Brown Mountain-Big Run Loop


Description: This is a strenuous 9.7 mile loop. Some of the ridge walk is very rocky and still exposed to the sun as the result of a devastating fire many years ago. You'll descend about 2000 feet only to have to climb back up again. The rewards are the many views along the way. Not only will you be rewarded with views of Rockytop to the west and its steep canyonesque walls and an un-named valley to the north-east but, on a clear day, you'll also be able to see the southern most end of Massanutten Mountain and the surrounding Shenandoah Valley. Be prepared for this one. Wear sturdy boots and headgear. Apply the sun block copiously if wearing short sleeves. The many pools and swimming holes along Big Run and Rocky Mountain Run will help you recover before the climb out becomes steep. If you wish to do this as an overnight backpacking trip we've marked some campsites for you.

Google Custom Directions

Special Note: Google Maps and other on-line mapping programs might suggest you use old fire roads that are no longer accessible by automobile. Use a real map to confirm your route. This trailhead is at the Brown Mountain Overlook just north of Mile Post 77 on Skyline Drive.



Printable/Downloadable Map

View 3-D Map

Zipped National Geographic. TOPO! GPS and Universal GPX Files

GPS Text File for Non-TOPO! Users



Trail Notes: From the Overlook find the break in the stone wall. This is the Brown Mountain Trailhead. From hear follow the blue blazed trail. Initially the trail passes through an open area with constant views of Rockytop and peaks and ridges beyond it. Descend into a saddle and the junction of the Rocky Mountain Run Trail on the left at 0.63 miles from the overlook. This is your return route. Continue straight and climb to the top of Rocky Mountain. The trail will switch between the ridge's northern and then southern flanks. When you first reach the top you'll pass the first of many vistas (0.99 miles from the last trail junction).

After walking along the ridge top of Rocky Mountain for a while you'll descend to another slight saddle and then climb to the top of Brown Mountain. The walk along this ridge is short but you'll enjoy at least 3 more vistas not counting the ones encountered during your descent, along switchbacks, to Big Run. In 1.04 miles from the last ridge top vista arrive at a concrete post. Bearing to the left (or more straight ahead) leads you to the junction with the yellow blazed Big Run - Portal Trail. There are no markings for the initially obvious foot trail to the right. This is an unofficial trail that leads to a couple of really nice campsites. (Note: Fires are not allowed in SNP!)

At the junction with the Big Run - Portal trail turn left. The trail fords Big Run 4 times. During periods of high water these could be wades. The crossings are at 0.24 miles, then another 0.48, then another 0.4 and the last, another 0.18 miles. There is a very nice swimming hole just above this crossing.

In a mere 0.3 miles come to a trail junction. Turn left onto the Rocky Mountain Run Trail. In another 0.71 miles arrive at a nice swimming hole. There is a campsite on the other side big enough for one or 2 tents. The climb to this point has been quite gradual. It will become slightly steeper  for the next mile and become more severe over the last mile. You will be aided near the top with some much appreciated switchbacks.

In 2.08 miles from the last swimming hole reach the junction with Brown Mountain Tr. Turn right here and retrace your initial steps back to your cars.

Critique This Outing


More photos





Name: Eaglescout/Outdoorsman                                                                           Hike: Brown Mountain-Big Run Loop

Date: 06/28-29/14                                                                                                    Rating: 5


Critique: I do a lot of backpacking in the Shenandoah National park. I decided to do a loop on Brown Mountain trail this past weekend, with the return being on Rocky Mountain Run Trail back towards the parking on skyline drive. I have done other hikes in the Big Run area but I had never done Brown Mountain trail before. The area is one of the most wild areas in the park. The trails are usually narrow, and can be overgrown at times. However, while the rocky and rugged terrain is hard to navigate at times (especially with backpacks) it will reward you with several nice views of the Big Run Wilderness area. Definitely bring a camera. You will come to multiple places with rock outcroppings where the outcrops will reach above the trees. You can climb several of these to see stunning views of the valley, Rockytop, and Big Run trails. MOST DEFINITELY Bring bug spray that will deter ticks. I remembered from my experiences with Rockytop trail that the ticks were really bad in this area so I opted to bring "Deep woods Off" repellent for both mosquitoes and ticks. I must say, I have NEVER, seen that many ticks. And what really surprised me, I didn't have a single one on my body. I found them inside my tent the next morning, in my backpack, on my clothes and even on my sleeping bag, but even after a thorough check I discovered no embedded ticks or bite marks. (Thank you bug spray) There were lots of Dog ticks and Lone star ticks, so again, I would highly recommend some form of bug spray. We camped on Big run portal trail which gave us two leisurely days worth of hiking. The valley surrounding Big Run as well as the canyons of Big Run are well worth exploring, providing great views and unspoiled wilderness. Overall one of my favorite trips in the SNP





Name: Billy Richmond Jr.                                                                                         Hike: Brown Mountain-Big Run Loop
Date: 09/22/2012                                                                                                     Rating: 4

Critique: First day of Fall so decided to take a Hike :) 64 Degrees at the Brown Mountain Overlook when I started at 8:15am. The descent right from the overlook is kinda steep but soon levels out. Some excellent views back over to RockyTop from the top of Rocky Mountain. Also got some good views of Masanutten Mountain although a little hazy looking toward the Alleghenies. I did notice the fire damage from the 1986 fire but Nature is taking over quite well. While walking on the Big Run Portal portion of the hike after the 4th crossing of Big Run I ran right into a bear. He wasn't big by any standards but wasn't little either :) I banged my hiking poles and he took off into the woods. First Bear of any size I have seen this Summer/Fall. Ran into 2 backpackers/campers on the Rocky Mountain Trail who had camped overnight in the vicinity. Slowed to my normal snail's pace moving back up the Mountain. At the cement post that marks .7 miles back to the overlook met an interesting gentleman who said he had spotted 3 bears during his hike with one being large he guessed around 300 lbs. Made it back to the Parking lot about 1:30pm for a total trip time of 5 hours and 15 minutes. Met two other hikers on the trail for a total of 5. Drank about a liter of water and ate an energy bar. It was 70 degrees in my car when I finished. Weather was beautiful. Great Hike !! Also like walking along Big Run. One day I'll try my hand at fishing.


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