Beech Cliff Trail & Canada Cliffs Trail Loop (Acadia National Park, ME)


Beech Cliff Loop, Acadia National Park, August 2017

The Beech Cliff Trail, situated in Acadia National Park’s peaceful western section, is one of the park’s four “iron rung routes”: strenuous climbs that require negotiating ladders, iron aides, and steep granite staircases to mount exposed cliff sides. Compared with the other three, the Beech Cliff Trail is arguably the least harrowing: the biggest obstacles are a series of sturdy ladders, and no real rock scrambling is required. (Note: Those with a fear of heights, however, should probably avoid, and proper footgear for all hikers is a must.) Once atop the cliffs, hikers are rewarded with outstanding views of Echo Lake and the surrounding mountains; the best vistas are on the Beech Cliff Loop, while a casual descent down the winding Canada Cliffs Trail offers an alternative, ladder-less return to the trailhead.

Beech Cliff Trail Canada Cliffs Trail Acadia hike information

Beech Cliffs Trail Canada Cliffs Trail map Acadia

Map of Beech Cliff Trail, Beech Cliff Loop, and Canada Cliffs Trail, Acadia National Park (created using National Geographic Maps/Alltrails,; check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The vast majority of visitors at the Echo Lake parking area are there for one thing: to swim. The only lifeguarded beach on the west side of the park, Echo Lake Beach can be sprawling with people on a summer day. So think ahead—arrive early or late in the day to get a parking spot, or take the free park shuttle. Once on the trail, however, the crowds will dissipate—a welcome luxury of Acadia’s “quiet” west side. (Note: That is, quiet compared to its raucous eastern cousin.)

The hike begins at the end of the road at Echo Lake Beach, a small cul-de-sac with a single stone staircase leading down to a trail junction. To the right is the beach; to the left is the Beech Cliff Trail, which will cover nearly 450 feet in elevation in the next 4/10 mile. The path begins easy enough, cutting through dense forest, with the lake partly visible through the thicket to the right. After 175 yards, the climb begins in earnest as it rounds a left-hand bend. At 2/10 mile, hikers will pass a rocky jumble to the left, then cross a second rock slide at the 1/4-mile mark. Here a short spur bears off to the right—a teaser of what’s to come, a viewpoint offers a bird’s eye view of Echo Lake Beach and the valley below.


Initial viewpoint of Echo Lake

Returning to the main trail, the grade steepens as the Beech Cliff Trail again traverses the rock slide. (Note: Neatly arranged stone steps ease the burden of what otherwise would be a rock scramble.) Back in dense trees, the trail cuts south, hugging the shady hillside on the right. After rounding a right-hand bend, hikers must duck under a low-hanging tree at about the 1/3 mile mark. Just beyond is the first of four metal ladders on the trail—this one only about 8 or 9 feet tall, making it the shortest of the bunch.


First of four ladders on the Beech Cliff Trail

Around the corner from the ladder, the trail hugs the base of a 40- to 50-foot perpendicular cliff, a beautiful face of granite that would seemingly be a climber’s paradise. Paralleling the cliff for about 75 yards leads to the second ladder, this one about 15 to 20 feet high.

From here hikers will ascend a steep stone staircase with metal railings, followed by the final ladder sequence: back-to-back climbs through a shaded notch. It’s a short jaunt from here to the top of the cliffs, where a beautiful view awaits.


Steep climb to the 3rd ladder


Pair of ladders on the Beech Cliff Trail

The Beech Cliffs tower several hundred feet above Echo Lake, where beachgoers appear but tiny specks from this lofty vantage point. Behind Echo Lake is Acadia Mountain (655’) and Saint Sauveur Mountain (690’), which conceal Somes Sound behind them. To the southeast, the view reaches as far as the Atlantic Ocean and the Cranberry Isles.


Atop the Beech Cliff Trail

The views are even better on the Beech Cliff Loop, an easy meander that begins where the strenuous Beech Cliff Trail ends. Take a right at the top of the cliffs, following the trail to another junction after around 50 yards. Take another right to head back to the edge, where vistas open up to the north, and the entirety of Echo Lake unfolds below. In the distance, the northern tip of Somes Sound comes into view, with Mount Desert Island’s mountainous east side beyond.

