This route is quite rewarding, though it's not for the faint of heart. The trails are strenuous, and require a lot of climbing, even when compared to the long distance required to finish the loop.
Begin this loop from the Elkwallow Gap, where parking and a well-marked trailhead make a clear beginning point. This route can be completed in either direction, though this guide follows a counter-clockwise direction.
Visitors will begin by embarking on a portion of the Appalachian Trail (AT), which climbs north, and then west from the trailhead. This trail portion is blazed with white, and if you're unsure just keep an eye out for the blazes. The AT: Potomac Appalachian Trail will then mirror Skyline Drive as it begins to head south. Visitors will follow this trail as it rolls up and down for about 4 miles, until reaching an intersection with the Neighbor Mountain Trail
. From there, visitors will make a right turn onto the Neighbor Mountain Trail
, which will head west.
This portion of yellow-blazed trail covers some of the most technical terrain of the route. Visitors will continue on as the trail traverses a ridgeline. Take your time in this section, and enjoy the features specific to the higher elevation. Sharp eyes will spot beautiful white birch trees, a rare species in the area. After a few miles of ridgetop travel, the trail begins to lose elevation steadily. There will be a few steep drops, and using caution between miles 7 and 8 is advised. Switchbacks make the downward progression more comfortable, though the way is still steep.
At mile 8, the Neighbor Mountain Trail
ends at a three-way junction with the Jeremys Run Trail
, and the Knob Mtn Trail
. Here, the loop makes a right turn, heading east on the Jeremys Run Trail
. Keep an eye out for blue blazes, continue east, and you'll know that you're on the right path! Where the AT and the Neighbor Mountain Trail
moved along a ridgeline, this trail moves along a creek. Along the way, visitors will have a few shallow crossings, and will enjoy the sound of the water, even when the creek is out of sight. The return trip is a gradual incline, and you'll regain most of the elevation lost on the Neighbor Mountain Trail
Carry on this trail for a total of 4.8 miles, and you'll find yourself back at your vehicle.
Thanks to Larry W. Brown, for sharing this description. If you’re interested in learning more details about great hikes, weather, camping / lodging, wildlife, and scenic drives, check out the comprehensive Guide to Shenandoah National Park