Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Shenandoah National Park: Frazier Discovery Trail (Blog Hike #469)

Trail: Frazier Discovery Trail
Hike Location: Shenandoah National Park, Loft Mountain Wayside
Geographic Location: northeast of Waynesboro, VA
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: 8/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: May 2014
Overview: A persistent climb and descent beside interesting rock outcrops to fantastic westward views.

Directions to the trailhead: The Frazier Discovery Trail starts across the road from the Loft Mountain Wayside, which is located on the west side of Skyline Drive at mile marker 79.5.  This mile marker is located 13 miles south of US 33 or 26 miles north of I-64.

The hike: For my introduction to May hiking in Shenandoah National Park, see the Blackrock Summit loop blog entry.  The Frazier Discovery Trail explores the summit of Loft Mountain, which is located north of Loft Mountain Campground and across Skyline Drive from Loft Mountain Wayside.  The trail is named for Floyd Frazier and his family, who lived on this mountain until the 1930’s, just before the park was established.
Don’t be deceived by the trail’s name and length: this hike involves some significant climbing.  The Frazier Discovery Trail gains 450 feet over the first 0.6 miles and loses the same 450 feet over the final 0.6 miles.  Only the 0.1 miles at the top are fairly level.  This trail is far from the hardest hike in Shenandoah National Park, but I needed almost an hour to complete this short loop. 
Trail sign at wayside
            From the north end of the wayside, start at the wooden sign that says “Frazier Discovery Trail” in white letters and cross Skyline Drive using the marked crosswalk.  Pick up the paved campground access trail as it climbs alongside the Loft Mountain Campground access road.  After 200 feet, the dirt Frazier Discovery Trail angles left to leave the pavement at a signed junction.
            After another couple hundred feet, the trail splits to form its loop.  To make the climbing a little easier, this description will turn left here and use the trail coming down from the right as its return route.  A metal box offering trail guides for sale also sits here.  The colorful trail guide is worth the $1 investment: you can stop and read about the area when you get winded on the climb up.
Climbing Loft Mountain
            The powder blue-blazed trail climbs on a persistently moderate to steep grade, meandering its way up the hillside.  At 0.4 miles, you reach a slightly rocky area underneath an overhanging cliff to the left.  Ancient travelers would have used this type of area as shelter during bad weather, but the only other life forms here on my visit were some stunted trees and some lichens.
Overhanging rock cliff
            After passing under the rock shelter, the trail curves left to continue climbing.  At 0.6 miles, you arrive atop a rocky outcrop that provides your first viewpoint.  Broad views open up to the west, featuring the wooded hills of Shenandoah National Park below you in the foreground, the cultivated fields of Shenandoah Valley in the middleground, and the jagged Allegheny Mountains in the background.  This rock outcrop offers the best views on this trail, so take a few minutes to see what you can see.
View west from first viewpoint
            100 feet past the viewpoint, the Frazier Discovery Trail intersects the Appalachian Trail (AT).  As directed by a stamped metal band wrapped around a concrete post, turn right to begin the combined Frazier Discovery and Appalachian Trails.  This section of trail bears both the white blazes of the AT and powder blue blazes of the Frazier Discovery Trail.  After the climb you just endured, the level hiking up here is pure bliss.
            At 0.7 miles, another rocky viewpoint presents itself to the right; the view is almost identical to what you saw earlier.  Just past the second viewpoint, you reach another intersection where the Frazier Discovery Trail turns right to leave the AT.  A double powder blue blaze marks this intersection.  Turn right to continue the Frazier Discovery Trail.
            As the old saying goes, “it’s all downhill from here.”  The trail descends on a gradual grade that gets steeper as you go down.  0.8 miles into the hike, you enter an area called Old Patterson Field.  The Fraziers used this land to feed cattle, and it contains the youngest forest on this hike.  The Pattersons were the people who actually owned the land.  Notice how small the trees are and the dense, shrubby understory.
Hiking through Old Patterson Field
            The trail curves right to exit Old Patterson Field.  At 1.1 miles, the descent steepens as the trail threads its way between a pair of rock outcrops.  Another 0.2 miles of descending closes the loop, and a final 0.1 miles of retracing your steps to the Loft Mountain Wayside completes the hike.

No comments:

Post a Comment