Peaks & Highpoints of Virginia

North Marshall Peak

Summit rocks of North
Marshall, looking north

Summit area

The highpoint is those
rocks in the back


Compton Gap

Trees still not leafed out

Top of Compton

The rock in back right
may be the highpoint

Top of Carson, the middle
rock is highest

View of Compton as I
descend from Carson

Compton Peak from a viewpoint

Looking more south now

Greener trail, Dickey Hill

Road to right goes to top

Hiking the road

FAA bowling pin on Dickey

Dickey Hill from the
Dickey Visitors Center

Shenandoah National Park - Front Royal

North Marshall Peak • Compton Peak • Dickey Hill

I was in Virginia to attend my father's funeral and interment at Arlington National Cemetery, set for tomorrow. I had flown in yesterday, arriving at Dulles International Airport about 6 p.m. local time, and staying close by, in the town of Chantilly. Today was mostly an open date, deliberately with nothing planned. I had just one task: to do a test drive to the Arlington from Chantilly, so that I would know how to get there tomorrow.

I kept the morning open with possible plans to hike some easy peaks in the Shenandoah National Park. I zeroed in on three peaks at the north end of the Park, near the town of Front Royal. These three peaks all rose near Skyline Drive, the main road through the National Park. The individual hikes would be short and all on trail.

With my sleep schedule already messed up, I was up about 4 a.m. anyway. An early start would do me good, so I was on the road at 5 a.m., figuring a little over an hour to get to Front Royal, by which time the sun should starting to rise. I had no issues with the highways since all I needed was Interstate-66 westbound to Front Royal, then US-340 south through town to get to the entrance gate.

North Marshall Peak
• Blue Ridge
• Appalachian Mountains
• Shenandoah National Park
• Warren & Rappahannock Counties

Date: April 16, 2024 • Elevation: 3,368 feet • Prominence: 768 feet • Distance: 1.2 miles • Time: 40 minutes • Gain: 280 feet • Conditions: Cool and clear


It was still mostly dark while in Front Royal, and I was able to get to the gate, but the turn from US-340 came fast and I missed it. No big deal, I just went a half mile to the next light with plans to double back, but then I learned that lights in Virginia can stay for minutes at a time, even with no traffic coming the other way. I sat there for at least 5 minutes. It had the minor benefit of allowing the sun more time to rise.

I got to the entrance and paid for my pass online, which took about 5 minutes. This was my first time here since 2003, when I was here with my wife on a cold and rainy November afternoon. As I drove on Skyline Drive, the deer were out too, and I had to go slow to be sure not to hit them. My plan was to go to the farthest south peak, then work backwards from there back to Front Royal. This would allow the sun more time, too. The day was looking to be a nice one, with mostly clear skies and calm conditions, temperatures in the 50s.

I drove about ten miles southbound (in reality, the road wiggles all over the place) until I was near the Marshall Mountain peaks, two summits on either side of the road. I parked in a pullout where the Appalachian Trail passes through, at a saddle between the two summits. I was interested in the northern peak, the higher of the two. It was about 6:45 when I rolled in, the only car here. It was clear but still cool, and I was in the peak's shadow for now.

I locked the car and started up the trail. It gets a little steep as it makes a couple long switchbacks up the south ridge of the peak, bypassing one very large rock pillar. Then once on top of the main ridge, it levels off and then it was just a matter of finding its highest point.

The summit of North Marshall features a few rock outcrops, a couple alongside the trail and another one about thirty feet west of the trail. This western outcrop was highest. I found a meager path to it and scampered onto the rocks, tagging the highest point and taking an image of a witness marker for the benchmark. The trees and undergrowth haven't yet leafed and greened out for the summer yet, so it was easy to see the rocks and the dirt.

I sat for a few minutes on top, which is open and a fine overlook looking north and west mainly. It was cool but tolerable, about 50°. I wanted the sun to rise a little more for betting lighting for photographs. I also walked to the other rock outcrops nearer the trail, where I found the main benchmark and another one as well, its provenance uncertain (to me). The one-way hike had covered about 0.6 mile and took maybe 15 minutes, and I spent another 15 minutes up top walking around, waiting for that good morning light. I also just wanted to let it sink in that I'm in a totally different part of the country right now, and that this is my first peak in Virginia since 2008. I was in no hurry and enjoying the experience.

