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Appalachian Trail – Tye River to Mau-Har Junction

February 22, 2015

This 3.8 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail completed a short 1.9 mile gap in unbroken Appalachian Trail mileage we left after hiking the Three Ridges circuit in 2012.  After you cross the scenic Tye River footbridge, the hike doesn’t boast any views or unique scenery.  It’s a moderate uphill climb to a junction marker in the woods.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Tye River Footbridge

Our hike started off headed northbound over the Tye River footbridge. Below: White Blaze painted on the bridge; Adam and Christine on the bridge.

White Blaze Adam and Christine on the footbridge

Adam Says…

We have been working on section hiking some of the Appalachian Trail through Virginia.  Hopefully one day, we will have the entire section that crosses Virginia on here.  In doing it in sections, we have ended up with a few small gaps between sections.  This gap was created when we hiked Three Ridges and did it as a loop trail that included a return trip on the Mau-Har trail.  I got a text from my friend Bryce from Hiking Upward that mentioned he was going to try and hike Spy Rock the next day.  I mentioned that we were trying to get this section done as well, so he agreed to accompany us on this section also.  It was January 1st and we wanted to start the year off right with a great day of hiking.

We parked our cars at the lot on 56 where the Appalachian Trail crosses the Tye River.  We crossed the road and almost immediately you come upon a large suspension bridge that crosses the Tye River.  We knew this was probably the highlight of the trip, so we took some time to get some pictures across the bridge and of the Tye River from under the bridge.

View Through the Trees

Looking through the trees toward the Priest. Below: Adam on the trail; Our stop point for this hike was just a sign at the junction of the AT and the Mau-Har trail.

Adam Hiking End Point

After crossing the bridge, the trail takes a few switchbacks and then starts a fairly steep uphill through the woods.  Looking back from the trail, we were able to see some obstructed views of Pinnacle Ridge and The Priest, but when spring hits these views will likely be more obstructed.  On our climb up, we saw a dog come racing towards us.  As it turns out, it was a bear-hunting dog, as it had a large radio collar around his neck.  The dog barely stopped at all and barreled past on a mission to try and find a bear.  We continued our hike up and came up to the sign post that marked the trail junction with the Mau-Har trail.  From this point, you could continue on the Appalachian Trail to the right to reach Chimney Rock and Three Ridges or take a left on to the Mau-Har Trail, to reach the Maupin Field Shelter.  We tapped the post to mark that we had completed this section and made our way back.

After our hike, we got in our cars and stopped by Crabtree Falls, which had frozen water on the sides.  This iconic waterfall is always a nice place to visit any time of year.  Our next stop was to hike up to Spy Rock.  When we first arrived, the parking lot was full of cars and vans.  We felt defeated and were about to make the decision to not do the hike, when someone came down the trail and mentioned that a few car loads were getting ready to leave.  We waited just a couple of minutes and two parking spaces opened up.  We hiked up to Spy Rock, which was covered in snow in some parts.  At the top of the trail, Bryce decided he wanted to bushwhack to another rock outcropping that would look back on Spy Rock.  So, we set a plan to try and take pictures of each other from the different summits.  The climb up Spy Rock was pretty dangerous, since the water that falls into the cracks that your normally use to help pull yourself up was frozen, making it very treacherous.  When we got up to the top of Spy Rock, the wind was blowing so hard and the temperatures from the wind chill put it way below freezing.  We waited for a few minutes at the top.  We eventually saw Bryce making his way to the rock outcropping.  We took a quick photo of him and then made our way off Spy Rock, since we felt we could get frostbite fairly quickly up there.  We reconvened where we had split up and then made our way back down the mountain.  We got back to our cars and headed to Staunton for lunch.

This area where we hiked is a real sweet spot for Virginia hiking.  You have The Priest, Three Ridges, Crabtree Falls, and Spy Rock all within a few miles.  If you want a place to get a few great days of Virginia hiking, this is a great destination.  We were glad to reconnect again with Bryce and getting another AT section checked off our to-do list.

Tye River

The lovely, scenic Tye River.  Below: Adam and Bryce crossing the footbridge at the end of the hike.

Adam Crossing the Tye River Footbridge

Christine Says…

I don’t really have anything to add about the hike!  It was just a pleasant walk in the woods that finished a hole in our continuous AT miles.  It was great to see Bryce (Hiking Upward) and spend the first day of 2015 on the trail!

