This relatively easy 2.5 mile loop goes around Sherando Lake and follows a short spur to a great mountain view!
This has been quite the harsh winter for snow and cold temperatures. And when it hasn’t been too cold, it seems to have been raining. So, we were glad to get out on a nice day to get a little exercise outdoors for a change.
Sherando Lake is a multi-purpose recreation area. In nice weather, you will see people swimming, fishing, camping, and hiking. To visit, there is a fee per vehicle – check out their fee schedule here. The area is officially open from early April through October. The road gates are often closed during the off season based on weather. There is camping available if you wanted to make a nice weekend trip, but reservations should be made in advance.
We started off our hike from the Fisherman’s Parking Area. There were a few other vehicles there also, but they were all there for the fishing. The lake is stocked with trout throughout the year. Facing the lake, we started our hike on the left by heading up the Cliff Trail. This trail was a short gradual climb with a few switchbacks before the trail levels out. About .4 miles into the hike, there is a small outlook to the right from a rock that gives you a few obstructed views from the lake. Continuing on the trail, it begins to descend and the lake gets back into view. At .8 miles, you reach the lakeside and see the sign that shows the junction with the Lakeside Trail (a trail that wraps around the lake). We took a few minutes to go out onto the sand and enjoy the views of the lake. I saw a wood duck escorting a few ducklings on the far banks of the lake.
We walked back behind the large building/gift shop, crossed a couple of bridges and rejoined the trail on the northwestern side of the bank. We took the blue-blazed Blue Loop Trail, leading us past a few campsite areas before climbing up into the woods. The trail is rockier, especially in the beginning, than the Cliff Trail and is steeper. The trail climbed through a few switchbacks. At 1.5 miles, you reach a junction shortly after a switchback with the Dam Trail. This will be your return route. Continue up the Blue Loop Trail, which begins to take an uphill climb to the left up the mountain. At 1.75 miles, you reach Lookout Rock. We took some time there to enjoy the view and then went back the way we came until we reached the junction with the Dam Trail. We took this trail to the left, which leads steeply down the mountain. You begin to see the lake through the trees again and we reached the lakeside around 2.25 miles. We continued on the trail until it reached a small bridge that crossed over the dam stream and led back to the parking lot.
One thing that was going through my mind during the hike is this would be great for a family outing. Grab your family for a quick hike followed by a picnic by the lake. Make a weekend of it if you want to do some camping, swimming, and fishing.
I enjoy winter and playing in the snow, but I’m very ready for warmer weather. I want to see flowers blooming. I want to feel warm sunshine on my face. I’m so ready to see a canopy of green across the mountaintops. I have spring fever. So, I was especially thankful for a particularly warm and sunny Saturday because it gave us a chance to get out and hike.
We chose Sherando Lake, mainly because it was nearby and easy. It would have been a great day to go on a longer hike, but Adam was still getting over a bad cold. And I was not willing to spend more than an hour in the car. I had spent the past two weekends in a 12-passenger van, making a 15 hour ride to and from the Florida panhandle and was still a bit road weary.
My trip to Florida was a service-learning trip with a group of nine JMU students. We traveled to a Nature Conservancy preserve – Apalachicola Bluffs & Ravines to do a week’s worth of environmental work. We camped, we hiked, we learned about the local ecosystem, and most importantly – we planted 90,000 plugs of native wiregrass seed that will be used to restore the natural habitat of that part of Florida. It was hard work, but I think we made a difference. We even had one free day on our trip. We chose to spend it spotting manatees, gators, and other wildlife at Wakulla Springs State Park. If you want to see more photos and read more about my service trip, I’ve uploaded a large set of captioned photos to my Flickr account.
Now, back to Sherando Lake! I had been to the lake a couple times before, but had never actually taken the time to hike any of the trails in the area. I was pleasantly surprised by the trail system. There is something for everyone – a practically flat trail that goes along the lake shore, a steeper trail around the lake that offers a couple nice views, and a connection into the larger, longer trail system along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I liked sitting on the sand and enjoying the pretty lake view, and I really enjoyed climbing up to Lookout Rock on the Blue Loop Trail. The rocky outcropping provides a nice view of the lake and the mountains beyond. Although the snow was gone on the trails we walked, we could still see plenty of snow on the distant, higher ridges.
The walk back down from Lookout Rock was really steep and slick, especially with the thick bed of dry, fallen leaves. Once we reached the bottom of the descent, we crossed a concrete bridge beneath the spillway and returned to our car. We finished hiking a little bit before noon, so we decided to make the short drive to have lunch at Blue Mountain Brewery (near Afton Mountain). They have great food and great beer. Adam enjoyed a flight of nine different beers and I tried their Daugava Baltic Porter. I think everyone in central Virginia had the same idea to visit the brewery for an outdoor lunch. The place was packed, but it was a perfect ending to the day.
- Distance – 2.5 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 998 ft.
- Difficulty – 2. The uphill to the Lookout Rock is a little steep, but overall most people should be able to do it.
- Trail Conditions – 4. This is well-traveled, so you should find the trail to be in good shape.
- Views – 3. Nice views of the lake from Lookout Rock and mountains around. Some obstruction, but overall a decent view.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. There is a small man-made water dam that creates a nice fall look. The lake creates a picturesque setting.