The hike down took about ten minutes, and I was back to my car quickly. I drove north now on Skyline Drive and stopped at the Hogwallow Flat Overlook. There, I had an unobstructed view of the peak I just climbed, now much more striking in that low morning orangish light. There was another guy here with high-end photography equipment taking photos of the sunrise itself. Otherwise, it was not crowded at all, maybe one car every five minutes.

Compton Peak
• Warren & Rappahannock Counties

Elevation: 2,909 feet • Prominence: 511 feet • Distance: 1.5 miles • Time: 45 minutes • Gain: 495 feet • Conditions: Cool and clear


I had just a couple miles to drive until I was at Compton Gap, where there is another parking lot to access the various trails running through here. Compton Peak lies southwest of Skyline Drive.

I quickly found the Appalachian Trail and started up, this one steeper than before since I would be gaining almost 500 feet on this hike. But the trail was in excellent shape. The trees here were still mostly bare of leaves, but the canopy was still thick with branches. A couple switchbacks, then I was essentially at the top. The trail circles around the summit, then a side path branches off to the top.

The top was flat and a couple of rock outcrops rose above the ground. A couple about twenty feet off trail rose about 5 feet high and looked highest to me, so I walked to them and tagged them. In summer when everything is green, even a short off-trail walk such as this would be challenging, mainly due to the branches, twigs, snakes and ticks.

I did not spend long here. I started down and retraced my route back to my car, this hike taking just 45 minutes. I was doing great on time. Across the road, where my car was parked, is an unranked but named summit called Carson Mountain, with a trail to its top. I decided to hike to it as well.

The hike went fast, less than ten minutes, and I was at its top. There, I discovered its summit features three very large and tall rock pillars. I circled around but it was clear there was no easy way up. The middle one appeared highest, a good 12-15 feet higher. I looked for a crack or ledge, but nothing looked friendly. There is a sloping ledge that could work, but I would want a spotter. This peak was not important to me so I was not bummed to miss out on it. I was able to get a couple images as I hiked down. This little side trip took just fifteen minutes.

Dickey Hill
• Warren County

Elevation: 2,444 feet • Prominence: 664 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 75 minutes • Gain: 584 feet • Conditions: Warming


I had about five miles of driving until I was near Dickey Hill, and near the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. I parked in the lot and had a short rest. It was still early, about 8:30, and very nice. There was me and maybe two other cars in the lot.

Dickey Hill is a long ridge that rises south of the Visitor Center. The Dickey Ridge Trail runs along this section of road and the mountains. Interestingly (to me), the Appalachian Trail actual descends off the mountains back at Compton Gap and down to the town of Chester Gap. If one wants to stay on a trail within the park, they would then be on the Dickey Ridge Trail.

I crossed the road and onto the trail, which drops about 80 feet. Here, the foliage is much more green and lush, the trees with leaves and the sides with green grass. AFter the drop, the trail gently gains again and then comes to a vehicle track. The Skyline Drive is nearby, just about a hundred feet away.

The trail actually crosses the track, but I walked up the track, which curled around and then split, the right branch going up, the left branch going down to the old Snead Farm site, part of a loop hike option of the peak is not of interest.

The road walk went well and was easy. I was surprised to see a work truck come slowly downhill, so I stepped aside and they drove on by, just a simple hand-on-the-steering-wheel wave. That told me it was okay for me to be here. I saw no signs saying otherwise, but it's always good to know for sure.

The rest of the hike was just following this road, which curls around to a clearing on which stands an FAA "bowling pin" radar site. The top has obviously been graded flat, so I walked one circuit around the building and then started back down. I was back to my car in about a half hour, this hike being the longest at almost 3 miles round trip.

These were the three peaks I had planned for and I was pleased they each went quickly and without any issue. It was still early, maybe pushing 10 a.m.., and I had told myself I should be back at my hotel before noon in case there was some meetings planned with my family. So I was doing fine and decided to walk to the Visitor Center and look around. I also walked out on its big sloping lawn for some nice views of the valleys to the west.

The drive back to my hotel went well, and I got there about 11:30 a.m., time to clean up and see what was going on. My sister and brother were in town but doing their own things, and I still wanted to do my "test drive", so that's what I did with the rest of the afternoon. Along the way I would visit three county (and equivalent) highpoints and visit with some family friends from way back.

Three days later, on my last day here, I would return to the Shenandoah National Park and hike three peaks to the south before flying out.

(c) 2024 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.