After a couple little hikes, we all went for a decadent lunch and beers at Byers St. Bistro in Staunton.  They have great sandwiches and a nice variety of beers on tap.  Check it out if you’re in the area.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.8 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1100 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  The climbing is steady and moderate the entire way up.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.5.  Well maintained, smooth trail.
  • Views  0.  No views other than a few glimpses through bare winter trees.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 0.  The stream and waterfalls are a little further up trail from this spot.
  • Wildlife – 0.  We did see a hunting dog – that probably scares wildlife away.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  There’s really no place to go wrong here.
  • Solitude –2.  This trail leads up from a very popular AT access point.  You can expect to see a good number of people.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From I-81, take exit 213A to head on to US-11 South towards Greenville.  Go 8.2 miles and take a left on to US-56.  Go 16.6 miles down US-56 and you will come to a parking lot for the Appalachian Trail on the right-hand side of the road.  Park here and then cross the road to start hiking on the Appalachian Trail heading north.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Neighbor Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop

February 5, 2015

This 14.7 mile route offers wilderness, beautiful views, and stunning stream scenery (even a small waterfall!)  It’s a wonderful, moderate overnight backpacking loop; or a really challenging day hike.  We set out intending to camp along Jeremy’s Run, but it didn’t quite go as planned!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Views from the Neighbor Mountain Trail

The views on this loop hike come along the descent of Neighbor Mountain. Below: The trailhead at Elkwallow Picnic Area;  Hiking along in golden woods; Adam and Kris at the junction of the Appalachian Trail and Neighbor Mountain Trail.

Neighbor Mountain - Jeremys Run Start Hiking Along Junction of AT and Neighbor Mountain Trail

Christine Says…

The final weekend of October 2014 was so beautiful – perfect, made-to-order backpacking weather. We decided to head out on one more overnighter before the weather turned cold. We invited our friend, Kris, to come along. She loves the outdoors as much as we do, and I was sure she’d enjoy this loop. Don’t miss her guest blogger entry later in this post! It had been several years since we last hiked in the vicinity of Jeremy’s Run, and I was really looking forward to camping along the beautiful stream.

After stocking up on some lunch provisions at Elkwallow Wayside, we finally hit the trail around 11:00. We figured we had a little over eight miles of hiking on our first day, so starting late morning would get us to camp before 3:00, with plenty of daylight left to pitch tents, cook dinner, and relax.

Neighbor Mountain Trail

Hiking along the Neighbor Mountain Trail. Below: The fall color was still close to peak; Adam checks out a rock formation; At the summit of Neighbor Mountain.

Golden Woods Rock Formation Summit of Neighbor Mountain

We started out at the Elkwallow Picnic Area. A short spur trail leads downhill to the junction with the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. The AT descends for about .3 of a mile before coming to a junction with the blue-blazed Jeremy’s Run Trail. Follow the Appalachian Trail, veering to the left. The trail ascends for a little over a mile before coming to a more level ridge. You’ll pass the junction with the Thorton River trail, continuing south on the AT. At just over four miles into the hike, you’ll reach the junction with the yellow-blazed Neighbor Mountain trail.

We decided this junction would be a nice place to stop for lunch (hummus – my favorite trail lunch of late – easy to eat and lots of quality calories!). After a relaxing, thirty-minute break, we took the turn onto the Neighbor Mountain trail. The path meandered across the ridge. For the first couple miles, it was mostly walking in the woods. There was a nice breeze and gorgeous sparkling sunshine was filtering through golden leaves. It was everything you want fall to be!

Even though there is no view, the summit of Neighbor Mountain is marked with a cement post. At the summit, I noticed I had picked up a ‘hitchhiker’ along the way – a walking stick bug was clinging to my pants. I wonder how far he had come with me. I picked him off, and set him on a fallen log off the trail.

Between six and seven miles into the hike, there are a few excellent views of the Massanutten ridge and Three Sisters. There was a forest fire in this area several years ago, so the view was pretty open and expansive. We all paused a while to enjoy the fall foliage.  It was so wonderful to see colorful mountains rolling our before us. We talked about how privileged and blessed we all felt to be out on such an amazing day!

View of Valley

Adam enjoys a view of the valley and mountains to the west. Below: This part of Neighbor Mountain burned in 2012.  Alot of damage is still evident; Fall color; Adam descends Neighbor Mountain toward Jeremys Run.

