Shenandoah National Park: Mathews Arm Loop

This rugged, 16.8-mile, 2-day backpacking trip reveals classic Appalachian wonders: idyllic waterfall-laden hollows, reborn woodlands, and scenic backcountry campsites.
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This rugged, 16.8-mile, 2-day backpacking trip reveals classic Appalachian wonders: idyllic waterfall-laden hollows, reborn woodlands, and scenic backcountry campsites.

-Mapped by Jeff Chow

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 27.1

Waypoints

MAL001

Location: 38.761078, -78.282303

The trailhead is located at the southern end of the parking lot. Turn L (NE) onto the Appalachian Trail and cross Skyline Drive. In 0.2 mi., turn right and descend south on Sugarloaf Trail

MAL002

Location: 38.746849, -78.274872

Turn L onto Pole Link Bridge Trail, heading E through thick forest with dense bramble underbrush; camping opportunities just off trail (permit required)

MAL003

Location: 38.75013, -78.267959

Head straight across Jinney Gray Rd. to meet Little Devils Stairs Trail; yellow poplars line the path with their large, showy flowers

MAL004

Location: 38.748798, -78.263229

Cross riffles of a small stream; begin 1,200-ft. descent of Keyser Run on Little Devils Stairs Trail. Water rushes through the narrow, rocky gorge over numerous chutes; campsites @ hollow's end before park boundary

MAL005

Location: 38.73056, -78.257957

Turn R @ parking lot and head SW on Keyser Run Rd. Ahead, veer R through gate

MAL006

Location: 38.722752, -78.272049

Explore a Piedmont legacy at the hushed grounds of Jenkins/Keyser cemetery on R; continue S on Keyser Run, flanking Pignut Mtn. (2,531 ft.)

MAL007

Location: 38.71376, -78.27816

L onto Piney Branch Trail; in .1 mi., turn R and cross Piney River to continue on Hull School Trail through old-growth ash at N end of Fork Mtn.

MAL008

Location: 38.705292, -78.292213

R @ 4-way onto Thornton River Trail heading N between narrowing rock walls and winding river; look for rock fences and old farm sites

MAL009

Location: 38.716724, -78.311384

The route turns L (W) after crossing the North Fork Thornton River. (Turn R off trail for primitive campsites in sheltered clearing.) Rest up before 600-ft. climb back to Skyline Drive

MAL010

Location: 38.723919, -78.32003

Crest the Blue Ridge, cross Skyline Drive, and head L on Thornton Trail; in .4 mi., turn R onto Elkwallow Trail, traversing rising ridgeline

MAL011

Location: 38.74297, -78.315353

R onto Elkwallow Trail. Pass Elkwallow Shelter; at Skyline Drive, head N toward precipitous eastern pitch of Jeremy's Run

MAL012

Location: 38.759079, -78.300011

Cross 50-foot wood-slat bridge over gently gurgling stream; forgotten water well on R

MAL013

Location: 38.759472, -78.297493

Cross road and parking lot at Mathews Arm Campground; pick up Mathews Arm Trail for slight NE incline

MAL014

Location: 38.76347, -78.293098

Straight onto Tuscarora Trail through clusters of yellow witch hazel trees; gear down for 500-ft. ridgeline ascent

MAL015

Location: 38.75771, -78.286148

Crest rocky knoll and head L onto AT to car

Fall Colors

Location: 38.7114, -78.283553

Deep hollows uphill of the Piney River. ©Jeff Chow

Wide and Rocky Stream Crossing

Location: 38.746486, -78.262546

Just along Little Devil's Stairs. ©Jeff Chow

Cascade

Location: 38.744216, -78.262527

The stream finds a hole through the rocks. ©Jeff Chow

Descending into Little Devils Stairs

Location: 38.741314, -78.261924

©Jeff Chow

Shenandoah Cemetary

Location: 38.722751, -78.271666

The silent courtyard of a Shenandoah Cemetary. ©Jeff Chow

Local Color

Location: 38.72101, -78.272867

One of Shenandoah's residents. ©Jeff Chow

Rock hopping through Thorton Hollow

Location: 38.706654, -78.293587

A watery crossing along the North Fork Thorton River. ©Jeff Chow

Trekking through the hollows

Location: 38.713476, -78.304667

©Jeff Chow