2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – May 2011

Rip & Go: Rockytop Loop - Shenandoah National Park, VA

Escape Skyline Drive to discover secret summits and hidden valleys.

by: Peter Rives

Rockytop Loop, Shenandoah National Park (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Rockytop Loop, Shenandoah National Park (Pat & Chuck Blackley)
Desert snake (istock)
Desert snake (istock)

Download a printable version of this entire trip right here.
Do it
Enjoy eagle’s-nest views of Shenandoah’s southernmost ridges before descending into tranquil forests laced with streams on this 13.1-mile loop. Shoulder your pack at the Brown’s Gap parking lot (1) at mile 82 on Skyline Drive and head west on yellow-blazed Big Run Loop Trail, a fire road oft-crossed by game trails. In one mile, turn left onto the blue-blazed Rockytop Trail (2). The path climbs through hardwood forest, joins Rockytop’s ridge, and passes under tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel (June). Enjoy five miles of gentle ridgeline descent peppered with sweeping western vistas of the hazy, blue ridges off the  Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Recent fires have left large sections of the ridge exposed (3), which creates viewing platforms, but rattlesnakes love the sun-warmed rocks. In late summer, graze blueberries before dropping 1,200 feet into the valley at Big Run. At the bottom of the descent, turn right onto the yellow-blazed Big Run Trail (4) where, after .4 mile, you’ll cross Big Run (5). Pitch your tent in one of the established campsites (6) along the stream.

Day two’s miles of dark, wet trail are a perfect counterpoint to yesterday’s dry exposure. With seven miles to cover, get an early start and you’ll have plenty of time to fish and swim. The trail crosses Big Run a total of nine times—varying from simple rock-hops to wide, shin-deep fords—on the gradual climb to Big Run Loop Trail (7). The quiet woods and cool stream draw the park’s fauna in droves, so keep your eyes peeled for coyotes hunting the valley and black bears overturning rocks in search of grubs and nuts. Finally, truck up a steep, two-mile climb through tall, second-growth forest dominated by tulip poplar. Upon arriving back at the grassy intersection with the Rockytop Trail (8), continue straight to rejoin Big Run Loop, then left to your car.

Trip Planner

Get there
From Washington, D.C., take VA 66 to Skyline Dr. and park at the Brown’s Gap parking lot at mile 82.

Required for overnights (free; available at entrance stations).

Gear up

Rockfish Gap Outfitters, 1461 East Main St., Waynesboro, VA. (540) 943-1461;

Trip data


Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: -


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

The Political Arena
Burger King moving headquarters to Canada
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: Ben2World
Trailhead Register
Knee Defender Caused Airline to Divert Flight
Posted On: Aug 27, 2014
Submitted By: retired reddog
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions