One of the toughest day hikes in the entire SNP. The Peak circuit has spectacular views along the AT and Marshall Mountain, and a grueling straight up and down climb of The Peak two thirds along the hike. You also have the option of making this significantly easier and shorter by 3.0 miles, and not doing The Peak out/back to the summit.
If you are looking for a good workout with plenty of views this may be the hike for you! Also, if you plan on doing The Peak out/back make sure to start early, as this makes the total hike time over 7 hours. It's a steep climb. Check out the profile at mile 11.
From the parking area at Gravel Springs Gap, cross Skyline Drive and turn right on the white blazed Appalachian Trail (AT). In 0.9 miles arrive at the first good overlook towards the west, and of the south fork of the Shenandoah River. In another 0.8 miles re-cross Skyline Drive and shortly pass a parking area on the left. In 0.2 miles the trail will make a turn to the right and climb to a rock outcropping where the AT turns back to the left. Climb up the rocky outcrop for the best view of the hike. Continue along the AT crossing Skyline Drive once again in 1.9 miles, then in another 1.5 miles the AT will begin to descend and arrive at the yellow blazed Jenkins Gap Trail.
Turn right on the Jenkins Gap Trail, pass through the parking area, and cross Skyline Drive. Turn right and continue next to Skyline Drive (no trail) for 0.2 miles to the Mount Marshall trailhead. Turn left down the yellow blazed Mount Marshall Trail as it winds around the mountain crossing Waterfall Branch, and Sprucepine Branch before arriving at the intersection of the Bluff Trail in 3.5 miles.
The Peak now is directly in front of you :) Again, there are no views at the summit, but it's a great workout. If you decide NOT to do The Peak out/back turn right here onto the Bluff Trail.
For The Peak out/back continue straight on the Mount Marshall Trail for another 0.4 miles to Thoroughfare Gap and intersection of the Jordan River Trail. The abandoned blue blazed Peak Trail is directly ahead going straight up the ridge. The trail is hard to locate for the first 100 yards, then climbs the ridge steeply for 0.3 miles where there is a small rock cairn indicating the turn left. Pick up the trail again and continue along the ridge for the remaining 0.5 miles to the tree covered summit. Return by following your path back to Thoroughfare Gap, then back to the intersection of the Bluff Trail.
Turn left on the yellow blazed Bluff Trail as it winds around the mountain for 2.3 miles to the intersection of the blue blazed Big Devils Stairs Trail. Stay straight on the Bluff Trail for another 1.4 miles arriving at the next intersection where the Bluff Trail turns left. Turn right uphill for 0.1 miles to the intersection of the horse trail and turn right again for 0.1 miles to the yellow blazed fire road. Turn right uphill on the fire road for the remaining 0.3 miles back to the Gravel Springs parking area.
The Peak Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Saturday, July 6, 2019
I did this hike minus "The Peak" excursion. This leaves a nice 13.5 mile loop. I began at Jenkins Gap following the AT, traveling the loop in counter-clockwise fashion. This allowed me to get the climb to the top of North Marshall Mountain in the first hour. The views from North Marshall and South Marshall are outstanding and the most enjoyable part of the hike. I stopped at the Gravel Spring Shelter (mile 5.9 of the hike) for lunch and hydration - it is only 0.1 miles off the trail and has a privy and spring. The next 4 miles crossed numerous streams and offer the opportunity to dip your feet in cold water if so inclined. The last 3.5 miles or so follow the old Mount Marshall roadbed and offer a rather pleasant trail with a slight rise over the final 1.5 miles to Skyline Drive, especially since the trail maintainers had cleared the brush (thanks PATC trail maintenance folks!). There is a 1/3 mile road walk from the trailhead back to Jenkins Gap, so be careful. It was an extremely hot and humid day -- I carried 4 liters of water and was dry by finish. I wished I had filtered a liter along the way. I also picked 3 ticks off my legs over the course of the day - so be vigilant!
Date of Hike: Saturday, May 18, 2019
Quick, potentially life/discomfort-saving review: The abandoned Peak Trail is, indeed, abandoned. (It is not just the first 100 yards of trail that are hard to follow--but rather virtually all of it.) For the adventurous willing to risk an ankle roll and undaunted by the hordes of ticks that will accompany the journey on the "trail," I would strongly counsel bringing a compass.
Leaving that little sortie aside, the hike was...OK. The primary reasons to do the hike arethe distance--even 11-12 miles without the add-on to the Peak--and the solitude (ran into perhaps seven people over the 17 miles). But too few views, all at the hike's beginning, and fairly boring terrain (few deviations from flats or mild ups or downs. High point was lunch down into one of the first creekbeds we encountered, roughly 8 miles in.
