Shenandoah National Park – Bear Church Rock

Hiking to Bear Church Rock

We went on a 8.3-mile shuttle hike to Bear Church Rock in Shenandoah National Park’s Central District.

Staunton River

The trail starts at Graves Mill parking lot and follows Graves Mill Trail alongside Rapidan River for 0.5 miles. You then turn left onto Staunton River Trail, which winds by Staunton River for 1.7 miles.

Staunton River

The river features a series of cascades as well as pools that you can swim or fish in. We saw a couple people fly fishing. These first 2.3 miles are relatively flat and easy to hike and also appear to be popular for walking dogs, trail running, and horseback riding.

Wildflowers on Staunton River Trail

There were a few flowers by the Staunton River Trail.


Fall Phlox

Fall Phlox, Garden Phlox, or Phlox paniculata, is a member of the Phlox family (Polemoniaceae) and blooms July to October. It can be found in the eastern and central United States in open woods and thickets. See the pink version of this flower last week. They bloom white to pink, or lavender.

Spotted St. John's Wort

Spotted St. John’s Wort

Spotted St. John’s Wort, or Hypericum punctatum, is a member of the St. John’s Wort family (Hypericaceae) and blooms June to August. A native wildflower, if grows in eastern North America. It is particularly attractive to bees.

They can either be pale yellow, as seen here, or bright yellow.


Sensitive Partridge Pea

Sensitive Partridge Pea, or Chamaecrista nictitans, is a member of the Pea family (Fabaceae) and blooms July to September. A native plant, it grows throughout the eastern and southern U.S. near rivers or ponds, in thickets, prairies, and along roadsides. The peas are eaten by several types of birds and the flower attracts bugs, spiders, and pollinators.

Wildflowers on Jones Mountain Trail

We then turned left up Jones Mountain Trail and climbed a steep incline for 0.5 miles.

Crane-fly Orchid

Crane-fly Orchid

The Crane-fly Orchid, or Tipularia discolor, is a member of the Orchid family (Orchidaceae) and blooms June to September. It is the only species of the genus Tipularia found in North America. It is found scattered throughout the eastern and southern U.S. Moths pollinate the plant.

Crane-fly Orchid

Here is what it looks like close up as well. There were quite a few of these growing in the woods.

Zigzag Goldenrod

Zigzag Goldenrod

Zigzag Goldenrod, Broadleaf Goldenrod, or Solidago flexicaulis, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms July to September. Native to eastern North America, this wildflower grows in rich woods and thickets. These flowers attract both bees and butterflies.


Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel, or Kalmia latifolia, is a member of the Heath family (Ericaceae) and blooms May to July. There were a couple areas of craggy, thick Mountain Laurel forest along the trails leading to Jones Mountain Cabin and Bear Church Rock. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.


The best time to see Mountain Laurel in Shenandoah National Park is June. I bet these areas of the forest are lovely during this time. We’ll have to go back and see early next summer.

The View

Bear Church Rock

The hike up to the top of the mountain was strenuous. At some points you have to use your hands to climb over mossy slippery rocks. The heat from the summer day and lack of flowing air in the valley did not help. Halfway up, our leg muscles were already burning.

When we reached the top, we and basked in the fresh breeze. The view was beautiful and different from the usual scenery that you see from viewpoints in Shenandoah National Park, which usually feature Shenandoah Valley. The steep climb and large rocks at the top were reminiscent of Old Rag, so we dubbed this hike “Mini-Old Rag.”

Recommended as a Strenuous Hike

Although it doesn’t get featured often, Bear Church Rock it is a little gem in Shenandoah. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a challenge.

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  1. Pingback: Shenandoah National Park: Graves Mill Trail – Rapidan River Shuttle Part 1 – Digital Botany

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