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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Backpack Rocky Mount & Gap Run in Shenandoah National Park

A much less traveled loop in Shenandoah National Park's South District, the 9.5 mile Rocky Mount & Gap Run Loop offers sweeping panoramas and a steady dose of solitude. Highlighted by a cliffside campsite ideal for sunset, the loop is an excellent option for those seeking a quiet evening surrounded by stunning views. Backcountry camping permit required.

Rocky Mount Shenandoah National Park

Trailhead elevation 2,740'

Water between miles 5 and 5.6 along the Gap Run Trail

Don't miss camping and sunset on the summit of Rocky Mount

Backpack Rocky Mount & Gap Run

The loop starts at the Rocky Mount Trailhead, located 0.1 miles north of the Two Mile Run Overlook along Skyline Drive. While the park does not have an official parking area at the trailhead, parking is allowed. Alternatively, parking at the overlook offers a view of Rocky Mount and the ridge that hikers will ascend during the hike. In the photo below, Rocky Mount is the peak farthest to the right.

Two Mile Run Overlook Shenandoah National Park

From the trailhead, the blue-blazed path descends approximately 800 feet over the first two miles before reaching an intersection with the Gap Run Trail. For backpackers, it's recommended to continue along the Rocky Mount Trail and reserve the Gap Run Trail for the second day. The rest of the information below follows this route. After the junction, the trail ascends steeply, gaining about 800 feet over the next 1.2 miles, with occasional views of surrounding mountains.

Rocky Mount Trail Shenandoah National Park

At approximately the 3.5-mile mark, the trail reaches the summit of Rocky Mount. Near coordinates 38.3311460, -78.6498684, a short spur trail branches off to the left, leading to a small rock outcropping and excellent 180-degree views that go on for miles.

Rocky Mount Shenandoah National Park

Although notably small, the rock outcropping is the preferred camping spot along the loop. It can accommodate only one tent, making it ideal for solo backpackers. I normally backpack with a Zpacks Plex Solo, but knowing that there is no place to stake down up there, I used my REI Arete ASL 2. With floor dimensions of 88 x 57 inches, it just barely fit.

Rocky Mount Shenandoah National Park

In the event that this spot is taken, there is a usable area about 0.2 miles before the summit near a hairpin turn in the trail. While not perfectly flat, it can serve as a fallback option. The next suitable camping spot along the loop is roughly 5.8 miles into the hike, or 2.3 miles beyond the summit. Regardless of where camp is made, proper food storage is encouraged due to the park's healthy black bear population.

Rocky Mount Shenandoah National Park

While the daytime views from the outcropping are impressive, the sunsets really steal the show. To the west, hikers can enjoy a continuous stretch of rocky cliffs and, on clear days, views of the South Fork Shenandoah River and the mountain range separating Virginia and West Virginia.

Rocky Mount Shenandoah National Park

There is a fair amount of space to stretch out and relax at this site, but the cliffs do present some danger. With 15 to 20-foot drops on all sides, hikers should exercise caution when exploring. It's definitely not a spot for sleepwalkers.

Rocky Mount Shenandoah National Park

Early risers are often rewarded with stunning sunrises from the summit as well. To the southeast, hikers can take in views of Brown Mountain, Rocky Mountain, and Lewis Peak, among others, as the sun begins its slow crawl over the horizon. A careful eye will also spot the stone wall of the Two Mile Run Overlook far off in the distance.

Rocky Mount Shenandoah National Park

After the summit, the trail continues, descending 1,500 feet over the next three miles. Views are sparse along this section, but there is one impressive view where the trail crosses a large scree field.

Rocky Mount Trail Shenandoah National Park

This part of the trail also has moderate overgrowth. Hikers planning to do the loop should strongly consider bringing a tick remover. During my hike, I had to remove nine ticks from my legs during this stretch, and others have reported similar experiences.

Gap Run Trail Shenandoah National Park

Around the 5-mile mark, the Rocky Mount Trail merges with the Gap Run Trail and flattens out. From miles 5 to 5.6, water can be filtered from Gap Run. Before and after this stretch, there are no other reliable water sources along the loop. At approximately 5.8 miles, there's a grassy area on the right side of the trail that could serve as a campsite, but it's likely a haven for ticks. The only established campsite along the Gap Run Trail is located on the left side near the 7.2-mile mark. Beyond this site, the trail ascends steeply before intersecting with the Rocky Mount Trail, which eventually leads back to the trailhead.


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