Column by Stan Horst
The Humpback Rocks area, located near milepost 6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, provides a variety of educational and scenic opportunities. Explore both the natural and the cultural world of our southern Appalachian Mountains.
On the west side of the parkway you’ll find the Mountain Farm Trail, a short and easy ¼ mile walk that winds through a re-creation of an Appalachian Mountain farm. Take some time to visit each of the buildings, read the descriptions and explanations that are posted, and imagine what it would be like to live here in the 1890s. During the summer months, costumed interpreters will help that imagination by showing and explaining various facets of mountain farm life near the turn of the century.
After visiting the farm, you’ll want to stop by the visitor’s center for a quick restroom break before heading across the Parkway to tackle one of several excellent hikes. While here, check out the small museum for more information about early American life in the mountains.
On the east side of the Parkway, it’s easy to find the most popular trail, and when you get to the top, you’ll understand why it is the most popular. Although the hike is difficult, don’t let its physically demanding nature turn you back. This strenuous climb of about 800 feet takes most people about 45 minutes, but is so very worth it. The views from the top are absolutely incredible! You’ll be looking west into the Shenandoah Valley, and north into the Shenandoah National Park.
Chances are you won’t be alone at the top. Weekends and holidays find the Humpback Rocks very busy, but most people just take the main trail up to the rocks and back down to the parking area. Additional views can be found when leaving Humpback Rocks by turning right (south) onto the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. You’ll find great views at about 0.4 miles, 1.1 miles, and 2.0 miles. If you visit all three additional views, this spur will add about four miles to your hike by the time you go out and back.
Rather than heading straight down the mountain back the same path you came up, head north on the Appalachian Trail for a gradual descent of 2.7 miles. Just don’t miss the intersection with the blue-blazed trail back to the parking area, or you’ll find yourself on a much longer hike than you intended.
If tackling the 800-foot climb to the Rocks seems a little daunting, another trail leaves from the same parking area and provides a very interesting hike without all the physical demands. Called the Jack Albright Trail, this three-mile hike takes you through a wide variety of terrain, including open forest with very tall trees, and brushy areas through stands of rhododendron and mountain laurel.