Humpback Rocks is a very popular hike due to its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and
I-64 near Afton Mountain. Most people do it as a 1.0 mile up and back. We decided to add a few miles for the return trip by following the Appalachian Trail North and a couple of un-named blue-blazed trails.
We parked at the Humpback Rocks parking area (MP6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway). The blue-blazed trail begins to the right of the kiosk . The trail wastes no time ascending with park benches scattered every so often if you need to take a break. Don't be fooled by the 1.0 mile to the top, if you are not used to hiking you will find muscles sore that you forgot you had!!
There will be an intersection on your left in 0.5 miles, ignore it and stay straight on the blue blazed trail. For the next 0.4 miles the trail is very rocky but there are both wooden steps and rock steps for some of the more difficult parts. If it has rained be prepared that the trail can be a little muddy and in some places becomes a temporary stream. At the next intersection bear left on the spur trail to the Rocks and some incredible views. There are multiple places to take photos, just be careful especially if wet. We were a little disappointed in the amount of graffiti at the Rocks but try to ignore it and concentrate on the views.
Return to the intersection with the 'Rocks' sign, ignore references to the A.T. as those are old signs when it ran close to the Rocks before it was re-routed years ago. At the 'Rocks' intersection, go straight on the blue blazed trail towards Humpback Picnic Area and reach the A.T. in less than 0.10 miles.
Turn left onto the white-blazed A.T. North (*for additional views see A.T. South Out and Back directions below). This begins a 2.7 mile gradual descent for most of the trail back to the Parking area. We saw lots of wildlife: eastern newt, deer and tons of chipmunks - they are too fast to get a decent photo. The mountain laurel and rhododendrons were blooming all over this section of the trail. Returning this way made for a very pleasant stroll and we ran in to only a couple of hikers. The next intersection is in 2.7 miles. Bear to the left, onto a blue-blazed trail to return to the Humpback Rocks Parking area.
*A.T. South Out and Back for Additional Views
If you prefer seeing more great views without the crowds take the A.T. South instead of North at the Intersection mentioned in the previous paragraph. If you take in all 3 additional views in this out and back you will add about 4 miles to your trip. In 0.4 miles from the intersection you will come to an unmarked spur trail to take you out to the first view. These rocks are very similar to Humpback Rocks but not as massive. You will see these rocks on your left as you are on the trail and at the top of the hill you will come to the spur trail. Continue south on the A.T. for 0.7 miles to reach the second view on your left looking out to Rockfish Valley on the east and Shenandoah Valley on the west. The last view will be 0.9 miles beyond the second view. About 30 yards before the last view you will pass a great campsite with room for about 6 tents. We actually did this as a short overnight backpack and spent the night at this campsite taking in one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen in Virginia. You will have an almost 180 degree view of Rockfish Valley, Wintergreen Resort, and finally the Shenandoah Valley. This is your turn around point. Note: If you do camp here, bring plenty of water as there are no water sources on this section of the A.T.
