This can be a challenging hike along the 'roller-coaster' section of the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia. The hike starts out with an expansive view to the west from the Bears Den Overlook then heads south on the Appalachian Trail passing over several ridges on the way to the Sam Moore Shelter in 3.3 miles. There are three campsites along the route, with the best next to Spout Run with enough space to accommodate several tents. There is also a large tent camping area at the shelter with several fire rings.
Other popular hikes in the immediate area are: Raven Rocks, Ashby Hollow, Hollow Brook, and the short Bears Den Overlook hike from the Snickers Gap/Rt. 7 commuter lot. This hike can also be completed starting from the commuter lot at Snickers Gap/Rt. 7 then heading south on the Appalachian Trail. This will add an additional 1.4 miles/230ft, making for a hike total 8.0 miles/2,010ft.
Mile 0.2 - At the intersection with the Appalachian Trail descend to the right and Bears Den Overlook. From the overlook the view westward is of the Winchester valley and the Shenandoah River. Return back to the intersection with the connector trail then descend southwards on the white blazed Appalachian Trail. The trail is rocky and steep, making several switchbacks.
Mile 3.2 - Turn left and follow the blue blazed connector trail 0.1 miles to the shelter.
Mile 3.3 - Arrive at the Sam Moore Shelter and camping/picnic area. At the shelter there is also a day use covered picnic table, privy 70 yards behind the shelter, and just on the other side of the shelter, next to the stream, a large tent camping area with its own fire ring. Return to Bears Den via the same route on the A.T.
Mile 6.6 - Arrive back at the Bears Den Trail Center parking area.
Bears Den Overlook/Sam Moore Shelter/Camping at Spout Run
Bears Den/Sam Moore Shelter Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Sunday, June 16, 2019
Echoing the previous reviewer...I'm giving this hike a 4 because it was very difficult, which was what I needed, but not spectacularly beautiful, as many others have said. As I was looking for a bit more mileage, I started from the parking lot out on 7, which connects to the AT from a blue-blazed connector trail, then headed south on the white blazed AT to the Bear's Den overlook. I am training for a long-distance hike where I am expecting ~3k ft of elevation change daily, and I felt like this was good preparation for that, but I didn't find the views outstanding. There are a few pretty creeks along the way. Others have said mostly the same thing. I wouldn't call any part of this hike "technical", but you do need to be sure-footed and pay attention to where you're stepping, as there are several portions where you will be walking from rock to rock. I saw about 20 thru hikers but only maybe 2-3 other day hikers on the trail (once past Bear's Den, that is). Overall, a good training hike. Bring your trekking poles (I regret not bringing mine).
Date of Hike: Sunday, December 30, 2018
I know this trail well. It's best enjoyed by those doing training work, for the steep hills and rocky terrain present an excellent challenge. For those infrequent/ casual hikers just out for a walk in the woods, I'd say it'd be very difficult and not all that enjoyable. There really are no views (the one at Buzzard Hill is okay, not spectacular) and really you'll be looking down the majority of the time as foot placement is critical. The trail can be icy and covered with leaves in the winter, so be careful. FYI, for a bonus 1.5 mile and 400 ft elevation gain, you can also start at the lot on route 7, immediately on the right before driving up to the lot at Bears Den.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 8, 2018
My husband and I chose to do this hike for training purposes - we needed hills and elevation gain and this definitely delivered. The trail is very well marked and you're on the AT pretty much the whole way, except the very beginning (the short walk from the parking area), and the side trail to the overlook.
Luckily, we had a break from the heat wave this weekend, which made it a perfect day to get this hike in (I would NOT complete it on a hot and humid day if I ever had a choice). There was plenty of shade and a nice breeze the whole time. We passed about 10-15 people hiking throughout the day, mostly in the afternoon (a mix of day hikers and some AT section or thru-hikers). We started at 8am and walked off trail at 2:30pm - so it took us 6.5 hours (including the ~30 minutes for lunch at the overlook). For reference, we are both in our early 30s and in good physical condition.
Don't let this hike scare you into not doing it. Just do your research and come prepared - and know/be honest about your limits. Personal opinion - slow and steady wins the race on this one...especially in the areas where it is rockier (ankles injuries won't get you a speed record). Trekking poles will help both with ascending and descending (which you'll do plenty of). Take breaks, bring 2-3 liters of water like others have mentioned (we drank 1.5 gallons between the two of us), and be sure to reward yourself at the end. There's a bunch of wineries in the area off of route 7 (or do what we did - we stopped at the Hill Hill Market and grabbed two slices of pie from Mom's Apple Pie).
Finally, a shout out to the ATC, PATC and Bear's Den Lodge - what a beautiful property. We didn't go inside the lodge or use anything but the parking area...but man, it was impressive anyway. We hope to return sometime soon for an overnight on the trail that will involve a return to this beautiful spot.
By:Mike to the rescue
Date of Hike: Saturday, May 12, 2018
This is my home section of trail. I do Morgans mill road to Bears Den frequently. I have twice in the last month had to give rides to hikers that thought they had the fitness for the roller coaster but bailed out half way through. This hike is not easy and if you do not have a way to filter water, you better bring 2 -3 liters for each person when the weather is hot. It's called the roller coaster for a reason.
