Hawksbill Mountain stands at 4,051′ and is the highest peak Shenandoah National Park. At the summit is an expansive outcropping of rocks and a large viewing platform, providing space for many to see the splendid neighboring mountains and lush valley below.

View of mountains from atop a rocky outcropping; dramatic blue sky
The view from Hawksbill Mountain summit, Shenandoah National Park
Hawksbill Mountain Viewing Platform

Our hikes to Hawksbill Summit

On a recent hike to the summit, I was startled by the volumes of people lined up along the rocky edge. We don’t often see many people and dogs during our hikes, therefore waiting our turn to peer out from the cliff edge was a new Shenandoah National Park experience. Our dogs, Faith and Zin, sat patiently, ready for a chance pose for their photos atop the summit rocks.

After I snapped a few pictures, we began the descent to the parking area. We could see droves of folks, many with barking dogs, walking toward the summit. I am not sure who was overstimulated more, me or my dogs! Rather than continue down the busy Upper Hawksbill Trail, we hooked a right onto the Salamander Trail, connected to the Appalachian Trail, and returned to the parking lot via the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail. Few hikers took that pathway and we found ourselves hiking is quietude.

The following weekend, as we climbed into our vehicle after a hike, a torrential downpour struck. Instead of moving on to our next planned trek, we stopped for a late afternoon snack and blackberry lemonade at the Skyland Resort and waited out the storm. As soon as the rain stopped, we drove 4 miles southbound to the Hawksbill Mountain, parked in the lower lot and trekked up the rocky trail steps. We were rewarded with an empty summit and spectacular view. Alone for 30 minutes, we watched the clouds roll out, the setting sun’s rays streaming from the dramatic, orange and blue sky.

Two families appeared and we graciously moved on, giving them the special opportunity to feel as if the summit was created just for them.

An adventure tip: Hike (carefully) after a rainstorm. You will be rewarded with less crowds, dramatic skies, sweet-smelling air and possibly a rainbow.

My husband, Faith and Zin, standing on the rocky outcropping on Hawksbill Mountain after a rainstorm.

Hiking to Hawksbill Mountain Summit

Trailhead parking

Hawksbill Mountain is closest to the Thornton Gap Entrance (milepost 31.5). Drive southbound on Skyline Drive to reach the trailhead parking lots. The Lower Hawksbill lot is located at milepost 45.5 and the Upper Hawksbill is at milepost 46.5. The Lower lot has space for approximately a dozen vehicles whereas the Upper lot is much larger and will hold at least 30 vehicles.

The trails

There are 3 paths that lead to the Upper Hawksbill Trail and summit: Lower Hawksbill Trail, Upper Hawksbill Trail and Salamander Trail. Each are accessed from either the Lower or Upper Hawksbill Parking Lots. Outlined below, shortest distance to longest, are 4 options that we have taken to visit the summit.

Access the maps on AllTrails by clicking the map images below or click the black button to scroll through all my blog published maps.

A rocky trail in lush green woods; a blue blaze on a tree beside the path
Lower Hawksbill Trail: a rocky path to the highest summit in Shenandoah National Park
Large flat rock on the side of the trail
A resting spot on Lower Hawksbill Trail

Lower Hawksbill Trail – 1.7 miles, out and back

The Lower Hawksbill Trail is the shortest route to the summit, but it is not the easiest The elevation gain is just under 700′ and the climb is gradual. The terrain, however, is rocky with unstable footing. The perfect resting rock is located at .7 miles on the left side of the trail.

At the .75 mile mark, the Lower Hawksbill Trail merges with the Upper Hawksbill Trail. Turn right and walk toward the stone shelter. Just beyond is your first opportunity for a view. You can rock scramble along the cliff or follow the dirt trail that passes the front of the shelter. Follow the “50 yards to summit” sign to reach the large viewing platform.

Return to the parking area via the same route. Use caution on the trek down the rocky slope. Some of the steps are rather steep and many stones shift a bit when stepping on them.

CLICK HERE to access and download the map: https://bit.ly/hawksbill2
A man and leashed black dog walking on a dirt path in the woods
The Upper Hawksbill Trail

Upper Hawksbill Trail – 2.1 miles, out and back

From the Upper Hawksbill Parking Lot, take the gravely-dirt path to the summit. This trail is void of big rocks and is reasonably wide for 2 people to hike side by side. It also provides space for hikers to pass each other easily. The first .3 mile is a gradual uphill, followed by .3 of relatively flat and a slight downhill. My husband calls these “little ups and downs”. At .65 miles, the trails turns 90 degrees to the right and the trail incline becomes steep and remains so until the tops. Prior to the summit, the path passes 2 mile markers. The first is on the left, mile .85, marking the Salamander Trail. The second is on the right, at the 1 mile mark. It is at this point the Lower Hawksbill Trail merges into the Upper Trail.

Walk past the Byrds Nest 2 Shelter and turn right at the top. Pass the opening of the shelter and follow the path sign to the viewing platform. Return to the parking area via the same route.

CLICK HERE to access and download the map: https://bit.ly/hawksbill4
Rock field that extends up a mountain slope
A rock field on the Appalachian Trail, directly below the Hawksbill summit

Appalachian – Salamander – Lower Hawksbill Trail Loop – 2.9 miles, loop

This loop consists of a 1.8 mile gradual uphill climb to the summit of Hawksbills Mountain. There are periods of flat and very slight elevation, for a total of 800′.