Just before 6/10 mile, the trail bends left and leaves the cliff’s edge. Crossing a granite slab with some limited views, this is the summit and the highest point on the hike. The loop ends seconds later at the trail junction; stay straight as the path returns to the original viewpoint.


View from the Beech Cliff Loop

From here you have a choice – return down the steep ladders of the Beech Cliff Trail (not recommended) or continue straight onto the Canada Cliffs Trail, a 1-mile alternative that leads back to the same trailhead. The Canada Cliffs Trail darts into the woods, interrupted by a brief sunny clearing at 0.85 mile, then begins a steady descent amid spruces and pines. At 1.2 miles, the trail rounds a sharp, right-hand bend and heads north to another junction situated near the head of a water-soaked ravine. Take a left, continuing on a “new” path that does not appear on many more dated maps. (Note: for example, it is not shown on the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of Acadia. However, the signs are clear and easy to follow—“Echo Lake Parking” to the left.)


Heading down the Canada Cliffs Trail

Beyond the junction, the Canada Cliffs Trail descends gradually, crossing a minor creek twice. As the path bends eastward, the grade steepens, making haste for the valley below. The incline disappears around 1.6 miles, with an unpaved road visible through the trees. Stay straight at the next trail fork, where a spur to Lurvey Spring Road bears off to the right. From here the path follows the base of the Canada Cliffs (barely visible through the thicket to the left) and emerges at the Echo Lake parking area at 1.8 miles. (Note: The trail spits out well south of the start; you will likely be parked somewhere in between.)

All told, the entire stem-and-loop—including the Beech Cliff Trail, Beech Cliff Loop, and Canada Cliffs Trail—will take at least two hours for most hikers. Those with a fear of heights can skip the Beech Cliff climb and hike the Canada Cliffs Trail as an out-and-back instead—or stay put at Echo Lake Beach…

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Dickey Ridge Trail – Section 2 (Shenandoah National Park, VA)


Dickey Ridge Trail, Shenandoah National Park, June 2017

Continuing where the Dickey Ridge Trail – Section 1 left off, the second half of the Dickey Ridge Trail extends five miles from the Dickey Ridge Picnic Area to Compton Gap in Shenandoah National Park’s North District. Highlights include a beautiful viewpoint from a clear cut near the start and Fort Windham Rocks toward the end, with miles of dense forest in between. Far from the most scintillating hike in Shenandoah, this lengthy out-and-back is a nice workout, however, with its roller coaster of ups and downs, and it is close to the North Entrance. (Note: Visitors with the luxury of a shuttle pick-up can do both sections in a day for a combined total of 9.6 miles.)

Dickey Ridge Trail Shenandoah hike information part 2


Dickey Ridge Trail Shenandoah map

Map of Dickey Ridge Trail – Section 2, Shenandoah National Park (Check out the PDF version and interactive map)

The hike

Reach the trail’s start by heading for the Dickey Ridge Picnic Area, situated just south of the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center around mile marker 4.7 on Skyline Drive. Park near the southernmost end of the picnic area (accessible only by a one-way, southbound drive from the Visitor Center). Look for a well-trodden dirt path heading south, past the picnic tables, which quickly crosses the one-way road, then spits out at Skyline Drive. Cross the busy, two-way scenic byway to reach the trail’s start: a partly paved service road known as Snead Farm Road.

Walk down the road as the pavement turns to gravel, then continue to a 4-way junction as the singletrack Dickey Ridge Trail crosses the road. Bear right, heading uphill on the root-laced path. After 3/10 mile on the Dickey Ridge Trail, a brief respite from a steady climb offers hikers the opportunity to catch their breath. It is only fleeting, however, as the ascent continues, cresting at around 8/10 mile after about 450 feet in elevation gain. To the left, through the woods, is the summit of Dickey Hill (2,444’), the highest point on Dickey Ridge.

From here, the trail levels off and approaches the highlight of the hike: a break in the woods that gives way to a terrific overlook of Browntown Valley, Mount Marshall (3368’), Hogback Mountain (3,474’), Gimlet Ridge (2,103’) and Mathews Arm (2,272’). Massanutten Mountain dominates the landscape to the west, across the Shenandoah Valley. An abundance of greenstone at the viewpoint offers a place to sit down and enjoy the vista.


