One of the toughest day hikes in the entire SNP. The Peak circuit has spectacular views along the AT and Marshall Mountain, and a grueling straight up and down climb of The Peak two thirds along the hike. You also have the option of making this significantly easier and shorter by 3.0 miles, and not doing The Peak out/back to the summit.
If you are looking for a good workout with plenty of views this may be the hike for you! Also, if you plan on doing The Peak out/back make sure to start early, as this makes the total hike time over 7 hours. It's a steep climb. Check out the profile at mile 11.
From the parking area at Gravel Springs Gap, cross Skyline Drive and turn right on the white blazed Appalachian Trail (AT). In 0.9 miles arrive at the first good overlook towards the west, and of the south fork of the Shenandoah River. In another 0.8 miles re-cross Skyline Drive and shortly pass a parking area on the left. In 0.2 miles the trail will make a turn to the right and climb to a rock outcropping where the AT turns back to the left. Climb up the rocky outcrop for the best view of the hike. Continue along the AT crossing Skyline Drive once again in 1.9 miles, then in another 1.5 miles the AT will begin to descend and arrive at the yellow blazed Jenkins Gap Trail.
Turn right on the Jenkins Gap Trail, pass through the parking area, and cross Skyline Drive. Turn right and continue next to Skyline Drive (no trail) for 0.2 miles to the Mount Marshall trailhead. Turn left down the yellow blazed Mount Marshall Trail as it winds around the mountain crossing Waterfall Branch, and Sprucepine Branch before arriving at the intersection of the Bluff Trail in 3.5 miles.
The Peak now is directly in front of you :) Again, there are no views at the summit, but it's a great workout. If you decide NOT to do The Peak out/back turn right here onto the Bluff Trail.
For The Peak out/back continue straight on the Mount Marshall Trail for another 0.4 miles to Thoroughfare Gap and intersection of the Jordan River Trail. The abandoned blue blazed Peak Trail is directly ahead going straight up the ridge. The trail is hard to locate for the first 100 yards, then climbs the ridge steeply for 0.3 miles where there is a small rock cairn indicating the turn left. Pick up the trail again and continue along the ridge for the remaining 0.5 miles to the tree covered summit. Return by following your path back to Thoroughfare Gap, then back to the intersection of the Bluff Trail.
Turn left on the yellow blazed Bluff Trail as it winds around the mountain for 2.3 miles to the intersection of the blue blazed Big Devils Stairs Trail. Stay straight on the Bluff Trail for another 1.4 miles arriving at the next intersection where the Bluff Trail turns left. Turn right uphill for 0.1 miles to the intersection of the horse trail and turn right again for 0.1 miles to the yellow blazed fire road. Turn right uphill on the fire road for the remaining 0.3 miles back to the Gravel Springs parking area.
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Reviews For The The Peak Hike (5 Most Recent)
This was a bit of an unusual hike, not sure if I should add a review since we didn't actually do much of the trail. Regardless, here we go: Wanting to close 2012 with a big hike, we chose The Peak. However, snow and ice closed Skyline Drive, forcing us to find another way to access the trail. After getting some tips from a park ranger, we found a trail not far from the Peak itself. This led us to the Marshall Trail and what we thought was the Peak. It was not. We ended up climbing across the mapped loop from near the base of the Peak to the first big viewpoint described on the hike profile- nearly half a mile of elevation over 5 miles. It was beautiful seeing everything covered in 6 inches of snow and ice, very peaceful. An adventure without a doubt, can't wait to go back to hike the circuit and actually scale the Peak!
Date of Hike: Sunday, October 21, 2012
I did this hike on Oct. 21 2012.
Starting the hike there was a ton of traffic on Skyline for the first mile or so, which I was worried would be the case for that whole section but turned out it died off fairly quick. So I was glad about that. If you are looking for views the AT section of the hike has all the good views as others have said. While if you are looking just for spectacular views no it's not a great overall hike for that. But if you want to do a good long circuit without a ton of elevation though lots of different foliage and be mostly secluded it's good. I'm thinking next spring I'll probably take my son on this as a 2 day backpacking trip but do it in reverse so we get the views from the AT at the end (minus the peak).
