Elliott Knob is the highest point in Augusta County, and one of the highest peaks in Virginia. Just west of Staunton and secluded in Buffalo Gap, this hike features two waterfalls, several great views to the west and east, and a grass covered summit. If you're lucky, this hidden treasure can be all yours for a day.
At 0.4 miles pass a small logging road on your right, the first of four. In 0.6 miles from the parking area the trail makes a turn to the left before entering the first of three small clearings at 0.8 miles.
After turning left on the yellow blazed trail continue 0.8 miles, crossing two small spurs, and passing through a utility clear cut before arriving at an access road. Turn right uphill on the yellow blazed dirt access road for the steepest part of the hike before arriving at a spring and small pond in 1.0 miles.
Continue along the road as it passes a small stand of spruce, winds back to the right, then to the left, passes the yellow blazed North Mountain Trail and transmission station, then enters another stand of spruce and flatter area.
At this point the dirt road you have been following turns to the right towards the transmission station. Turn left onto the trail that climbs on the west side of the mountain and up to the grass covered summit in another 0.1 miles. The lookout tower was built in 1958 and hasn't been used since the early sixties. If you are doing this hike as a backpack there are two sheltered campsites under a stand of spruce at the summit.
The first couple miles walking through the woods were lovely! Waterfalls, nice spots to sit by the stream, pleasant trail. But when you hit the gravel access road, the hike gets BRUTAL. The road is incredibly steep, and if you go on a hot sunny day, you will be extra sad as there is no shade at all. The meadow at the top is pretty, and the tower is neat with nice views, but not sure the views are worth walking that access road. Consider making this a 5ish-mile hike and only doing the first part of the hike, turning around at the access road.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 8, 2018
The first half of the hike is somewhat pleasant along a forest road, although the creek is nothing to write home about. Unless the water is really up, none of those small waterfalls look impressive. The upper two also have steep scramble trails to the bottom with deadfall, nettle, and mud to deal with. For most people I'd recommend skipping them. The connector trail is an actual trail, and although narrow had good tread. The final climb on the gravel forest road lives up to its reputation. The gradient is easily 1000 ft/mi, and completely exposed to the sun. Fortunately I chose to do this hike on a low humidity day after recent storms, and the temperatures were in the low 70s with a nice breeze at the summit. With the low humidity the visibility was excellent for mid-summer, you can pick out almost every significant peak from central Shenandoah to Lynchburg. Highly recommend checking out Elliott Knob when the skies are clear, and plus there are 4 approaches to the summit so you can mix it up on repeat visits.
Date of Hike: Saturday, June 30, 2018
Elliot Knob is actually one of the only hikes in the MD-DC-VA area that I have found to be remotely strenuous. I'm from the Southern California area and am used to hiking mountains with moderately intense inclines. I've visited many trails out here because local people have assured me that these will deliver a "tough" trek but I have always been left feeling unsatisfied because these trails always seem more like a stroll through a park. This trail is pretty pleasant through the first 3 miles as you walk along a stream most of the time and are shaded by the tree canopy. If you camp out overnight, make sure you fill up during this part. (There is also another pond near the camping area towards the summit but it was filled with fish and I didn't like the idea of pumping my drinking water out of here.) The last portion, which is a little over a mile, is the difficult, much steeper part of the trail and you are pretty much exposed to the sun until you reach the top. This is what makes Elliot Knob a semi-rigorous hike but in my opinion, is well worth the effort. FYI-we came across a rattlesnake that rattled at us but as long as you're observant and steer clear, you'll be fine. We decided to camp out at the top where there are a few fire pits and lots of shade provided by the trees. There is a satellite station near the campground which is quite noisy but if you ignore that, the area is just beautiful and it is so much cooler than the base of the mountain (when we were there, it was about 91F a the base, and it was roughly 75F at the top and breezy). We had a wonderful time and especially loved that there wasn't much traffic on the trail -- we only saw 2 other hikers the 2 days we were there. There are also a ton of insects and tics but we kept a campfire going all day to keep them away from us.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 22, 2018
If you are interested in getting out into the woods, then turn around when you hit the gravel road. The first part is lovely and climbs steadily through the forest trail that follows a creek with several small waterfalls. Great for a hike with a dog. Then it switches back to wind up along a mountainside on a trail surrounded by shrubby mountain laurel. Also pretty nice and a good workout. I would go back and do the first two legs of the hike again to get outside and enjoy a nice day (constant gunshots from the nearby shooting range even fade in time as you get back in there.)
Then it takes a turn for the worse. The road is downright punishing- steep without reprieve, no tree cover, and you are essentially walking under powerlines the entire way. The good feeling of communing with nature is stripped away almost instantly. It never ends. Wound up turning around with the power stations in site and the way back down to the mountain trail was almost worst. Take care not to break an ankle as my feet were constantly rolling on loose gravel. Terrible end to a pleasant hike! First hike of the season and so perhaps a bit ambitious. I'm not in terrible shape but I could always be better. But even in the best shape, I still would never do that again to myself, I don't care how nice the view is from the top. They should have cut the trail across the road and switched-back to the knob that way.That was not hiking.
Date of Hike: Saturday, October 14, 2017
I rarely write reviews of hikes, but this one was almost exceptionally bad, which surprised me based on the reviews I read before heading out. The very first bit is nice, through the woods with a pleasant incline, and the trail is well-kept. But then after about 45 minutes or so you take a right turn onto a fire road that is extremely steep, with no tree cover, for the entire rest of the way up. On a hot sunny day and my feet pounding the hard gravel I wondered why this seems to be such a popular hike. But I thought the view must make up for it. I was disappointed to find that after hours of struggling up this unrelentingly steep and decidedly un-scenic road (it follows along under a power line), the top is just a small pasture with the view of the surrounding mountains entirely obscured by trees. I regret having made the trip. I can find stuff like this at home.