Elliott Knob/Falls Hollow

9 miles, moderate terrain
65 miles from Daleville & 6.5-mile shuttle, $7.00 carpool fee
Map: USGS 71/2' Elliott Knob

Elliott Knob, the summit of Great North Mountain, is not only the highest point in Augusta County but also the loftiest height obtained in all of George Washington National Forest. Although this hike involves a vertical rise of more than 2,000 feet to reach the summit, the elevation is gained gradually over the course of almost 5 miles. Enjoyment and inspections of assorted spring and summer wildflowers can make the ascent seem even easier, and the downhill portion of the journey has charms of its own, providing a forest and environment quite different from that found on the mountain's ridgeline. A stream drops through the narrow canyon of Falls Hollow in an extensive series of cascades, best appreciated in the spring and early summer when the flow is at its highest volume.

To do the complete hike as a one-way trip will require a car shuttle. Take VA-254 west from Staunton, and in about 8 miles, in Buffalo Gap, continue straight onto VA-42. In just a short distance VA-688 comes in from the right. Stay on VA-42, but be paying close attention to the odometer because 2.4 miles from this intersection you need to pull into the unmarked Falls Hollow trailhead parking area on the right side of the road. Leave one car in the large turn­around next to the gated road. Take the second car and backtrack to make a left onto VA-688, ascending almost 4 miles to the top of the ridge. Be looking for a small, possibly unmarked parking area on the left side of the road in Dry Branch Gap.

Start south, through the gate and follow yellow-blazed North Mountain Trail (FS-443). Rounding the side of a knob, look right to the west for views into the Calfpasture Valley and out to Shenandoah Mountain.

In 1.8 miles is an unmarked side trail to the right leads to the somewhat-dependable Buffalo Spring in less than 500 yards.

At 4.4 miles, turn right and ascend on graveled Elliott Knob Road. When the dirt road swings right and the North Mountain Trail turns left to descend, keep straight climbing on a grassy roadbed.

At 4.7 miles, clearing on top of 4,463-foot Elliott Knob with fenced-off abandoned fire tower. The ridgeline of Great North Mountain courses northeast and southwest. Shenandoah Mountain is to the west, and to the east, across Little Calfpasture Valley, is the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' Wild­life Management Area on Little North Mountain. Retrace your steps back down the road, walking past the two segments of the North Mountain Trail and coming to multiple springs on the left side of the road, 5.1 miles after beginning the hike. After descending on the steep road­way, turn left onto the gently sloping Falls Hollow Trail (FS-657) at 6.2 miles, no sign, only blaze marking.

At 7 miles, come to an old road in a forest of hemlocks and plush green moss. Go upstream a couple of hundred feet to see the first of many falls you're going to enjoy while in Falls Hollow. Follow the roadbed downstream, passing numerous falls and, in some places where the gorge becomes steep and narrow, rising high above the stream. The cascades of these narrow stretches are some of the most impressive in Falls Hollow. During spring runoff season, be pre­pared for high water when fording the stream at 7.4 miles and then again a few feet beyond that.

At 7.7 miles, the route begins to swing away from the creek and soon becomes a major dirt road in an area of new growth after recent logging activity. It could be easy to become confused in the maze of roads passed within the next mile, but the roadway to stay on is the one that is the best maintained. At a turn in the road in one of the clear-cuts, at 8.5 miles, Elliott Knob can be seen to the west, soaring high above and dramatically illustrating the more than 2,000 feet you have dropped since being on its summit. At 9 miles pass through a gate to the shuttle car.

From 50 Hikes in Northern Virginia by Leonard Adkins