shenandoah national park: hawksbill summit loop

Saturday, October 28:  Today is a crisp fall day, just the kind of day I love and the kind that has been slow in coming this year.  It’s been unseasonably warm throughout October, and now, thank goodness, it’s finally cool.  Not cold, but cool enough for a hike.

Mike and I head early to Shenandoah National Park to get ahead of the crowds, arriving at Hawksbill Gap parking lot, already overflowing, by 10:15.  We start our hike at the trailhead by 10:30 a.m.

We’re doing the Hawksbill Loop Hike, a 2.9 mile circuit with a 860-feet elevation gain and a 2-hour hiking time.  This is a rather short walk in Shenandoah National Park, but it’s just right for our first hike of the season.  Everyone who knows me knows I don’t hike in summer; I despise the heat and would rather stay indoors all summer long!

the woods at the start of the hike

Sadly, the colors of the leaves are not as vibrant up here in the mountains as I hoped they’d be; people say the colors aren’t great because it’s been so warm and wet. Many of the trees are already bare and the leaves underfoot are mostly brown and dead.

looking to the sky

I love the rocks covered in moss.

mossy rock

I love the weathered misshapen trees found in the mountains; their shapes are a testament to their steadfast resistance to the elements.

funky trees

I always love bracket fungi, also known as shelf fungi, with their fruiting bodies, or conks, of interconnected rows.  They are mainly found on living or dead trees or coarse woody debris, and sometimes look like mushrooms.

bracket fungus
the path

I love the ferns, moss and lichens on the rocks.

ferns, moss, lichens and rock
moss up close
the path

Some trees are so hardy that they grow on top of boulders.

trees growing on rocks
tree bark & lichens

We continue along the path, with moss-covered rocks all around us.

along the path

Nearing the summit, we find a lone yellow tree glowing amidst the bare trees.

splash of yellow

Many trees and branches are all a-tumble and askew in the forest.

mishmash of trees

And some of the trees have very strange and convoluted shapes.

We reach one overlook where we can see the valley with Massanutten Mountain on the other side.

first viewpoint
a rocky outcrop
me with Mike
white-barked trees

Hawksbill is Shenandoah’s highest peak at 4,051 ft. We finally reach the summit, which is packed. People are sitting around eating their picnic lunches. We didn’t bring a lunch because we plan to visit Old Bust Head Brewing Co. for a beer, accompanied by lunch from a food truck.

Hawksbill Summit
Mike at Hawksbill Summit
Hawksbill Summit
Hawksbill Summit
Me at Hawksbill Summit
Hawksbill Summit

I love the white trunks and branches of some of the bare trees.

white tree trunk
light and white
lichen-covered bark
splashes of yellow
horse-shaped tree

After making our way back down from the summit, we hop in our car and drive along Skyline Drive, stopping at several of the overlooks.

Every once in a while, we find some brighter splashes of color.

overlook along Skyline Drive
overlook along Skyline Drive
red leaves
red leaves
view of the valley
overlook views
overlook views
yellow tree

At Old Bust Head Brewing Co., we eat nachos and chili from a food truck.  Mike has a Chukker, or Czech Style Pilsner, which he got addicted to on our trip to Czech Republic, while I have an Apricot Belgian Wit. There’s a lot of activity at the brewery today because it’s overflowing with bikers from The Great Pumpkin Ride.  This ride is sponsored by the Fauquier Trails Coalition, a non-profit organization, and is a fundraiser to extend and connect existing trails in scenic Fauquier County.  It has options for 32, 53 or 67 miles.

I’m glad I got an October hike in before month-end.  Steps today: 11,108 (4.71 miles).  Now we have to find one for November!


52 thoughts on “shenandoah national park: hawksbill summit loop

      1. It’s been a interesting fall. Had a big wind storm last week and a tree came down across the cottage garage and totaled it and another tree came down at the shoreline and too off the front steps.
        Now, waiting for the insurance to come through.

  1. Lovely views from up there, always nice to get up high as long as it doesn’t involve too much of a steep hike! I’m surprised to see little autumn colour in your part of the world too. It has been a strange autumn. The tre with the spectacular red leaves is, I think, a staghorn sumac and native to N America though I have seen them in gardens here in the UK. In fact I am sure there was one in the garden of a rented house I lived in decades ago in Kent. Lovely autumn colour.

    BTW the ‘moss’ on your tree and the ‘barnacles’ on the rocks is actually a form of lichen. They are amazing organisms.

    1. Thanks, Jude, for correcting me on my moss and barnacles! I am not a gardener like you, so I’m glad you help set me straight. Maybe I’ll go back and correct my descriptions if I can find time.

      The climb up wasn’t too strenuous and I actually found the walk down much more challenging as there was a gravel path and a fairly steep decline. I’ve slipped and fallen too many times to count on that kind of path! Staghorn Sumac, I’ll have to look it up. Yes, the colors have been very dull this year, and the skies have been quite gloomy. Not like the usual fall I love!

