AT: Compton Peak & Fort Windham Rocks

  • Highlights: Nice views, unique geology, rock scrambles, Appalachian Trail, wildflowers, wildlife
  • Distance: 6.1 miles out and back
  • Elevation change: 1,281 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate/Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: Jenkins Gap parking area, Skyline Drive mile 12.4, park fee required
  • Website: Shenandoah National Park Compton Peak and Fort Windham Rocks 
  • Beer Pairings: Front Royal Brewing Co.—Park Pass Helles Lager & Wanting in Numbers DIPA

The Hike:

This hike is a geology lovers dream with cool rock formations, mini rock scrambles, and plenty of rocks and boulders along the trail. Most of this hike is on the Appalachian Trail and it is well marked and well maintained.  Begin the hike at the Jenkins Gap parking area, directly across Skyline Drive from the Jenkins Gap Overlook. 

At the south end of the parking lot, find the cement trail post and follow the Jenkins gap Trail about 150 feet to the junction with the Appalachian Trail. Turn right and follow the white-blazed AT north for 1.3 miles to Compton Peak. The AT gradually climbs over 400’ as it reaches the summit and a four-way trail junction. 

Short spur trails lead to the left (west) and right (east) to view points. Each spur trail is .2 miles long. The blue-blazed spur trail to the west leads to a rocky ledge with a nice overlook to the Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain. On a clear day, the views include the Shenandoah River, the Piedmont Plateau, and Dickey Ridge.

Retrace your steps back to the four-way junction and cross over the AT heading east on the other blue-blazed spur trail. The trail is steep and rocky and travels down to a large boulder on the right. A short scramble to the top of the boulder provides some partially obstructed views of Mount Marshall and the eastern Blue Ridge.

Continue down the steep path to the base of the boulder for a great example of columnar jointing. The rocks here are old lava flows called greenstones. They are over 550 million years old and are considered a rare geological phenomenon. Admire and appreciate and then retrace your steps back to the AT.

Turn right on the AT and continue northbound as the trail gradually descends to Compton Gap. Cross Skyline Drive and pass through the gate at the end of the parking lot where the AT joins a fire road for a short distance. At the first trail junction, about .2 miles from the parking area, turn left on the blue-blazed Dickey Ridge Trail. The rock formation will appear on the right in about .2 miles. 

Turn right on a short unmarked spur trail which leads to the right and then behind the rocks. Several small rock scrambles lead to the summit. These rocks are also greenstones, lava flows from the Catoctin Formation. Climb and scramble over the rocks and contemplate all that has transpired in the last 550 million years. Retrace your steps back to the AT junction. Turn right and follow the AT south to Jenkins Gap. Turn left on the Jenkins Gap Trail to reach the parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

Front Royal is the northern gateway to Shenandoah National Park and also home to Front Royal Brewing Company. In addition to great beer, they also have excellent food, live music, and a great urban beer garden. Our server Emily is also a hiker and we shared favorite trails as we enjoyed cold beers on a hot humid afternoon.

Kathy really liked Wanting in Numbers, a West Coast Style Double IPA brewed with Galaxy and Citiva hops. Pete was looking for someone crisp and refreshing to help beat the heat and Park Pass Helles Lager fit the bill perfectly. Park Pass is a traditional German-style lager made with Noble German hops. At 5% ABV, it isn’t really a session beer, but it could be.

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

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