MILE 18.4, GIMLET RIDGE OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,675 feet. The view is straight out toward Signal Knob, at the right end of the Massanutten. Farther to the right you can look across the Browntown Valley and the Shenandoah Valley. The sketch shows the right end of the view, beginning just to the right of Browntown. The cliff on South Marshall, shown at the right end of the sketch, has a very worthwhile view, and it's an easy walk from mile 15.95 on the Drive. (See Hike HN-11.)

To your left, the high peak with the radio towers is Hogback, with Gimlet Ridge descending to the right of it. Gooney Run, which drains the Browntown Valley, flows away from you - past Browntown and out through the notch between Dickey Ridge and the last of the three small hills that enclose the Browntown Valley on the left. These hills, with nearly the same elevation and almost equally spaced, are, from left to right, Round Mountain, Long Mountain, and Buck Mountain.  

View to right from Gimlet Ridge Overlook

MILE 18.9, AT CROSSING. Elevation 2,805 feet. Park at the Mount Marshall overlook at mile 19.0. Distances on the AT: north (on the east side of the Drive) it's 1.3 miles to Gravel Springs Gap, mile 17.6; south (on the west side) it's 0.6 mile to Little Hogback Overlook, mile 19.7.

View from Mount Marshall Overlook (No. 1)

MILE 19.0, MOUNT MARSHALL OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,850 feet. The view is wide, and two sketches are used to show it. The first one shows the left part of the view, from the Marshalls to Harris Hollow, which is a little to the left of straight out from the overlook. The cliffs on both Marshalls provide fine views, and can be easily reached from mile 15.95 (hikes HN-11 and HN-12).

View from Mount Marshall Overlook (No. 2)

In the second sketch, the hollow between Jenkins Mountain and Keyser Mountain is locally called Gid Brown Hollow. In both Gid Brown and Harris hollows you can see trees in rows. These are some of the apple orchards for which Rappahannock County is famous.

Geology: Note that The Peak, Wolf Mountain, Jenkins Mountain, and Keyser Mountain, all of which you can see from here, are separated by gaps from the main Blue Ridge. From overlooks farther south you can see that Pignut, Fork Mountain, and Oventop are similarly separated from the main ridge. A fault line passes through the gaps that separate these mountains from the ridge. It was not movement along the fault that caused the separation; but such movement shattered and weakened the rocks, and made them more susceptible to erosion.

History: As was mentioned, Lord Fairfax kept seignorial rights to several huge estates in this area. One of these was the Manor of Leeds, which consisted of 119,927 acres, including the two peaks of Mt. Marshall and lands to the east and north.

Lord Fairfax must have seen the American Revolution coming, for in 1767 he "conveyed" his estates to his nephew, who promptly "conveyed" them back. Thus Fairfax acquired a private title, as well as a seigniorial title, to his lands. After the revolution the seigniorial title was worthless, but the private title remained valid.

Fairfax died in 1781. His heir later sold the estates to a syndicate of speculators, who divided the land among them. The speculator that got the Manor of Leeds was John Marshall, who was Chief Justice of the United States from 1801 to 1835. The two Mt. Marshalls are named for him.

MILE 19.4, KEYSER RUN FIRE ROAD, east side. AT access, west side. Hikes. There's a small parking area beside the fire road, a few feet from the Drive.

Look at Map MN-5, and note that there is a separate letter of the alphabet given to each trail junction. You're at point "A," at right center of the map, at one end of a network of trails and roads that offer a dozen or more different hikes. The best starting point for most of them is point "L," at top center of the map. In the discussion of hikes from that point there is a table giving the distance and climb for each link in the network. Using the table and the map, you can put together your own hikes. Three that you might start from here are suggested.

HIKE HN-15: Keyser Run Road, Piney Branch, AT. Circuit 6.8 miles; total climb about 1,145 feet; time required 5:30. See Map MN-5. This is a medium-difficult hike. None of it is very steep, and only a few stretches are rough. The only views are from Hogback and Little Hogback Mountains, which are easily reached from and described at mile 19.7 (a short walk) and mile 20.4 (Hike HN-18) on the Drive).

Follow the Keyser Run Road, mostly downhill, for exactly a mile to four-way. Here the Little Devils Stairs Trail goes left, and the Pole Bridge Link goes right. Turn right. The blue-blazed Pole Bridge Link is nearly level, following an old road trace most of the way; it is less than one mile to point "J." Continue straight, onto the blue-blazed Piney Branch Trail, and cross the stream at the site of the former "pole bridge."

From point "J" to point "K" it's mostly smooth and gently uphill. Continue straight ahead about 50 yards to the AT and turn right. Then cross the Drive at point "M" on the map, with Rattlesnake Point Overlook in view to the right. Ascend easily past the summit of Sugarloaf; pass the junction with the Tuscarora Trail on the left, and then cross the first of the four humps of Hogback.

Cross the Drive and climb the second hump. A short side trail on the left leads to some large granite boulders above Hogback Mountain Overlook, with a view down the crest of Gimlet Ridge and, to the right, Browntown Valley and Dickey Ridge. Pass the junction with the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail on the right. Descend, cross the Drive, and climb the third and highest hump of Hogback. On the summit are antenna towers of various radio systems, including the one used by the park. Descend about 150 yards on the far side of the summit, and watch for a short side trail leading to a viewpoint at the left. (This point is used as a hang glide launching site, because the slope is abrupt.) Straight ahead you can look down the Browntown Valley to Front Royal, with Dickey Ridge ascending to the right. On your left, Gimlet Ridge descends from the high point on Hogback.

