Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hiking the East Side Highway - Lefthand Hollow to Buzzard Rock Overlook

by Brian Schwarz

The stretch of Route 340 in Virginia, between the town of Elkton and city of Waynesboro, is known locally as East Side Highway. It runs north and south along the western Blue Ridge Mountains, making it an important route for outdoor adventurers set on enjoying Shenandoah National Park South District, as well as nearby river communities of the eastern Shenandoah Valley.

Take a moment to pose for the camera, Brian! That's Buzzard Rock behind.
This week I've been exploring some hikes I spotted by reading the 2014 edition of PATC Map 11: Appalachian Trail and other trails in Shenandoah National Park South District. The map's previous version was less descriptive than the new version, and there are two hikes in particular that I would not have even considered before.

Because the 2014 PATC Map 11 does a better job highlighting overlooks and vistas, I found some short hikes that I can do on my daily commute, between Massanutten and Waynesboro. So far I have only done one of the two new hikes I've identified, so I'll talk about that one now and tell you about the other one once I've scouted it out myself.

The Paine Run Trailhead, located on Horsehead Road, just west of the town of Harriston - which is one of the aforementioned East Side Highway river towns - is the entry point for the hike I'm calling the Lefthand Hollow-Buzzard Rock Overlook Hike. It's a short, two-mile out-and-back, that is well graded and has about 350-feet elevation gain to an south-facing rock outcrop overlook.

Park at the Paine Run Trailhead at the end of Horsehead Road and enter the woods, going downhill briefly before the trail levels off and follows the banks of Paine Run for about a third of a mile, crossing the creek twice on nicely lain, large and sturdy rocks. Some 100 steps after the second creek crossing, turn left and begin the steady trudge uphill.

The hike is basically one big switchback along the side of Trayfoot Mountain as you rise above Lefthand Hollow, the other side of which is formed by Horsehad Mountain. Continue up - about a third of a mile for each switchback - and you will reach the overlook at approximately one mile.

What looks like a perfect cone of a mountain in front of you is actually the northern end of a ridge line. The top of this photogenic mound is called Buzzard Rock, so-named for the buzzards who frequent the area. The upper Shenandoah Valley stretches out past Round Hill and other valley structures to the south and west.

Stay tuned for descriptions of Cave Hill and Furnace Mountain hikes.