Neighbor Mountain Descent Neighbor Mountain Descent Neighbor Mountain Descent

The last mile and a half of the day was steady downhill, meandering across switchbacks until the Neighbor Mountain trail reached the bottom of the valley and Jeremy’s Run. As soon as you reach the stream, campsites are everywhere. The first few we passed were already taken, so we ended up returning to the hidden campsite we used several years earlier. It’s a flat spot under the trees shortly before the first water crossing.

And here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn…

Adam Says…

We all worked on pitching our tents and setting up camp. I set up our tent while Christine worked on inflating our sleeping pads. Kris was on the other side of the clearing working on setting up the one-person tent she had borrowed, when she suddenly she groaned, “Uh… guys – I think we might have a little problem.”

As it turned out, the tent bag only held the rain fly and the poles. The ground cloth and the actual tent were missing in action. She hadn’t checked the bag before hitting the trail.  We spent the next 45 minutes trying to improvise a shelter with everything and anything we had. We tried piling three people in our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 (bad idea). We discussed whether or not the evening would be suitable for cowboy camping under the stars. We talked through a few different scenarios: 1) we all hike back immediately, 2) I sleep under the tarp while Kris and Christine sleep in the tent, or 3) I hike back to the car tonight and pick them up in the morning.  I was least excited about the second option because the area felt tick-infested with the wet leaves.  We debated the options for a few minutes, but ultimately, we decided the best choice was to keep the group together and make our backpacking trip into a very long day hike.

Failed Camp

We tried to find a way to rig up shelter, but in the end we decided it was better to hike out. Below: Crossing the first stream and trying to eat something with enough calories to hike out happily; Adam doing one of many stream crossings; The best campsite along Jeremys Run sits above a waterfall.

Crossing Jeremys Run Crossing Jeremys Run Waterfall Campsite on Jeremy Run

We knew we only had a little over an hour of daylight left – the sun sets early behind the mountains surrounding Jeremy’s Run.  We rushed to pack everything up as quickly as we could. Cooking a hot dinner would have required getting more water, so we opted to just eat a few snacks from our bags.   We started off at a quick pace.  I twisted my knee at the first major water crossing we had to make, which made the rest of the trip pretty painful. But sometimes, you just have to suck it up and hike.

We soon passed another great campsite next to a small waterfall.  The trail meanders along and across Jeremy’s Run, requiring lots of rock-hopping across the stream.  The sun was dipping down quickly and we soon found that we needed to put on our headlamps.  Christine and Kris had legit headlamps, but I was using a small clip-on headlight that didn’t have the lumen output needed for a night hike.  When it reached dusk a few miles from our campsite, we came across a couple with a dog.  They asked us how far it was to the campsites and if they were all taken.  The guy was carrying an outrageous amount of gear and the girl looked completely miserable.  We knew they were going to be hiking to the campsites by nightfall and setting up camp in the dark.  I’m not sure if this was her first venture into overnight camping, but based on the daggers she was shooting him with her eyes, it may be their last.  They warned us they had seen a couple of bears just ahead of us, so we were on full alert.

Headlamps

We hiked by headlamp the last hour. Below: Jeremys Run in twilight; A large pool along the run; One of the last few stream crossings before it became too dark to take photos.

Jeremys Run Jeremys Run Jeremys Run

As it became fully dark, we still had a few stream crossings to make, which made it quite hazardous.  I reminded myself that the water wasn’t that deep so if we stepped in the water, we would probably be OK.  Another danger of night-hiking is the ability to lose the trail.  We really had to pay attention to the ground and try to keep an eye out for occasional blazes to make sure we would stay on the trail.  Hiking in the fall after most of the leaves have covered the trail provides an extra challenge.  Because I had a weaker headlamp, it was hard for me to lead along the trail since the lights from Christine and Kris were blasting my shadow ahead of me on the ground.  And then, I heard large noises in the woods, which I’m guessing was the bears that we had been warned about.  We kept talking loudly and playing some games to keep our minds sharp (animals/foods/colors that start with each letter of the alphabet) as we hiked along.

At 4.25 miles from our intended campsite, we finally came across a concrete marker post.  This post marked the junction with the Knob Mountain cutoff trail, so we knew were getting closer.  We kept straight on the Jeremy’s Run Trail and at 5.15 miles, we reached our first junction with the Neighbor Mountain Trail.  It was now just .3 miles straight ahead until we reached the parking lot where we started.  We made the last climb with renewed energy and celebrated that we made it through this adventure.

