Hogback Mountain Loop

  • Highlights: Nice views, Appalachian Trail, wildflowers, wildlife, fall foliage
  • Distance: 7.1 mile loop
  • Elevation change: 1,123 feet
  • Difficulty level: Moderate/Strenuous
  • Trailhead Parking: Piney River parking area, Skyline Drive mile 22.3, park fee required
  • Website: Shenandoah National Park
  • Beer Pairings: Pen Druid Brewing Co.—Golden Swan Wild Ale & Arkansas Black Sparkling Cider

The Hike:

We cobbled together several shorter hikes along with a three-mile stretch of the AT for this loop hike. There are several trail junctions which can be a bit confusing. Take a photo from the kiosk map at the trailhead or use AllTrails. Note: AllTrails calls this hike “Appalachian Trail: Hogback Overlook to Jenkins Gap”. This hike doesn’t go anywhere near Jenkins Gap, hopefully they will correct the name some day.

The trails are well marked and well maintained. This hike is a loop so you can in either direction. We chose to go clockwise. The first half of this hike on the AT has several view points and lots of wildflowers and mountain laurel. The ideal time to do this hike would mid to late-Spring for peak wildflowers or in the fall for peak foliage. We hiked on a rainy, overcast day in August but still enjoyed the hike. 

Begin the hike at the parking area near the Piney River Ranger Station. There is an old Civilian Conservation Corps building here from the 1930s. Across the parking lot road from the green CCC building is a cement post and kiosk marking the trailhead.

Follow the Piney Branch Trail for about .1 miles to the four-way junction with the AT. Turn left on the white-blazed AT heading north and cross Skyline Drive. This is the first of four Skyline Drive crossings on this hike. The AT begins a gradual ascent of over 450’ in the first mile as you climb Sugarloaf Mountain. There are several short, unmarked spur trails off to the left leading to viewpoints. As Yogi Berra would say “when you see a fork in the road, take it”.

The AT travels along the top of a ridge for the next few miles passing near the summit of Hogback Mountain. After the third Skyline Drive Crossing, follow the fire road for about 100 yards and the AT will split off to the right. The fire road leads to the summit of Hogback Mountain. The views from the summit are blocked by trees and there is a large communication tower so we decided to skip the summit and stay on the AT.

The AT descends down from Hogback Mountain and is very steep in sections with several switchbacks. At just over 3 miles, the AT enters into a meadow with lots of wildflowers. Look behind you for a great view of Hogback Mountain. Don’t forget to follow the short unmarked spur trails leading off to the left for some nice views.

The AT continues to descend past Little Hogback Mountain and reaches the fourth and final Skyline Drive crossing at 3.6 miles. At this point we leave the AT and pass through the Keyser Run Parking area to a trailhead with a kiosk. Follow the yellow-blazed Keyser Run Fire Road for 1 mile to a four-way trail junction.

Turn right at the junction and follow the blue-blazed Pole Bridge Link Trail. This section of the trail is a nice walk in the woods. Pass the junction with the Sugarloaf Trail and continue straight. At 5.6 miles, reach a junction with the Piney Branch Upper Trail. Turn right and follow the blue-blazed Piney Branch Upper Trail over two small stream crossings. The trail begins to climb over the next 1.5 miles. At the four-way junction with the AT continue straight to return to the Piney River parking area and your vehicle.

Hike Photos:

Click on an image below for an enlarged view.

Beer Pairing:

There are several beer options following this hike. Just a few miles south on Skyline Drive is the Elkwallow Wayside. It’s open from April to October and has indoor and outdoor seating, food, and Shenandoah National Park beers brewed by Basic City Brewing. The canned beer options include: Limberlost Lager, Big Meadows IPA, White Oak Wit, and Bearfence DIPA.

Outside of the park there are several brewery options in Luray and Sperryville. We decided to try Pen Druid Brewing in Sperryville. Pen Druid is a “wild, spontaneous, barrel-fermented, farmhouse brewery”. They brew mostly sour beers and cider and they also have a variety of wines from Domestique Wine. On weekends, the SUMAC food truck dishes out great local, farm to table wood fired food. The outdoor beer garden is dog friendly and has great views.

Pen Druid’s beers are wild fermented with native yeasts captured at the brewery. They are a small batch brewery using a 10 barrel wood fired system and the beer selection changes frequently. Pete liked Golden Swan, an American Wild Ale, the only non-sour beer on tap during our visit. Kathy decided to try the Arkansas Black Sparkling Cider made with heirloom Arkansas Black apples.

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