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Reviews For The Humpback Rocks Hike (5 Most Recent)
I hiked this today with my daughter. We started in fog and mist and that's the way we found the views...but in this case there was a sort of "cool" about standing on top of the rocks in the clouds. We could see enough to note that the trees at the top of the hill were beginning to turn and the splashes of yellow coming through the fog was kind of neat. We had lunch on the rocks and turned south on the AT to see if we could get lucky with some views. We didn't, but it was a nice walk with a couple of uphills that had us breathing hard. We turned around about 1.5 miles after resting for a few minutes on a set of rocks that overlooked Rockfish gap. The sun was beginning to break through and we could see several trees with bright red berries just off the rocks. We came down the AT the whole way and from the Humpback Rocks trail split it was gentle until a slight, unwelcome, uphill section that ended at the parking lot. There was a huge tree that had dropped across the trail along this stretch but it was suspended over the trail and you can easily walk underneath it. Great picture moment.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 07, 2013
I was looking for a dog-friendly hike, and also one that seemed at least semi-frequently traveled, as I was going alone. Very easy to find. Got there at 8-8:15am, only 2 other cars in the parking lot (for a Saturday I expected it to be busier). Only passed by 2 groups on their way down as I was going up. It is accurate that the trail wastes no time in elevation gain, however it was still a relatively quick traverse. The rock and wooden steps made it easy for my dog, too (who is a mini-dachshund). The only difficult part was climbing on the rocks for the view, and actually seemed easy for my dog but slightly difficult for me to manage a leash and use both hands to get on top of the rocks. Clear cool morning and beautiful views! We spent 15 mins or so before continuing on the trail, alone at the summit the whole time. We did the hike as listed without adding extra mileage, going N on the AT instead of S, and it was actually so quiet I almost just did an out-and-back at that point, (being alone I wanted to know there were others at least somewhat close by.) Anyway, decided to follow the trail as listed. I could hear that the final 3mi or so completing the circuit was alive with wildlife, although all I visualized were chipmunks and squirrels. Peaceful and quiet except for nature, and only ran into one other pair of hikers on the AT. When we got back to the parking lot about 2.5 hrs after beginning the hike, it was full, so I would recommend starting early if you prefer to be alone at the top. Overall, this hike was exactly what I was looking for on this particular day - not too strenuous, dog-friendly, on the shorter side distance-wise, optional turnaround points, quiet if you go at the right time, and great views. And... even got to stop by some of my favorite wineries off of 151 on my way back northeast!
Date of Hike: Wednesday, September 04, 2013
I used to go to Humpback with my father all the time as a child, but today was the first time I've been up there in several years. I had the day off and the weather was nice, so I arranged to get there around 2pm, hoping to avoid the usual crowds. I'm in reasonably good shape, but I had forgotten how steep the ascent is. I never got to the point of gasping for breath, but I had to stop for a minute several times on the way up. I'm sure my calves will be feeling that ascent tomorrow. For the first time that I can remember, I had the summit all to myself. The views were beautiful, as always, and I lounged around the summit for a half hour before heading back down.
I was going to take the 2.7 mile descent route, but about 1/4 mile into it, I ran into a bear. It appeared to not notice me, but it must have just been ignoring me, because a) I was close enough to hit it with a rock, b) I hadn't been moving quietly, and c) even I could smell the Bodo's sandwich in my pack leftover from lunch. I realized (with a shudder) that I had left my usual canister of bear spray at home, so I backed quietly up the trail and took the steep, rocky route that I had come up on back to the parking lot. I'm a C'ville native who's hiked throughout Shenandoah all my life, and that's the closest I've ever been to a fully grown black bear. It was both scary and exhilarating.
I'll take the longer descent next time I'm on Humpback, but that trip will also involve a can of bear spray and a stout hiking stick.
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 25, 2013
I first hiked to Humpback 40 years ago and went up there many times while a student at UVa. Recently I moved back to VA and drove up to the Parkway to see the sunset for the first time in many years on August 25, 2013. I had no intention of hiking the trail, but once I got there the temptation was too great and I started up the hill thinking I could make it before the sun was gone. WRONG! Little did I know that the trail had been changed since I was last there so I did not know which way to go when I reached the split half way up. I knew the trail to the right was not the way I had gone in the past so I went straight ahead up the very steep, rocky path that I later learned is the new "shortcut". As the light faded I realized that the unmarked shortcut would be hard to follow back down in the dark so I gave up and turned back. Now that I see there is a new trail I will go back this evening for the moon, Venus, Saturn sunset.
Date of Hike: Friday, June 21, 2013
The view from the rocks is amazing & great opportunity to take panoramic shots with your camera or phone. The blue trail up is tough for the first half - my asthma had kicked in. Coming back to the parking lot after the rock, we tried the route indicated on this webpage on the AT & it takes much longer than you might think. Because no one is on the trail we felt the panic set in knowing we had walked more than 2.7 miles and still no sign of a parking lot. Luckily we ran into some AT hikers. They showed us their map & assured us we were close to the parking lot. So if you take the Appalachian Trail back, be prepared for a very long walk but it's serene & chance to fill water bottle with cool & clean spring water.