Exactly 1,350 feet above sea level in the Blue Ridge Mountains sits a westward-facing rock formation. It's nestled in the western tip of Northern Virginia, about an hour and a half from DC, in a town called Bluemont.
The spectacular outcropping is called Bears Den Rocks, and it's part of Bears Den Park, an amazing natural sanctuary situated on the northern slope of Mount Weather, which is known for its challenging cycling route and top secret government installation.
And while there's plenty to see at this small park, the view—particularly at sunset, but really all day—steals the show.
Bears Den occupies 66 acres and features several historic spots along its several miles of trails, including a stone lodge that dates to the 1930s. The 8,000-square-foot lodge was built in 1933 as a summer retreat for a local doctor and his wife, a soprano singer, and was made to look like a European castle, featuring traditional stone turrets and the like. The property was purchased by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in 1984.
These days, the lodge is available for overnight stays. It sleeps up to 26 people in three rooms—two with bunk beds and one private room that holds up to six people. Check out the website for information on pricing.
A trip to Bears Den should always include a hike along any one of the four trails on the property. They range from half a mile to a few miles in length, but each one is a loop that meets up with another trail. Hiking them all in one go is definitely doable. For even longer hikes and runs, you can link up with other trails outside of the park.
For an added challenge, hop onto the Appalachian Trail—it runs right through the park and is just 150 yards from the stone lodge. The hiking possibilities on the AT are endless. If you're looking for something fun and challenging that might span an entire weekend, head north on the trail and hike 19.5 miles to Harpers Ferry, W.V., making it an out and back trip over two days or dropping a car at one end before you start. Bears Den is in the middle of what's known as the "roller coaster" section of the AT, a 13.5-mile, up-and-down stretch with some pretty steep, rolling sections.
Open year round, the lodge at Bears Den is a welcome oasis for A.T. thru-hikers. The trail's official guidebooks have a passcode that opens the hiker door at the rear of the building. Paying for a room, a load of laundry, or a cold drink entails leaving some money in a drop box.
Not an A.T. thru-hiker? No worries, you can still stay at the lodge or at a nearby cottage overnight. Pets are welcome on the property, but not inside the buildings.
Folks with children can head over to the park on a weekend, pay the $3 day fee by stuffing some cash in an envelope and putting it in the parking lot drop box, and start on the Nature Trail. This one-mile loop starts near a picnic pavilion and hooks up with the Blue Blaze Loop, a rectangle-shaped trail that takes you to the Bears Den Rocks overlook. The overlook is roughly a half-mile from the parking lot.
The overlook resembles a stone theater, and the jaw-dropping view is the Ultra HD screen. The massive quartzite rocks have what seems like built-in seats. The ones in the front are the best front-row movie theater seats you'll ever have.
The sunset here is spectacular, and it draws people year round. RootsRated recently went for the "sunset show." It was a chilly 25 degrees and a thin layer of crusty snow and ice partially covered the trails. Even still, we weren't the only ones to brave the elements.
Viewing tips: If you plan to visit Bears Den at sunset, don't forget a camera or smartphone to document the occasion. A camera is best in cold weather because phones sometimes shut off when the mercury drops. A headlamp is also handy for navigating the path back to your car.