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)
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.
Date of Hike: Thursday, August 07, 2014
So I got up early and made it out to Skyline Drive at sunrise...wanted to see nature's morning extravaganza at Hazel Mountain Overlook...but was under re-construction...Buck Hollow Overlook a mile or two north was nice enough...a bit foggy in the valley but quite impressive...
Could have started the hike as this site recommends at Meadow Spring Parking...but I decided to exit the Drive and begin at the perimeter at Hungry Horse Lane...Private...but two spots to park near the Hazel River Bridge on Gravel Road 600...Woodward Lane is the local name...so hiking up Hungry Horse Lane is a nice stroll...alongside Hazel
River...beautiful...a house to the left...and one to the right...and you enter the SNP at the Hazel River Trailhead...
For SNP perimeter parking and access...this is a must download...
I cannot give this hike a 5 for difficulty starting here...but it is well worth it because the steep descent down Sams Ridge is the end...HIking Hazel River is easy...the White Rocks Trail is a steep ascent up Hazel Country to the Mountain...and the .2 mile descent to the Cave Falls is steep...but manageable...especially for..".the amphitheater"...at the bottom...delightful falls...and wow...a cave...
Back up as the ascent to the summit...or just below the summit of Hazel Mountain...gets you through to Sams Ridge Trail...and the last quarter of the hike is a 1,500 feet descent which is done in only 2 miles...very steep descent...but done and out...instead of down Skyline Drive and then up the Hazel River Trail...much more difficult...
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 19, 2014
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.