Bear Church Rock - Fork Mountain - Rapidan River Loop

The longest loop from the Graves Mill Trailhead has it all — pristine mountain streams and waterfalls, well-preserved mountain history, and spectacular views of Virginia wilderness.

  • 17.1 miles
Running time
  • 3.5–5.5 hours
Total ascent/descent
  • 3,750 feet
    220 feet/mile
GPX file
What to wear


From the trailhead, ascend gently on the yellow-blazed Graves Mill Trail along the Rapidan River. After 0.5 miles, take a left onto the blue-blazed Staunton River Trail, following the Staunton River through a picturesque gorge wrapping along the base of Jones Mountain.

In 2.2 miles, turn left onto the Jones Mountain Trail and begin climbing away from the river, reaching the McDaniel Hollow Trail in 0.5 miles. Keep left on the Jones Mountain Trail. Shortly after passing through a tunnel of old-growth mountain laurel, reach the side trail to the Jones Mountain Cabin and the first of two optional out-and-backs on this run.

Jones Mountain Cabin
Jones Mountain Cabin is a chestnut log cabin built by moonshiner Harvey Nichols in 1918. The cabin is a well-preserved vestige of the types of mountain homes that dotted these mountains before the establishment of the national park in 1935. It is accessed by a 0.6-mile round-trip out-and-back.

From the side trail, climb the Jones Mountain Trail for a little less than half a mile (4.4 miles), reaching the ridge of Jones Mountain and a short trail off to the right to the spectacular view from Bear Church Rock. The view is not marked so be sure not to miss it.

Panoramic view from Bear Church Rock
Panoramic view from Bear Church Rock. Fork Mountain is front and center. Old Rag is visible in the distance off to the right above Doubletop Mountain, the nearer ridge. Click on the image to see an annotated version.

After taking in the view, continue on the Jones Mountain Trail, gradually ascending along the ridge for 3.1 miles before intersecting the Cat Knob Trail off to the left. Stay right on the Jones Mountain Trail for 1 mile to the The Sag (mile 8.6). The Sag is the saddle between Cat Knob and Fork Mountain, and is the intersection of the Jones Mountain Trail and the Fork Mountain Horse Trail with the Fork Mountain Road. From here you can take the optional 1.3 mile out-and-back to the 3,845 foot summit of Fork Mountain.

Fork Mountain ranks as the third highest peak in the Shenandoahs, exceeded only by Hawksbill and Stony Man. Unlike those mountains, however, Fork Mountain is not inside Shenandoah National Park and lacks expansive views, so it doesn’t get the press of the others. But you’re so close, your friends probably haven’t climbed it, and the views are good enough in the winter.

Antennas on top of Fork Mountain
Despite being one of the tallest peaks in the Shenandoahs, the views from Fork Mountain aren’t always awesome.

From The Sag, descend 0.75 miles on the Fork Mountain Road to the Staunton River Trail.1 Keep left, staying on the fire road, and descend 3 miles and 1,300 feet down to the intersection with the Rapidan Fire Road (mile 13.6).

Fork Mountain Fire Road
Fork Mountain Road. From The Sag, it’s 3.75 miles and 1,700 feet of this down to the Rapidan Fire Road.

Take a right on the Rapidan Fire Road and follow the Rapidan River 1.3 miles downstream to the Graves Mill Trail. Leave the road and follow the yellow-blazed Graves Mill Trail for 1.7 miles, crossing the Rapidan River several times (this makes for great swimming in summer). Intersect the Staunton River Trail at mile 16.6, and stay on the Graves Mill Trail for 0.5 miles back to the trailhead.

Rapidan River
The Rapidan River, as seen from the Graves Mill Trail. The trail crosses the river several times on the way back to the trailhead — something to keep in mind if you don’t like wet feet.

Shorter options

  • Skipping the out-and-back to the Jones Mountain Cabin saves 0.6 miles and 200 feet of ascent/descent.
  • Skipping the out-and-back to Fork Mountain saves 1.3 miles and 500 feet of ascent/descent.
  • From the intersection of the Staunton River Trail with the Fork Mountain Road (mile 10.7), take the Staunton River Trail for 4 miles to the yellow-blazed Graves Mill Trail, making for a 15.2 mile run. It is essentially following this run, but in reverse.

  1. From here you can take a shortcut back to the Graves Mill Trailhead, about 4.5 miles, if you’ve had enough at this point. Take the the blue-blazed Staunton River Trail for 4 miles to the yellow-blazed Graves Mill Trail. It is essentially following this run, but in reverse. 

Last updated November 1, 2020

What you do is up to you, but you shouldn't rely on these directions alone; they are often not specific enough to navigate by, and may be incorrect or out of date. Review a map beforehand and carry it with you. Tell a friend where you are going and when you plan to return. Do not count on having cell phone service while on the run. The VHTRC is not responsible for your welfare on any of these runs. If you go on one of these runs and get lost, run out of water, get injured, mauled by a bear, or die, or if anything else goes wrong, it's your fault; not ours. You assume all risks here and the VHTRC assumes none at all. Legal issues aside, some of these runs are more remote than others and the VHTRC is not suggesting that you do any of these runs, unless you are prepared to accept full responsibility for yourself.