- Wildlife – 2. You shouldn’t expect a lot of larger wildlife. We saw a pileated woodpecker swooping across our car when we arrived.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. The only place you may need to figure out is where to pick up the trail after going to the other side of the lake.
- Solitude –1. On a nice day, you’ll see plenty of people here. Most will be near the lake, but expect some people at Lookout Rock.
Directions to trailhead: From I-64, take Exit 96 just east of Stuarts Draft. Go south on State Route 624, which becomes State Route 664 at Lyndhurst. Continue south on State Route 664 approximately 8 miles to the entrance to the Sherando Lake Recreation Area on the right. The gatehouse is approximately 0.5 miles ahead which will take the fee for your vehicle. Past the gatehouse, you’ll take a right to the fisherman’s parking lot. Park there and make your way to the left for the Cliff Trail.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
We walked a beautiful two-mile snowshoe loop on this lovely network of trails in Elkton, Va.
We finally got a significant snowfall! The first day of the storm, we were snowbound at home. We spent the day digging out and hanging out. But early the next morning, after the snowfall stopped, we headed over to the Elk Run Trails. The trails, maintained by the Hurricane Running Club, are primarily intended for cross country running and walking. However, under a heavy bed of snow, they’re simply perfect for snowshoeing.
We parked our car at the Elkton Community Center and set out from the trailhead on the west side of the center. For much of the first mile, the trail follows parallel to Elk Run Stream. While you can see houses on the far bed of the stream, the trail still offers a lovely wooded setting. On this particular day; the deep, soft snow made for slow, arduous progress.
The only climbing on the walk comes as you approach the back side of the Kite Mansion. One short climb takes you past an old spring house. Then a shorter, but steeper, ascent brings you up to the east side of the house. We walked across the columned front of the house and picked the trail back up on the other side.
A brief descent brings you back to a dirt road that parallels Route 33. The trail is completely flat and passes through a tunnel of hemlocks and pines. Eventually you come out on the road, just east of the community center. From there, we popped off our snowshoes and walked the brief 10th of a mile back to our car.
It was a wonderful morning in the snow!
When the weather wants to dump a lot of snow on the ground and you feel like you couldn’t hike anytime soon, grab some snowshoes and hit the trail. We have been on this Elk Run trail system before in dry conditions, but this trail seems made for snowshoeing.
The only map you can find of this trail system is on the photo link above. You can pick up a copy yourself at the Elkton Community Center during normal business hours. Our trip consisted of doing the entire orange trail starting from the west end, but included the green loop trail that takes you up to the Kite house. We parked at the Elkton Community Center and went behind the building.
We spotted the orange blaze across the field behind the building that denoted the start of the trail system. The trail was untouched (minus a few squirrel tracks) when we hit the trail and we quickly realized how tough snowshoeing over a foot of fresh snow could truly be. After a short time, we decided to shed some layers since we were working up a sweat from the effort. The trail started off with a long scenic walk alongside the Elk Run.
At about .9 miles, the trail begins to start up an ascent and you can then join the green-blazed trail. Take this up a steep but short hill and at the top of the hill take a right. This will lead you to the front of the Kite House.
Continue to cross in front of the Kite House and you will see the trail pick up again, going steeply downhill. At the bottom, you come to a larger trail junction. We took the orange-blazed trail again, which takes you through a wooded section behind Elkton Middle School. After about .5 miles, the trail widens and then eventually leads to a road. Take a right here and follow this back to Elkton Community Center, where you parked.
- Distance – 2 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 100 ft.
- Difficulty – 1. The trail is almost completely flat. However, in deep, unbroken snow, you should expect more of a challenge.
- Trail Conditions – 4.5. Wide, flat and well groomed – may be muddy.
- Views – 0. You’re in the woods the whole time.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 2. Elk Run is pretty, but is often obscured by brush.
- Wildlife – 1. You’ll likely see a variety of birds and possibly deer. We saw a beautiful red fox when we walked the trail on Thanksgiving day.
- Ease to Navigate – 3.5. There are tons of inter-connected trails. They’re blazed but unnamed. Everything loops back, so it would be hard to get lost.
- Solitude – 4. Typically, you’ll only see a few people on this trail.
Directions to trailhead: From I-81, take exit 247 towards US-33E heading towards Elkton, VA. Follow this 15.6 miles before taking the ramp to the right to US-340N. Take the first right and you will see the Dairy Queen to the right. Directly across the road from Dairy Queen is the Elkton Community Center. Park your car here. Behind the building, you will see the orange blaze which signifies the start of the orange-blazed trail.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
This 6-mile hike is a bit challenging – tough climbing and a little hard to follow – but payoffs at the end make the effort well worth your while. The views are spectacular – some of the best in the mid-Atlantic!
Our first experience hiking on North Fork Mountain was on my birthday in 2012 (birthday hikes are a tradition for us!) We decided tackle a little piece of the the trail from the base of the mountain to the well-known outcropping of Chimney Rock. This August day ended up being one of the hottest days of the year. While hiking up the backside of this mountain, there was absolutely no breeze so the air was stifling. We were quickly questioning why we chose this one, but we had to press on for tradition’s sake. We reached the ridgeline and walked along for a while. We eventually came across a few rocks that seemed to denote a path up. We semi-bushwhacked up this trail and came to a rock column and climbed up to the top to enjoy the views. We thought this may have been Chimney Rock. When we got back home and did more research, we realized we hadn’t found the true Chimney Rock, so we vowed to return – and we did… on our sixteenth wedding anniversary in fall 2013.
