Bear Church Rock via Bootens Gap

  • Highlights: Shenandoah National Park, wilderness views, wildflowers
  • Distance:  9.4 mile out and back 
  • Elevation change: 1,800 feet
  • Difficulty level: Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: Skyline Drive, mile 55.1, Bootens Gap parking area
  • Website: Virginia Trail Guide
  • Beer Pairings: Cave Hill Farms Brewery: Full Mane IPA & Hoppy Gator IPA

The Hike:

We were looking for a longer hike and at almost 10 miles, this one sounded great. We hiked in mid-November after the leaves had dropped. It must have been a spectacular display of fall foliage. We also noticed many Rhododendrons and Mountain Laurels which must look awesome in the spring. The trail is well marked, although there are several trail junctions, so you need to pay attention.

The trailhead is at the rear of the Bootens Gap parking area and begins on the Appalachian Trail heading north. This section of the AT is mostly uphill. At .4 miles, the first trail junction appears. Turn right on the laurel Prong Trail. The trail winds through the forest with gradual ups and downs for another mile when you will reach at the junction with the Cat Knob Trail. Bear to the right and stay on Cat Knob. There is a 500’ foot elevation gain over the next half mile.

The 4th trail junction appears at mile 2.1 when the Jones Mountain Trail comes in from the left. This is the end of Cat Knob, stay right (or straight) on the Jones Mountain trail. The trail mostly descends for the next 3 miles and this part of the trail leaves Shenandoah national park for a bit. The host for this part of the trail is the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area. Parts of the trail were so covered by downed leaves that we had a bit of trouble finding the trail. We kept looking for blue blazes and managed to stay on the trail.

At 4.5 a group of large granite boulders appear on the left. The trail begins a steep downhill with heavy mountain laurel trees on each side. Watch for a small sign indicating the short  spur trail to Bear Church Rock on the left. The views were amazing in early November, we can only imagine what they were like one month earlier. This is a great place for lunch. We had only seen three hikers on this entire hike and we had the rock to ourselves for lunch as we took in the amazing view of the Staunton River Valley below us. Fork Mountain, Cat Knob, and Doubletop Mountain appear across the valley. Not a house, road, or any signs of civilization as far as the eye can see.

The hike back to Bootens Gap is a steady uphill for the first 3 miles. By the time we returned to our vehicle we were ready for a hot shower and a cold beer. This was a great hike and we will definitely return either in the spring for the wildflowers or in the early fall for the foliage.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

We used Elkton as home-base for a hiking weekend in November. We stayed at the Cave Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast, located just outside of Elkton in Mcgaheysville, VA. It was a very comfortable B&B with a friendly and helpful staff. The house was built in 1830 and the current owners are the descendants of the original owners. Best of all, they also own a small brewery located nearby, Cave Hill Farms Brewery. The brewery is located on part of the farm which dates back to 1759 when King George granted ancestors of the current owners 1,000 acres of land. 

Cave Hill Farms is a farm-to-glass brewery. They grow Cascade and Chinook hops which they use in many of the beers they produce. They also plant 60 acres of Two-Row barley every year which finds its way into many of their beers. We really liked Hoppy Gator, a West Coast Style IPA with lots of floral citrusy hops. Grapefruit, Orange and Pine are very strong up front with a heavy bitter finish. We also liked Full Mane, a New England Style IPA. It was more bitter than the Hoppy Gator, but we like our IPAs on the bitter side.

Hike and drink responsibly. Never drink and drive. Stay safe and be responsible.