Summary: Hidden away along the eastern edge of the middle section of the park, the Staunton River Trail hike to Jones Mountain Cabin is one of the hidden treasures of the Shenandoah National Park. In 1500 feet, the trail ascends along a nice, well maintained route along the picturesque babbling brook before heading up the ridge to the cabin.
The Good: At 7 miles, and as a not very strenuous hike, most folks should be able to make it out to the cabin and back in 4 hours or under. It’s walking — no scrambling over rocks, no trying to pick a path through some challenge, this is just a nice walk. And this trail features shade, shade and more shade in the afternoon, which will be nice on a hot afternoon. And if you’re up for the adventure, the cabin is operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, through whom you can arrange to stay there. The area is quiet, and lesser traveled than other parts of the national park — an ideal place to get away and enjoy the quiet peace of the forest.
The Bad: In the winter, that same shade can come back to bite you in the ass. On a cold, cold day, that shade will be a game changer, though the hike would be no less enjoyable for those who are prepared. Oh, and there’s little to no cell phone coverage in the area.
The Ugly: No, there’s not really anything ugly about this hike.
Type of route: Meandering path.
Good to hike in the rain? Absolutely.
Length: 7 miles each way.
Options for the route: Instead of turning left to follow Staunton River Trail, keep going straight (North) along the Rapidan River for another 1.5 miles, to Rapidan Road. There are two other options farther up Staunton River Trail — keep following the river and skip the cabin, which will take you to The Sag (great name); or start to head to the cabin, but turn to follow the ridge up to Bear Church Rock. Going to The Sag is about a 5.5 mile hike, one way; Bear Church Rock, likewise, is about a 3.75 mile hike each way. it is very possible to hike to The Sag, and then come back down via Bear Church Rock as well.
Elevation change: 1500 feet.
Water used: 2 liters.
Where to start: At the end of State Route 622. The trailhead is at the end of the circle there.
Where to park: Same.
Point your car’s GPS towards: If your GPS can handle it, point it to State Route 622. Or 38°26’13.74″N 78°22’1.57″W. Most realisticly, you’ll need to point it to Rapidan Ranch, Madison, VA 22727.
Water? Pull from Staunton River anywhere you want; you’ll want to purify as you go.
Toilets? At the cabin, there’s an outhouse. Nothing at the trailhead.
Medical care? No.
Ranger / park folks? No.
Picnic areas? At the cabin only.
A place to change afterwards? No.
Rewards in the area: Not much. There’s either something like Culpeper and Luigi’s or Baby Jim’s, or you’re hitting El Agave in Ruckersville. None of these are bad choices, but none of these are near the trailhead.
You’ll hike this route when…. Skyline Drive is closed, or it’s going to be a zoo. Or when you’re worried about biting off more than you can chew, and you’d rather start with a climb instead of a descent.
My rating: 7
Music: Mash-Up Your Bootz Party – Best Of 2009 Mix (mixed into a single track by DJ Morgoth)