It was a perfect October day with the leaves just a shade past peak. One of the difficulties about this trail is there are no solid online resources for maps and even using our mapping software (alltrails.com), the full trail doesn’t appear on any kind of topo maps. We used our MapMyHike app on our phones to try and get accurate readings and I traced that outline on a topo map through alltrails.com to try and get a good resource if you want to attempt this hike.
We arrived at the small parking area and made our way up the trail. The trail meanders for the first two miles through the woods with some slow switchbacks to help you gain elevation. The thick canopy is high above you, but you will notice you will rarely feel much wind on this side of the mountain. Around 1.5 miles, you make a steeper ascent up the mountain and reach the top of the ridgeline around 2.0 miles. Once you reach the top, you can see down below to the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River and WV-28/55 on the other side. Both times we have been, you can see dots of people fishing in the river. Across the way, you will see ridges of mountains with Canaan Valley hidden behind them. Looking along the ridgeline, you’ll see sheer cliffs of rock, making this quite a remarkable scene. From this ridgeline, we continued along the path. The trail stays on the ridgeline allowing for several opportunities to check out the views for the next .5 mile. Around 2.5 miles, the trail has been rerouted away from the ridgeline and you descend the mountain. The signs say that it was to protect the nesting/hatching peregrine falcons, who have nested on the cliff faces. The signs are at least five years old, and October is not nesting season, so we’re not sure if the signs are still valid.
The trail continues through this terrain for another .5 miles and then starts to gain elevation again. At 3.0 miles, we came to a well-established campsite and could see the ridgeline just above it. I walked over to the ridge, but the views were fairly obstructed. I then saw a smaller campsite to the right of the trail. Going to that campsite, I walked a short distance behind it on a small trail towards the ridgeline to discover the elusive Chimney Rock. The photos we will place should lead you to the proper campsite that leads to the correct trail. We ate some lunch from the top of the cliffs near Chimney Rock. Exploring a little around this area, you are able to see a most-impressive cliff face (where I’m assuming is the section protected for peregrine falcons).
After we ate our lunches and took in the scenery, I decided I wanted to try to climb up Chimney Rock. I had to find some good footholds, but I was able to get up without too much trouble, but please be careful if you try to do the same. There are many sheer drops from here, so I wouldn’t advise any unsupervised children to be given free reign on this hike. Head back the way you came to make this a 6 mile out-and-back.
I do believe that the scenery from this spot is one of the most dramatic and beautiful views you will get in Virginia and West Virginia. The trail was called the best trail in West Virginia by Outside magazine in 1996 and I can see why. Some people like to backpack the entire 34 miles of North Fork Mountain. Since you are at the top of the ridgeline for this hike, there isn’t a reliable water source to be found so you would need to pack in a lot of water for this backpacking trip. I would strongly recommend trying this hike on a beautiful spring or fall day.
I’ll admit – I’m the reason it’s taken over three months to get this hike posted. A foot injury, a lingering cold, and the unusually frigid temperatures have sent me into a state of lassitude. I haven’t felt particularly motivated to hike or write. I’m sure I’ll snap out of it completely sooner or later. But today, I decided to give myself a little push and get this post live!
We were really excited to try this hike again. Our trip on Adam’s birthday had been rewarding even though we missed out on the main view. We started the morning with a big breakfast at Bright Morning Inn (Pumpkin Pancakes with Walnuts and Maple Butter Sauce!). It’s one of our favorite places to eat in Canaan Valley/Davis – everything is always excellent there!
After parking, we started climbing the mountain, following the familiar ground we had covered the previous summer. We spent a little time exploring the first of several impressive rock outcroppings on this hike. While there, we took some time to chat with the only other two people we saw on the trail – a couple from Pennsylvania. They were recent empty-nesters and were returning to backpacking for the first time in 20+ years. They still had all their gear from the late 80′s/early 90′s – external frame packs, old fashioned sleeping pads, and I think I may have seen something cast iron! It looked like a heavy load!
After leaving the first view, we pushed along the trail, passing the spur trail to our lunch spot from the 2012 attempt. This spot is marked by a rock cairn and the worn footpath is well established.
The route follows a series of rolling hills after passing the spur trail. I thought the trail was pretty hard to follow along this section. It’s a reroute, and vestiges of the old trail are still apparent. It may have been because the trail was under so many leaves, but I still think the reroute isn’t fully established. As we continued along, I asked Adam how much further we should go. According to old information, we had hiked far enough to be well past Chimney Rock. As it turns out, the reroute is just longer and follows a wide arc around the preserved cliff face.
Eventually, we reached a spot with numerous campsites. That’s usually a good indicator that you’re near something desirable to hikers/campers. In this case, spotting the campsites let us find yet another unmarked trail that led out to the spectacular view from Chimney Rock.
We spent quite a while up there, enjoying the fall foliage and awesome views, eating our lunch and taking photos. The hike back went very quickly… mostly downhill and along a route that felt a little more familiar.
- Distance – 6.0 miles
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
- Elevation Change – 1725 ft.
- Difficulty – 3.5. The trail has some decent climbing on it. Both times we’ve hiked it, there wasn’t any wind until the top, so the temperatures can be stifling.
