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Kepler Overlook - Woodstock, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
6.6 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
3.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
George Washington National Forest
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Park at the closed gate at the end of on Van Buren Rd. If the gate is open, proceed another 200 yards and park on the left at the permanently closed gate. 38.97137, -78.56316

This secluded hiking area near Van Buren Furnace has several nice campsites, a vista west from Tea Mountain, the panoramic Kepler Overlook on Little North Mountain, and picturesque Cedar Creek. It's also the perfect car camping spot, with several large camp sites on the banks of Cedar Creek. If you car camp, also consider following the Tuscarora Trail up Little Sluice Mountain and enjoy the vistas at White Rocks.

In the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring the lower gate on Van Buren Road will be closed. At these times park on the right next to a large campsite. Note: Backcountry camping in the National Forest is on a first-come first- serve basis. You can't reserve campsites, but there is no cost to camp. If it's open, feel free to camp there!

  • Mile 0.0 - From the lower closed gate follow the yellow blazed forestry road for 0.2 miles to the second parking area and permanently closed gate. That parking area, and second large car-camp site, is on a left turn out.
  • Mile 0.2 - Continue straight passing the closed gate and continuing on the yellow blazed forestry road. In 0.3 miles reach the intersection of the blue blazed Tuscarora Trail.
  • Mile 0.5 - Turn left down towards Cedar Creek following the Tuscarora Trail as is passes another closed gate and then reaches the crossing of Cedar Creek.
  • Mile 0.7 - Cross Cedar Creek and pass a large camping area. Continue to follow the blue blazed Tuscarora Trail for 0.1 miles where the blue blazed trail turns left off the path it's been follow and starts climbing Tea Mountain. Watch for the double blazed tree that marks this turn off.
  • Mile 0.8 - After starting the climb up Tea Mountain the Tuscarora Trail becomes more narrow and moss covered for 0.3 miles, then widens back into an old forestry road. The trail passes a hollow on the right, then straightens and makes a hairpin turn left and leaves the forestry road. Again make sure to look for a double blazed tree that marks this turn.
  • Mile 2.1 - Turn left off the forestry road as the Tuscarora Trail continues to climb Tea Mountain making several switchbacks before reaching an unmarked side trail at another switchback. Follow the side trail 100 yards around the back of a rock outcrop for a panoramic view west towards Little Sluice Mountain. Return to the Tuscarora Trail to continue the hike.
  • Mile 2.7 - Continue up the Tuscarora Trail making one more switchback and reach the saddle between Tea Mountain and Little North Mountain. The trail will then make the short climb to the Little North Mountain ridge.
  • Mile 3.2 - Follow the Tuscarora Trail along the ridge for 0.1 miles to the panoramic Kepler Overlook, and a great ridgeline camping site.
  • Mile 3.3 - From the overlook and campsite retrace your route back to the parking area
  • Mile 6.6 - Arrive back at the parking area.
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Hiker Reviews For The Kepler Overlook Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Matt Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, October 27, 2017
This out and back hike is phenomenal. I went as a solo backpack trip for an overnighter on a Friday night. It took me about 2 hours to reach the top with 30lb, fully loaded pack. (FYI-There is no water any where near the top. If you do not have water, make sure that you fill up at the creek crossing. This is your only opportunity. Carry all the water you will need.) The hike is beautiful and easy to follow. I would have a print to make sure you follow the directions. Once on top, the campsite and view are second to none.

Another recommendation is to keep an eye on the weather. I would not recommend camping up here if winds are predicted to be above about 5 mph. The prediction was for 5 -10 and I think they were closer to 15 - 20 with gusts to 25. As a matter of fact, as soon as I was on the back side of the ridge, the wind was significantly less brutal.

The wind aside, the fall colors are a bit past the peak but man were they still out in all the glory. Also sunset and sunrise are amazing up here. Excellent view, wonderful campsite and solitude was plentiful. I saw zero people on the trail and only one other party camping down by the parking area. I heard the dogs, saw the tents and cars, but did not see another person. The leaves on the trail even seemed quite undisturbed and I feel like many people do not make it back this way. The return trip on that morning took me only about an hour and was quite nice in the early morning.