From the Lower Hawksbill Parking Lot, take the .1 mile connector trail to the Appalachian Trail. Signage marks the way to the AT. Turn left onto the path, noting the white blazes on the tree trunks that mark the AT pathway. At .5 and .6 miles, the trail crosses a boulder field. These boulders are beneath the Hawksbill Summit (pretty cool!). The path is rocky at this point but smooths out for the next .5 miles, where the AT and Salamander trails intersect. At the cement marker, take the left trail, the Salamander, which is marked with blue blazes. The right trail is the AT, marked with white paint.

Follow the Salamander Trail for .5 miles. The winds uphill along the mountain. At mile 1.6 of the loop, there is a large, unmarked rock mass on the left of the trail. The short rock scramble leads to a nice, albeit limited view. Continue the trek on Salamander Trail and turn left at the cement marker, onto the Upper Hawksbill Trail.

Walk past the Byrds Nest 2 Shelter and turn right at the top. Pass the opening of the shelter and follow the path sign to the viewing platform. To continue the loop, retrace steps on the Upper Hawksbill path, and at the cement marker, mile 2, take the Lower Hawksbill trail. Use caution while descending the final mile of trail. This section is steeper than the other paths and has a lot more rocks. Follow the blue blazes to the parking log.

CLICK HERE to access and download the map: https://bit.ly/hawksbill3
Mass of rocks under green leafy trees, blue sky peeking through the foliage
A private viewing area off the Salamander Trail

Upper Hawksbill – Salamander – Appalachian – Horse Trail Loop – 4.3 miles, loop

The largest loop to Hawksbill Mountain Summit begins at the Upper Hawksbill Parking Lot. Walk north on the Upper Hawksbill Trail to the summit. Take in the views from the cliff edges and from the Viewing Platform. Return to the Upper Hawksbill Trail walking downhill to the trail marker at mile 1.2 and turn right onto Salamander Trail. Walk .1 mile to an unmarked rock mass located on the right of the trail. This short scramble leads to a private overlook.

The next 2.2 miles are downhill. Follow the blue blazes of the Salamander Trail, and at mile 1.8, turn right on the Appalachian Trail. The white blazes clearly mark the path. At mile 2.2, carefully cross the boulder field located under the Hawksbill Cliffs. Continue .5 mile and turn right onto a marked connector trail. Cross the parking lot and Skyline Drive and join the Cedar Run trail for less than a tenth of a mile.

Turn right onto the Skyland – Big Meadow Horse Trail and follow the yellow blazes. The trail is narrow and relatively flat with a short incline at the end of the loop. Note that horses share the trail, so there may be horse poop on the path. If you see riders on the trail, step aside so that they can pass, as they have the right of way. At 4.2 miles, a cement marker designates the right turn to the parking lot. Use caution crossing Skyline Drive.

CLICK HERE to access and download the map: http://bit.ly/hawksbill1
Narrow, green, grassy trail through the woods
The Skyland – Big Meadows Horse Trail
Hawksbill Summit and Byrds Nest 2 Shelter

Hawksbill hike at-a-glance

Hike difficulty classifications (link)
Route typeOut and back or loop
Trail difficulty level
Geographic locationShenandoah National Park, Central Section
Trailhead parking optionsLower Hawksbill Lot (milepost 45.5) or Upper Hawksbill Lot (milepost 46.5)
Trail amenitiesNone. Restrooms available atSkyland Resort, milepost 41.7, or Big Meadows Resort, milepost 51
Elevation - trailhead3,369' or 3,629'
Elevation - highest peak4,051'
Elevation gain673' to 800'
Total mileage1.7 to 4.3 miles
Water sourcesNone on the trail. Water available at Skyland Resort (milepost 41.7) or Big Meadows Resort (milepost 51)
HighlightsHawksbill Summit, the highest peak in Shenandoah National Park

Click here for the National Park Service – Hawksbill Trail Map

A view of the Hawksbill cliffs from above

Rocky Outcrops

Reddish purple succulent in the foreground, mountain views in the background
A splash of color on the Hawksbill summit

Rocky outcrops are home to many rare plants and animals. The cliffs of Hawksbill Mountain are barrens, land that produces sparse vegetation. The plants that manage to grown on the outcroppings are remarkable, as they survive despite infertile soil and harsh weather conditions. Hawksbill Mountain hosts a rare plant community: the High-Elevation Greenstone Barren. This barren is found nowhere else in the world and therefore its plant and animal life is unique.

Human disturbance has negatively effected the plant and animal life on outcrops. Although we cannot change the weather or the environment, we can be cautious as we explore in nature. See below for tips on how you can protect these outcrop communities.

Tips from the National Park Service: how you can protect rocky outcrops

  • Respect posted closure signs and barriers.
  • Use only existing trails at rock outcrops.
  • Do not create new informal social trails.
  • Resist the temptation to bushwhack or go off-trail at outcrop sites.
  • Be careful to avoid trampling of small plants and lichens.
  • Pack out all of your trash and keep a firm grip on your lunch. Sudden winds on exposed outcrops can result in accidental littering.
  • Climbers: Follow the Park’s Rock Climbing Guidelines (2.2mb pdf). 

Read more about NPS Rock Outcrop Management and the Ecology of Shenandoah National Park.

Stay safe during your adventures. Do you know the 10 essentials? Click the link below to read and learn!

The 10 essentials for safe hiking

You never know when an emergency may happen. Carrying 10 essential items in your pack is important for the health and safety of yourself and others.

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God-loving, healthy lifestyle enthusiast, mother, grandmother, animal obsessed and married to my best friend. Life is good!


  1. Mary Ann Costlow Reply
    One only needs to look around. The God art is breathtaking!
    • Cori Strathmeyer Reply
      Indeed! God’s creation is stunning and where I find peace.

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