- Trail Conditions – 1.5. Trails are largely unmarked with reroutes not always clear. Finding the actual viewpoint of Chimney Rock can be a little challenging. Watch out for loose rock on the ridgelines in case you go to check out any views.
- Views – 5. Absolutely stunning views and great ridgeline walking.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 1. From way above, you’ll see North Fork Gap. There isn’t a water source on this trail.
- Wildlife – 1. We barely saw squirrels, but you may have some views of preying birds. Watch out for timber rattlesnakes on the rocky ridgeline.
- Ease to Navigate – 2.5. There is basically one trail to follow here, but it can be tricky finding Chimney Rock.
- Solitude – 4.5. Typically, you’ll only see a few people on this trail. Most will go to the first overlook and stop.
Directions to trailhead: From Seneca Rocks, WV head northeast on WV-28N/WV-55E for 15.2 miles. Take a right on to County Route 28/11/Smoke Hole Road. You immediately cross a bridge where you may see people fishing in the stream. In about .4 miles, there is a small parking lot on the right-hand side. You’ll see the brown board which denotes the start of the trailhead.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
We just had our drawing for the three gift certificates to The Sole Source in Harrisonburg, VA. We will contact our winners shortly to get the certificates out to them. Hopefully this will help them on their way to get some new shoes/boots for hiking. Happy trails and thanks for reading our blog!
$50 Gift Card
“Can’t limit it to just one! I managed to greatly extend my number of contiguous day hike miles on the A.T. in Virginia this year to nearly 400 miles, and would like to extend that number in 2014. Also, I’d love to summit Mt. Porte Crayon in West Virginia and do the Black Mountain Crest Trail Backpack in North Carolina. And, of course, return to the White Mountains in New Hampshire – this time when it is sunny!”
$25 Gift Card
I will be honeymooning in the Olympic Peninsula this summer. We are planning on tackling a few trails, but are most excited about an overnight backpacking trip to Upper Lena Lake if we’re lucky enough to get a permit – fingers crossed! Also hoping to go on a few local trips. On the top of my list is are McAfee Knob and Grayson Highlands.
$25 Gift Card
Ellen Hedrick -
I want to hike Mary’s Rock sometime this year!! My son just started hiking the AT. I want to hike more. Good job, you guys!
Virginia Trail Guide has a great gift for our readers!
With snow falling and Christmas just two weeks away, we’re giving away three gift certificates for the Sole Source – a fantastic shoe store located in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We love them because they do such a great job on custom fitting hiking/running shoes to each individual. They’re also incredibly supportive of the local hiking/trail community.*
To enter the drawing, leave a comment telling us a place/trail you hope to hike in 2014. We’d love to hear where our readers are headed in the new year. Please be sure to leave an email address when submitting your comment, so that we can contact you if you win!
The contest has ended and winners have been selected!
Winners will be selected randomly from entries here and on Facebook on or around December 17. We will be giving away one (1) $50.00 certificate and two (2) $25.00 certificates.
Virginia Trail Guide wishes everyone a safe and happy holiday season and an exciting New Year!
* Virginia Trail Guide has not been compensated by the Sole Source for this giveaway
This 14.5 mile section of the Appalachian Trail includes great views of Wintergreen Resort from Humpback Mountain. The campsite for the evening is the Paul C. Wolfe Memorial Shelter, which is located on the bank of lovely, rushing Mill Creek.
For Christine’s birthday this year, we decided to do a quick overnight backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. Following an all-day soaking rain and a cold front on Saturday, we had ideal weather for hiking and camping on Sunday into Monday – low humidity, clear skies, daytime highs in the 70s and a nighttime low near 45. It was perfect!
We started our morning with a big breakfast at Thunderbird Café and then made the 40 minute drive to the trailhead. For this hike, we left one car parked in the small lot near where the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) crosses I-64 and Rt250. From there, we drove our second vehicle to the Dripping Rock parking area at mile 9.6 on the BRP. The name Dripping Rock refers to the small spring adjacent to the parking area. Supposedly, it was a water source well-used by Monocan Indians en route to summer hunting grounds.
The AT crosses the parkway at this point, so it’s an easy place to hop on without using any access trails or spurs. The hike starts out climbing gently uphill through the woods. Almost immediately, we spotted a small cooler alongside the trail – trail magic! Not that we needed any trail magic this early into our hike, but we were curious so we opened the cooler to see what was inside. We found a log book, a camera, a small whiteboard, a bottle of ibuprofen and a nice supply of granola bars. The camera and whiteboard were provided so that hikers could take photos with their trail names. Last year, on one of our overnight backpacking trips, we discussed the matter of trail names and decided it was time to come up with our own. We’ve hiked a few hundred AT miles by now, probably somewhere between 10-12% of the trail, so we decided it was fair for us to have trail names. Christine is ‘Sugar Rush’ (because she eats a lot of candy when she hikes) and Adam is ‘12th Man’ (a nod to his favorite NFL team – the Seattle Seahawks). Eventually, we really do hope to finish the entire Appalachian Trail; even if it takes us years to do.