View from the overlook on Dickey Ridge Trail

Once ready, continue back into the woods as the trail hugs the west flank of Dickey Hill. A well-worn social trail climbs the hillside to the left (ending at the summit). Beyond, the Dickey Ridge Trail settles into a steady descent, dropping to a junction with the Snead Farm Trail at 1.2 miles. Stay straight, with Skyline Drive within earshot to your right. For most of the next 1 ½ miles, hikers will gradually lose more than 400 feet in elevation. Cross Skyline Drive at Low Gap, 2.5 miles from the start.


Dickey Ridge Trail in summer

Across the road, look for an unmarked but evident trail that plunges into the woods on the other side. Follow this path as it weaves east to a junction at 2.6 miles; stay straight. (Note: the trail to the right is unmarked but likely leads down the mountains to Browntown Valley.) From here, uphill climbing returns with a vengeance. Round a bend at 3.1 miles, after which the grade lessens. Minutes later, the trail drops again to cross Skyline Drive again, this time at Lands Run Gap.

The trail emerges from the woods at the parking lot for Lands Run Falls (situated less than a mile’s descent from here). The hike continues across the road. (Note: So does the Hickerson Hollow hike; choose the path to the right, which is the Dickey Ridge Trail.) Right on cue, the Dickey Ridge Trail climbs again, this time amid a sea of ferns. With oaks, poplars, and maples towering above, the hike skirts the rocky slopes of Carson Mountain (2,580’), where Dickey Ridge meets the much larger and longer Blue Ridge.


Dickey Ridge Trail on the slopes of Carson Mountain

As the hike approaches the 4-mile mark, notice the neatly arranged escarpment on the right is a feat of fine trail work. At 4.2 miles, the path forks. Stay right on the Dickey Ridge Trail as the Springhouse Trail—a bridle path—weaves off to the left. The sharp ascent finally comes to an end shortly thereafter. At around 4.6 miles, look for an unmarked path heading off to the left; this trail leads up to Fort Windham Rocks, a vast hunk of Catoctin greenstone that is an estimated 600-800 years old.


Fort Windham Rocks


Climbing Fort Windham Rocks

The rocks are fun and easy to climb; simply follow the path as it winds to the back of the formation, then climbs through a series of slits and cracks up the 30-foot rocks (the highest point on Carson Mountain). Views are limited, but the craggy granodiorite (the same rock that forms Half Dome in faraway Yosemite National Park) is an interesting sight to see.

Returning to the main path, take a left to complete the final stretch of the Dickey Ridge Trail. At around 4.75 miles, the trail ends at a wide, woody thoroughfare—this is a section of the Appalachian Trail. Turn around here, or continue right for a quarter mile to the parking area for Compton Gap, five miles from the start. Walk back the way you came—keep in mind, there is plenty of uphill on the return—or, if you are so privileged, get a pickup here.

Try in combination with Dickey Ridge Trail – Part 1 for a 9.6-mile one-way slog, or split it in two. The entire second half as described here is a 10-mile out-and-back, a hike that will take most people much of a day.


Bear sighting!

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Hamilton Grange National Memorial, NY


Hamilton Grange National Memorial, November 2016

– Revolutionary War Series –

Hamilton Grange National Memorial, a relatively modest home in Harlem, honors the life and achievements of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, American revolutionary, a key promoter of the US Constitution, and America’s first Treasury Secretary. Constructed in 1802, “The Grange” would serve as Hamilton’s home for only two years (he was, of course, killed in an infamous duel with Aaron Burr). However, the house has lived on; in fact, it has survived being physically moved twice since 1889, now occupying a grassy hillside at the corner of W 141st St. and St. Nicholas Avenue, under the protection of the National Park Service. Between 2015 and 2016, visitation to Hamilton Grange has more than doubled (I wonder why??), making touring the Grange more of a challenge. But arrive early in the day to skip the crowds and check out the home’s various artifacts, including Hamilton’s very own desk and a handful of portraits.