Date of Hike: Saturday, September 30, 2017
This is a great hike to build endurance - lots of elevation gain! It is nearly all on the AT - this is something to keep in mind if you think you're lost.
I noted Whitney's review below, and I think I know where she went wrong. Right before the first stream crossing (not the foot bridge, but the actual stream) there is a small trail down to a campsite by the stream. If you take that, there is no crossing - there is just brush and then a dry stream bed beyond that. Go back up to the main trail and look for the chainsaw cut log - a good sign of a trail, and then you'll see the white blazes again. The real crossing is about 30 ft up from the campsite.
The end point is also not really marked - I shot past it. If you end up at a series of small waterfalls and a large rock (about a mile after Buzzard Hill), then enjoy the atmosphere before heading back. :) The top of Buzzard Hill has a campsite with a really nice rock chair to enjoy the view!
Date of Hike: Saturday, August 19, 2017
I have to admit that this trail was more challenging than we expected. The day was in the 80s with moderate humidity. My husband and I drank all 3 liter of water before the final 0.6 mile uphill hike back to the car. We hiked many trails based on the suggestion of this website (thank you very much for all the detailed descriptions and topo maps) This is the first trail that took us longer time to finish than the suggested time. We'd like to point out that unlike the previous review by Whitney, this whole trail is very well maintained and marked. Whitney must have unknowly gone off trail at certain point.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 30, 2017
The AT is well marked from the Bear Den side for about 1.2 miles. At that point the AT goes right and the well marked trail goes left up to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, the AT from that point on is not marked very well and very difficult to traverse. Hundreds of large trees have fallen across the path and pricker bushes have grown everywhere. There is no real path - you are effectively trailblazing in the direction you think you are suppose to go. Do not wear short pants on this part of the AT. Finally, once you hit the lowest point (about 2 miles in), the land spreads out and you are crossing a bog type area (your boots will get wet). The path completely disappears, the markings stop (in both directions), and you must rely on either GPS or your compass in order to continue on the AT. This is not a casual hike for a day trip. And, a lousy hike if you just want to hike. We spent most of our time trying to find the trail. Not a trip we will repeat.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 9, 2017
After reading reviews from previous hikers, I was nervous about hiking this section of the AT. While the Roller Coaster is not the hardest part of the AT, its known for its ups and downs and elevation changes. While there was close to 3,200 feet of elevation gain during this hike, a person who’s moderately fit will find it challenging, but easily doable. Most of the climbs are 300 – 400 feet over a distance of .5 miles or more. The hardest part was about an hour into the hike, where you climb about 550 feet in about 20 minutes.
I left around 6:30 AM, and only saw some campers beside one of the water crossings. Coming back, I ran into about 15 people who were going in the opposite direction. I had the good fortune of coming across a couple of wild turkeys and a dear. At this time of year, the foliage is dense, so don’t expect to get any sun, which makes this a nice hike on a hot day.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 2, 2017
As others have stated bring extra water. Definitely wouldn't recommend this hike if you're looking for views as the main overlook is pretty underwhelming. Very challenging hike and was a great workout though. Didn't run into many people, mostly thru-hikers, but that may have been partially due to the 90+ degree temp and humidity.
By:Mick the Kune Kune
Date of Hike: Wednesday, June 21, 2017
My wife and I have hiked to Buzzard's Hill from Morgans Mill Road passing through Hollow Brook Falls once before, and thought it to be a nice, easy hike. Having hiked several trails through the Shenandoah Valley, we decided to try something a little more challenging and chose this hike to Buzzard's Hill from the Bears Den area. Little did we know challenging was an understatement!
The beginning .5 miles of the hike is the least enjoyable, as after viewing the Bears Den overlook (which is nice), you begin a deep descent and can hear the cars and traffic from route 7. However once you cross a small wooden bridge, the sound of the traffic disappears and you hear nothing but nature.
Thus begins what we found to be called the "roller coaster" portion of the Appalachian Trail. You go through a few deep descents and ascents up the mountains with precious little level ground in between. There are a few landmarks that are of interest (a small stream camp area and the 1000 mile marker of the Appalachian Trail). Eventually on your last descent, you come to Buzzard's Hill. The outlook is ok, but it makes a great spot for lunch, and to replenish yourself with food knowing that you have to go back the way you came...ascending and descending over the same mountains!
My wife and I (mid to late 30s) are in great shape and by the end of the hike we were pretty beat, but felt great knowing that we just accomplished one of the more challenging portions of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. We did the hike on a warm (mid-upper 80s) day in June, and had just enough water, so plan on bringing plenty to drink...more than you think you would need.
Some other eventful highlights of the trail:
• Saw a man hiking in nothing but his underwear, who was immediately followed by a man wearing nothing but a rainbow colored sock over his private area, wishing us a "Happy Solstice!" as we passed by.
• I was nearly bitten in the crotch by a passing hiker's dog after asking to pet the dog and moving a little too quickly before she could respond with that he is not too fond of male strangers (rescue dog). I blame this one on me!
• We saw a medium-sized black bear lumbering through the woods on the last mile of the trail heading back to Bear's Den
• Dipping our toes in the stream on the last 1-1.5 mile of the trail to rejuvenate us for the last portion of the hike.