Breathtaking vistas for hikers and a variety of routes for climbers
By Becca Bauer
This trail is located in the North River Ranger District of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and is designated for hiking only. It is appropriate for children and dogs, although during spring you may have some wet stream crossings.
The first half-mile of the trail runs through the woods just 30 feet from Hone Quarry Road. Luckily, the road is quiet and not highly trafficked so it is easy to feel as if this entire hike is deep in the woods. Eventually, the trail turns further into the forest, blossoming through rhododendron tunnels characteristic of Southern Appalachia. After a well-defined stream crossing, the trail veers left and begins to follow Rocky Run closely. After a half-mile of walking, there will be a clearly visible split in the trail.
Climbers looking for the Lower Hidden or Hidden Cracks climbing areas should take a right and go steeply up the hill. This is also the route to an awe-inspiring view of the surrounding national forest on top of the sandstone cliffs.
After a quarter-mile of relatively steep uphill trekking, hikers will arrive below Lower Hidden and Hidden Cracks cliffs. The base of the cliff is majestic with towering, slightly overhung, blocky sandstone. Looking all the way to the top almost strains the neck; some climbing routes are as high as 80 feet!
Lower Hidden cliffs has 15 established climbing routes ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The climbing grades range from 5.5 to 5.11-plus, so there is a little something here for everyone. One hundred and fifty yards uphill from Lower Hidden cliffs is the Hidden Cracks climbing area, which has 11 established routes also ranging from 5.5 to 5.11-plus. Almost all routes at both climbing areas are accessible by a top rope setup and can also be climbed traditionally.
To access the view at the top without climbing, follow a trail on the far left side of the cliff. The path is fairly easy to find and has boulders and stairs to walk on. The shaded, flat forest above Lower Hidden cliffs is a pleasant place to hydrate, eat lunch and absorb the peacefulness of the forest. If people are climbing, be sure to not touch or walk near ropes on top of the cliffs for the safety of the climbers and yourself.
Retrace your steps back to where the trail divided and follow the left path to a cliff called Hidden Roofs. This is a secluded place to visit after your hike to Lower Hidden and Hidden Cracks in order to extend your hike by another half-mile round trip. It also is a magnificent roof for those climbers who are looking for a more difficult traditional route — 5.13-plus — than those at Lower Hidden or Hidden Cracks. After visiting Hidden Roofs, return to the parking area on the same main trail.
In order to keep these natural places marvelous and open for all, follow some of the key Leave No Trace Principles such as picking up your trash and disposing of all waste properly, being considerate of other visitors, and leaving what you find so that others can enjoy the same small, special treasures on the trail. For more information on Leave No Trace, visit LNT.org.
Hidden Rocks is an alluring place to escape from daily life any time of the year. In the summer, take advantage of the rhododendron tunnels for needed shade from the hot sun. In the fall, it is a wonderful place for viewing leaf colors — the top of the cliffs and the trail itself will be full of color. In the winter, it is quiet and serene. During spring, this trail is full of water and life.
No matter what time of year, make sure to check with the ranger station before you camp or hike to be sure there are no restrictions.
Happy hiking and climbing!
Trail length: 3.3 miles roundtrip
Directions: From Interstate 81 take U.S. Route 33 W to Virginia State Route 613, make a left. Follow Virginia State Route 257 W to Hone Quarry Road and make a right. Trailhead is nearly a mile further on the right and begins on the right side of the parking lot with trail marker #511.
Contact: Call North River Ranger Station at (540) 432-0187
Other notes: Trail #511, yellow blaze. This is a hiking-only trail, no horses or bikes.
Amenities: One mile away, Hone Quarry Campground is open year-round, $5/night. 10 sites with vault toilets.