Hamilton Grange National Memorial


Dining home at The Grange


Hamilton’s desk


Surprisingly rugged terrain outside Hamilton Grange

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General Grant National Memorial, NY


General Grant National Memorial, November 2016

– Civil War Series –

General Grant National Memorial, the largest mausoleum in North America, is situated in a quiet and beautiful corner of New York City and commemorates the life of Civil War hero and 18th US President Ulysses S. Grant. The site—widely known simply as “Grant’s Tomb”—includes a small visitor center that tells the story of Grant’s rise to power and fall from grace (he died poor and strapped with a disappointing presidency). But the real draw is the massive granite and marble structure, constructed in 1897, that houses Grant’s grave. Visiting hours are strange—with the mausoleum open only every other hour between 10am and 5pm.


Grant’s Tomb, New York City


View of the Hudson River from General Grant National Memorial


Inside the mausoleum

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Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, NY


Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, April 2017

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site commemorates the life of Theodore Roosevelt—writer, statesman, officer, adventurer, and the 26th President of the United States. It was here, at a mansion on New York’s Long Island, that “Teddy” lived much of his life, from 1885 until his death in 1919. Today, the National Park Service offers tours of the Roosevelt Home, which is filled with an incredible collection of Roosevelt’s home furnishings, including dozens of mounted animal heads—a testament to one of Teddy’s favorite hobbies: hunting. There is also a separate Theodore Roosevelt Museum on the grounds, and a nature trail offers a view of Cold Spring Harbor, an inlet of the Long Island Sound.


Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill


Theodore Roosevelt Museum

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Fire Island Lighthouse (Fire Island National Seashore, NY)


Fire Island Lighthouse, Fire Island National Seashore, April 2017

Stretching for approximately 31 miles, Fire Island shields part of New York’s Long Island from the fierce waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Now managed by Fire Island National Seashore, the Fire Island Lighthouse—situated near the west end of the barrier isle—is a popular destination for New Yorkers seeking respite from the city. The original lighthouse, constructed in 1826, served for decades as the first sight of land for travelers crossing the Atlantic from Europe; the new tower—still standing today—was built in 1858 and was not decommissioned as a navigational aide until 1973.

From Manhattan, it is around a 1.5-hour drive to Fire Island, followed by an easy, ¾-mile walk from the parking area to the lighthouse. The National Park Service offers daily access to the top of the tower for $8/person, a worthy price for one of the best viewpoints on Long Island. On a clear day, Manhattan is visible in the distance, while the beach extends for miles to the east and west. Down on the surface level, marshlands cover much of the island—an ever-transforming landscape that was altered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.


Boardwalk to Fire Island Lighthouse


Present-day lighthouse


Unique Fresnel lens, preserved from the original lighthouse


Climbing the tower


View west from the lighthouse


View east from the lighthouse


Down on the beach


Chasing the waves

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Morristown National Historical Park, NJ


Fort Nonsense, Morristown National Historical Park, April 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

Morristown National Historical Park commemorates the bravery and tenacity of George Washington’s Continental Army as it endured two brutal winters in this New Jersey encampment in 1777 and 1779. Out of these bleak winters emerged a cohesive fighting force, one that would go on to secure American Independence with victory at Yorktown in 1781. Today’s park (roughly an hour’s drive from New York City) is split into three main parts—the Ford Mansion in Morristown; Fort Nonsense, up on the hill; and Jockey Hollow—where the bulk for the forces were camped—in the mountains to the southwest. It is easy to spend a whole day at the park, starting with a tour of Ford Mansion, which served as Washington’s headquarters during the winter of 1779-80. Fort Nonsense was constructed in 1777 to serve as a retreat if the rebels were required to withdraw from the town below. Finally, Jockey Hollow, where more than 13,000 were encamped in 1779-80, offers several hiking options that weave along the wooded slopes of this mountain hideout.


Washington’s Headquarters Museum, Morristown National Historical Park


Ford Mansion, Morristown National Historical Park


Fort Nonsense, Morristown National Historical Park


Wick Farm, Jockey Hollow, Morristown National Historical Park


Wick’s Farmhouse

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Yellow Trail (Morristown National Historical Park, NJ)


Yellow Trail, Jockey Hollow, Morristown National Historical Park, April 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

Morristown National Historic Park’s Jockey Hollow—once a sprawling winter camp for George Washington’s Continental Army in 1777 and 1779—is now a popular hiking destination for local New Jersey residents. Shielded from British forces by the Watchung Mountains, Jockey Hollow was a strategic location where Washington could train and prepare his nascent force before a summer of fighting; the brutal cold and poor living conditions, however, would test the soldiers’ mettle. The Yellow Trail—situated beyond the Jockey Hollow Visitor Center—covers part of the terrain occupied by Washington’s forces, including reconstructed examples of soldiers’ quarters and an open field where guards would assemble each day for inspection. The woodsy hike, a combination of the Soldier Hut and Grand Parade Trails, forms a 2.25-mile circuit that takes a little over an hour to complete.

