This quickly became our new favorite hike in Virginia, to date. Although not a loop hike, this one had all of the features we both love: water, cool camping areas, rock scrambling/climbing, varied terrain, solitude, and enough distance & difficulty to feel like a physical challenge. If you enjoy hiking Old Rag, we think you’d enjoy this one.
It took about 2 hours to drive to the parking area/trailhead from Fredericksburg, VA.
IMPORTANT PARKING NOTE: We were glad that the Crisman Hollow Road was open for us to get to the parking area at the trailhead. That’s not true year-round; it was closed when we went to hike Duncan Knob last Easter, adding a 3 mile walk up the road to our trailhead [“Crisman Hollow Road is closed to vehicles from Feb. 1 to the Friday before Youth Spring Turkey Season in April” …now we know!]
New Market, VA on 27 December 2016
Absolutely GORGEOUS, unseasonably warm day (the reason we decided to venture out on this hike, really). Our iPhone weather apps were telling us it was about 62-65° F during most of our hike. Nearby Luray, VA weather reports suggest that temps topped out there at 70° F for the day, so it’s possible that once the sun was beating down on us, we may have moved higher than 65°. Both of us ended up stripping off layers and hiked in short sleeves most of the day (until the windy summit). Unbelievable that it was 2 days after Christmas.
Had to add the wind speed information here because once we got to the summit, we’re pretty sure we were feeling some of those 32 mph gusts. Henri was legitimately afraid to climb to the unprotected summit because the wind seemed strong enough to blow her right off!
The usual day-hike prep, although each time we head out we get a little smarter about adding safety and “what if” items. Because the description of this hike included mention of possible bushwhacking towards the summit, Fergus sharpened his machete and we carried it in with us…didn’t end up needing it, but were glad to have it just in case. Henri also packed her headlamp this time. Didn’t use it, but if we’d been even 30 minutes slower or lingered 30 minutes longer at the vistas, we would have.
As usual, Henri carried in her Go Girl, but this is the first hike where she actually used it in the wild. She says, “Ladies, let me just tell you that stand-up peeing is a REVELATION on the trail. Aside from the views, it was the most magnificent part of the hike. Took a little finessing to make sure there wouldn’t be any mess, but once I got it figured out…I was sold. I will never squat again.”
This was Henri’s first hike in brand new Merrell Moab hiking shoes (Christmas present from Fergus) and she was very happy not to have accidentally peed on them. She’s been hiking in Merrell’s Azura Carex mid boots for the past few years and has loved them, but wanted a low hiking shoe instead of a boot. Really pleased with the Moab’s performance on the trail, and comfort.
OUR HIKE NOTES
This is not a loop. It’s an out-and-back. Usually, that would deter us (boring), but the terrain on this hike is so varied and interesting that we actually wanted to hike back the way we came just to see/experience it again. There is a way to exit to Crisman Hollow Road along Scothorn Gap Trail which would have made for an easy trek back down the road to the parking area, and we thought about it, but opted for the tougher Massanutten Trail hike out instead. This is our 2nd time on this stretch of the Massanutten Trail. Last time was at Easter 2016, when we took an un-planned detour along this stretch after hiking up to Duncan Knob. You could do a loop that includes both Knobs, but we don’t think we’d want to do that unless we were planning an overnighter.
As usual, the Hiking Upward description of the hike was pretty spot on and super useful….except…distance. Our GPS showed that we reached the summit in about 5 miles, making the entire out-and-back hike a good 10 miler (as opposed to the 8.6 miles listed in the description). We did not deviate from the trail outlined in the description, follow any tangents, or get lost. It was legit 10 miles out and back.
The blazes on the Massanutten and Strickler Knob trails appeared really fresh/recent. Although the Hiking Upward description stated that the pink blaze at the Knob trail might be gone or hard to see, we found the opposite. Trail markings were bright, frequent, and easy-to-spot. We did not need to bushwhack to get to the summit at all.
There is a shorter version of the hike coming in from Scothorn Gap trail, but we wanted a challenging hike on this day…and we got it! Having read descriptions of the hike a couple of places online and having hiked the Massanutten Trail in the past, we knew this one was going to be grueling in places (most notably, climbing steeply back out the last mile to the trailhead).
Saw (very nearly stepped in) LOTS of scat on the trail. Fergus was convinced much of it was bear. Henri was equally convinced it was not. Some of it was definitely big cat or coyote. Horse hoof prints and horse scat definitely present on the orange-blazed Massanutten, before we turned off for Strickler Knob itself. Impressive because the trail along the ridge was super narrow. The only wildlife we ran across was a toad trying desperately to pretend to be some dry leaves, and a couple of buzzards in a dead tree at the very summit (our welcoming committee, as it were).
The first mile heads dowwwwwn, very steeply so. As you enter the trail, you just know that hiking back up that ridge is going to absolutely suck, but it’s beautiful and so you tell yourself it will all be worth it.
The Massanutten Trail to Strickler Knob turn off is a nice mix of up and down (mostly up) and levels off in enough places that you get a respite from the climb. Beautiful stream and light rock scrambling along the way. The trail is nicely varied in terms of terrain. Once you reach the turn off to the pink-blazed Strickler Knob trail, there’s a lovely view, and from there to the summit it’s pretty much view-after-view-after-view.
The rock/boulder climb to the summit is no joke. If you enjoy Old Rag, you should also enjoy this, although this seemed even more challenging (maybe just because we’ve done Old Rag so many times now). It may have also seemed more difficult simply due to the wind. As we neared the summit, the gusts were really, really formidable on the New Market Gap side. It was pretty protected from the wind on the Luray Valley side, where someone had built a fire pit perfect for hanging out and having a snack before heading back down.
Some ass-clowns had decided it would be a good idea to spray-paint the rocks at the very summit. We couldn’t really read what it said, and we hope the elements take care of erasing it soon.
The camping sites along the path beckon. Someone had stacked firewood near the one about a mile from the trailhead. So inviting! We really want to pack in our hammocks and/or ultralight tent and spend a night down by that stream.
The hike back up the ridge to the trailhead/parking area from the stream…whew. Steep. We knew it would be, but Henri underestimated how tired her legs would be at mile 9. Not for the faint of heart nor the out-of-shape. We stopped quite a few times to catch our breath. The good news is that it was, by this time, sunset. Each time we paused, we looked back out at the pink-orange light illuminating the ridge and the valley and felt glad to stop and see it. We could see the Knob we had just climbed, illuminated in pink, purple, orange sky…just gorgeous…and it was all good.
OUR FAVORITE BITS
- The vistas. Holy wow, the views!!
- SOLITUDE: We literally saw no other people all day long (had the same experience on Duncan Knob hike at Easter).
- Interesting and challenging terrain, with lots of variation.
- Climbing. The summit has a fun, challenging rock scramble with some near-vertical climbs.
- Some great hiking along (and crossing) streams, too.
- We want to go back and camp at the campsite near the stream. Maybe hammock-camp.