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Hiker Comments for the Brandywine Recreation Area Hike - 1 to 17 of 17   
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By: Peter Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 13, 2018
I haven't hiked this hike since my review in 2010, when I had the negative bear encounter. I went with a friend, and it was great. The hike was much easier than it used to be for me, and I wasn'y even slightly sore at the end. The views are as I remember them, amazing, however, there were more people at the fire tower than when I was younger, with 6 showing up after we got there and 8 more going up, all from the parking lot trail on 33. When I was younger, I never saw anyone at the fire tower. I used to be able to go inside, but you no longer can, they have boarded up the door. But, that aside it is a wonderful hike, and is still one of the hardest ones I know in the region.

By: Dick Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 31, 2018
I first hiked High Knob on August 4th 2017. I had plans on hiking “Down” Pikes Peak on September the 2nd with my son and I felt I should get some practice in before attempting to hike 13.5 miles down from the 14,115 foot summit.

I hiked several other trails before I found High Knob and none of them can compare to High Knob for difficulty, (no switchbacks and straight up) it was perfect for my training purpose. I truly believe that to hike up and down High Knob is just as difficult if not more difficult than our hiking “Down” the 13.5 miles of Pikes Peak. The BIG difference was the elevation issue. You do need to make sure you’re ready to hike at that extreme elevation (14,115 ft.) for the 8 ½ hour hike.

For here in the Shenandoah Valley, for strenuous, solitude and views, I don’t think you can beat the hike from the Brandywine Recreation Area to the top of the Shenandoah Mountain on the High Knob trail.

I enjoyed this hike so much that since August 4th, 2017 thru December 31st (5 months) I hiked this trail twenty-seven times. (Some would say that's crazy and they may be right). Anyway, with the weather warming, looks like it’s time to hit that trail again. :) 

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Sunday, June 11, 2017
Hiked the Sawmill Loop Trail, starting early (9:30am) in order to beat the heat forecast for the day. The trail doesn't appear to get a lot of use, and there are many trees down that you need to climb over or walk around. There are several grassy areas that are overgrown with tall vegetation and it was pure guesswork as to where to go as the trail completely disappeared. Overall, though, this was an enjoyable hike, with pretty, open woods. There are several small stream crossings, but water was very low and they did not present a challenge. Over half the hike is uphill, but never very steep. Very quiet, we had had the trail to ourselves. We give it 3.5 stars...

By: John Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, March 6, 2017
Our hiking group (all 60+) tackled this hike yesterday - although we did not follow the path as described here. Rather, we dropped shuttle cars at the Brandywine Recreation area (where the fishermen park) and began our hike at the Shenandoah Trail at the High Knob parking area on VA 33.

From the parking lot, we hiked to the High Knob Tower - a little chilly but great views. This was unquestionably the hardest part of the entire hike for us.

From there, it was all downhill on High Knob Trail...a fairly gentle descent for the most part although you needed to be careful in several spots where is was quite steep. None of us expressed an interest in climbing back up that trail!

We jumped over to do the 4.0 mile Saw Mill Loop. The creek was mainly dry and the trail littered with blow-downs (which is what you get when hiking in late winter before the trail crews have had a chance to clean things up). Must have been 20-30 large downed trees across the trail. That said, it was a pleasant loop to hike.

The return to our shuttle cars was about a mile from the loop as the entrance gate for "hiking parking" was closed.

All in all, a very nice hike. My GPS odometer reported 9.4 miles (but it tends to read 5-10% long). I'd call it 8.5 - 9.0 miles.

We're really glad that we didn't go the other way - not hard to understand why HU rates that approach as 5-star difficulty.

By: Steve S. Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, June 18, 2016
We did the High Knob Fire Tower. Really fun hike with very few people on it. Previous reviewers are right that this trail is steep - straight up the side of the mountain with no switchbacks. The fire tower at the top is a nice reward, with gorgeous views of the surrounding park area. In the summer there's also a nice benefit insofar as the Brandywine Recreation Area has a swimming pond and showers at the bottom, so if you're camping out in the area, you can get clean from what is inevitably going to be a sweaty endeavor.

