Rocky Branch Trail
ElevationAscent: 295' 90 m
Descent: -961' -293 m
High: 2,762' 842 m
Low: 1,839' 560 m
GradeAvg Grade: 8% (4°)
Max Grade: 26% (15°)
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“A nice secluded run in the woods with a different feel from the typical SNP trail.”— Christy P
This is a lightly trafficked trail, so even on a beautiful fall weekend when Shenandoah NP campgrounds are sold out, you're likely to be alone on the trail. You may not be rid of road noise though, as much of the trail is near Skyline Drive. Bright yellow blazes and a visible singletrack make the trail easy to follow despite being mostly covered in leaves or vegetation. A word of caution in wet conditions—this trail may be hazardous in spots due to its shape and the ground composition.
Start your journey at the well marked trailhead at the SW corner of the 8-car capacity Hull School parking lot. The singletrack starts with 0.4 miles of rolling terrain through a thick tunnel of vegetation about 10-12 feet tall. At the 0.4 mile mark, you'll cross over the AT (if you take a right down the AT from here it is a short walk to the Beams Gap Overlook parking, an alternate if Hull School parking is full).
From 0.5 to 0.75 miles, you'll see Skyline Dr. on your right and a gentle upslope to the left. This area is a lovely open forest with rolling terrain and sun filtering through the trees on a nice day. At 0.75 mi, begin a gentle upward slope and eventually, you'll cross a tiny drainage stream at 1 mi. At the highest point in the trip, about 1.25 mi, we discovered a shout here would bounce off the trees and echo in the forest. At 1.5 mi, begin the gentle slope down until 1.7 mi where the slope steepens slightly while traversing a few log steps. At 1.8 mi, cross a spring (sometimes dry). At 2 mi you'll cross Skyline Drive.
The trail west of Skyline Dr. is different from the first two miles on the east side. The pitch drops immediately across the road where pine trees and small rocks begin to dot the trail, which gently descends until about mile 2.4. At this point, the trail is U-shaped and looks like it provides drainage during periods of heavy rain as it meanders down consistently steep pitches of the hillside before leveling off at 2.8 miles. The last 0.4 mi is an easy run along a grassy trail to the park boundary overlooking a small lake on private land.
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Land Manager: NPS - Shenandoah National Park