It was definitely one of the longest hikes we have done in a day and with the extra weight on our back, was one of the toughest.  We got back in the car and decided to go out to dinner to celebrate with drinks and food at Ciro’s in Elkton, VA.  We were physically exhausted and hungry, but it was quite an adventure we will never forget.

One takeaway I had from this trip was that we were all great at hiking together.  When we faced the challenge of not having two functional tents, we kept our wits about us, made a quick decision and went with it.  There was no complaining and we just relied on each other to get through.  If we had panicked or become overly upset, it could have led to a dangerous situation.  It is through this challenge, that we learned that having good hiking partners that work well together is a great trait to have for survival.  We all vowed to come back to this spot to camp together sometime in the spring to get the full experience through camping on Jeremy’s Run.  After the hike, Kris bought her own tent and I bought a better headlamp.

kris Kris Says…

Backpacking 101- It doesn’t matter if you were up late celebrating your birthday and borrowing some equipment…ALWAYS double check your equipment or your trip will not be so fly!

I was excited to be hiking with friends on a beautiful fall day.  We have always shared an appreciation of nature, lots of conversations and tons of laughter. I guess that is why we handled our little upset so calmly and reasonably. Although, I’m pretty sure I said  “Adam, just because I am a girl doesn’t mean you have to give up your tent.  I will cowboy up. Now, everyone hand over any booze or sleep aides you may have!” Of course that didn’t fly.

Ultimately we laughed at the situation, even as we crossed that creek 14 or so times and in the dark.  And I learned a few things on this trip: I am capable of hiking 15 miles with a 25 lbs pack in a day, Little Debbie Peanut Butter pies are so tasty and 400 calories, it was time to purchase my own backpacking tent, a packing checklist is important and a good attitude goes a long way.

I vowed to return to Jeremy’s Run and hike early enough to snag the sweet waterfall camp spot, I also plan to cowboy camp sometime just to prove I can (my dog will protect me).

Christine and Adam- you two are SuperFly!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 14.7 miles
    (We had issues with MapMyHike on this trip, so we have partial stats. We have the Neighbor Mountain segment and most of the Jeremys Run to Elkwallow segment. We’re missing the portion along the Appalachian Trail and a few early tenths of a mile along Jeremy’s Run.  Technical issues!)*
  • Elevation Change – 2610 ft.
  • Difficulty –  4.  The terrain is fairly moderate throughout the hike, but the length ups the difficulty rating.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  Sections along the Appalachian Trail and Neighbor Mountain are in great shape.  The Jeremy’s Run trail is rocky and has at least 14 water crossings – some of them can be challenging!
  • Views  3.5.  The views descending Neighbor Mountain are beautiful, but never fully open/panoramic.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 3.5.  The stream is beautiful and scenic.
  • Wildlife – 5.  We saw a bobcat!  Hikers we passed at sunset told us there was a bear ahead, but we couldn’t see anything in the dark.  But, the last time we hiked in this area, we saw three bears.  We have also seen/heard owls, pileated woodpeckers, and whippoorwills.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The junctions are clearly marked and easy to follow — unless you’re hiking in the dark!  :-)
  • Solitude –1.  It’s the most popular backpacking loop in the park’s northern district.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From the US-211 entrance of Shenandoah National Park, head north for 9 miles on Skyline Drive.  Take a left towards the Mathews Arm Campground.  In .7 miles, you will reach a parking lot.  The trail takes off next to the outdoor bathroom.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Old Rag – via Berry Hollow

January 19, 2015

This is a great alternative to the ‘classic’ ascent of Old Rag.  You still get the same stunning summit, but this 5.4 mile route lets you bypass all the road walking, lessens your vertical gain, and skips the famous rock scramble (which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about rock scrambles!)

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Old Rag Summit

Adam takes in the view from the Old Rag Summit.  Below: Berry Hollow Parking; A golden forest: You reach the Old Rag Day Use Shelter shortly after the fire road junction.

Berry Hollow Parking Golden Trees Old Rag Day-Use Shelter

Adam Says…

Old Rag is one of those classic Virginia hikes that most avid hikers in the state want to do at some point.  The views are truly spectacular, but the most popular route up Old Rag includes a technical rock scramble with exposed ledges and big drops.  Some people might have a fear of heights or not be fit enough to tackle the scramble.  The route via Berry Hollow is perfect for people wanting a ‘low key’ route to the peak.

