One of our favorite hikes in the northern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is only 5 miles from the park’s starting milepost. Not only does the Humpback Rocks area offer stunning views, the trail starts with an interpretative walk steeped in history and culture.
The star of the show, the Humpback Rocks, are famous today for their breathtaking views. However, historically this outcropping was a landmark along the Howardsville Turnpike, guiding wagons over the main route across the narrow Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1840’s.
At milepost 5.8 is the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, the first visitor center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to restrooms, there’s a tiny museum inside the little house. Showcasing artifacts from 1850 to 1950, the museum looks at how people in these parts once lived.
Complimenting the indoor museum, follow the sidewalk to the back of the parking lot to find the historical William J. Carter farm.
The period buildings are not originally from this location, but are very much authentic to the Blue Ridge. During the creation of the parkway, the park service moved buildings from the local area to this spot for preservation and easy viewing.
The short, easy interpretative walk winds past several farm structures and tools used in these parts around the late 19th century. Plaques guide visitors around the site, but the park also puts on seasonal programs and costumed demonstrations.
At the end of the farm, you can either go back the way you came, or continue on to the Humpback Rock Hiking Trail. You’ll pass through a kissing gate and have to cross the road. On busy days this may be your best option as parking is limited at the Humpback Gap parking lot.
It was a rather quiet morning in the park during our visit, so we went back and moved the car to the closer parking lot.
Humpback Rocks Hiking Trail
If you’re after stunning mountain views, Humpback Rocks viewpoint won’t disappoint.
There are two trails that will get you there. The direct trail and the loop trail. Both trails start from the Humpback Gap parking lot. Both get you to the amazing view. However, the experience is very different. Plus, signage is a little confusing.
Humpback Rocks Direct Route - Blue Blazed Trail
Slightly deceiving, the direct route is only .8 of a mile from the parking lot to the viewpoint. It’s short, but it is punishingly steep right from the start. However, completely doable as the path is quite well maintained.
The most important thing to remember about this trail is, when the trail levels for the first time, keep going straight! Do not turn off to the left. Keep following the blue-blazed paint swatches. This random turnoff is part of an old trail that’s now closed, and is considered dangerous, even for expert hikers.
Once you’re past the fake turn-off, you’ll eventually hit several flights of stairs which switchback up the mountain. Interspersed with a rocky pathway.
Finally, you’ll come to a signed junction. Here’s where you take the left to reach the Humpback Rocks viewpoint.
Allow for about 1 hour up and 30 minutes back, plus time at the viewpoint.
Humpback Rocks Looped Trail
The Humpback Rocks Loop Trail incorporates in the same great views, but is a 4.8 mile looped trail.
Taking the Loop Trail from the south-side (right side) of the Humpback Gap parking lot follows the same steep trail as the direct path. Offering no real advantage, it’s just a longer return.
However, consider doing the route clockwise. This avoids a lot of the congestion on the direct trail, and saves the steep section for the down-hill decent.
Find the start of the trail at the north-side (left side) of the parking lot. It’s pretty well signposted as you make your way. The path jumps from the Old Howardsville Turnpike to the Appalachian Trail, before curving up to the rock scramble for the viewpoint.
Humpback Rocks Viewpoint
Okay, so whichever trail you picked, you’ll have a fun rock scramble to get to the views. Unless you’re there early in the morning, expect this area to be busy.
There’s a set of rocks on the left and the right. The view is easier to see on the left. However, my best photos came from the rocks on the right. Now being honest, the wind was very strong. To see over the ledge I had to crawl to the edge. It’s steeper than this photo looks. But my goodness, what a view.
No matter where you take in the view, take extra precautions and factor in random strong wind gusts. It’s a long way down.
On the way back down it can be a little disorienting finding the right trail. When you leave the rocks and come back into the forest remember not to head left. You want to follow the trail slightly right to come to the signposted junction where you came up.
From the junction you can decide to take the .8 mile direct trail or the longer loop trail back, or continue on to Humpback Mountain.
Answering Your Questions
Is Humpback Rocks Trail dog friendly?
Yes, leashed dogs are allowed on the trail. However, you may find older dogs struggling on the steeper trail and rock scramble.
Plus, there’s not a lot of space at the top, especially during busy times. We saw people waiting with dogs at the bottom of the rock scramble.
Are there dangerous animals at Humpback Rocks?
Yes, but this is true of pretty much any trail in the south east.
In the Blue Ridge the most common “dangerous” animal you may come across are black bears. They are a common sighting in the area. If you want to know more about bear safety, we recommend the National Park Service’s Bear Safety Page.
You also may run across snakes. Most are non-venomous, but you do need to be alert for the venomous timber rattlesnake and copperhead. Both are great at hiding under leaves and rock crevasses. So watch where you place those hands.
Where to stay near Humpback Rocks?
The nearest city to Humpback Rocks and the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway is Waynesboro, VA.
- We stayed at the Hampton Inn Waynesboro/Stuarts Draft. It was super clean, in a convenient location, with a good mid-range budget price.
- We wanted to stay at the Sugar Tree Inn, a little further south but only 38 mins away. They have a lovely mountain cabin feel with amazing views.
- Like the idea of a cabin, but will have your dog with you? There are tons of cabins for rent at the nearby wintergreen resort.
What's the best book on the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Blue Ridge Parkway releases a free travel planner seasonally. These useful books can be picked up at any visitor center, and many grocery stores have them in the free publishing racks at the store entrance. This is a great way to know what’s at each milepost.
However, if you plan on doing hiking, you’ll need something with more detail. We have the larger Falcon Guides Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway: The Ultimate Travel Guide and the smaller pocket size Best Easy Day Hikes Blue Ridge Parkway.