfall. Think it's because the trail is longer that the steepness evens out, making it actually easier to do than other SNP trails. Though "solitude" lovers may hate me, I'd highly recommend this hike.