By: Tim Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, August 18, 2014
I did the hike to the fire tower and it was brutal. No switchbacks, just straight up and straight down. Beautiful views at the top, but it is a killer going up and down.

By: Laurie Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, April 5, 2014
Hiked the High Knob Fire Tower Trail - Started from the Brandywine Recreation Area - the trailhead is off to far left in the back of the campground - enter the group camping area and there is a sign.

The first 3 miles are straight up hill!! No switchbacks-straight UP with a couple areas that level off and you can walk upright for a little while.

Very secluded and quiet trail-nobody else on this trail. It took us 2 hours to reach the fire tower. It was really windy on top but beautiful views!!

There were several people on the tower when we arrived and more showed up while we ate our lunch.

We decided against going back the way we came in & hiked out the easy trail to Rt 33 and walked 4.1 miles down the hairpin curved road back to the recreation area parking lot.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, January 20, 2014
Hiked the Saw Mill Loop and it was a beautiful day for a hike!

Campground area is closed with locked gate across but I assumed that we could park in the small parking lot off of drive.

We found the trailhead easily but NOTE that now the blazes are yellow which stumped me at first because the directions on this site said purple-there is actually a sign that says Saw Mill Loop with arrows. Easy hike, not much to look at -many creek crossings that could have been difficult if the water was higher but all have rocks placed in the right locations to step across :)) I Plan on coming back to do the Fire Tower Hike!

From HikingUpward: Thanks for the note on the blaze color changes. The map and directions have been updated with the new information.

By: Cheryl T Rating: Date of Hike: Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Got a very late start, so I decided to take the trail from the parking lot off Hwy 33 instead of from the Brandywine Recreation Area where I was going to tent for the evening. The sign at the lot states it is a 1.3 mile hike from the parking area to the fire tower.  The trail was well marked with yellow blazes. The trail itself wasn't too bad...starting out mainly a soft dirt forest trail,  and as you climb along the ridge it becomes slightly rocky. Prior to getting to the top you are on an old  fire road.  Not a hard climb at all. I didn't see anyone on the way in, but when I was returning I met 2 guys going up. It took me about 30 minutes from the parking area to the summit. Plenty of signs marking the trails and private property is well marked with bug read paint and signs!  When I climbed the tower there were amazing 360 degree views. I had planned to eat up on the tower while admiring the views, but there were too many flies, wasps and other flying things. There is a big area to camp out in next to the tower with a fire ring. However, watch out for poison ivy, I managed to pick up some, probably while I was walking around the tower. In all I give it 4 stars, all for the view.

By: AD Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, March 16, 2013
The weekend a friend and I decided to hike to high tower knob and the fire tower was a particularly dreary one, having just snowed and expecting some more. We did not start from Brandywine rec but the parking lot right off route 33 and the state line. Conditions were extreme on the section before Brandywine trail meets high knob trail. 2 inch thick slick ice, little to no room for safe footing. A lot of slips and falls on the way up.

Service road conditions were better with more slush. Once to the tower there were high winds enough to realize we shouldn't pitch the tent and stay.

On the hike down we thought to follow the service road knowing it would be safer with less ice and more room to walk. The service road was much much safer with crunchy snow and more areas to place feet. We came to a fork in the road and decided to keep left on the road rather than take the unmarked right. (Was told that this may have been the right way to go, after a little while we may have seen a yellow blaze indicating the High Knob trail).

We continued to walk on the service road and I knew we were closing in on 33. I was relieved knowing we didn't have to slip and slid down the slick trail but then -

We approached a cabin and car on the service road, two young individuals came out and told us to turn around. We told them the truth as we saw on the map (Google satellite) we could take a safer route on the service road. They told us the map is not true and leads onto their land. After that I practically pleaded to just pass through to 33 telling them that the descent would be treacherous (also losing daylight fast). I also told them that I had fallen 3 times on the way up to the tower. The young man seemed to be sympathetic but the young lady said "we should have thought about that". I was at a loss for words because of the lack of moral servitude. We had nothing to say and turned around.