Date of Hike: Friday, March 29, 2019
We made it up the Peak. A fun and good workout. Started from the southern end of the Mt. Marshall trail (Rte. 625). Wanted to do this before the foliage was out. At Thoroughfare Gap, the Peak trail started just to the right of the Jordan River trail. We carefully and fairly easily followed the first part of the trail. Eventually, a small cairn on the left designates the split between the solid-line (go left and then directly up the ridge) and dotted-line (go straight) trails. We took the solid-line trail and immediately, looking straight up the ridge, saw two more cairns. There is really no trail, but we followed the ridge uphill, occasionally seeing a blue blaze or a cairn, and eventually reached the top of the Peak. The next time we'd like to take the Jordan River trail up to the Gap and then the dotted-line to the summit, bushwhacking as required for the last part.
Date of Hike: Saturday, May 12, 2018
Wanted to update some details on this hike. I combined The Peak with Mt. Marshall trail and Jordan River for a T out and back. Parking access at Mt Marshall trail head is easy. Nice steady climb. Jordan River is filled with Trillium and Showy Orchids this time of the year. Now, The Peak. The trail is easy to find this time of year. You will see the unmarked trailhead right at the intersection of the above two trails (going up.) I walked (climbed) it to 2550 feet before it became more difficult. I lost the trail at the false summit (2650ft.) I spent about 20 minutes looking but as I was solo and it wasn't fun anymore, I turned around. Mother Nature is clearly reclaiming this trail. I liked it because it turned my day into 9.2 miles with 2500ft elevation gain/loss. Do not attempt without route finding skills, map and compass. I suspect it could be hard to follow without undergrowth to mark the trail or overgrown in a few months. Not much to see up there. Do it because you are a good hiker and because hard can be fun. Always be safe.
Date of Hike: Sunday, August 20, 2017
Arrived to an empty parking lot a little before 9 AM. The trail is easy to follow with the exception of the Peak. Tried to do the Peak but the trail disappears after 0.3 miles into a tangle of bush. The best (only) views are in the first 5 miles. If wanting to make it harder I would suggest doing it counter clockwise. I would give this hike a difficulty rating of 5 for the length of the hike. The actual terrain is not that difficult and I would rate it 3 or 4 out of 6. Overall giving the hike a 3/5 because it gave me a good workout, but lack of views takes away from the hike.
Date of Hike: Sunday, June 11, 2017
Overall I enjoyed this hike. I was looking for a nice hike in the teen mileage range and this fit the bill. The non-peak portions were easy to find and I thought pretty easy. While there is 2,000ft of elevation gain it is over so long a Hike a s to never be strenuous (subjective, I know). Now as for the peak itself. Well let's just say that I made it up to something. I found the trail, lost the trail, lost the trail even more, found the trail, lost the trail and then just gave up. Apparently I am ill prepared for something like that. I was using GPS and following the trail, however, it wasn't working well for me. Nice views early on. I did not see one person on the trail the whole 16+ miles - I count myself lucky!
Date of Hike: Thursday, July 21, 2016
I hiked this as described taking the option to skip the peak starting from the Gravel Springs Gap parking area, then the AT, Mount Marshall Trail, and returning on Bluff Trail to the parking area. I did this in a little over 6 hours including some breaks. By my measurement with a semi-accurate smartphone app, it was 14 miles and about 2200 feet elevation gain. In difficulty I'd rate it a high "3" or low "4". It is a great, longer circuit hike. I eyed the peak when I was close -- I made the right decision. This wasn't the day. Any day it would be a lot to add that to a longer hike -- someday I may just hike down to the peak and back. As longer hikes in the park go this is a good one. The AT segment is in good condition and has several great overlooks not overgrown so you can see. I saw 10-11 bears on that segment and none on the others -- never saw so many bears before on a hike. The first 2/3 of the Mount Marshall trail is quite nice -- it's an old road and it is wide and smooth -- it gets rockier near its end. The Bluff Trail gets back to the more familiar rocky trail I see in these parks, but it's not too bad. I'd do this one again when I was looking for a longer hike.
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 10, 2016
ONLY FOR EXPERTS. This hike is dangerous and should be removed. The trail to the peak is not maintained for a reason. You guys are going to get people lost in a very remote part of the park. Everything else was fine, but seriously don't do the peak.
Charles Y Li
Date of Hike: Sunday, July 3, 2016
The AT portion, the Bluff trail and the Mount Marshall sections are very pleasant and seclusive. We started around 8 am and only see a few people along the whole loop. The peak segment has been completely abandoned we took the small path right after we got on the Jordan River Trail. The path is very difficult to recognize and follow. When we finally arrived at the top and tried to walk toward the high ground, we could not find out way back - we lost! Finally, we used our compass, a toppo map to navigate back to where we started after a couple of hours. For the future comers, I strongly suggest you not to try this peak hike unless the path are well marked.
Date of Hike: Saturday, April 16, 2016
I hiked this in two days, starting from Jenkins Gap heading down the AT and camping at the Devils Staircase campground (flat spot under a tree). Day two was the peak and the east side of the trail. It's probably ~19 miles to add the Devils Staircase trail which I felt was well worth it when taking two days. Contrary to what I've read here, I was surprised to be able to find a view at the top of the Peak. The dotted blue line trail seemed to be better marked to me, so I took that, and it led me right to a rock outcropping on the far east side. I would definitely recommend this hike, I was even lucky enough to see two black bears (from a comfortable distance).