      1. I hate loose scree – which is why I am not overly keen on the coastal path around here. I’d love to walk it, but not on that sort of ground. As for the lichens, I am sure no-one else will notice, I just figured you might like to know for the next time you come across them. There must be a lot in the woodlands you hike in.

  2. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous! Makes me miss Autumn, living in a tropical climate here in Sri Lanka. I just love all the moss, bark and funghi. What amazing vistas as well. Thanks fpr sharing.

    1. Thank you so much, Peta. A tropical climate, especially in Sri Lanka (where I’ve never been but want to go!), has its own draws, but I do love the crisp and cool air of autumn on the East Coast of the U.S. Thank you for dropping by and for your kind comments. 🙂

  3. I can think of no better way to end a vigorous hike/walk in fresh air and beautiful country than with chili and beer. I think I’m going to need to make some chili for my dinner very soon.

      1. I just wandered over to your blog, Julie, and read your post “Some of Those Who Wander Are Lost.” Thanks so much for sharing that. I couldn’t comment or like because there is no like button and comments are closed. But I did enjoy reading about your experiences, which in some ways are a bit similar to mine. I’m also in process of writing a memoir. It’s slow going, but I have some specific goals and time deadlines now, so I hope I can be disciplined about the writing. Good luck. I look forward to following… 🙂

      2. Thank you for stopping by and reading and taking the time to tell me what you think. I close comments on older posts, so people usually share thoughts via the contact form. Best of luck with your memoir. 😊I look forward to reading about your adventures at home.

  4. Fantastic views and it always amazes me how some trees can grow on rocks and I liked the photo of those vibrant yellow leaves on the one tree among all the bare branches.

    1. Thanks so much, Pauline. I’m love seeing trees growing in harsh conditions, including on rocks. I was glad to find some bright colors, but I was disappointed that we always seem to miss the peak colors. 🙂

  5. Wow! This is more than I could have asked for – a gestalt of bark and branches and lichens against a clear blue sky! The panorama reminds me of views from the Blue Ridge mountains. My favorite: “a splash of yellow” – like coming upon a burning bush in a gray landscape.

    1. Thanks so much, Walter. I’m so glad you enjoyed the bark, branches, lichens and the clear blue sky on Hawksbill Summit. And thanks for your kind comment about “a splash of yellow.” Have you been to Hawksbill Mt.? 🙂

  6. I’ve been having a catch up afternoon, Cathy, because the weather’s a bit grim today and I’ve quite enjoyed being idle. 🙂 🙂 Is this your latest post? I get confused around your blogs but I imagine you’re full on into Thanksgiving stuff? Jude is so good at dropping me in it! I really don’t think I could do the full Camino. I read a lot of Jill’s accounts and I’m not sure it’s for me. I’m more of a rambler, you know. It’s a big undertaking.

    1. Hi Jo, I’m glad you played catch-up here. I’ve been busy with the holidays, but thank goodness at least one set of them is over. Now it’s time to get ready for Christmas. So much work! As for this being my latest post, I don’t think so, as I’m busily alternating between finishing up Japan and our trip to Budapest, which I’ve just finished writing. Now on to Sopron, Hungary in my next post. Yes, I think the Camino is a big undertaking. I’d like to think I could do it, but I’d have to get in a lot better shape before doing it! If I con’t do it next fall, it’s unlikely I ever will!

      1. Do you exchange presents at Thanksgiving, Cathy, or is it just a celebratory meal together? We’re going to James’ this Christmas- first time I haven’t cooked in years so I’m looking forward to it. I’d better hop back and follow you up some more. 🙂 We had a lovely evening with fireworks over on our Headland. Part of the Christmas fair. Yes, tis the season!

      2. No presents, Jo, just a HUGE meal. I made all my traditional dishes and the kids wanted to make some dishes themselves, so we had more food than we’ve ever had before. Oh boy, good for you going to James’ for Christmas– and no cooking! I’d love that, but I doubt any of my kids will host a holiday anytime soon. I saw your fireworks pictures on Instagram. I’m so glad you had a lovely evening!

        I already saw people carrying home Christmas trees today on top of their cars. Where is the time going?? Enjoy the season, Jo. I need to stop by yours for a visit very soon. 🙂

  7. Good for you for getting out and taking such a beautiful hike. And as usual, you noticed so many wonderful details – the mushrooms, lichens, leaves, the tree growing on the rock, etc. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    1. We try to go on hikes more in the fall than in any other season, Lynn. It’s my favorite time of year. There’s nothing I love better than walking in cool crisp air. After our humid and miserable East Coast summers, it’s a welcome relief. Thanks for your Thanksgiving wishes. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving too!

  8. Do you have relatives or friends in Sweden? So many Americans have. Through her genealogical research, one of my unknown, not-so-distant relatives found me, and three years ago she visited me and we had a seven-week journey through all the places where our relatives had lived. A real exploration of the country for me s well. And the beginning of a close friendship.

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