Hawksbill Mountain
Some of the best vistas in the SNP
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Hawksbill Mountain / Franklin Cliffs - SNP, Virginia

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Length Difficulty Streams Views Solitude Camping
9.2 mls
Hiking Time:
Elev. Gain:
5.5 hours plus a half hour for lunch
1980 ft
Shenandoah National Park
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Park at Hawksbill Gap on Skyline Drive at mile 45.5. 38.55562, -78.38655

The first half of this circuit is a forest walk that passes 2 feeder streams for Rose River, and the second is vista after vista from both the Appalachian Trail and Hawksbill Summit. The views from Franklin Cliffs look out on the Massanutten range to the west, and there is a spectacular 270 degree panorama from the Hawksbill Summit with a view of Old Rag.

From the parking area start down the Cedar Run Trail for 50 yards to the intersection of the Big Meadows Horse Trail. Turn right on the yellow blazed Big Meadows Horse Trail and in 1.0 miles pass under the Old Rag overlook on Skyline Drive, then in 0.1 miles there is a campsite on the left. 0.2 miles after the campsite the trail will meet the intersection of a blue blazed connector trail that leads to parking on Skyline Drive.

Stay left on the yellow blazed Big Meadows Trail as it now heads downhill before turning back to the right and crossing the first of two streams in 1.7 miles. In another 0.4 miles cross the second and final stream. The Big Meadows Trail now continues for 0.7 miles to the intersection of the blue blazed Rose River Loop Trail. Turn right uphill remaining on the yellow blazed Big Meadows Trail for 0.5 miles to the intersection of a fire road.

Turn right on the fire road passing a chain gate and crossing Skyline Drive. Continue down the fire road for 100 yards to the intersection of the white blazed Appalachian Trail (A.T.).

Turn right on the A.T. and in 0.1 miles reach the first of several spectacular westerly vistas. Pass underneath Franklin Cliffs, then in 1.4 miles there is a side trail to a Skyline Drive parking area. From this point it's 1.0 miles to the Hawksbill Summit blue blazed trail.

Turn right on the blue blazed Hawksbill Mountain Summit Trail for 0.6 miles to a westerly vista. Shortly thereafter the trail turns left on a fire road on its way to the summit. Pass the shelter then in 50 yards reach Hawksbill Summit where there is 270 degree vista.

From the summit go back past the shelter for 25 yards, and turn left downhill on the continuation of the Hawksbill Summit Trail for the remaining 0.8 miles back to the Hawksbill Gap parking area.

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Calculate roughly how many calories you could burn on the Hawksbill Franklin Cliffs hike:

Hiker Reviews For The Hawksbill Franklin Cliffs Hike (5 Most Recent)
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By: Rating: Date of Hike: Friday, November 23, 2018
My wife and I did The Hawksbill Franklin Cliffs Hike yesterday. A very enjoyable hike! The route is great, and the vista from Hawksbill is astonishing. We did have an issue with ice on the trail, particularly on the last mile as you descend from the Hawksbill summit down to the parking area. The grade is slightly steep at times, and the trail was covered in super slippery ice. It was a bit tedious and made for very slow going, but overall it was an excellent hike and highly recommended. Thanks hiking upward!

By: Jamey Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, March 26, 2018
This was a fantastic hike in several inches of snow, and it would be even better when the woods are green. I started at the Upper Hawksbill parking area. The woods along Big Meadow are pretty and the beginning stretch on the AT, with the views, cliffs, and mountain laurel, is beautiful. There was one set of boot prints for the first mile or so on Big Meadow, I broke trail to the junction with Rose River, and there were two sets of boot prints on the AT. This was a good workout with all the ups and downs. The snow made it a lot tougher than it normally would be, so I was glad I cut off a mile or so from this site's route. This was a great hike! Ignore the negative comments in some reviews (no, they're not the greatest vistas in SNP, but they're still amazing if you don't like rocks, take a stroll in a city park if you don't want to hear a few cars, don't choose a hike that's near Skyline Drive). The only people I saw were a guy who walked down from Skyline Drive to see the Rock Spring hut (which he somehow missed, despite the cement post and obvious path) and about 10 parking lot tourists at the summit.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 28, 2017
Pros: Excellent views, not as crowded or rugged as Old Rag.

Cons: Much more difficult than the 3 that was advertised, $25 fee for Shenendoah Valley

FYI, we did the shortened version, starting at the Upper Hawksbill parking lot--which cutoff about a mile from the trail (our total was about 7.5 miles). Weather was a nice 60 degrees, although its pretty windy when you get to the top. Getting to the Hawksbill Summit is strenuous, but terribly not difficult. The trail from Hawskbill to the other Franklin Cliffs overlook was rocky, but mainly downhill (In case you need it, you will have decent cell phone coverage for this part of the trail).

The most challenging part of the trail was the last Big Meadows Horse Trail. Trail starts off easy, but gets progressively steeper and rockier as it goes. The name is somewhat deceptive, as the trail is really not smooth enough for horses. Be advised, the last two kilometers of the trail is uphill, making the end of the hike the most challenging.

Good hike overall, but the difficulty should be at least a 4.

By: Mike Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, September 17, 2017
Pros: Great hike with beautiful views. The trail is well marked with interesting things to see between overlooks.

Cons: The summit is very crowded. On the day I hiked there was a religious service being held at the summit. Having 40+ people packed into a small area and basically commandeering a public park attraction for their own use was kind of infuriating. Getting the stink-eye for having the audacity to approach the summit area while their service was taking place didn't help my frustration level any. However, their singing wasn't terrible if a bit pitchy.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, August 6, 2017
Anytime you get a 70 degree sunny day in August, it is a blessing. And I counted my blessing. I hiked this clockwise, but started from Fishers Gap parking area at the southern end (MP 49.5). I'm really glad I started there as it put us at Hawksbill in time for a nice lunch mid way through hike. Franklin Cliffs are great, take your time and enjoy it. Hike up Hawksbill Mtn was relatively easy. Hike back on Meadows Horse Trail was a nice walk in the forest, saw a bear, some beautiful wildflowers, and nobody else, which was amazing on a beautiful Sunday in August. Saw no signs that anyone has ridden a horse out here in months. Frankly, there are some steeper, rocky parts I'd be afraid to take a horse. Trail was a bit overgrown in places, but I'm not complaining. Still a nice walk in the woods. My GPS said the distance was 8.2 miles (not 9.2 miles) and we hiked it in 3 1/2 hours plus a little more than a half hour on Hawkskbill, just over 4 hours all together. Enjoy it!

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Late November
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