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humpback rocks
View of Shenandoah Valley through the Humpback Rocks along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Humpback Rocks are Gonna Get You: Perfect bit of Blue Ridge Parkway

Just 6 miles into the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, the Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, Mountain Farm and Hike is the perfect half-day dose of Appalachian history and wilderness.

See Blue Ridge’s northernmost attraction

While traversing the entirety of the Blue Ridge Parkway is definitely on our retirement list, we settled for a half quick taste on our 2022 Summer Road Trip. The Humpback Rocks Visitor Center contained a nice assortment of NPS merchandise, friendly rangers and spacious parking. It’s here we learned the famous chestnut tree is virtually extinct from ink disease and blight. We also gleaned that river salamanders are particularly affected by habitat disruptions, so it’s best not to disturb rocks in streams.

humpback rocks visitor center
Small, but easily accessible and helpful Humpback Rocks Visitor Center at milepost 6 of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Partake in a unique Junior Ranger Program

As the longest NPS parcel, the Blue Ridge Parkway showcases a dramatic variety of history and landscapes along one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges. With 15 Visitor Centers, their Junior Ranger Program is unique. Prospective Rangers receive a folder at the first site with a page of activities.

blue ridge junior ranger folder
Humpback Rocks paper with Blue Ridge Parkway Junior Ranger folder and badge.

Upon completion, Rangers receive a badge and a folder stamp. Activity completion at 4 sites along the parkway earns a patch and all ten receives a metal pin. As always, we used the activities in the folder to help explore and learn about the farm and hike, then returned for our badge.

blue ridge junior rangers
Sworn in as Blue Ridge Parkway Junior Rangers.

Get historical at the 1890s farm

During the 1890s, this area WAS the American frontier. Like many historical buildings in the eastern US, the farm buildings are time period authentic, but have been relocated from their original building sites. As grandchildren of carpenters and homesteaders, we love exploring places like these to learn pre-industrial revolution farming and building techniques.

living farm cabin blue ridge parkway
Sweet cabin at the Humpback Rocks historical farm.

Prior to the mass production, homesteaders often connected raw wood without hardware. Fence lines were created by stacking wood in zigzags. Dovetailing and notching allowed structures to fit together like Lincoln Logs. And rock stacking was a necessary art form to create rot-proof foundations and fireplaces. Expensive hand forged nails and wire were rarely used as they often rusted faster than the untreated wood rotted.

garden at historical farm
Volunteers in the garden played “guess the crop” with the kids.

Here we noticed two devices of particular interest. First, the store house was cleverly built atop a natural spring, providing cool damp air perfect for prolonging the shelf life of food and maintaining sanitary conditions of the water source. Secondly, a “funnel” allowed pioneers to pour water through ashes to collect lye required for soap.

“It’s just .8 miles to the Humpback Rocks”

Our kids will do just about anything if rock climbing is involved, so I figured a “nice short hike” would be a great way to start our day. After meandering through the farm, we continued across the road to the trailhead. It offered a longer/easier route and a faster/challenging route, so guess which one we took?

humpback rocks trail sign
We chose the shorter trail, and boy was it a challenge!

We were immediately struck by the steepness of “direct” trail. The well-maintained path alternated between actual stairs and log reinforced segments to prevent erosion. After a 2200-mile week of motoring, our family was not as mentally or physically prepared for this hike as usual, but we worked together to push to the top.

Luckily our 5-year-old made friends with another boy and they entertained each other as we trekked our way up the mountain. To break up the voyage, we also took several water/snack/Junior Ranger stops along this stairway to heaven. As we neared the top, the trail began to disappear among the rocky landscape. But the boys reveled in the game of “spot the marker” to keep us true.

A view worth the hike

Once at the top we were awed by the sweeping panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park. In my opinion, the rocks have more of a Pride Rock/Little Mermaid vibe, but they were named before the Disney classics so I’m sure the moniker made sense in the 1800s.

Perceptively shorter than the trip up, we had to encourage the kids to use their slow and careful feet during the steep descent. Without all the huffing and puffing, we also felt more entertained by the beautiful foliage and fun critters. A local showed us how to spot poison ivy. And we had a great chat about how the Europeans lost their minds when they got here because they didn’t know how to deal with the poisonous plants everywhere!

While this hike was definitely worth the view, I wouldn’t recommend it to people that aren’t ready for super unstable ground and a dramatic elevation change. Whether just taking a quick stop at the visitor center, following us to the top or traveling the whole parkway, don’t miss beautiful Afton just down the hill for delicious beverages and berry picking!

peak of humpback rocks
Obligatory family photo atop the Humpback Rocks.

What did we miss?

I couldn’t bring myself to call this post “Blue Ridge Parkway Gonna Get You” since we barely tiptoed into the NPS mega parcel. That being said, we had an amazing time in the Afton and Charlottesville area and definitely look forward to exploring more on our next adventure to VA.

What did we miss? Tell us about your favorite adventures on the Blue Ridge Parkway for our next trip!

blue ridge parkway
Unbelievable views from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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