A couple tenths of a mile down the trail, we passed even more trail magic in the form of 2 liter-sized bottles of tap water from Wintergreen Resort. Typically by September, streams and springs in the Shenandoah Valley are dry or running very low, so the free, clean water would be quite welcome. The bottles were situated next to one of the trail’s spring-fed water sources. We noticed the sign marking the spring indicated that water might be contaminated and should be filtered or boiled. The sign included an outline drawing of a moose, and we both found it comical to think about the implausibility of Virginia water being contaminated by a moose.
The hike continued gradually uphill along the side of Humpback Mountain. We saw several nice campsites along the trail. Soon after that, the views started to open up. We didn’t really have any expectations for great views on this hike. We figured we might take the side trail to Humpback Rocks and eat lunch there. We also knew from past hikes on Dobie Mountain that we’d be passing one decent overlook at Glass Hollow. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find spectacular views along the rocky, spiny ridge of Humpback Mountain. These views are about 2.5 miles from the better known outcropping of Humpback Rocks, and we thought they were even nicer! The crowds, graffiti and car noise always take away from the experience at Humpback Rocks. We had this lofty ridge all to ourselves.
We took some time to take off our heavy packs and enjoy the view. We could see the Priest, Three Ridges and the slopes of Wintergreen Resort. When we got home, we read more about this section of the trail and learned that the view is named Battery Cliff, because the condos on the slopes of Wintergreen look like fortifications from a distance. The rocks on the cliffs are Catoctin greenstone formed in an ancient volcanic eruption. When you sit on these rocks and look across to Wintergreen, you’re looking over to where the Appalachian Trail used to traverse the mountains. Five miles of the trail used to cross the resort. But in 1983, the resort sold the land to private developers – basically pulling the rug out from under the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Luckily, the organization was able to quickly pull funds together and preserve the land across Humpback Mountain – where the trail currently sits.
Leaving the open ridge, we dipped back into the woods and continued walking along a long, impressive stretch of stone ‘hog wall’. People living in the area before the establishment of the parkway built these long walls to roughly mark property and attempt to contain livestock. Eventually we arrived at a junction, one direction headed toward Humpback Rock and the other continued downhill along the Appalachian Trail. We decided to skip the extra mileage it would take to visit the Rock and continue toward our destination. We’ve seen the Rocks many times and didn’t really want to face the crowds that arrive with beautiful-weather Sundays.
As we walked downhill, we started contemplating our lunch break. We decided that the next spot with good ‘sitting rocks’ we’d stop for lunch. As it turned out, the next rocks we found were just a few, big random flat boulders right alongside the trail. We had lunch of apples, peanut butter, cheese, and energy bars. As we ate lunch, two groups of people passed us – a couple with their dog and a man who had just visited his daughter at JMU’s family weekend. All in all, we only saw a total of eight people over the entire ten miles of hiking that day. The solitude was nice!
After lunch, we continued the 5.5 mile descent toward our evening stop point. The trail was in great shape and the downhill was easy going. At the bottom of Humpback Mountain, the Appalachian Trail intersects with the Howardsville Turnpike – an old toll road that was heavily used to transport goods before the Civil War. It’s long been reclaimed by the forest, but the wide, flatness of the trail still has the definite feel of a well-traveled road. We continued along the Appalachian Trail until we spotted a small sign marking the Glass Hollow overlook. We followed the short access trail and spent a good twenty minutes relaxing on the beautiful rocky viewpoint. The views this time were much clearer than they had been two years ago when we visited.
After leaving the overlook, we continued along the Appalachian Trail, passing the junction with the Albright Loop Trail – a popular day hike in this area. From this junction, you can follow the Albright Trail for two miles back to Humpback Rocks parking. We continued northbound on the Appalachian Trail, descending Dobie Mountain. The trail follows a series of gradual, well-graded switchbacks. There is one nice view of the valley about halfway down the mountain. Eventually, we started hearing the sounds of running water through the trees. After crossing Mill Creek, we arrived at our stop point for the evening – the Paul C. Wolfe shelter. This shelter is one of the nicest we’ve seen. The location is beautiful, the picnic table is on the porch and the shelter has sidelights, so it’s bright and cheerful inside. So many shelters are gloomy and dark. We will caution you – the privy at Paul C. Wolfe shelter is kind of weird – the door is only a half-door. When you sit on the toilet, you have a nice view – but people can also see you sitting there.
We were the first campers to arrive for the night, so we got a prime campsite near the banks of Mill Creek. We had our own established fire pit and our own bear pole – fancy! We immediately got started setting up camp and taking care of necessary chores. Mill Creek was running beautifully, so we had a clear, cool water source to filter from.
We decided to take our dinner up to the shelter so we could use the picnic table for meal prep. Dinner consisted of pepper steak, wine and dark chocolate cheesecake. As we were finishing up dinner, a southbound thru-hiker named Nightwalker arrived at camp. He told us he had hiked almost 30 miles that day. He was from the Boston area and freshly out of high school. We chatted with him a bit and marveled at him eating huge handfuls of candy corn mixed with Skittles. He had the look of a true trail-weathered hiker – beard, tattered long-johns and feet held together by duct tape.
When the sun was going down, we headed back to our own camp. Despite the heavy rains the night before, we were able to find enough old wood to have a small campfire for a while. We heard another southbound hiker arrive sometime after sunset, but we never met him. With the temperatures dropping with the darkness, we headed to bed around 9:00. Both of us slept pretty well, but Christine woke up around 3:00 a.m., struggling to close both of the doors in the tent fly. It was in the upper 30’s and she’s a cold sleeper.
