Shenandoah National Park: Hawksbill Summit Loop (WP414 - 453)

This *2.8-mile loop swings past talus fields, wildflowers, and a falcon nesting area, capping them off with a gob-smacking view from Shenandoah's highest peak.
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This *2.8-mile loop swings past talus fields, wildflowers, and a falcon nesting area, capping them off with a gob-smacking view from Shenandoah's highest peak.

A top pick for those with limited time, this moderate loop saves the views - and the 4,051 foot summit - for last. To start, hop onto the spur trail at the northern end of the parking lot, following it 50 yards to the Appalachian Trail (AT). The woodsy, white-blazed path swings back and forth from the peak's western ridge, serving up tantalizing glimpses of Shenandoah Valley before straightening out along the ridgeline itself. Three separate boulder fields lurch onto the trail, the jumbled talus perched precariously on the adjacent slope. Look for wildflowers and tree-framed valley views then join the shaded Salamander Trail for an easy, twisting climb to the top of the peak.

A picnic table and Byrd's Nest Shelter No.2 - named after former Virginia Senator Harry F. Byrd - come into view just before the summit. Step inside the shelter for an informative summary of the peregrine nesting area just south. The summit itself is capped by a stone-walled observatory with directional markers. Grab the steep Lower Hawkbill trail for a quick drop back to the parking lot.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 1553.0

Waypoints

HSL001

Location: 38.5561575, -78.3868525

Park at the Hawksbill Gap parking area (this is not the same as the Upper Hawksbill lot, which is just south). If you've got hiking poles in the car, you may want to grab them. This trail is very rocky in places, and the descent from the summit is steep.

HSL002

Location: 38.5563176, -78.3865705

To save the summit for last, hike this loop in a counter-clockwise direction. Look for the silver-banded marker adjacent to the parking lot then jump on the short spur trail just north. It quickly leads to the AT.
(If steep descents are hard on your knees, clockwise may be preferable.)

HSL003

Location: 38.556987, -78.3870058

Turn left onto the white-blazed Appalachian Trail, heading south.

HSL004

Location: 38.5568194, -78.3926605

Cross first of three talus rock piles.

HSL005

Location: 38.5545524, -78.4033385

Signed junction for Salamander Trail and AT. Bear left to join the blue-blazed Salamander Trail which twists gradually toward the summit.

HSL006

Location: 38.5528379, -78.3994428

Pass "No Camping" sign.

HSL007

Location: 38.5536435, -78.3980482

Fire road to summit comes into view on the right. Continue on the trail for broad views of Shenandoah Valley.

HSL008

Location: 38.5546298, -78.3973427

Sharp right.

HSL009

Location: 38.5545662, -78.3971146

Spur trail to summit now closed for peregrine falcon restoration efforts. Continue straight ahead to the fire road.

HSL010

Location: 38.5543484, -78.3967074

Turn left onto fire road.

HSL011

Location: 38.5547847, -78.3958703

Marked junction with Lower Hawksbill Trail, the return route. For the summit, walk left towards Byrd's Nest Shelter No. 2, a covered shelter with information about peregrine restoration efforts.

HSL012

Location: 38.5553485, -78.3951051

Reach stone viewing platform on Hawksbill summit. Can be cold and windy, even in July. Look for rocky-topped Old Rag to the east. To descend, return to Lower Hawkbill trailhead just past the shelter.

HSL013

Location: 38.5536295, -78.3951391

Pass second "No Camping" sign. The trail is gutted and gullied from past rain storms and can be fairly steep.

HSL014

Location: 38.556084, -78.3866822

Return to parking area.

Trail Marker

Location: 38.5563176, -78.3865705

Talus Field

Location: 38.5568194, -78.3926605

Mountain Flora

Location: 38.5568613, -78.3964295

Ridgeline View

Location: 38.5543137, -78.3981187

Trail Junction

Location: 38.5546833, -78.3959617

Approaching Hawksbill Summit

Location: 38.5551341, -78.3956601

Old Rag from Hawksbill Summit

Location: 38.5553183, -78.3950955

Northwest View from Summit

Location: 38.55535, -78.39511

Byrd's Nest Shelter No. 2

Location: 38.55508, -78.3959

Foster Falcon Program

Location: 38.5550655, -78.3957802

View West from Shelter

Location: 38.555045, -78.3957585

Lower Hawksbill Trail Marker

Location: 38.55508, -78.3959