Bear Church Rock - Central SNP
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Jones Mountain - Central SNP, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
11.8 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
5.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
3,397 ft
Shenandoah National Park
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Parking at the Bootens Gap parking lot. 38.46837, -78.45743

By Trail Contributor: Michael Gergely

This strenuous hike is best visited in the late spring/early summer when the numerous thickets of mountain laurel and wild azalea are in full bloom. Wildflowers such as pink lady’s slippers are present along much of the trail during the spring and summer. The hike features sweeping views from Bear Church Rock as well as over 1,000 acres of old growth forest in the Staunton River Valley. A PATC-restored cabin from the 1850s and traces of logging performed during the Park’s construction offer the chance to see some of the SNP’s early history.

  • Mile 0.0 – From the Bootens Gap parking lot turn left onto the AT and head north. In 0.4 miles turn right onto Laurel Prong Trail as it branches off from the AT.
  • Mile 1.4 – Laurel Prong Trail gradually descends along the shoulder of the ridge until it reaches an intersection with Cat Knob Trail. Continue straight on Cat Knob Trail.
  • Mile 1.9 – Cat Knob Trail climbs almost 500 feet in half a mile to the summit of Cat Knob, where it intersects with Fork Mountain Trail from the left. Continue straight on Cat Knob Trail.
  • Mile 4.2 – After cresting the summit of Cat Knob the trail begins to descend along the ridge of Jones Mountain as it skirts the edge of Rapidan Wildlife Management Area to the south. Around Mile 2.5 the trail becomes Jones Mountain Trail as the pink-blazed RWMA Cat Knob Access Trail merges from the right. The trail passes through several large stands of mountain laurel and wild azaleas with patches of ferns and wildflowers growing along the route.
  • Mile 4.9 – The trail winds through several boulder formations a half-mile before reaching Bear Church Rock just off the left of the main trail. The panoramic view looks out across the Staunton River towards Fork Mountain to the north and Doubletop Mountain to the northeast.
  • Mile 5.3 – Continue descending down the mountain, passing a ~0.3 mile cutoff trail to the PATC’s Jones Mountain Cabin on the right. Originally built by Albert Nichols in 1855, the cabin has been restored by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and is now available for public rental by campers.
  • Mile 5.5Keep left onto McDaniel Hollow Trail.
  • Mile 5.9 – In less than half a mile the McDaniel Hollow Trail ends near a stream crossing. Turn left onto Staunton River Trail and follow it up the valley, passing by several small waterfalls and stream crossings. At one stream crossing you will come across an old slab pile made up of scraps left over from sawing logs into planks. Dead standing chestnuts were removed from the Staunton River Valley in 1938 and used to construct the main lodge and cabins at Big Meadows; it is possible this slab pile is a remnant of this logging activity.
  • Mile 7.2 – The Staunton River Trail ends at the Fork Mountain Fire Road. Turn left onto the gravel fire road and continue hiking upwards.
  • Mile 7.9 – The fire road reaches ‘The Sag’, a saddle between Cat Knob to the southwest and Fork Mountain to the northeast. The fire road intersects with Fork Mountain trail here before continuing an extra ~0.7 miles to an FAA repeater station on the top of Fork Mountain. Turn off the fire road onto Fork Mountain Trail and take the right-hand branch that descends towards Rapidan Camp. Note – the left-hand branch of Fork Mountain Trail returns to the Cat Knob Trail and can be used to cut ~1.1 miles and a few hundred feet elevation gain off the hike.
  • Mile 9.1 – The Fork Mountain trail switchbacks several times as it descends into the valley. Cross the Laurel Prong stream before the trail ends at Laurel Prong Trail. Turn left onto Laurel Prong Trail and follow it south up the valley.
  • Mile 10.4 – As the trail climbs it passes through ‘The Laurels’, a section of mountain laurels that surround the trail. Eventually reach the intersection with Cat Knob Trail that you passed at Mile 1.4. Turn right on Laurel Prong Trail to head back to the parking lot.
  • Mile 11.8 – Keep left onto the AT a half mile before returning to the Bootens Gap parking lot.
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Hiker Reviews For The Jones Mountain Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Alex Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, June 18, 2017
I am skeptical that this hike actually has nearly 4,000 ft of elevation gain. When hiked in the direction suggested, the downhill portions (after Cat Knob) felt very steep, but the uphill sections thereafter were pretty moderate. We finished in 4 hours and 40 minutes, though we didn't stop for lunch due to the heat, bugs, and lack of a good vista after Bear Church Rock (note: I didn't read the directions clearly enough, so we didn't realize that the only good view on the hike is very close to the beginning.).

