Beware the roadside trail advertised as short (1.3 miles) and that starts out paved. For one, National Park Service trails of a certain vintage begin with deceptively calming blacktop before getting down to business. And while the distance may suggest a gammy-and-gramps leg-stretcher, there’s an element of Edmund Hillary-and-Tensing Norgay-kick-step climbing involved.

This trail begins from the Loft Mountain wayside off Skyline Drive, crosses the road (look both ways), then commences climbing. It’s a lollipop loop; we suggesting veering right at the point of decision. Dispensing with switchbacks, the trail wastes little time reaching the 3,317-foot exposed summit of Loft Mountain. Need to catch your breath? Take your time, because there’s a lot to see.

The panorama includes views of Big Flat (3,389 feet), Trayfoot (3,374 feet), Austin (2,658 feet), Rockytop (2,856 feet) and Rocky (2,864 feet) mountains. If it’s winter you may well see the ski slopes of Massanutten Mountain to the northwest. There’s also an array of trees, ferns, grasses and lichens; wild flowers at the appropriate time of year; and good birding opportunities. Plus, on a hot summer’s day, the short climb can pay dividends in a mountaintop breeze.

More info:

Maps: Online map at the NPS website; “Trails Illustrated Shenandoah National Park,” 1:75,000, 50 foot interval.

Getting there: From Charlottesville, head west on I-64. Go north on Skyline drive for 25.5 miles


Difficulty: Moderate (short, but a good climb)

Distance: 1.3 miles

Time to hike: 1-2 hours

Address: Mile 79.5, Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park

GPS: 38.15737, -78.39618