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Brandywine Recreation Area - Brandywine, West Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
High Knob Tower
5.8 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
4.0 hrs plus a half hour for lunch
2,110 ft
Saw Mill Loop
3.7 mls N/A
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
2.0 hrs plus a half hour for lunch
650 ft
Brandywine Recreation Area
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If you are not camping, park at the day use area at Brandywine Lake. 38.60004, -79.20224

The Brandywine Recreation Area, on the border of Virginia and West Virginia, has two totally different hikes within its borders. The strenuous High Knob hike up to a spectacular 360° view at the fire tower, and the Saw Mill loop which is an easy 3.7 mile walk along two of the areas creeks.

The Brandywine Recreation area is a perfect spot to go for the weekend. With a man made beach on Brandywine Lake plus 32 campsites, clean bathrooms and hot showers, and potable water throughout the camping area. Also, if you come with a large group there is a group/overflow camping spot with picnic tables and fire rings at the back of the main camping facilities. Please Note: Both hikes are rated for camping because of the camping facilities at the Brandywine Recreation Area, not for campsites on the trails.

Note: The High Knob Tower can also be hiked directly from US33 as an easy 2.9 mile/600ft gain.

High Knob Tower:
This hike is rated strenuous because of the steep grade of the trail. The trail does not make any switchbacks on its 2.9 mile climb to the fire tower.

The High Knob trail starts at the right front of the Group Campground. Start up the yellow blazed High Knob trail as it steeply climbs for the first 0.2 miles before becoming an easier grade along the ridge. The trail will again become very steep for the last 0.5 miles then reach the intersection of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail.

At the intersection of the Shenandoah Mountain Trail continue straight on the High Knob Trail for another 0.2 miles where the yellow blazed High Knob trail turns right and follows a fire road for 0.1 miles. The trail then leaves the fire road and turning left uphill. In 200 yards the trail will join another fire road for the remaining 0.2 miles to the ridge and fire tower.

Climb to the lookout platform on the fire tower for a spectacular 360° panorama into Virginia and West Virginia. To return retrace your route.

Saw Mill Loop:
The Saw Loop is an easy walk in the woods compared to the hard climb up to High Knob. There are several open wildlife clearings as well as two seasonal creeks.

From the back loop of the campground follow the yellow blazed Saw Mill Loop trail for 0.3 miles to the beginning of the loop portion of the hike. From here turn right and follow the loop 3.1 miles back to the same point. On the first part of the loop Hawes Creek is on your left, then cross a small ridge on the back side of the loop and follow a feeder stream back to the beginning of the loop before turning right for the 0.3 miles back to the hike start point.

Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Brandywine Recreation Area hike:

Hiker Reviews For The Brandywine Recreation Area Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Peter Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 13, 2018
I haven't hiked this hike since my review in 2010, when I had the negative bear encounter. I went with a friend, and it was great. The hike was much easier than it used to be for me, and I wasn'y even slightly sore at the end. The views are as I remember them, amazing, however, there were more people at the fire tower than when I was younger, with 6 showing up after we got there and 8 more going up, all from the parking lot trail on 33. When I was younger, I never saw anyone at the fire tower. I used to be able to go inside, but you no longer can, they have boarded up the door. But, that aside it is a wonderful hike, and is still one of the hardest ones I know in the region.

By: Dick Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 31, 2018
I first hiked High Knob on August 4th 2017. I had plans on hiking “Down” Pikes Peak on September the 2nd with my son and I felt I should get some practice in before attempting to hike 13.5 miles down from the 14,115 foot summit.

I hiked several other trails before I found High Knob and none of them can compare to High Knob for difficulty, (no switchbacks and straight up) it was perfect for my training purpose. I truly believe that to hike up and down High Knob is just as difficult if not more difficult than our hiking “Down” the 13.5 miles of Pikes Peak. The BIG difference was the elevation issue. You do need to make sure you’re ready to hike at that extreme elevation (14,115 ft.) for the 8 ½ hour hike.

For here in the Shenandoah Valley, for strenuous, solitude and views, I don’t think you can beat the hike from the Brandywine Recreation Area to the top of the Shenandoah Mountain on the High Knob trail.

I enjoyed this hike so much that since August 4th, 2017 thru December 31st (5 months) I hiked this trail twenty-seven times. (Some would say that's crazy and they may be right). Anyway, with the weather warming, looks like it’s time to hit that trail again. :) 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, June 11, 2017
Hiked the Sawmill Loop Trail, starting early (9:30am) in order to beat the heat forecast for the day. The trail doesn't appear to get a lot of use, and there are many trees down that you need to climb over or walk around. There are several grassy areas that are overgrown with tall vegetation and it was pure guesswork as to where to go as the trail completely disappeared. Overall, though, this was an enjoyable hike, with pretty, open woods. There are several small stream crossings, but water was very low and they did not present a challenge. Over half the hike is uphill, but never very steep. Very quiet, we had had the trail to ourselves. We give it 3.5 stars...

By: John Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, March 6, 2017
Our hiking group (all 60+) tackled this hike yesterday - although we did not follow the path as described here. Rather, we dropped shuttle cars at the Brandywine Recreation area (where the fishermen park) and began our hike at the Shenandoah Trail at the High Knob parking area on VA 33.

From the parking lot, we hiked to the High Knob Tower - a little chilly but great views. This was unquestionably the hardest part of the entire hike for us.

From there, it was all downhill on High Knob Trail...a fairly gentle descent for the most part although you needed to be careful in several spots where is was quite steep. None of us expressed an interest in climbing back up that trail!

We jumped over to do the 4.0 mile Saw Mill Loop. The creek was mainly dry and the trail littered with blow-downs (which is what you get when hiking in late winter before the trail crews have had a chance to clean things up). Must have been 20-30 large downed trees across the trail. That said, it was a pleasant loop to hike.

The return to our shuttle cars was about a mile from the loop as the entrance gate for "hiking parking" was closed.

All in all, a very nice hike. My GPS odometer reported 9.4 miles (but it tends to read 5-10% long). I'd call it 8.5 - 9.0 miles.

We're really glad that we didn't go the other way - not hard to understand why HU rates that approach as 5-star difficulty.

By: Steve S. Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 18, 2016
We did the High Knob Fire Tower. Really fun hike with very few people on it. Previous reviewers are right that this trail is steep - straight up the side of the mountain with no switchbacks. The fire tower at the top is a nice reward, with gorgeous views of the surrounding park area. In the summer there's also a nice benefit insofar as the Brandywine Recreation Area has a swimming pond and showers at the bottom, so if you're camping out in the area, you can get clean from what is inevitably going to be a sweaty endeavor.

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