George Washington National Forest – Kennedy Peak

Kennedy Peak Hike

Back in October, we hiked to Kennedy Peak in George Washington National Forest, making a loop with Stephens Trail. It was our second time doing the hike, and we enjoyed it just as much as the first time! Although it is 9.2 miles, the terrain is not very difficult and it features a great summit view, with a shelter/viewing platform at the top.

Wildflowers in the Parking Lot

Of course, various Asters were in full bloom at the time!

Bushy Aster

Bushy Aster, Rice Button Aster, or Aster dumosus, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. It favors sandy, open sites and sometimes marshy ground. A native wildflower, it grows along most of the east coast of North America, as well as in southern states, and Ontario. It is most widely found in southern states. This plant grows up to three feet tall and it can be white or pale lavender in color.

I had trouble figuring out what type of Aster this flower is. At first I thought it was a Stiff Aster, because of the sparse and thin leaves, but the leaves on Stiff Asters are longer and more regular.

It seems like it might be: –

Short’s Aster

Short’s Aster, or Symphyotrichum shortii,  is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms September and October. Native to North America, it grows throughout the east and Midwest, but not in New England. It attracts pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Its seeds attract a wide variety of birds: cardinals, finches, sparrows, thrashers, , chickadees, nuthatches,  and turkeys.

Pictures from this resource identifying Short’s Aster look very similar.

Actually, the following flower also appears to be a Short’s Aster, based on the lower leaf shape.

While there was a smattering of Asters near the parking lot, going into the forest we were met with less luck. I find this is often the case – the wildflowers enjoy sunny waste spaces. Usually in the forest they will not get as much sunlight.

Now, after enjoying the flowers near the parking lot, the hiking can begin.

The Hike

You can go clockwise or counter-clockwise around the loop. If you go clockwise, the incline is steeper and the trail is longer to get to the top view point. Anticipating a lot of people would arrive at the summit by lunch time, we went counter-clockwise and took the shorter & easier route in order to arrive at the summit early.

The Kennedy Peak loop trail features a couple great views. Going around counter-clockwise as we did, our first view was from the Kennedy Peak Trailhead, just off US 675. Here you can see Shenandoah Valley and the mountains of Shenandoah National Park on the other side.

The ridge trail up to the peak is relatively flat and a little boring, to be honest, but it goes quickly. After walking 1.6 miles, you reach an intersection and climb up a rocky hill for .3 miles to the peak.

Kennedy Peak Views

The view from Kennedy Peak’s lookout tower is amazing – you can see beautiful scenery in multiple directions. Not only do you see Shenandoah National Park’s Blue Ridge Mountains across the valley, and the meandering Shenandoah River to the east, but to the south you can also see the beautiful mountains that make up George Washington National Forest.

This is the view looking south:

And the view looking east:

Just to get some perspective from the Kennedy Peak lookout tower:

The Kennedy Peak lookout itself is a very well-built structure. It includes a sheltered area below and a viewing platform on top. The sheltered area is a great place to sit and have lunch – it’s usually quite windy at the top of the mountain! It looks like this is also a place where you can go camping.

After spending some time taking pictures and eating our PB&J sandwiches at the top, we headed on down and continued around the loop.

More Wildflowers

There were still some wildflowers around at this time in late October, including Frost Asters and Later-flowering Boneset.

We also discovered this new flower –

Canadian Thistle

Canadian Thistle, or Cirsium arvense, is a member of the  Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms June to October. It favors pastures, roadsides, and waste places. This plant was introduced from Europe via Canada and is considered a weed. You can distinguish it from other thistles because its flowering heads are smaller and its stem not as spiny.

Recommended as a Moderate Hike

At just over 9 miles, this loop hike is both a good workout and a great place to see the beauties of nature – both small and large! It is definitely one of my favorite hikes in George Washington National Forest.

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