Just across the valley from Shenandoah National Park is George Washington National Forest, which also features many beautiful hikes and mountain vistas.
We had been to Signal Knob last November, but it has been cold and rainy, so we couldn’t see any of the views and we hiked the shorter loop. On October 9 we went back and hiked the longer Signal Knob loop trail of 9.9 miles.
Despite only being early October, when we got out of the car to put on our hiking gear it felt almost like winter. Luckily, it was still early enough in autumn to see a variety of wildflowers. You start out along the Massanutten National Recreation Trail at the north end of the Signal Knob Parking Lot.
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.
Late Purple Aster
Late Purple Aster, Spreading Aster, or Symphyotrichum patens, 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 dry open woods and dry fields. You can identify it both by its dark purple color, it’s clasping leaves surrounding the the stem, and differentiate it from the New England Aster by the number of petals — while the New England Aster has 40-50 petals, the Late Purple Aster has 15-25.
Stiff Aster, Bristly Aster, or Aster linariifolius, is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and blooms August to October. A native plant, it grows throughout eastern and central North America. It favors dry clearings and rocky banks. You can find this flower in colors ranging from deep lavender to shades of pink and white.
The path up the mountain is not too strenuous, but it is rocky. Make sure to bring sturdy shoes, or preferably hiking boots, if you go. There are not too many wide vistas from the trail, but there are a few view points from which you can see the neighboring mountains.
Buzzard Rock Overlook
From this overlook you can see the mountain line that features hikes such as Buzzard Rock (just out of view here to the left), Duncan Knob, and Strickler Knob. This point is 1.5 miles from the parking lot. After another 0.7 miles you reach Fort Valley Overlook, which has a smaller viewing window through a bunch of trees.