The sections along the McDaniel Hollow and Staunton River trails were incredibly buggy and humid. In the spring or fall, this section of the hike would probably have been really enjoyable, but it was by far the worst part of the hike due to bugs. Once we got to the fire road the conditions got better, but they were similar around descent to (and ascent from) the Laurel Prong stream.

Overall the views were pretty lacking and I probably wouldn't recommend doing this again unless someone was training.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, May 14, 2017
What a great hike! I loved it but it wore me out. I usually hike a trail in this guide in the stated time or less, but this one was 7 Ĺ hours, including lunch and stops along the way. I hiked it clockwise rather than as described because I thought this was better for lunch at Bear Church Rock, which was great! Not sure this way is any easier or harder, but my cell phone GPS said 6.05 hours of hiking for 12.8 miles. Using my GPS, here are my marks, noting differences from this guide for that interval.

1.4 miles Laurel Gap / Cat Knob junction (same distance as described), 4.0 miles The Sag (same distance as described) Beautiful trail, Laurel Prong crossing about 1í deep after a week of good rain. I chose to cross barefoot rather than hike all day with wet feet. Didnít hike up Fork Mtn. to radio tower because it was just a fire road. 7.5 miles, Bear Church Rock (+ Ĺ mile from guide for this section). Staunton River was beautiful but trail is rugged. Two river crossings on logs, First was easy with nice wide flat log, second was more difficult and glad I had hiking pole to brace. As Iíd seen the PATC cabin before, didnít go there again.

11,4 miles, back at Cat Knob / Laurel Gap junction ( + Ĺ mile from guide for this section) some beautiful wildflowers in this section and nice peekaboo views. Lots of ticks in the grass. Hike down Cat Knob to Laurel Gap is tough and went slow as I was getting tired. 12.8 miles, back at parking lot (matched my previous and the guide for this section) So, I picked up 1 mile. My GPS also found an additional 520 feet of climbing for a total of 3, 917 feet. I know it is jsut a cell phone GPS but it has proven pretty accurate with past hikes. It was rough, but I did love the trail. Be ready for a good workout.

By: Elliot Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 29, 2017
Two friends and I started out from Booten Gap parking lot and headed along the Jones Mountain trail with fully loaded hiking packs on. While the first half of the trail has some steep ascents, it generally evens out and is not too strenuous up until after Bear Church Rock overlook. This view is one of the main reasons why people who want to get away from crowds and have solitude need to complete this hike, is it beautiful! We then descended to the Rapidan River and refilled out water, soaked our feet and continued upwards. From this point on, until the intersection with the other trails at The Sag, the trail is steadily uphill and was very exhausting though the views of the rivers and waterfalls are worth the sweat. We cut back on the Cat Knob trail to head back to Bootens Gap, very sore though satisfied with our first hike of the season.

By: Jessica Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 22, 2016
Beautiful hike. Very windy day and rather cold. Much of the fall foliage, maybe up to 70% of the leaves, were on the forest floor. Made for an interesting hike in that the trail was obscured in most places. Also, the ankle deep fallen leaves made the rocky portions of the trail that much more difficult to navigate. Well marked throughout. Dog and I had the trail mostly to ourselves except for around Bear Church Rock where several groups were enjoying the overlook. I'd like to try the trail in reverse as mentioned by others. Didn't see any bears.

By: Stryker Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, August 11, 2016
Loved the hike but it was much harder than anticipated. Took me 6 hours to complete the full circuit. Saw one bear. He was nibbling on something as I came around a bend about 20 feet away. Yelled at him and thankfully he wandered off. Saw lots of fresh scat so there could have been more. Also saw four backpackers but that was it. 5 stars for solitude.

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Late May
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