This hike is not for the faint of heart. Several very steep sections and rocky areas make this loop a very difficult challenge, but the views will reward you along the way.
Shenandoah has entrance fees. No restrooms along trail. This is a long loop so pack plenty of water and some food.
This hike makes several turns, but all turns are clearly marked. You can begin on Skyline Drive at Blackrock Summit Parking, Dundo Picnic area or Browns Gap Road
. You could also start at the Furnace Mountain Trailhead parking. I started at the Blackrock Summit Parking area.
Follow the AT south for about a half mile to Blackrock Summit. Blackrock Summit is the best view on this loop and one of the better views in Shenandoah National Park. The summit has a nearly 360-degree view and is strewn with boulders that are fun to climb on.
After spending as much time as you want at Blackrock Summit, follow the Trayfoot Mountain Trail
toward the Furnace Mountain Trail
. Veer right and head toward Furnace Mountain. Shortly after veering right, you'll pass over several rocky areas of the trail. This is the uppermost section of a large rock field. There are several opportunities to climb through the brush on the right of the trail to enter the rock field. This rock field is different than the boulder field on Blackrock Summit. The rocks are much smaller and shift more as you hike on them, but you'll be rewarded with great views if you venture out.
Continue down the Furnace Mountain Trail
until you reach the intersection with the Furnace Mtn Summit Trail
. The trail to Furnace Mountain's summit is worth the trip (with a view of Austin Mountain), but the view is certainly not as good as Blackrock Summit.
Return to the Furnace Mountain Trail
and continue down, passing several partially obstructed views, before reaching Madison Run at the bottom. This is the only stream crossing and may require getting your feet wet depending on the water level.
Turn right on the Madison Run Fire Road and follow it until you come to the Austin Mountain Trail
. You can continue on the gently sloping fire road or take the challenging Austin Mountain Trail
. If you choose the take the fire road, you'll end up at Browns Gap.
The Austin Mountain Trail
climbs up sharply through several rock slides before becoming more manageable. There are several views of Furnace Mountain during the climb. You'll eventually merge onto the Rockytop Trail
. Continue straight on the Rockytop Trail
until you arrive at the AT.
Follow the AT south, crossing Skyline Drive twice and passing Browns Gap and Dundo Picnic Grounds.
Typical Shenandoah animals can be seen, but I did not see anything larger that a squirrel. Insects aren't quite as bad as some trails because you only pass near water for a short bit of time.