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

Escape Skyline Drive to discover secret summits and hidden valleys.

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


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