We were on our way to hike White Oak Canyon, but the parking lot was completely full.  Not wanting to give up for the day, we consulted our maps and noticed we were right next to Berry Hollow and the alternate route up Old Rag.

We arrived at the small parking lot at Berry Hollow and also found a very full lot.  However, after waiting just a few minutes, some hikers came down the trail and said about 3-4 cars would be leaving in the next ten minutes as they were returning from an overnight/sunrise hike.  So, we waited and sure enough, several spaces cleared up.  I would recommend arriving at the lot early in the morning, because there is only space available for about 12 vehicles.

You begin the hike by making your way past a closed gate. You can see the path marked on the kiosk to the right of the trail.  This route starts on the wide Berry Hollow fire road, which goes along the Berry Hollow stream for a while.  Hiking the trail during a peak fall day, we were surrounded by brilliant yellows from fallen leaves on the trail and up above.  At .8 miles, you reach a junction with the Saddle Trail.  Take a right on to the Saddle Trail, which you will take all the way to the summit.

Berry Hollow Fire Road

Adam walks the fire road on a perfect fall day.  Below: Ascending the Saddle Trail; Large boulders as we climbed; The first viewpoint along the Saddle Trail.

Ascending the Saddle Trail Ascending the Saddle Trail First Views from Old Rag

The Saddle Trail is more narrow and rocky, but is mostly a moderate climb.  The steepest part of this trail comes between 1.2 and 1.5 miles as you gain about 300 feet of elevation in .3 miles.  At 1.4 miles, you will pass by the Old Rag shelter which is only available for day use.  At 2.15 miles, the trail gets another steep push to the summit.  Continuing up the trail, you will also pass the Byrds Nest Shelter at 2.25 miles, another day use shelter.  The trail does start to open up to some views along the way as you’ll pass a couple of rock outcroppings that give you nice views or a good excuse to stop if you need a breather.

You arrive at the base of the summit which is marked by a sign.  A short path leads up to the rocky summit.  At this point, you can decide how adventurous you want to be at the summit.  There are lots of nice ledges to enjoy the views, but some will want to scramble up the boulders to try to get even higher vantage points.  Be very careful at this summit, especially if you have kids.  People get injured often on this trail, most often at the rock scramble or at the summit.

The wind was incredibly strong on this day at the summit.  It is usually quite windy at the summit, but with the colder temperatures, it was freezing at the top.  We ate some snacks at the top, trying to shelter us from the wind, but decided quickly to get away from the exposed ledges to try and stay a little warmer.

We headed back the way we came.  When we arrived back at our car, the lot was still at capacity, so we did luck out with a spot.  After our hike, we went to one of our favorite places to eat, The Barbeque Exchange, in Gordonsville, VA and then hit Horton Vineyard for wine sampling on our way back home.

We were so pleased with this alternate route up Old Rag. I think we will probably use this as our go-to route for future hikes up the mountain.

Christine Says…

I make no secret of the fact that I am not a huge fan of the Old Rag Ridge Trail.  Scrambling is not my favorite, but my primary issue is simple trail overuse.  I think the park lets too many people hike the trail each day and that the mountain is becoming damaged beyond repair. We’ve hiked Old Rag on days that people are queued up all across the ridge, waiting in line for the people ahead of them to tackle obstacles.  I wait in line in daily life enough that I’m simply not willing to wait in line on a mountain trail. It feels wrong! I also don’t prefer the significant amount of road walking necessary to complete the route via Weakley Hollow. In the end, more than half the trail is road walking.  That said, I did really enjoy this ascent via Berry Hollow.

It was our anniversary weekend, peak fall color, and a perfect bluebird day to boot.  We were sort of nuts to try hiking any of the park’s most popular trails, but somehow we were lucky enough to score a parking spot.

Old Rag Summit

The summit of Old Rag offers spectacular views. Below: Views and crowds!

Old Rag Views Old Rag Views Old Rag Views

The walk up Berry Hollow fire road was gorgeous.  The sun filtering through the fall leaves made a canopy of warm golden light.  The road was carpeted with leaves of every color.  We really didn’t see many people at all until we reached the junction of the fire road and the Saddle Trail.

The Saddle Trail is a moderate ascent.  There are rock steps and interesting boulder jumbles to admire along the way.  Through the trees we could see the rocky summit looming ahead. As we climbed the views became more impressive.  After passing the second shelter (Byrds Nest), the trail passes out of tall hardwood forest into stand of stunted, windblown trees and tangled rhododendron.