Yellow Trail Morristown NHP hike information

Yellow Trail map Morristown

Map of Yellow Trail loop, Morristown National Historical Park; map courtesy of the National Park Service: (Check out the MapMyHike track)

The hike

The Yellow Trail (one of eight named trails in Jockey Hollow) can be accessed from several points in the park. However, it is perhaps best coupled with a visit to the Jockey Hollow Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center, you can reach the start of the trail by following the paved path to Wick Farm (behind the center) or driving and parking at the Wick Farm parking area (roughly 2/10 mile up one-way Cemetery Road on the right). The small parking lot is adjacent to a dark red farm house built by Henry Wick around 1750, well before the farm first played host to Washington’s rebels in 1777.


Soldier Hut Trail heading north

The Yellow Trail loop begins just up Cemetery Road at signpost #49 (on the right). The Soldier Hut Trail immediately dives into the woods and brush, gradually climbing to crest a low hill at 2/10 mile. By now, the trail is wide and partly graveled and descends briefly to a 5-way junction. Stay straight on the yellow-blazed path as the Green/Aqueduct Loop Trail bears off to the right. From here the Yellow Trail parallels both the road (on the left) and the Green Trail (down in the minor ravine to the right).


Junction with the Green (Aqueduct) Trail

Now bearing east, the Soldier Hut Trail emerges onto a grassy field dotted with several cedar trees at 0.9 mile. Crossing the Grand Parade Road here, the reproduced Soldier Huts are visible up the hill beyond. It’s a steep but short climb to the four huts, very modest wooden shelters against the brutal cold and snow. The three in the front were built for enlisted soldiers, while the larger (two-room) hut in the back reproduces an officer’s residence.


Soldier Huts across the road


From the officer’s hut, the trail bears right and climbs to a low ridge line. Remains of war-era hearths dot the landscape, highlighted by an interpretive panel on the left. Steps beyond, bear right at signpost #41, then continue east as the trail levels off. Stay right at the next trail fork (signpost #42).

By now you are on the Grand Parade Trail, which drops sharply at roughly the 1.25-mile mark, with the sight of an open field down to your left. At 1.3 miles, the trail approaches Grand Parade Road but does not yet cross it. Stay to the left, skirting the Grand Parade, a broad field where guards reported every day for inspections and to receive orders. (Note: The original field was situated in the woods to the north and was roughly 400 yards long and 100 yards wide.)


Grand Parade

From the interpretive panels at Grand Parade, cross the road and continue southwest along a level straightaway. The trail emerges at the so-called “Trail Center” at 1.6 miles, a parking area that serves as an access point to the Yellow, Orange, Green, Red, and Blue Trails. Cross to the other side of the parking area, where the trail continues.


Crossing over Primrose Brook

Briefly sharing the path with the Aqueduct Trail, the two paths diverge after crossing Primrose Brook. The Yellow Trail follows a minor tributary then climbs sharply uphill, the final push before returning to Wick Farm. The grade eases at the 2-mile mark; bear right at signpost #47. From here the trail passes behind an old apple orchard.

Stay straight at the next trail fork (with the Orange Trail, at roughly 2.15 miles), followed quickly by an abrupt return to the start—the Wick farmhouse and parking area. (Note: If parked at the visitor center, follow the paved path for another 1/10 mile.) Allot roughly 1-1.5 hours for this easy-to-moderate hike.

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Henry Hill Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)


Henry Hill Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

The climax of the First Battle of Manassas took place on Henry Hill, a grassy pasture west of Bull Run and north of Manassas Junction, Virginia—the object of Union attack. On the afternoon of July 21, 1861, after a Federal victory in the morning at nearby Matthews Hill, fierce Confederate resistance at Henry Hill stopped the assault in its tracks, eventually forcing Gen. Irvin McDowell’s Union force to retreat back to Washington.