We were up at first light, but noticed both the thru-hikers were still sleeping. We didn’t want to disturb them, so we cooked our breakfast of oatmeal, cheese, coffee and hot chocolate near the fire pit at our campsite. We were packed up and back on the trail within 45 minutes of waking up.
The morning’s hike consisted of a rather steep climb up Elk Mountain. From the back of the shelter, the trail climbed almost straight up via a series of switchbacks. We had about 1000 feet of climbing in just about a mile. After that, the remainder of the hike was more moderate or even gently downhill.
The five miles of trail back to Rockfish Gap are largely unremarkable; just a nice walk through the woods. There are a few small stream crossings, but no views along the way. The one noteworthy feature would probably be the ruins of the old Mayo cabin, about 1.7 miles north of Paul C. Wolfe. The chimney and hearth are still standing right alongside the trail. Evidently, there is also a cemetery for the Lowe family somewhere east of the trail, but we didn’t see it. The trail exits onto Route 250 at Rockfish Gap through an opening in the guardrail. Thru-hikers can find lists of trail angels at the guardrail opening. Waynesboro has one of the best organized trail angel networks along the AT. It’s easy to find a ride or shelter at this point on the trail.
We arrived back to our car around 10:30 in the morning. By the time we shuttled back to our car parked at Dripping Rock, we were already thinking about lunch. We realized how close we were to Devil’s Backbone Brewery and decided it was a perfect place to wrap up our backpacking weekend. We had a huge lunch – beers, a big soft pretzel to share, and sandwiches (French Dip for Christine, BBQ for Adam). After lunch, we decided to take Rt. 151 back to Waynesboro. This allowed us to also pass Bold Rock Cidery. It’s definitely worth a stop if you enjoy hard cider. Since it was a Monday, we were the only people there. We got to go behind the scenes into the cider pressing room and the fermentation/bottling facility. That was really neat!
- Distance – 14.5 miles (9.5 miles on Day One, 5 miles on Day Two)
(Check out the stats from Map My Hike – [Day One] [Day Two])*
- Elevation Change – 1800 ft. on Day One, 1100 ft. on Day Two
- Difficulty – 2. This is an easy backpacking trip with moderate, well-graded climbing.
- Trail Conditions – 4.5. Trails are in excellent shape.
- Views – 4. Views from Humpback Mountain and Glass Hollow are beautiful!
- Streams/Waterfalls – 3. Mill Creek is pretty and a great water source. There is a small waterfall and swimming hole downstream from the shelter.
- Wildlife – 2. We saw a few deer and heard owls at night.
- Ease to Navigate – 4. There are several intersections/junctions to pay attention to, but following the white blazes is pretty easy.
- Solitude – 4. Because we avoided Humpback Rock, we only saw a small handful of people on a beautiful Sunday.
Directions to trailhead: Follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile 9.6. Park in the small Dripping Rock parking area.
It was time to update our ‘Most Popular’ list! These are Virginia Trail Guide’s most searched and most viewed hikes as of November 2013! We had a lot of changes to the list between July of 2012 and now!
1. Mt. Rogers
We have a new most popular hike! Climbing all the way from #5 to #1 is Mt. Rogers – Virginia’s tallest peak. It also has wild ponies, breathtaking views and one of Virginia’s most spectacular rhododendron blooms. In our book, Mt. Rogers is a must-see destination for every Virginia hiker. It’s our all-time favorite hike in the state!
2. Spy Rock
Spy Rock is a surprise at number two. We honestly didn’t think many people knew about this hike, but apparently the word is out. The views are majestic and it’s great fun to scale the enormous rock to get to the viewpoint. This area of Virginia is rich with some of the state’s most beautiful hikes.
3. Humpback Rock
Our old #1 has dropped to #3 – Humpback Rock. Personally, it’s not one of our favorite hikes, but it’s one of the state’s most popular hikes. It has nice views, but the crowds can be a bit thick. It’s also one of the shorter hikes on our top ten list, so it’s suitable for most people, regardless of experience and fitness level.
4. The Rose River Loop
Do you like waterfalls? If so, our number four choice, the Rose River Loop is for you! This moderate hike passes by two larger waterfalls (Rose River Falls and Dark Hollow Falls) and many small unnamed cascades. It’s a great trail for wildlife and history buffs will enjoy a visit to the old Cave family cemetery.
5. White Oak Canyon
While you can do this trail as a longer loop paired with Cedar Run, we tackled our number five hike as an out-and-back. White Oak Canyon is another of Shenandoah’s most popular waterfall hikes. One of our favorite memories from this hike is watching a momma bear and her two cubs from the trail.
6. Crabtree Falls
Crabtree Falls climbed all the way from #10 to #6. This long, meandering waterfall tumbles down the mountainside over the entire course of the hikes. If you like to hike along and hear the sound of rushing water, this hike is a don’t miss!
7. McAfee Knob
This was one of our very first blog posts! McAfee Knob is considered a must-do Virginia hike. We’re really glad to see that it’s finally in the top ten! The ledge in the photo above is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail.
