Skyline drive

Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop

The Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop offers a great hiking experience through the scenic Shenandoah National Park. This 9-mile loop takes you through forests, across streams, and up to breathtaking viewpoints.

Trail Overview

  • Location:Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, USA
  • Distance: Approximately 9 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: Approximately 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring to fall

Trailhead and Access:

Starting at the Browns Gap parking lot at mile marker 83 on Skyline Drive, you’ll begin with hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail by crossing the street and walking alongside the street, passing the Dondo Picnic Grounds (great spot to go to the bathroom) and Jones Run parking lot. You will cross the street once again and head to Black Rock Summit and you will begin following Trayfoot Mountain Trail.

Blackrock Summit
Blackrock summit

Trail Length and Difficulty

The Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop is a strenuous hike that covers a distance of 9 miles. The trail is rated as difficult due to its steep inclines and rocky terrain, so it’s best suited for experienced hikers who are in good physical condition. The loop takes approximately 5-6 hours to complete, depending on your pace and the amount of time you spend taking in the views.

Along your hike, you’ll encounter stream crossings, adding to the trail’s natural charm.

You’ll reach the summit of Austin Mountain, where you’ll be rewarded with views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Continuing on, the trail descends towards Furnace Mountain, passing through meadows dotted with wildflowers during the warmer months. As you approach the base of Furnace Mountain, you’ll encounter another ascent, which leads to the summit where you can once again enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

Wildlife and Vegetation

Shenandoah National Park is home to a variety of wildlife and vegetation, and the Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop trails are great places to see them. You may see deer, black bears, and a variety of birds and other animals along the trail. The vegetation is also diverse, with hardwood forests, meadows, and rocky outcroppings.

Deer on Skyline Drive
Deer on Skyline Drive

Weather Considerations

When planning your hike on the Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop in Shenandoah National Park, it is important to consider the weather conditions. The park experiences a wide range of weather patterns, including sudden thunderstorms, heavy rain, and even snow in the winter months.

Be sure to check the weather forecast before you start your hike and be prepared for any weather changes. Dress in layers and bring rain gear in case of unexpected precipitation. I lucked out and experienced quite the pleasant weather for this hike.

Gear and Supplies

Proper gear and supplies are important as quite a bit of this trail is simply just rocks so wearing sturdy hiking shoes or boots with good traction to prevent slips and falls. Bring plenty of water and snacks to keep your energy levels up throughout the hike. A first aid kit, map, and compass are also essential items to have in case of an emergency. Additionally, it is recommended to carry a whistle and a flashlight for signaling and visibility purposes. And if you go out on your own, always share your plan with someone close to you.

Austin Mountain
Rock scrambles at Austin Mountain

Park Regulations

Shenandoah National Park has implemented certain regulations to protect the natural environment of the Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop. Visitors are required to follow these regulations to ensure the preservation of the park’s ecosystem. Some of the regulations include:

  • No camping or fires outside of designated areas
  • No feeding or disturbing wildlife
  • No littering or dumping of waste
  • No off-trail hiking or climbing
  • No dogs on this particular loop

By following these regulations, visitors can help maintain the park’s natural beauty and protect the wildlife that calls it home.

Preservation Initiatives

In addition to park regulations, Shenandoah National Park has implemented various preservation initiatives to protect the Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop and its surrounding areas. Some of these initiatives include:

  • Invasive species removal: The park regularly removes non-native plant species that can harm the native plants and wildlife.
  • Trail maintenance: The park maintains the trails to prevent erosion and ensure visitor safety.
  • Wildlife monitoring: The park conducts research and monitoring to better understand the wildlife in the area and how to protect them.
Water Crossing at Browns Gap Fire Road between Austin Mountain and Furnace Mountain Loop
Water Crossing at Browns Gap Fire Road at the bottom of Furnace Mountain

Visitor Information

To enter Shenandoah National Park, you’ll need to purchase a pass. The standard entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, which is valid for seven days. Alternatively, you can purchase an annual pass for just Skyline drive for $55 or an annual pass for all of the State Parks for $80, which provides unlimited access to the park for a year. If you’re planning to hike or camp in the backcountry, you’ll need to obtain a permit from the park service. Permits can be obtained online or at any of the park’s visitor centers.

My Experience

I did trail in a bit of a reverse where I encountered Black Rock Summit first and hit Furnace Mountain Trail and you hike 0.5 miles up to the Summit, which makes a great spot for lunch before coming back down to continue on your trail.

Once back on the trail, you will continue down to Browns Gap Fire Road for a bit before you ascent on Austin Mountain Trail. You will cross the junction of Rocky Top Trail and follow this until you end up back at Browns Gap.

However, the trail can be crowded during peak season, so it’s best to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. I did this on December 25th, 2023 and arrived just after 9 am and was back by my car by around 3:30.

Have you hiked this trail? What was your experience?

German by birth, living, hiking, and camping in the US. Addicted to Coffee. Enjoys going to concerts. Also, Artist + Author. I love to encourage you to explore beyond your backyard. 

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