We hiked back up the service road and down the icy trail. It was literally terrifying on the descent.

Loved the tower and views! Unfortunately we made a decision out of safety to walk the service road and had that confrontation.

If it has recently snowed and you expect ice could be present - do not go without proper footwear. The trail was the only thing iced over, and with the steep mountain slopes on either side, there was no where to place feet. We did not have proper footwear but we also drove 3 hours just to hike this trail (from Richmond).


By: Kelly Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 15, 2011
The High Knob trail is a beast! You are basically hiking 3 miles up the spine of a ridge from the campsite all the way to the WVa., Va. border. It was one never ending hill! Once you get to the fire tower it is totally worth it though. Great 360 degree view. The campsite is really awesome too. We will be heading back!

By: Richmond Hikers Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, October 8, 2011
SAW MILL TRAIL DANGERS: POORLY BLAZED, POORLY MAINTAINED We are two very experienced hikers and looked forward to hiking Saw Mill Trail. Before we went on this camping trip, we looked for trail information online (Forest Service Web site, Hiking Upward Web site, etc). We thought this 3.6-mile woodland trail would be relatively easy. But the poor choice of blaze color (faint violet against murky grey tree bark), the unusually long distances between blazes, many trail crossings into steep and rocky streambeds, and many large tree windfalls made it a challenging obstacle course. This trail looks as though it has not been maintained for many years.

Because of the poor trail conditions, we lost the trail at least 5 times during the hike and only managed to find our way back to the trail after one of us scouted ahead while the other stood behind where the trail gave out.

This dark, rocky trail is poorly described in the site brochure, giving few clues to the trail's actual terrain, or the accurate number of stream bed crossings (see enclosed). The trail map is crudely sketched and all but worthless, except that gives a broad concept of trail loop and direction.

Thankfully we had printed out a good topo map from and brought our compass and knew how to use it. A novice hiker without these way finding aids or who had them but didn't know how to use them could easily get lost on trail.

If hiking trails have become badly degraded (due to storm damage or lost trail blazes), and there is no plan to maintain them, they become an "attractive nuisance" to unsuspecting hikers. The Saw Mill Trail should be closed until these issues can be resolved.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Thursday, August 11, 2011
Started the hike to High Knob at 5:30 pm and was back at 8:30. It is a tough climb even with hiking sticks. I think this hike can be extended on Shenandoah Mtn Trail to Bother Knob, then it will be a whole-day activity. The campground is awesome: abundant water, clean bathrooms, and of course the lake!

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Saturday, September 18, 2010
Hiked to High Knob on a warm, sunny, Saturday afternoon with my wife. I liked this one due to the combination of great views and historical marker, all on the ridge dividing Virginia and W. Virginia. You can see from Harrisonburg east all the way to all the nothingness that is to the west (I counted back 7 major ridges), and you also get a rare view of the historic Sugar Grove naval/air force communications base (I'm pretty sure that's what it is, but don't quote me on it) that is nestled deep in the forest.

Some notable points are
1 - Give yourself an hour there, and hour back, and at least 30 minutes at the top. You can do it much faster, but this is a good general rule for this hike.
2 - There is one place where you get to a service road that goes onto some private property. It's not exactly clear where to go once you get to this road, but turn right on the road until you see a blazing to your left. If you keep going on the road, you'll see a "private property" sign and know you've gone too far. Otherwise the trail is well marked.
3 - the flies can be pretty bad at the top of the fire tower, so buyer beware here. And it gets hit with lightning a lot, so watch out for lightning (obviously).