8. Mary’s Rock
Mary’s Rock is one of Christine’s favorite hikes in Shenandoah National Park, and it’s also our reader’s choice for number eight (dropping way down from #3). If you hike to Mary’s Rock from Pinnacles Picnic Area, you get great views in multiple spots. You also can take a break at an Appalachian Trail hut and have great odds of seeing wildlife along the way.
9. Seneca Rocks (West Virginia)
Seneca Rocks, a newcomer to the top ten, is the only non-Virginia hike to make the list! The short hike is very moderate and gives folks access to views from one of the most dramatic rock formations in the mid-Atlantic.
10. Hawksbill Mountain
It’s no surprise that Hawksbill Mountain held onto a spot in the top ten. It’s a moderate hike with amazing views, located right in the heart of Shenandoah National Park. Hawksbill is also the park’s tallest mountain. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of peregrine falcons along the way.
Hikes That Just Missed the Top Ten
These hikes were all just outside the top ten.
12. Sharp Top
16. The Priest
19. Old Rag
20. Riprap Trail
This 7.2 mile hike takes you to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke – Dartmouth College’s ‘home mountain’. It’s also the first place in New Hampshire where Appalachian Trail hikers walk above treeline in the alpine zone.
For the final hike of our granite-state adventure, Adam and I chose to hike the western-most of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers – Mount Moosilauke. At 4,802 feet, Moosilauke is the first spot northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers truly walk above the treeline. Yes… there are balds and high grassy meadows in the south, but those are not created by the unforgiving alpine climate it takes to truly create areas above the treeline.
There are several different routes up Moosilauke. We chose a 7.2 mile loop following the Gorge Book Trail, the old Carriage Road and the Snapper trail. It’s probably the most popular route for dayhikers.
We started off from the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. Before I get started talking about the actual hike, I wanted to take a moment to talk about how much I enjoyed visiting the Ravine Lodge. The lodge and several surrounding bunkhouses were built in the late 1930’s and were originally used as a hub for competitive skiers. Nowadays, the lodge is owned by Dartmouth College and run by students. You can stay the night or just come in to enjoy a hearty home-style dinner. The lodge is everything you would imagine a rustic mountain cabin to be – antique skis, old trail signs and mooseheads adorn the walls. There’s a big stone fireplace (yes… a fire was necessary and burning cheerfully on this chilly August morning) and an old piano along one wall of the dining room. There’s even a cozy library on the lower level! The lodge windows and back porches also offer stunning views of its namesake mountain.
Now back to the hike… our route started off behind the lodge. We almost immediately crossed the Baker River on a nice, sturdy bridge. The Gorge Brook trail climbs uphill gradually over rocky terrain. We soon came to a sign announcing a reroute of the Gorge Brook Trail. Evidently, the heavy rains from Tropical Storm Irene caused rock slides and irreparable damage to part of the original route. A group of Dartmouth students built the Wales Carter Connection, a short section of trail that bypasses the damage. The connection eventually came back out on the Gorge Brook trail near it’s junction with the Snapper Trail. We continued gradually uphill on Gorge Brook. Much of this section of trail followed a pretty stream. After passing a memorial plaque and a sign for ‘last sure water’ we moved away from the stream and into forest increasingly made up of evergreens.
At 2.3 miles, we got our first open views of the hike. Through a wide opening in the trees, we could look across the valley in the direction of Mount Cardigan – our first hike of the trip! Around this part of the hike, we came across our first human company! One group of three was carrying on a loud and detailed conversation about the best spots to get clear 3G service in the wilderness. Another group, maybe a father/daughter, was arguing about the nature of God – whether he’s benign and quietly observes suffering or if he’s like a menacing boy who enjoys pulling the legs off of bugs to watch them struggle. I think we overheard them talking about Shakespeare, too, but I can’t be certain. Usually when Adam and I talk on the trail, we talk about the scenery/wildlife or we just walk in companionable silence. It made me curious… are you a chatty hiker? What are your typical trail topics?
After the first view, the trail got a bit steeper and the trees a bit sparser. We enjoyed several nice views from a section of the trail called ‘The Balcony’. After climbing the massive stone steps along the Balcony, we dipped in and out of thick stands of evergreens. It was almost like walking through an overcrowded Christmas tree farm.
We soon stepped out into the alpine zone – the barren rocky expanse that exists above the treeline. We could see the rocky path winding across the bare terrain toward a copse of rocks a top the summit of Moosilauke.
As soon as we were in the open, I had to dig my fleece out of my backpack. It was a good 15-20 degrees colder (and much windier) on the summit. We enjoyed a snack, took our photos at the summit sign and marveled at the views. I especially liked looking across and seeing the Kinsmans, Franconia Ridge and the distant Presidentials.
Leaving the summit, we briefly followed the white-blazed Glencliff trail (which is also the Appalachian Trail across this mountain) to its junction with the Carriage Road. This section of trail was almost perfectly flat and went through more areas that resembled large groupings of Christmas trees. We could have taken a detour to visit the South Peak of Moosilauke, but we decided to skip it.
The Carriage Road was wide and graveled, but a little steep. I can’t imagine people coming up this route in horse-drawn carriages! This part of the hike was pretty uneventful, and we were glad to finally reach the Snapper Trail.
The Snapper Trail descended gradually through stunningly beautiful New England woods. There were thick beds of moss, peeling white birches and several small bubbling streams. It was a lovely way to bid farewell to New Hampshire trails. Before we knew it, we were back at the Ravine Lodge and finished with a productive week of hiking!