The Henry Hill Loop Trail is perhaps the most popular hike in Manassas National Battlefield Park due to its location just behind the Visitor Center. Clocking in at 1.2 miles, the hike covers many of the battle’s major landmarks, including the Henry House, Brig. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s artillery line, and Captain Charles Griffin’s two famed field guns. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Sudley Loop Trail, Stone Bridge Loop Trail, and Matthews Hill Loop Trail.)

Henry Hill Loop Trail hike information Manassas

The hike

Manassas National Battlefield Park is located just off Interstate 66, roughly 30 miles west of Washington, DC. Henry Hill Visitor Center serves as the starting point for most visitors and marks the start of the Henry Hill Loop Trail. Ranger-led talks cover part of the trail and are offered daily at 11am and 2pm.

Looking north from the Visitor Center, the Henry Hill Loop Trail strikes out across a grassy ridge, heading toward the Henry House, visible from the Visitor Center.


Map of Henry Hill Loop Trail

The Union cannons on the left are arrayed as they were during the height of battle, around 2 pm on July 21, 1861. After a several-hour delay on Matthews Hill, Union Gen. Irvin McDowell finally directed two artillery batteries—11 guns in all—to seize the high ground on Henry Hill. When they arrived, however, they lacked sufficient infantry support and were immediately riddled with fire; Brig. Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson already had 13 short-range cannons in place along the reverse slope to the east. As Confederate divisions fled Matthews Hill in the morning, they rallied at Henry Hill behind Jackson, who had just arrived around midday. Here, the legend of Stonewall was born: Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee, regrouping after Matthews Hill, reportedly shouted to his men: “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”

Looking east from the Union cannons, Jackson’s statue towers over the hill, with the 13 cannons just beyond. Continuing on the trail, stop to peer inside the reconstructed Henry House. As Federal forces advanced up Henry Hill, they came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters who were hiding inside the house. Capt. J.B. Ricketts’ artillery returned fire, riddling the house with bullets and killing 85-year-old Judith Carter Henry, who refused to leave her home and became the battle’s first and only civilian casualty. (Note: Behind the house is a stone monument, built in 1865 to commemorate the fallen.)


Henry House and Confederate Memorial

Beyond the Henry House, the trail descends gradually and approaches a lone cedar and a weathered wayside overlooking Matthews Hill and the Stone House. It was here that Confederate Capt. John Imboden had four guns, pointed north as the Federals streamed down Matthews Hill. For a brief moment, Imboden’s artillerymen were the only obstacle to a Federal attack; as reinforcements arrived, however, Imboden’s battery moved to reinforce Jackson.


View from Imboden’s battery

From this point, bear right as the loop trail drops downhill to cross a minor creek. At 4/10 mile, bear left on a wide track that cuts across an open field. The next junction has an interpretive panel discussing the much-hailed resistance of Confederate Col. Wade Hampton and his infantry; Hampton’s Legion took the brunt of the fighting in the interim period between the battles at Matthews and Henry Hills.


Foundation of Robinson House

Bearing right at the fork, the trail reaches the remains of the Robinson House at 6/10 mile. Owned by James Robinson—a free black man—the house escaped major damage during the battle; it survived until 1993, when it was felled by arsonists. Past the Robinson House, the trail heads back toward the Visitor Center, passing behind Jackson’s line of artillery at roughly .85 mile. Stay straight as the path intersects the 5.4-mile First Manassas Trail.


Jackson’s line

The final leg of the hike traces a key event, arguably the turning point in the battle: the capture of artillery Capt. Charles Griffin’s two howitzers. Facing merciless pounding from Jackson’s guns, Griffin decided to move two of his six guns beyond the right of Ricketts’ line in an effort to expose Jackson’s line to enfilading fire. By the time Griffin had unlimbered the two cannons, however, the 33rd Virginia Infantry emerged from the woods, seizing the position.


Site of Griffin’s two howitzers

With the Visitor Center parking lot off to the right, the trail approaches the position where Griffin’s guns stood at 1.1 mile. Fast forwarding two hours in battle time, a final interpretive panel 100 yards later tells the story of the Union retreat—scattered, chaotic, and humiliating. From here it is mere steps to the parking lot and Visitor Center, bringing the 1.2-mile loop to an end.