This is my new favorite and look forward to hiking this again year round. Hope you enjoy your time out there. Cheers!

By: Sean Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, September 29, 2017
I was in the mood for a shorter hike and this did fine. Both the forestry road and the Tuscarora Trail portions, for the most part, are wide and relatively smooth. The incline of the trail is relatively constant. I forgot my hiking pole in my car but it turned out I didn't need it. The leaves were starting to fall so I had to be a little careful of covered holes and covered rocks that might twist my ankle.

The Tea Mountain overlook toward Little Sluice Mountain is nice. The description says the side trail to it is unmarked but there is now a small wooden sign marking it. Once you get to the rock outcrop you have to negotiate it to get to the view. You can't go up and have to go right or left -- it's not clear which way is best but if you go right in 20 feet or so you will see a trail leading to the view.

The Keppler Overlook and campsite are great. I'd like to spend a night there sometime. There are several potential tent areas near the main campsite in case the main one is occupied.

I didn't get the "3" rating for streams. Cedar Creek was dry as were all other apparent runs. I saw no water on the hike, contrary to the photos linked in the description showing water. I was at those locations and they were bone dry. Not even one spring. It had been dry for a several days before I hiked. Bring enough water.

The gate at Parking Area 1 was unlocked so I drove to Parking Area 2. By my reckoning that shortened the hike to 5.8 miles. I saw no others on the hike. In many respects a pleasant hike.

By: garcia Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, August 06, 2017
Kepler overlook Overall:3 Difficulty:3 Solitude:4 Streams:2 Views:3 Camping:3. Found the right closed gate (the one just before the 4-car parking space at the end of the road), despite somewhat confusing directions. Gated fire road leads to yellow-blazed Cedar Creek Trail, which crosses blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail. Take Tuscarora to the left. It's then a mostly moderate uphill all the way to Kepler Overlook (which has some poison ivy, btw). There is a trail-marking rock cairn about half way up I think that trail goes more steeply down the mountain, ending at some dirt roads. When you reach Kepler, there are good views and some flat camp sites if you keep going, the trail continues downhill, I don't know where. One other thing: if it hasn't rained recently, bring enough water, Cedar Creek was low and there was no other clean water crossing the trail. Trail was moderately rocky, saw 4 groups (2-6 people), camp sites were clean. No cell coverage.

By: Colin S Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 10, 2017
This is a very nice hike. We did it as an overnight for training purposes (climbing Rainier in two months). We continued down the blue trail past the overlook to add mileage, the trail got very overgrown however.

Getting there is dicey as other reviewers have noticed- the locals FLY on those tiny windy mountain roads, very unsafe (surprisingly I am not a cranky old man either- that's just how risky they were driving). Plenty of parking, if you keep going down past the first 2 campsites on the road to the trail head there is a turn off spot that could handle plenty of cars.

Great trail- not too steep (albeit with a 50 lb pack it was a good test) and not too rocky. Plenty of water as well. The view is spectacular. The lower camps were somewhat trashed, people certainly did not respect them (beer cans, cigarette butts, etc). The main excitement came after we set up shop at a beautiful campsite we found about halfway down the mountain. After setting up our tents and unpacking all our materials, we discovered a lovely 5' Rattler sitting 15 feet from our tent. He was in defensive mode and had zero intentions of moving on, so we took the hint and packed up and left! We moved down the mountain about a mile to another camp site and had a great night. No ticks to speak of as well. Saw maybe 10 people all day, most of them from the same party that was moving up to camp on the top ridge overlook campsite. This trail connects with many other trails at the base and would be a great addition to a longer backpacking adventure.

By: Charley Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
This is a great hike! Weather today was incredible and I didn't see a single person the whole time.

Agree with everyone else that the directions are rotten. Hopefully Hiking Upward can spruce them up. Basically, you can park anywhere, but the hike starts at the trail that says Cedar Creek Trail. Someone also scratched "Kepler -->" on the post of the gate as well. Then go straight on the yellow flashed trail, take a left on the blue flash trail, then it's all blue from there.

And for the campers out there kvetching that only one site has good views: if you keep going past that first campsite with good views there are a few additional campsites that also have amazing views.

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