This trail is an old favorite of mine. I first hiked it, if not as a teenager, then certainly early into my college years. Back then the internet was still pretty useless for trail guides, so if you didn’t have someone you could ask for recommendations, or have places you discovered on your own, it was harder to plan day trips that required a 1-2 hour drive. I can’t remember if this trail was recommended by the now-closed Rockfish Gap Visitor’s Center, or if I knew someone who had hiked it before, but it’s one that has stuck with me ever since.
For one, it’s not a long trail. It’s about .8 mile to the viewpoint, and then you can either go back the way you went up, or connect to the AT and turn it into a 3 mile hike. It’s a fairly steep climb to the top–an 800′ elevation gain–so in spite of the short distance, it still feels worth the drive to get there, and doesn’t take too long to complete, so it’s very doable even if you are like us, and usually get a late start out of the house.
The draw to this hike though, are the views. I have never done this hike when it was not either cloudy or hazy, but even with that it’s still absolutely gorgeous looking out across the valleys and mountains to the west. The rock outcrop is also just *fun.* Parts of it are easy to get to, but there are a couple of areas that add an extra challenge climbing up, and of course the payoff of getting an awesome picture of yourself, and not being next to other people (that is probably the biggest downside to this hike–the crowds).
The parking area is off the Blue Ridge Parkway, on the left side around milepost 6 if you are heading south. (To the right, there is a visitor’s center with an exhibit showcasing early American life that is open in the summer.*) The trailhead is at the back of the parking lot, and the climb starts immediately. It’s a wide and well maintained trail, with benches every hundred yards or so if you need to sit and take a breather. About halfway to the top you can see the bald you’re climbing to, which did a lot to help motivate Kairi–she was starting to complain about her legs being tired until I pointed out that she could see our destination, and from there she kept trying to move us along faster.
Right at the base of the rocks, the trail narrows, and the incline increases as you wind around the mountain. There are wooden steps built into the trail for the first part of the climb, and then rocks that make a good natural staircase for most of the rest of the way up–although this stretch of the trail can still have ice and snow well into spring, so be cautious. Even if the weather has been mild, the run-off from melting snow leads to mud and wet rocks, and running water in places. Continue to follow the blue-blazes as you curve around to the left, and then the trail will level out at an intersection. To the left is the viewpoint. To the right, is the spur leading back to the AT. As mentioned before, there are several places to climb onto the rocks, some easier to access than others, and all of them with a severe drop if you lose your footing. Nonetheless, it’s a great lunch spot, especially as you can look down and see the BRP where you started the climb, and feel good about how much elevation you gained in such a short amount of time.
After spending as much time at the top as you like, you can either go back down the way you came for the short version of the trail (pay attention to where the old return trip is roped off–this is an out-and-back), or connect with the AT and continue heading south.
Overall family friendly rating: 3/5. As much as I love this trail, it is steep, especially for very young kids, and because it’s so popular it is often very crowded, particularly in nicer weather. And while the views from the top are amazing, the rocks can be (and have been) fatal, which is a bit nerve-wracking and requires a lot more close supervision than a lot of other trails out there.
I’m planning on taking the kids to the Glass Hollow Overlook, which is a spur off the AT/Dobie Mountain hike soon, which starts in the same parking lot. From what I remember, it is a lot easier for little ones than Humpback, and I am planning on taking, if not both kids, at least Kairi on a backpacking trip there this summer.
*The visitor’s center is worth a stroll through if you are there while it is open, and have the time. In the past, I have parked here since there are restrooms, and walked through the exhibits on my way to the Humpback Rock trailhead. This adds around half a mile each direction to your hike, and it’s always neat seeing the early American homestead. One time we got lucky enough to catch some live music! I’d like to take the kids to this when it is open and see what they think, and if I do I will do a follow up blog post about their reactions.