Mt. Moosilauke was one of the three hikes we most wanted to do in New Hampshire. Having hiked Mt. Washington and Franconia Ridge earlier that week, we were feeling a little tired and sore but we decided to press on to cover Mt. Moosilauke. We try to get a lot accomplished on our vacations, so we didn’t want to have any regrets of not doing a certain hike. We always say that we can be tired when we go back to work, so we run ourselves ragged on our vacations.
Parking at Mt. Moosilauke can at times be a challenge. There is one long gravel road and during the summer, you will likely see cars lining one side of the road, parallel parked. We had to drive to the end of the road and then turn around and backtrack, but we were able to find a decent spot since we left so early in the morning.
We first visited the lodge and you can just imagine the history here. The lodge is rustic but has that snuggle-by-the-fire cozy feel to it. Since this is maintained by an Ivy League school, my mind began to wonder if there were academic secret society meetings held here or if famous alumnus, Robert Frost penned any of his poetry here. All I witnessed were a few students playing Magic: The Gathering in the basement.
The trail had us a little confused to start off on the right path. My recommendation would be to go to the back of the lodge and as you are looking into the backyard, head down the lawn towards the right. You will soon come to a path that will lead you to the Baker River. In a short distance, you will cross the bridge over the river. The Gorge Brook Trail starts off to the left. The trail takes a right turn in a short distance and you begin a moderate ascent through a very rocky trail. You’ll hear the sounds of the Gorge Brook to the left of the trail at times as it carries water to the Baker River. As you keep climbing, at .6 miles you will reach the junction with the Snapper Trail, your return route. The trail has been rerouted at this point with the Wales Carter Connection. Follow the signs through this .5 mile connection to continue along the Gorge River Trail. The trail continues to ascend through a steeper section of trail through the woods.
At 2.3 miles you reach a break in the trees and can see your first views of Mount Carr, Mount Cardigan, and Mount Kearsarge. The trail continues to ascend and then loops back around to the northwest as you gain some more views from the area known as The Balcony at 3.0 miles. The views were quite delightful and gave us something else to focus on as we labored up more rocky steps. The trail then ducks away from the views and you find yourself soon immersed into a dense forest of spruce and fir as the trail snakes through. You will see signs reminding you to stay on the trail to protect the fragile vegetation. At about 3.25 miles, you will come out of the trees and into the open alpine area. Large cairns are placed on the side of the trail. The summit looks misleadingly close, but due to the open nature it still takes about 10 minutes to reach the summit at 3.5 miles.
At the summit, the wind had picked up quite a bit across this vast, open area. We found lots of people huddled up against rocks, trying to protect themselves from the wind. We ate some lunch on the trail, snapped a few photos from the summit, and made our way back on a different set of trails.
From the summit marker, we followed the signs for the Glencliff Trail (also known as the Appalachian Trail) southwest of the summit. This trail started off as a ridgeline hike which gave us even more views along the way to start our hike. At 4.4 miles, the Appalachian Trail ducks off to the right to take you to the South Peak summit. We stayed on the main trail which is the Moosilauke Carriage Trail, which drops steeply down the rocky “road”. The trail was fairly uneventful, but the downward climb can be hard on the knees. At 5.7 miles, we reached a junction and took the Snapper Trail. This trail was thickly wooded and had lots of beautiful fern along the trail. At 6.4 miles, we rejoined the Gorge Brook Trail and made our way back to the lodge, which we reached at 7.2 miles.
One thing that amazed me about this hike is how Dartmouth College has integrated with and adopted this mountain. They maintain and run the lodge and the network of trails is maintained by students in the Dartmouth Outing Club. We had the opportunity on our visit to New Hampshire to step on the campus and actually walked into the Dartmouth Outing Club building. Yes, this college has a building designated for this club and they even post information for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers to get them connected to where they could stay for the night. I was amazed at how the students have made this a strong tradition of caring for the mountain and environment. They even hold freshman pre-orientation trips where they all meet up at the Ravine Lodge. I wish more colleges and universities had more intentional connectivity with the outdoors.
What a great last hike for our trip to New Hampshire! We felt so blessed to have great weather for the entire week and our hiking adventures whetted our appetites for more trips in the future.
- Distance – 7.2 miles
(Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
- Elevation Change – About 2500 ft.
- Difficulty – 3. There may be over 2,000 feet of climbing, but it’s gradual and never feels that difficult.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The Dartmouth Outing Club does a great job on these trails!
- Views – 5. Spectacular – especially at the summit where you can see all across the White Mountains.
- Waterfalls/streams – 3. The Baker River and streams in the area are lovely.
- Wildlife – 2. We didn’t see anything, but rumor has it that there are occasional moose sightings in the area.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. The reroute was a little confusing at first because it varied from our map.
- Solitude – 1. This is an extremely popular dayhike. Expect to see many other hikers.
Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 93, take exit 32 for NH-112 toward North Woodstock/Lincoln. Follow NH-112 West for 3.2 miles. Take a slight left onto NH-118 S/Sawyer Highway. Follow this for 7.1 miles. Take a right on to Ravine Road. Follow this gravel road for 1.5 miles. The entrance to the lodge is on the left. Go behind the lodge across the lawn to the right to start the hike.