This challenging loop in the southern district of Shenandoah National Park isn’t as well-known as some of its neighboring hikes, but it offers a wonderful variety of scenery. There are two magnificent viewpoints, a beautiful mountain stream to explore, fascinating rock formations, and solitude on some of the park’s less traveled trails. The loop makes a great day-hike, but it’s also an excellent one-night backpacking trip with camping options at two different locations. We suggest hiking the loop counter-clockwise, starting at Blackrock Gap.
Note: Avoid starting the hike in the valley at the Paine Run Trail trailhead on VA340. This area is used as a school bus turn around and should not be used for parking.
Mile - 0.0 - Park at Blackrock Gap on the western side of Skyline Drive. Immediately cross the drive and pick up the AT headed north. The trail is blazed white and will track parallel to the drive, ascending gently for .2 miles.
Mile - 0.7 - Reach the junction (trayfootpaine_4.jpg) of the AT and a spur trail to Black Rock Hut. If you choose to explore the hut it will add .4 miles to the total hike distance. This is one of the two camping options along the loop. The site consists of a shelter with a fire pit, several tent sites, a privy, and a spring-fed water source. If you skip the hut, continue ascending north on the AT.
Mile - 1.2 - Reach the junction of the AT, the Trayfoot Mountain Trail, and the Blackrock Trail. Continue straight on AT headed toward Blackrock Summit. Note: Do not take this first turn onto the Trayfoot Mountain trail, or you will miss the best view on the loop. There will be another spur leading to the Trayfoot Mountain trail just ahead.
Mile - 1.45 - Reach the junction of the Blackrock Spur and the Trayfoot Mountain Trail. Take a right, continuing on the blue-blazed Trayfoot Mountain Trail. The trail will climb steadily uphill following what appears to be an old road bed.
Mile - 1.95 - Reach the junction of the Trayfoot Mountain Trail and the Furnace Mountain Trail. The Furnace Mountain Trail bears to the right. You will continue uphill, remaining on the Trayfoot Mountain Trail in the direction of Paine Run. This is a short but steep climb.
Mile - 2.15 - Reach the viewless summit of Trayfoot Mountain. Follow the rolling terrain along the ridge. You'll get nice views of Skyline Drive to the left and tree-obstructed glimpses of Furnace Mountain to the right. There will be some off-trail viewpoints along this ridge, but they are largely obstructed. The best viewpoint from Trayfoot Mountain lies several miles ahead. This section of trail has typically been lightly maintained. You may encounter blowdowns and overgrowth.
Mile - 4.3 - The trail descends steadily via a couple switchbacks. Look for double blue blazes marking the bends. The trail passes some interesting cliffs and boulder jumbles here.
Mile - 5.25 – Reach the viewpoint of pointy, rugged Buzzard Rock and the valley below. The trail veers to the left and heads downhill.
Mile - 5.8 - Reach junction of Trayfoot Mountain Trail and Paine Run Trail. Turn left on yellow blazed Paine Run trail. Cross a small stream in a couple hundred feet. This stream may be seasonally dry.
Mile - 6.0 -Cross Paine Run. This crossing is wide and depending on the time of year, it may be easier to ford it than to try and rock hop across. About 50 feet after crossing there is a great campsite with space for several tents. If you camp here, remember that campfires in this part of Shenandoah are illegal. If you see a fire pit, don’t use it!
I did this clockwise which I recommend. That way you have Blackrock summit to look forward to towards the end of your hike. Paine was nice and flat and clear of vegetation. Saw quite a few fresh horse tracks which makes me think this trail is well-traveled. Trayfoot, however, was very overgrown in areas with a few downed trees that are tricky to get around. Lots of ticks, poison ivy, and horse flies. The climb to Trayfoot summit followed the ridge line which allowed for a bit of a breeze, but would be much more picturesque when the leaves are off of the trees. Blackrock summit scramble was fun and views were amazing. Really, the only cool feature on this hike apart from some creek crossings. Pro tip: Make the trip down to the hut on a hot day to soak your hat and shirt in the spring.
Date of Hike: Friday, April 20, 2018
We hiked this route backwards as an overnight hike so we could get to the Paine Run campsite before dark. ****We just want to point out that you have to park at the Blackrock Gap Parking lot---NOT the Blackrock Summit lot! We went to the Summit lot and were really confused. If camping by the creek, be aware of cooler temperatures and more humidity---it was pretty dewey when we woke up. The elevation gains hiking this route backwards were tough, but the seclusion and sweeping ridge views in every direction (it is still early spring up in the mountains in mid-April, so minimal foliage) were worth it!
Date of Hike: Sunday, September 17, 2017
Day hike started from the end of Horsehead Road to the west. It's a small cul-de-sac, so not too much room for parking. Only one other car today though. From there to the Paine Run Trail/Trayfoot Mountain Trail intersection is roughly 0.3 miles. At this time of year the water level is lower, so the couple stream crossings were very easy. That also makes the hike along Paine Run slightly less interesting as you don't really hear the stream or get many waterfalls. The trail up to Skyline was easy. After that it got hard with prolonged constant uphill grades on the AT and (blue) Trayfoot Mountain Trail for about two miles. Blackrock is great as everyone has stated. Reminded me a little of the vantage point from Spy Rock, just at a higher elevation. You'll want to take the spur trail right at Blackrock for the fastest route. After reaching The Trayfoot Mountain summit (which was about 7 miles in), it's all downhill. The blue trail was lightly maintained as described but I would still rate it as average trail conditon overall. I liked Buzzard Rock a lot as it is peaceful, small, breezy, and secluded with nice views.
I had this as a 10.9 mile hike. 0.6 of that was added because of where we parked. So had we parked on Skyline drive it would have been roughly 10.3, which is over a mile longer than the description on this site. Difficulty is a 3.5 for me. Only 20% of the hike was uphill and it wasn't that steep of an incline.
Date of Hike: Friday, May 19, 2017
Great hike with some great views. The Trayfoot mountain ridge line is a bit wild and is obviously not as hiked of a trail as the rest of the hike as it is very grown up with grasses and whatnot but there were not too many blow downs across the trail. I did see 3 different bears on this hike all along the ridge line. The view from Blackrock Summit was amazing. The hike up from Paine Run is not bad and the trail is very well maintained. All in all a beautiful hike that I will be doing again soon.
Date of Hike: Sunday, April 30, 2017
Great day for a hike in SNP - park was packed but saw only a handful of folks around Blackrock Summit, and none at all on the Trayfoot or Paine Run trails, so a nice quiet day in the woods. Foliage is starting to obscure views from Trayfoot Ridge Trail, in another week or so visibility will probably be totally gone. Also, the trail along Trayfoot Ridge is starting to get a little overgrown. Paine Run was running strong, not so high that getting soaked was inevitable, but we had to pick our spots at a few crossings.