Continue across the fourth hump of Hogback, and descend to Little Hogback Overlook. About 125 yards beyond the overlook, with the summit of Little Hogback on your right, the AT takes a left turn then a sharp right. Straight ahead a side trail leads to a ledge with a view similar to that from the hang glide launch site. Continue on the white-blazed AT for another quarter of a mile, then and watch for the side trail that will take you back to your starting point.

Little Devils Stairs Waterfall
Photo taken by Christine Anderson

HIKE HN-16: Keyser Run Road, Little Devils Stairs. Round trip 4.8 miles, total climb about 1,585 feet; time required 5:15. See map Map MN-5. This hike takes you to the bottom of the canyon, and back again by the same route. It requires a fairly strenuous effort. There is a small parking area near the park boundary at the "P" symbol on the map. If you can get some one to meet you there, you can make this a one-way downhill hike and save a lot of climbing. The parking lot is reached from Route 622, Gid Brown Hollow Road which goes northwest from SR 211/522 about 2.5 miles north of Sperryville VA at the southwest side of a bridge over the Covington River. Follow 622 for 2 miles to just past a bridge over the Covington River. Take a sharp left onto SR 614, Keyser Run Road. Follow it about three miles to the small parking area and the start of the Little Devils Stairs Trail and the base of the Keyser Run Fire Road. Little Devils Stairs is very much like Big Devils Stairs (Hike HN-13), and not a great deal smaller; however, since the trail stays in the canyon rather than above it, the scenery of rock outcrops is different and very interesting.

The stream crossings involved aren't difficult because the stream is small. But the rocks can be deceptively slippery, even when they're dry. Use caution, especially on the way down the gorge. (Many find the footing more reliable on the way up and if you have the time, the next hike which goes up the gorge is recommended.) If it's raining, or if there is snow or ice on the rocks, you should postpone your hike.

At the bottom of the gorge (point "C" on the map), the trail flattens out and swings to the right, away from the stream. Turn back here and climb to your starting point.

Waterfall Along Keyser Run
Photo taken by Daniel Mapel

HIKE HN-17: Keyser Run Road, Little Devils Stairs. Circuit 7.7 miles, total climb about 1,845 feet; time required 7:15. See Map Map MN-5. This hike goes down the fire road then returns by a climb up the stairs/gorge. Because of its length and the amount of climbing, it's a fairly difficult hike. You will be covering the easier downhill fire road section first and the more difficult climb through the gorge on the second part of your hike. Note: This hike may be made starting at the base parking in the area shown at the "P" symbol on the map. It is reached from SR 622, Gid Brown Hollow Road. The directions are provided in the description of the previous hike. There is an entrance fee charged at an honor station in the lower parking lot. If you make the hike from the perimeter/base it is strongly recommended that you hike up Little Devils stairs and return by Keyser Run Road.

From the Drive take the yellow-blazed Keyser Run Fire Road. At one mile you will pass the start of the Little Devils Stairs Trail. Continue down the Keyser Run Fire Road. At about an additional 2.4 miles the trail makes a turn to the left and you will see the Bolen cemetery on your left. As you can imagine, it once was fairly elegant. Inside the wall are 21 inscribed markers of marble or granite, and a dozen fieldstone markers. A plaque has been installed with a poem dedicated to the memory of the people who lived here before the park was established. The Bolens were relatively prosperous farmers, millers, and blacksmiths. Two Bolen families, owning a total of 795 acres, lived here before the park was established. Continue downhill on the yellow-blazed Keyser Run Fire Road, 1.4 miles to the park boundary and the small parking lot.

The blue-blazed Little Devils Stairs Trail begins across the parking lot. For the first 1.4 miles before the steep part of the gorge look for evidence of the former residents: an old stone wall and rock abutments where a bridge once crossed the stream. (The bridge was built by the CCC.) See the previous hike for a description of the climb through the gorge. At 1.9 miles from the parking lot turn right on the yellow-blazed Keyser Run Fire Road and proceed 1 mile to your starting point.

MILE 19.7, LITTLE HOGBACK OVERLOOK. Elevation 3,035 feet. AT access. Short walk to viewpoint. The overlook itself provides a narrow view down the Browntown Valley. At your left, the crest of Hogback Mountain rises above the treetops. The summit of Little Hogback is out of sight in the woods, about 500 feet to your right. The AT passes below the overlook, 25 yards beyond the wall. And 25 yards beyond the AT, the slope drops off steeply into the Browntown Valley.

Access to the AT is via a 25-yard trail at the north end of the overlook (that's the right-hand end as you face the Valley). Distances on the AT: North (straight ahead from the end of the access trail) it's 0.6 mile to the Drive crossing at mile 18.9; South (a sharp double-back to the left from the end of the access trail) it's 1.2 miles to the Drive crossing at mile 20.8, at the north end of Hogback Overlook.

The round trip to the viewpoint is a little less than 0.2 mile, with a climb of about 80 feet, so it is not shown in the list of hikes, but it is recommended. Take the connecting trail at the north end of the overlook and continue in the same direction on the AT to where it makes a sharp right turn. A side trail goes straight ahead here, fifteen yards to the viewpoint. The view is straight out through the Browntown Valley to the north end of the Massanutten. Dickey Ridge ascends to the right; Browntown is in a line between you and the high point on Dickey Ridge. Hogback is at your left, with Gimlet Ridge descending from it to the hills that close off the Browntown Valley on the west.