I found the route up the peak. I would lose it once in awhile bushwack up keeping in mind where I thought the trail was at. Usually within a few hundred yards I would spot another blaze get to that blaze then pick my next direction. The Peak was tough but doable. I enjoyed the trail finding/ bushwacking aspect of it.
Couple pointers on the Peak:
The trail right off the intersection goes in a few hundred feet turns right then heads up the hill. If you keep an eye out behind you and find the blazes for the down trip 1 it makes finding them when you are coming down easier but it also helps you spot the next blaze going up. As many (NOT ALL) of them are within line of site. The "trail" is pretty rocky at the first incline. So it's pretty easy to pick out once you start the climb. A compass is a good idea to have with you. I forgot mine (had it on the list to bring and missed it somehow). So what I did was used the hillside behind me and picked a spot that I knew if I headed back towards I would hit the trail.
Overall a fun hike I would say worth doing once with or without The Peak. Specially if you just want to get a lot of mile on your boots without a ton of elevation. Time wise It took me 6:30 hours. I never really stopped minus taking off layers, or I put my sandals on for 3 miles to give my feet a break (I hate shoes). And I was pushing myself on purpose. Like the guide I would say 7-8 hours is a good guide to go by if you are hiking at a moderate rate. Another note from the start of the Bluff trail to the intersection of Big Devils stairs felt like more than 2.3 miles. But I think that maybe because it was the only long constant uphill portion.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 15, 2012
Hiked this in mid-September with a start at Jenkins Gap, minus the Peak section. Even though I was keeping an eye out for it I never did see the cutoff trail, even though the Peak itself was quite a presence along the lower Mt. Marshall Trail. Overall the hike was pleasant and fairly level along most of the length, so it was easy to keep a good pace going throughout. I could tell that in winter there would be some dramatic views along much of the trail's length, but the leaf-cover meant that most of the time you only caught brief glimpses through the trees. There are a few small exposed overlooks on the Marshall peaks however. I will definitely have to return in the Nov-to-Feb timeframe to take in the views.
I did run into two people on South Marshall who said they ran into a large black bear, but when I reached the section they mentioned I saw no sign of it.
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 02, 2012
My son and I hiked this, minus the Peak, last Sunday--we started from Jenkins parking lot and went south along the Bluff Trail, and then north on the AT. There were no views to speak of on the non-AT part, but we did run into not one but TWO black bears on the Bluff Trail! I think that's the best aspect to recommend this hike, the Bluff Trail portion is not traveled as much as the AT. The views from the AT portion were nice though. We went fast and did the whole thing in just over 5 hours. Not great but nice!
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 19, 2012
We completed this hike in one day in about 7.5 hours. Overall, I would say the difficulty level is about average. It's a little strenuous in the beginning, but the hike is on relatively level ground after that for the most part. We started out by parking at the Gravel Springs parking lot (mile marker 17.5 on Skyline Drive), and then started out on the Appalachian Trial. From there, it was about 5-6 miles to when you come to Jenkins Gap, where you'll cross Skyline Drive and hike a bit along the road to come to the Marshall Mount trailhead. In about another 4 miles, you'll come to the junction from which you can left to access The Peak or right to continue along the Bluff Trail. We attempted to do The Peak, but I would highly suggest: DO NOT ATTEMPT THE PEAK. The (abandoned) trail is a little obscure but still well-defined for about .4 miles up The Peak. After that, it becomes increasingly overgrown until it completely disappears. Previous hikers have left rocks to mark the way, but the thick underbrush makes it difficult and slow going. Eventually, we had to give up and turn around. After that, though, it's only 5 miles to the parking lot on the Bluff Trail, which is mostly level. Overall, I'd recommend this as a day hike, but DO NOT DO THE PEAK..