Allot around an hour for this circuit hike.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:


Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,”

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

National Park Service, “The Battle of First Manassas (First Bull Run),”

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Matthews Hill Loop Trail (Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA)


Matthews Hill Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park, April 2017

– Civil War Series –

The Civil War’s First Battle of Manassas comprised two major engagements: a Union victory at Matthews Hill in the morning, and a Union defeat at Henry Hill in the afternoon. With Gen. Irvin McDowell’s Federal forces crossing Bull Run at Sudley Ford, Confederate Col. Nathan “Shanks” Evans shifted 900 troops from nearby Stone Bridge to meet the challenge. Despite being outgunned and outmanned, the Confederate brigades—receiving back-up from Col. Francis Bartow and Brig. Gen. Barnard Bee—fought the Federals on Matthews Hill for nearly 90 minutes. The fighting would slow the Union advance, giving the Southerners much need time to bring in additional reinforcements that would ultimately achieve victory at Henry Hill later in the day.

Today, a one-mile loop hike circles the Matthews Hill battlefield. Situated 1.5 miles north of the Henry Hill Visitor Center at Manassas National Battlefield Park, the trail crosses open farm fields (owned during the war by Edgar Matthews) and briefly dips into the woods to the north and east. (Note: The loop is one of five hiking trails that trace the First Battle of Manassas; see also the First Manassas Trail, Sudley Loop Trail, Stone Bridge Loop Trail, and Henry Hill Loop Trail.)

Matthews Hill Loop Trail hike information Manassas

Matthews Hill Loop Trail map Manassas

Map of Matthews Hill Loop Trail, Manassas National Battlefield Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Starting at the Matthews Hill parking lot—3/4 mile up Sudley Road from Warrenton Turnpike/Lee Highway—the Matthews Hill Loop Trail heads southeast amid tall grasses to the crest of the hill. (Note: Several paths converge at the trailhead; be sure to take the one marked “Matthews Hill Loop Trail.”) Tracking uphill, the trail reaches a junction after 250 yards. With a row of cannons to the right, take a left, peering out across the battlefield.


Firing the cannon…

The cannons on Matthews Hill mark the position of Captain William Reynolds’ Rhode Island artillery battery, which boasted six field guns on the day of battle. Looking south, one can see Henry Hill—the site of bloody engagement in the afternoon—in the distance. From here, two Confederate brigades under Col. Bartow and Brig. Gen. Bee came to Evans’ aid at Matthews Hill. It was too little, too late. After about 90 minutes of fighting, a Federal barrage led by Col. Ambrose Burnside sent the Southerners fleeing back to Henry Hill.

From the artillery display, continue northeast to the edge of the woods at ¼ mile. Bear straight ahead, into the forest, passing several panels that tell the story of individual Federal units and their roles in the battle. Stay straight as a bridle trail intersects the main path at 0.37 miles, then bear right—deviating from the First Manassas Trail—at around the ½-mile mark. Just beyond is the Stovall Monument, dedicated to an obscure member of the 8th regiment of the Georgia Volunteers. There is another trail fork at the monument; stay straight on the Matthews Hill Loop Trail.


Matthews Hill Loop Trail as it weaves through the woods

At roughly 0.65 miles, the trail reemerges onto the open fields. Stay straight as the path traces a lesser ridge where Confederate forces were position during the battle. Separating the trail from the summit of Matthews Hill is a small rail fence, a remnant of Edgar Matthews’ farm.

Although the Southerners would retreat from this position, the fighting at Matthews Hill played a key role in the eventual Confederate victory. As the three Confederate brigades bogged down McDowell’s forces, reinforcements were arriving from the south. Moreover, the battle convinced Gen. McDowell to temporary halt the Union advance on Henry Hill until the afternoon; it would be several hours until the US Army finally marched onward.


Matthews Hill from the Confederate positions

At ¾ mile, bear right at the trail fork. Walk up Matthews Hill, through a break in the rail fence, arriving back at the cannons at 9/10 mile. From here, it is a short walk back to the Matthews Hill parking area to the north.

Allot around 45 minutes to an hour for this one-mile walk. Pack sunscreen and bug spray, as the open grassland can be a haven for ticks.

Extra credit

Four additional hikes traverse the terrain of the First Battle of Manassas, including:


Civil War Trust, “Bull Run,”

John J. Hennessy, The First Battle of Manassas, Revised Edition (Stackpole Books: 2015)

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