Hawksbill Summit/Rose River Falls Loop

Description: This is a moderate 7.8 - 9.2 mile (includes a side trip to Rose River Falls) circuit visiting Hawksbill Summit, the highest point in SNP at 4050 feet elevation. There are several minor vistas along the AT before you reach this point, especially along the segment that passes under Franklin Cliffs. While the Salamander Trail and the Upper Hawksbill Parking Spur Trail might see a lot of foot travel during prime hiking season the 3 miles of the Skyland/Big Meadows Horse Trail will provide you with some degree of solitude. The hike down to the Rose River Falls is highly recommended especially after a wet winter. There is a lower second falls that requires a tricky bushwhack down to the river.


If in search of a little more mileage, elevation gain and pretty streams with chutes and falls add the rest of the Rose River Loop Tr, Hogcamp Tr and Rose River Fire Road as shown on the Rose River/Dark Hollow Circuit map. This will add a mile and about another 200 feet of elevation gain to the trek.


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Printable/Downloadable Map

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Zipped National Geographic. TOPO! GPS and Universal GPX Files

GPS Text File for Non-TOPO! Users


Trail Notes: All trails are blazed. Trail junctions are clearly marked with concrete posts. From the parking lot begin walking back out to Skyline Drive. You'll see a gravel road paralleling the parking area on the left. Descend to it a pick up the white blazed AT heading north.

Check out several trailside vistas as you pass under Franklin Cliffs. In about 1.38 miles pass by Spitler Knob Overlook and then a blue blazed spur trail on the right which leads to parking fro the Rock Spring Cabin.

Continue on the AT and in another 0.53 miles pass a blue blazed trail on the left which leads to Rock Spring Cabin and hut. A service road on the right leads to Skyline Drive. Stay on the AT.

In 0.28 miles come to the junction with the blue blazed Salamander Tr. Turn right onto it as it switchbacks up for 0.65 miles. The trail splits. If you take the right fork soon step onto a gravel road. Turn left and follow the road up to Byrds Nest # 2. Hawksbill Summit is another 50 yards up the trail.

After taking in the views proceed down the road. Just behind the Byrds Nest pass a blue blazed trail on the left that leads to Hawksbill Gap. Stay on the road. In about 0.2 miles come to another concrete post. Turn left onto the blue blazed spur trail that will take you to the Upper Hawksbill parking area in 0.7 miles.

Cross Skyline drive and turn right (south) in a few yards come to a spur trail that leads to the Skyland/Big Meadows Horse Tr. In a few yards arrive at the junction with same (yellow blazes). Turn right onto it. For the next 2.95 miles you will be hiking on a pretty wide and smooth trail. There are a few rocky sections and some short climbs but route is generally downhill.

After 2.95 miles from joining the horse trail come to the junction with blue blazed Rose River loop Tr. turn left onto it and descend, via switchbacks, for about 0.7 miles to the top of Rose River Falls. A tricky bushwhack leads you to the base of the lower falls.

The trail continues down river but to complete this hike as described turn around and retrace your steps back up to the junction with the horse trail. Turn left onto the horse trail and in 0.44 miles arrive at the Rose River Fire Road. From here you can see Skyline Drive and the Fishers Gap Overlook Parking Area to the right. Turn right and return to your car.


Printable/Downloadable Directions and Trail Notes

Critique This Outing



Name: Cindy                                                                                                              Hike: Hawksbill Summit/Rose River Falls Loop
Date: May 17, 2012                                                                                                  Rating: 5

Critique: This hike gives you a little bit of everything with waterfalls on one side of the drive and vista views on the other.

We hiked the course in a different order, because we wanted to end up at the falls at lunchtime. We parked at the Upper Hawksbill parking lot and began hiking on the horse trail. The horse trail was rockier than I'd expected. The falls were spectacular thanks to recent rains. We hiked to the lower falls, which was worth it. No bushwhacking was required, as another viewer stated, but the wet ground was a bit slippery.

The AT portion of the hike offered beautiful views of the valley, including the grand finale at the Hawksbill Summit. We saw lots of wildlife on this hike, including a mountain lion about 40 yards ahead of us on the AT. Fortunately, he moved on so we could continue our hike.


Name: ElliottsKnob                                                                                                   Hike: Hawksbill Loop
Date: October 14                                                                                                       Rating: 5

Critique: I have to say this is some fine country to walk through. Against my better judgment I decided to brave the 'leafers' and sample the view on this exceptionally clear day.

Normally crowds make me think of the Great North Mountain and points to the West, but I'd never been on Hawksbill with such visibility [except once in the dead of winter]. The old-timers used to say you could see Washington from the Blue Ridge. Let's just say my curiosity got the better of me.

The color was really quite nice and Spitler Hill [the horse trail] provides a bit of solitude that was lacking on the rest of the trails. We've had some rain this season, so the streams are nice too.

I'd still recommend this as a Winter adventure, especially if solitude was a priority, but I'm glad I went this time.


Name: Michele P                                                                                                       Hike: Hawksbill Summit/Rose River Falls
Date: 12/31/2006                                                                                                    Rating: 3

Critique: It was still foggy when we were hiking the Hawksbill Summit part, but it was obvious this is normally a beautiful area with great views. Unfortunately, it was so cold with the wind at the summit, we could only stand there for a few seconds. The hike to the summit was a steady climb, but not too strenuous at any time.

The horse trail (yellow loop) was extremely boring and harder than it sounds because of the numerous fallen tree branches and limbs we had to get through. To top it off, the footing was perilous with the leaf-covered rocks. We hated this three mile stretch, which felt much longer than it was.

The falls were pretty and we're glad we went down to see them. We didn't need to do any bushwhacking to get to the bottom of them (maybe because of the season), although the footing is indeed tricky because a few parts are pretty steep and narrow.

Overall, it was okay but we wouldn't do the second half again. I'd recommend that if you want to see the falls that bad, just take the Rose River trail from Skyline Drive. The horse trail is miserable.


Name: ElliottsKnob                                                                                                  Hike: Hawksbill Summit/Rose River Falls
Date: January 1, 2007                                                                                             Rating: 5

Critique: Chilling at the top of Hawksbill without getting chilled to the bone is possible if you get on the rocks just below the Old Rag side of the stone overlook structure. There are a few nice seats on the rocks there.


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