Located a little over an hour outside of Washington D.C., the Buzzard Rock Hike is one of the most popular hikes in the Elizabeth Furnace / Fort Valley area. The hike features a few great photo ops with scenic views of the surrounding Shenandoah & Warren County area from high atop Massanutten Mountain. And while you are in the area you can also have a picnic, go fishing, hit up one of the swimming holes, play some horseshoes, or even go camping, so you can make a whole day (or weekend!) out of it.
The most popular way to do this hike is the touristy wham bam thank you ma'am easy mountain climb where I've seen people as old as 70 tackle the trail. However if you are looking for a more challenging way, we've got a longer and much rougher hike for you too. Here are all your options for getting up to Buzzard Rock.
The first thing you have to do is get down to the Elizabeth Furnace / Fort Valley area. This is as simple as hopping on 66 and heading towards Front Royal. You get off at exit 6, head south on 340, and in a couple miles turn right onto 55 west. 5 miles in you should see signs for Elizabeth Furnace as you make a left onto Fort Valley Rd (678).
Once you get to the Fort Valley area, it is easy to find the two starting points of the hike. One is a mile down 619 and the other is at the Elizabeth Furnace Day Use Area if you remain on 678 for 4 miles. The area map below will give you more details.
|Click To Enlarge|
You have three different choices when it comes to hiking to Buzzard Rock.
- Buzzard Rock North Hike (4 Miles) Easy
- Buzzard Rock Traditional (8 Miles) Semi-Tough
- Buzzard Rock Combo (6 Miles) Semi-Tough
The Easy Way - The Buzzard Rock North Hike
4 Mile Round Trip - In & Out Hike - 1.5 Hours - Blaze White
The easy version of this hike is a quick and easy in & out day hike that can easily be completed in under 2 hours time. This is not only the shortest hike, but the quickest way to get to the two cool photo-op areas. It is very easy. Bring some lunch and have a picnic at the top!
From the parking area (located a little over a mile down Rt 619 on the right side) it is about 2 miles slowly ascending the mountain on the blaze white trail (the only trail). The terrain is pretty easy and not very rocky. A few hundred yards before Buzzard Rock you will come to a clearing that overlooks the valley and fish hatchery below. This is a great spot to sit and have a picnic and of course to get a lame photo like this loser (me).
You can end at this first overlook and not miss out too much because the views don't get much better than this. The next segment is the toughest part. The hill gets pretty steep here for a couple hundred yards on the way to the very top with some tougher rock areas. You will see white Rocks jutting out from the top that you can sort of climb up to and sit on overlooking Fort Valley and Passage Creek (Photo Op #2). This is Buzzard Rock and your turn around point.
8 Mile Round Trip - In & Out Hike - 5.5-6 Hours - Blaze Orange/Blue/White
The long version of this hike is somewhat tiring with a lot of steep up and downs and a lot of rocky terrain. Your legs will not like you after taking this walk. It is an 8 mile trip and half of it is walking back the way you came which can be pretty boring.
For this version of the hike you will park at the Elizabeth Furnace Day Use Area (or you can walk from your campsite at the campground). The hike starts at the big parking lot in the Day Use Area (4 miles from rt 55 down 678). Look for the blue & orange trail markers by the interpretive trails and soon you will be walking past the ruins of the furnace. Where the interpretive trail (now called the Passage Creek Forest Trail) turns in, you stay along with the stream on the blaze orange/blue.
The trail takes you up the mountain through rock stairs, steep inclines, and tough declines. After 2 miles you will reach a clearing and a 4 way trail intersection where you will be taking a left to follow the top of Massanutten Mountain. This is the start of the Buzzard Rock Trail (Blaze White).
This next part also has some rough and steep up and downs, but after about 2 miles you will reach your destination. Buzzard Rock. While this technically ends the hike, I would recommend continuing on a few hundred yards to where you reach the clearing overlooking the valley and fish hatchery (see the easy hike above). It requires you to add an extra steep climb, but it is the best spot for photos and picnicking.
Once you get to the overlook you turn around and walk back the way you came. It gets really hard and annoying on the way back. According to the web, when you get back to the 4 way intersection you head straight for 20 yards and you will see a blaze yellow fire road. According to Hiking Upward:
If you should choose the yellow blazed trail it is considerably shorter as it heads almost straight downhill but therefore very steep as well. This trail is only blazed at the top
While I did not see this firsthand, the orange/blue blaze trail does cross what appears to be a fire road 2x. We didn't want to get lost, so we stayed on the blazed trails. I suggest you do the same.
If you have time when you return take advantage of the day-use area's picnic tables and cool down in the creek (the water by the entrance bridge is the deepest).
The Ideal Way AKA The Combo Buzzard Rock Hike
6 Mile Trip - Straight Line Hike - 4.5 Hours - Blaze Orange/Blue/White
This is the trek that I wish we took. This is the only way to do this hike without retracing your steps. However, in order to do this, you need to have 2 cars. Boo!
First, drive to the Buzzard Rock Parking lot described in the Easy version of the hike. Then, get in the 2nd car and drive to the Elizabeth Furnace Day Use Area (or campground) as described in the harder hike.
Now just follow the path of the hard hike above. But this time, instead of turning around at the valley/hatchery overlook, you just continue to follow the white blazed Buzzard Rock trail down the mountain and to your car in the dirt parking lot.
Wow that was a lot of information. We recommend you get into the area early, set up a campsite, hike all day, and then enjoy some nice sleep under the stars. Check out the in-depth information on the campground.
For more information on these hikes, check out Hiking Upward