Following a morning ranger talk about Birds of Prey and meeting a red-tailed hawk, we arrived at Hawksbill Mountain a little later than we would have otherwise planned. The parking area was already full and there were plenty of people enjoying the popular trails.
There are several trails that lead to the Hawksbill summit, the park’s highest peak at 4,050 feet. We chose to park at Hawksbill Gap, hike the Lower Hawksbill Trail to the summit and then the Salamander Trail to the Appalachian Trail back. Overall, the entire loop took three hours including all our stops to enjoy the views and eat snacks. The loop is labeled “moderately difficult” by the NPS.
The Lower Hawksbill Trail leads to the peak quickly, gaining 690 foot in elevation over just around 0.8 miles. It’s one of the steeper trails we’ve hiked with the kids, meandering uphill the entire way through the woods. We made it in less than an hour including several brief rest periods for the six-year-old. The trail itself was pretty, but nothing spectacular without views or water features along the way.
The reward is a gorgeous, nearly 360-degree view at the top. The best views face west and north and there is a boulder field for sitting and relaxing while enjoying the vista. As we got a late start, there were already dozens of people resting and jockeying for photographs. We stopped for a while as the boys completed several pages in their Junior Ranger booklets which gave Mom time to enjoy the spectacular view!
After a quick, steep ascent to the peak, we moseyed down the longer route back. The Salamander Trail is lovely, meandering down through the forest with several small, rocky viewpoints along the way. This trail was far less crowded than the Lower Hawksbill Trail and we wish we’d known about these viewpoints earlier as we would’ve planned to stay at those longer than the time we spent at the crowded peak!
The Salamander Trail eventually merges onto the Appalachian Trail where we saw even fewer people. These trails combined are certainly a great way to escape from crowds even on the busiest weekends. Here, the AT is relatively straight and level with a few gradual hills up and down, twice crossing small boulder fields.
We had eaten many snacks along the trail and it was nearly 3:00 by the time we reached a place to eat our lunch. We ate and used the facilities at the Pinnacles picnic area just up the road. The boys also finished their last two Junior Ranger booklet pages there and so returned to the Byrd Visitor Center for their badges before we heading back to the cabin for dinner.
Next week: Bearfence Mountain at Shenandoah National Park