View from Thornton Hollow Overlook

MILE 27.6, THORNTON HOLLOW OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,460 feet. There's a wide view here - more than 180 degrees. The sketch shows only a part of it, mostly to the left of center. On your left, outside the sketch, the high mountain with four bumps is Hogback; farther left, lower and closer, is Sugarloaf. To the right of Fork Mountain (which is near the right end of the sketch), the distant ridge is Oventop; and farther right, nearer and higher, is the rounded top of Pass Mountain.

Geology: Across the Drive from the south end of the overlook is an exposure of massive Catoctin basalt. It shows narrow veins and exposed surfaces of a greenish-white mineral that appears to consist of parallel fibers. (The best exposure covers several square feet; it's a few feet above eye level.) This is fibrous anthophyllite - a kind of asbestos.

MILE 28.2, HULL SCHOOL TRAIL, east, and SERVICE ROAD, west. AT access; Byrds Nest Shelter No 4; explorer hikes. Park in the paved parking area.

On the east side of the Drive is the former Hull School fire road, which is now a yellow-blazed trail. It descends about two miles to the site of Hull School, where it crosses the Thornton River Trail that comes down from mile 25.4. The yellow-blazed Hull School Trail then continues across the saddle of Fork Mountain to join the Piney Branch Trail and the Keyser Run fire road.

HIKE HN-29: Byrds Nest Shelter No. 4. Round trip 0.7 miles; total climb about 485 feet; time required :50. This is a fairly easy walk. Park in the paved parking area. It's smooth most of the way, although the service road is rather steep. See Map MN-9. . Take the service road and climb to the shelter. The shelter is one of four "Byrds Nests" for which materials were donated by the late Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr.

MILE 28.5, BEAHMS GAP. Elevation 2,485 feet. AT access, hikes. When the park was established there was a good view here, directly down Kemp Hollow; the slope below the overlook was grassy, all the way down. But now it's covered with trees, and the slope is so gradual that vista clearing is impracticable.

Geology: The boulders on either side of the trail at the north end of the parking area, and those at the north end of the island, are epidotized basalt brecchia that shows many colors: various shades of purplish and green, with embedded white pebbles and fragments.

The AT crosses the Drive about 100 feet south of the parking area. Distances on the AT: north (on the west side of the Drive) it's 1.6 miles to a side trail that reaches the Drive at mile 26.8. south (on the east side) it's 3.0 miles to the Drive crossing at mile 31.4, near Thornton Gap.

Three short hikes from Beahms Gap are recommended: a loop using the AT in Beahms Gap; a hike south to a viewpoint on Pass Mountain; and a hike north to Byrds Nest Shelter No. 4 and two viewpoints near it.

HIKE HN-30: Beahms Gap and AT. Circuit 0.4 mile; total climb about 60 feet; time required 0:20.See Map MN-9. A very easy hike. If you've been driving for a while, and have only 20 minutes to stretch your legs, try this. Go to the north end of the parking area and take the trail that starts toward Byrds Nest No. 4. It reaches the white-blazed AT in a little more than 200 yards. Turn left on the AT, and follow it for about 300 yards to the Drive, passing two or more old road traces that branch off to the right. Turn left at the Drive, and return to your starting point 100 feet along the shoulder.

Map MN-9 - Beahms Gap Area

Click here for a printable map

MILE 30.1, PASS MOUNTAIN OVERLOOK. Elevation 2,460. Short hike.

A View From Pass Mountain Overlook
Photo taken by Tom Lussier

The overlook has a rather narrow view out through the mouth of Kemp Hollow and across the Shenandoah Valley to the Massanutten. The low point in the Massanutten is New Market Gap. The town that appears to fill the whole valley between the Massanutten and the mouth of Kemp Hollow is Luray. To the left of the mouth of the hollow is Pine Mountain, with divided highway U.S. 211 passing on this side of it. As the highway comes closer, it disappears between Pine Mountain and Pumpkin Hill. The ridge at the right of the hollow rises to the peak of Neighbor Mountain.

From this overlook the lights of Luray make an enchanting display after dark. Luray is the location of the famous Luray Caverns. Surprisingly, its name is pronounced with equal emphasis on both syllables, or with a slightly stronger stress on the first syllable. Origin of the name is in doubt.

Legend: One of the early settlers was a blacksmith named Louis Ramey. The town was named by taking the first syllable of his first and last name.

Legend: The first settlers were French Huguenots from Lorraine. "Luray" is a corruption of "Lorraine."

History: History: On August 13, 1812, the General Assembly of Virginia authorized a surveyor to lay out a town at the present site of Luray.

Legend: The parents of the man who drafted the bill were immigrants from Lorraine, and he gave the proposed town that name to honor them. But because of his poor penmanship the name he wrote appeared to be "Luray."  

HIKE HN-31: Pass Mountain Overlook. Circuit less than 0.25 mile. Total climb about 50 feet; time required 0:15. See Map MN-9. A pleasant, very easy walk on a smooth graded trail. Go straight out from the overlook, downhill to a rock ledge. The view here is a little wider than from the overlook. Continue downhill, following the trail around to your left through a very pleasant wooded area, and return to your starting point via the gate in the fence. This hike is on Map MN-9, but the hike is so short it does not show and you do not need a map.

Winter view of the Thornton Gap Interchange
Photo taken by Chris McClellan

MILE 30.2, FIRE ROAD, east side

MILE 31.4, FIRE ROAD, east side; AT crossing. On the west side the AT descends, crosses U.S. 211, then crosses US 211 (see below, mile 31.6.) On the east is the service road for Pass Mountain Hut. There's no safe parking here. If you want to hike on the AT, park in the parking area at Thornton Gap on the south side of the overpass.

MILE 31.5, THORNTON GAP INTERCHANGE. Elevation 2,304 feet. U.S. 211 interchange. For Luray, Luray Caverns, and I-81, exit here and turn right on U.S. 211. For Sperryville, Warrenton, and Washington, D.C., exit here and turn left on U.S. 211. Exit here if you want to climb Old Rag Mountain, Hike HC-14(P), or HC15(P).