For the historically inclined, I'd recommend reading up on the Sugar Grove base (lots of history here), the history and restoration of the High Knob Fire Tower, and the town of Brandywine.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Monday, August 9, 2010
Definitely a 5-star difficulty, but worth it for the 5-star view at the top. The air was a bit hot as my husband and I began the hike, but as we climbed higher there was a cooler breeze. The first ascent was moderately steep, then the path leveled off for a while. Then came a long ascent (the .5 mile one) that was steeper than the first. It didn't seem like it was going to end--just one hill after another. We are both fairly fit, but for a while I wasn't sure I wanted to go all the way. But we persevered, going slowly so we could catch our breath. The terrain was rocky only in a few places and followed the ridge of the mountain for quite a bit. Once we reached the Shenandoah Mountain Trail there was still another ascent over more rocky terrain. The directions on the website were helpful at this point. The view at the top was truly awe-inspiring, so much so that I would be willing to do the hike again some other time of the year to see the differences between the seasons. The 360-degree view makes it different from a lot of the other views. The descent was much easier we used walking sticks to brace ourselves on the steep portions, but still had to be careful of loose rocks. We had the whole hike to ourselves and were able to do it in about 3 hours. We heard some rustling in the distance but saw no bears--just a few butterflies, bees and flies.

By: Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I hiked this hike for the first time this summer because I wanted to see how far I had come with my fitness. The hike itself didn't seem to bad, but my dog about a 1/2 mile into the hike became consistently skittish and afraid. (small/medium German Shepherd mix) At almost every sound he would jump and try to get behind me, or literally stop in his tracks in front of me. This is not normal for the dog, as he usually is towing me along when he's on a leash or running a half mile ahead of me when he's not. He was on a leash this time, which was fortunate.

About 3/4 of the way up, just before you hit the cross trail, a large bear came charging out of the bushes. Apparently he/she was intent on the dog, because when I yelled something, the bear looked up a little, saw me, skidded to a stop, jerked like he might charge again, and then ran back up the trail. At its closest point this bear was no more than 15 yards from me.

I obviously turned back after coming across this rather agressive bear and headed down the mountain. I talked to the host camper that is living in the camping area as you enter the park, and apparently there have been issues with the bears there ever since someone left a bag of marshmallows outside after dark, and they got into them. She even had a problem the other night when a bear started pawing the window of her camper while she was making dinner. She told me also that there have been numerous bear sightings on the other trail too.

This might be a hike that you want to avoid in the non-hibernation months as the bear I saw was quite agressive and also because there appears to be a lot of bears in the area that don't seem too daunted by humans.

That said, I have hiked this hike numerous times in the cold weather months and the views from the fire tower at the top are always breathtaking. (and not just because I'm exhausted from climbing up all that way) :) 

By: Peter Rating: Date of Hike: Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I hiked the High Knob Fire Tower Hike on Monday after going to several other hiking locations in West Virginia and finding them somewhat flooded out from the rain we had here the previous night. First of all I would like to say that this hike is both wonderful and yet extremely brutal. With about a 2000 foot increase in elevation over only 3 miles, this hike begins with a substantial climb in a relatively straight line up the mountain. It then levels out enough to catch your breath and think "Why did they rate this a 5? This isn't so bad!", and then you get to a really long steep stretch that keeps going- and once you think you've gotten to the crest, it continues. As a person that is not in the best of shape, I was determined to conquer this hike, literally using the markers as places to catch my breath. The hike in parts are so steep that you have to pass the tree to lean against it to stop because it is too steep to just stop in your tracks. However, that said, once you near the top of high knob where you meet the Allegheny trail and the service road, it gets substantially better. Finally, the payoff of the effort put into this hike is MORE THAN WORTH IT. There is a phenomenal 360 degree view of both the east side and the west side of the valley below. On this particular day, it was raining at the start of the hike and snowing at the top. There were tremendous contrasts between light and shadow in the valleys and also on several occasions I saw snow rainbows, the most vivid of which was over the resevoir on the east side. Also, there also appears to be some sort of animal up there. My dog was unusually excited, sniffing around, and there were some tracks.....

Finally, just so that you are aware, take enough of a break that you aren't to0 tired to make the descent. I have gone on about 20 of the hiking upwards hikes given on this website this winter and this is the first one that I actually broke a sweat on the descent as opposed to getting cold.. At several points I turned back to where I came from above and thought: "How did I manage to get all the way up there?" All I know is that I did, and you should do it too. It's worth it and trust me, if I can get up there, so can you! :)

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