George Washington National Forest – Buzzard Rock

Hiking Buzzard Rock in Autumn

Buzzard Rock has two hikes – a short one that comes in from the North, and a longer one of 7 miles from Elizabeth Furnace Parking lot. We went on the longer Buzzard Rock hike. We’ve been to this one before and enjoyed it.

There are a couple places you can find the Tuscarora/Massanutten Trail. One is off in the bushes near the upper parking lot, the other is next to the river. Almost every time we come here we see someone fishing.


Wildflowers Near the Trailhead

Around the parking lot and picnic area, as well as at the beginning of the trail, we found many Asters.

Calico Aster

Calico Aster

Calico Aster, or Aster lateriflorus, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. A native wildflower, it grows throughout eastern and central North America. It favors fields and thickets. The name comes from the fact that the disk flowers in the center are first yellow and later turn purplish red, so that the flowers on one plant or even a single head can include both colors at the same time.

Frost Aster

Frost Aster

Frost Aster

Frost Aster, White Heath Aster, Hairy White Oldfield Aster, or Symphyotrichum pilosum, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms September to October. A native plant, it grows mostly throughout eastern and central North America.


Heart-leaved Aster

The Heart-leaved Aster, Broad-leaved Aster, Common Blue Wood Aster, Heartleaf Aster, or Aster cordifolius, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. It blooms in earlier months down in the south. A native plant, it grows throughout eastern and central North America.

Along the Trail

George Washington National Forest

The walk through the forest here in the morning on an autumn day is a bit dark, but George Washington National Forest is a beautiful place to hike.

Doe in the forest

In the forest we saw a doe…

Fawn in the forest

And after a fawn came scrambling through the forest after its mother! Aren’t they sweet?

On a more somber note – in George Washington National Forest hunting season starts in late autumn. It is definitely in full swing by November. Make sure you wear bright orange gear so that hunters can easily spot you in the forest.

Near the top of the Tuscarora/Massanutten Trail it gets a little rocky. When you get to the top you turn left onto Buzzard Rock Trail. From the turn-off point you hike 2 miles up and down along the ridge to reach the destination.

More Nature on the Way to Buzzard Rock


White Amanita Mushroom

I’m having trouble identifying this mushroom specifically, but I believe it is a Amanita mushroom. These types of mushrooms are poisonous.


We encountered this Aster flower along the trail. I’ve searched for hours on the internet and in books trying to identify it, but to no avail. The detailed wildflower book that I use for reference, National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers: Eastern Region, identifies 18 types of Aster and has pictures for 16, but this one didn’t seem to be included.

The problem is that when I took the picture I was focused on taking a photo of the flowers, and not the whole plant. When it comes to Asters, there are many varieties and sometimes the way to distinguish them is very subtle – the color of the central disk, the shape of the leaves at the top vs. the bottom, how the stem forms, and how many petals are on the average flower. Although most times I remember to take a picture of the whole plant, or at least the leaves, for future reference, I forgot this time. Lesson learned…again!

According to the Virginia Native Plant Society, there are approximately 150-200 species of flowers that bloom in Shenandoah National Park in autumn, 25 of which are Goldenrods, and 25 of which are Asters. I assume there is about the same amount of variety just across the valley in George Washington National Forest. Maybe I’ll be able to identify them all one day! In the meantime, this will be a mystery Aster.


Northern Rough Greensnake

The Northern Rough Greensnake, or Opheodrys aestivus, is a member of the Colubridae family and is nonvenomous. They can be found throughout the southeastern and central U.S., as well as along the East Coast. This snake is  arboreal and does most of its activity in trees, low bushes, or tall grass. As an insectivore, it consumes insects such as  grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, and spiders.

As we were ambling along Buzzard Rock Trail we came upon this snake. Even though we’ve seen a couple different types of snakes in the woods during our hikes, I must admit, I’m always a bit scared when I see one. We guessed it was benign/nonvenomous because its head was not triangular, but kept our distance just in case. After all, we’re not snake experts.

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel, or Hamamelis virginiana, is a member of the Witch Hazel family (Hamamelidaceae) and blooms September to November. The flowers blossom on a tall shrub/small tree that grow in dry or moist woods and is native to eastern and central North America. The bark and leaves can be used as a topical astringent.

Personally, I use a Witch Hazel toner on my face, applied with a cotton round – it’s cleansing and refreshing. It should be available at any pharmacy.


Zigzag Goldenrod

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

Most of the flowers that we saw along Buzzard Rock Trail in October were these Zigzag Goldenrods, as well as a few Asters. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, given the statistics cited above – Asters and Goldenrods make up 25-33% of the autumn flowers in the region.

In addition to all the Asters and Goldenrods, we also saw a few of these white puffy wildflowers.


Late-flowering Boneset

Late-flowering Boneset, Late Boneset,  or Eupatorium serotinum, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms July to October. It is native to North America and can be found throughout eastern and central North America.


We also came upon this insect, which we also saw over at Signal Knob in George Washington National Forest. Perhaps they are common in autumn? Or maybe they just stand out more in the forest because everything else is withered and they can’t hide/camouflage as easily.

Blatchley’s Walkingstick

Blatchley’s Walkingstick

The Blatchley’s Walkingstick, Blatchley Walkingstick, or Manomera blatchleyi, is a type of Walking Stick, or stick insect. These insects can usually be found in bushes and on small trees. They can camouflage to hide from birds and other predators.

The View from Buzzard Rock

Up and down, up and down the path rolls along the ridge for 2 miles before you reach Buzzard Rock.


This is the view looking south from Buzzard Rock. There is a rock cliff edge where we saw someone doing rock climbing with pulleys and lines before. There wasn’t anyone climbing this time around.


The view looking down at the parkway going through George Washington National Forest.


This is a panorama of the neighboring mountains that are also part of George Washington National Forest. You can see the Signal Knob loop trail from here. It’s always fun to view the places we’ve hiked from another mountain and picturing where the trails must be, based on the maps and our experience.

The Return Trail

We shuttled back along Buzzard Rock Trail back to the intersection. Although it is a ridge, the inclines and declines are such that our legs usually get tired by this point. There was a bit of huffing and puffing.

To get back to the parking lot you can either go back the way you came or find an old path not far from the crossroads (about 22 meters beyond) marked with a yellow blaze. It is easier to find in the winter than the summer. Taking this trail is actually shorter than going back on the Tuscarora/Massanutten Trail. We like variety in scenery, so we always take this path back down the mountain.

The path is quite wide in some places and it is obvious that the road must have been used by horses and workmen for mining purposes linked with Elizabeth Furnace, which I mentioned before is not far from the parking area. Elizabeth Furnace was a blast furnace that produced pig iron from 1836-1888.

It seems this yellow-blazed trail is not maintained much anymore – in a couple parts there are trees that have fallen down and look like they’ve been lying there for years. You either have to go around or climb over them.

We found this little wildflower by the side of the trail.

Indian Tobacco

Indian Tobacco

Indian Tobacco, or Lobelia inflata, is a member of the Bellflower family (Campanulaceae) and blooms June to October. It grows in open woods and along roadsides throughout eastern North America. Native Americans smoked the dried leaves like tobacco to treat asthma. However, be warned! It’s root is poisonous and Lobelia is considered a potentially toxic herb, depending on the dosage. If you are ever interested in using it for medicinal purposes, please consult a doctor.

Clustered Bonnet Mushrooms

Clustered Bonnet Mushrooms

Clustered Bonnet Mushrooms

Clustered Bonnet, Oak-stump Bonnet Cap, Elf Cap Mushrooms, or Mycena inclinata, grow in clusters on the well decayed wood of hardwoods, primarily in eastern North America.

We found these cute clustered mushrooms on a fallen tree. I loved to see how they lined up and the effect of taking a macro photo of them with f/2.8.


There weren’t that many more wildflowers along the old trail. However, I did discover a bunch of bushes of Asters next to the river near our parking spot after we finished hiking. I took a bunch of pictures thinking that they might be different types of Asters, but after studying the photos, I realized that they are all the same!

Heart-leaved Aster

Heart-leaved Aster

The Heart-leaved Aster, Broad-leaved Aster, Common Blue Wood Aster, Heartleaf Aster, or Aster cordifolius, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. It blooms in earlier months down in the south. A native plant, it grows throughout eastern and central North America.

The following pictures are also of the Heart-leaved Aster.

Of course, the easiest way to identify this type of Aster is by its leaves. Check out this website for some good examples of the leaves.

Heart-leaved Aster

The petals also seem to be kind of stiff and round.

Heart-leaved Aster

And as you can see, the leaves and stems at the top of the plant look different from the bottom. At first when I was reviewing this set of images with the black background I thought it might be a Stiff Aster because of the spiky small leaves jutting out from the stem. Luckily, I took a couple pictures of the leaves further down the stem and was able to identify it as a Heart-leaved Aster as well.

Recommended as a Moderate Hike

The Buzzard Rock hike is neither too long, nor too difficult. Although you end up going out-and-back along the ridge, which can be a little boring, especially if you’ve been there multiple times, there is always something new to see and the view from Buzzard Rock is worth it. It is a great option for anyone that wants to do a day hike and be able to see some beautiful mountain scenery, as well as a range of plants and wildlife. If you have time, there are also a couple trails near Elizabeth Furnace that have plaques detailing the history of the area that are interesting to read.

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  1. Pingback: George Washington National Forest: Buzzard Rock Part 2 – Digital Botany

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