Golden Trees

All we had to do was look up to see all the fall glory!  Below: One last view before descending; Trees near the top were already bare from the brisk wind; The shelter closest to the top – Byrds Nest – is also day-use only.

Old Rag Views Descent Byrds Nest Day Use Shelter

There are a couple nice views from the trail before you reach the actual summit.  We took time to enjoy each of them.  At the summit, there was a large crowd already congregating.  Most people posed for photos and then found places behind the boulders to shelter from the wind.  We stayed and enjoyed the summit until it became too crowded.

The way down was quick and easy!  We even did our traditional ‘Old Rag Jog’ – it’s basically a slow run to make the fire road terrain pass quicker.  On our way out, we stopped by Graves Mountain to get apples, pumpkin, and cider.  Then we headed for a big barbecue feast and a wine tasting.  It was a perfect fall day and a great way to celebrate our anniversary.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 5.4 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1725 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  This is a solid, moderate hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in great shape in most places.  There were a few muddy, mucky places between Byrds Nest and the Old Rag Shelter.
  • Views  5.  Gorgeous views at the top and several nice views along the way.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 1.  There is one small stream along the fire road.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We didn’t see anything but squirrels, but there is apparently a nuisance bear near the Old Rag shelter.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  There is just one well-marked junction.
  • Solitude –0.  It’s Old Rag… expect to see many, many people.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From Madison, VA on Route 29, take US-29 Business Route into Madison, VA.  Turn on to VA-231 north. In 5.4 miles, take a slight left on VA-670.  Follow this for 3.6 miles and take a slight right on to state route 643/Weakley Hollow Road.  Follow this road for about 5 miles, which becomes a gravel, fire road and ends at the parking lot for the trailhead.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Veach Gap – Morgan’s Road

January 4, 2015

This hike is easy for a 7-miler!  Gentle grades along an old roadbed take you to a lovely view of the Shenandoah River and mountains beyond!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Veach Gap Hike

The Point overlook on the Veach Gap hike offers nice views of the bends of the Shenandoah River and the mountains of the national park beyond. Below: Adam crosses the closed gate at the beginning of the trail;  Christine hikes the Veach Gap trail; The main trail junction on this hike.

Start of Hike Veach Gap Hike Signs

Christine Says…

Throughout fall 2014, our employer (and alma mater), James Madison University, participated in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge.  Basically, students and employees accrued points for outdoor activities. The school that compiled the most points in the end won a prize of cash and outdoor gear. One component of the competition was completing a collection of eight local hikes.  The list included many hikes we had already done (Old Rag, Humpback Rock, Fridley Gap, High Knob Fire Tower).  Veach Gap was one of the only hikes on the list we hadn’t done, so we decided to check it out.

From the end of Veach Gap Rd. in Fort Valley, the hike begins along the Veach Gap Trail (blazed in gold), which is an old road bed.  Supposedly, this trail is what remains of the historical Morgan’s Road.  General George Washington requisitioned the road during the Revolutionary War.  It was built to be used as a path of retreat from Yorktown.  As we all know from history, the war went America’s way, and the retreat route was never needed. The road was still used locally for many years before falling into disuse and transitioning into a trail.

At one mile in, the Veach Gap trail crosses Mill Run.  This is really the only potentially confusing spot to navigate on the hike.  The trail crosses at a diagonal, so look carefully for the gold blazes on a tree slightly upstream.  Shortly after crossing the stream, you may notice a rock formation in the shape of an upside down ‘U’.  This is called an anticline, and it’s a very unusual geological feature in our area. I’m kind of ashamed to admit this, but we didn’t even stop to look at the anticline.  I forgot it was there, and my mind was more focused on fall colors, lofty views, and potential wildlife sightings.  But, if you’re a geology buff – don’t miss this feature!

Crossing Mill Run

Crossing Mill Run. You can see the blaze on the tree on the opposite bank. Below: Pretty fall leaves on the water; Blazes for Veach Gap, Tuscarora, and the Massanutten Trails; After the main trail junction, the Massanutten Trail became a little steeper and rockier.

Fall Leaves on Water Blazes Rockier Massanutten Trail

A short distance after crossing the stream, the Veach Gap trail merges and becomes jointly blazed with the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail and the blue-blazed Tuscarora Trail. The three trails share the route for (at most) a couple tenths of a mile. AT 1.2 miles,  you’ll come to another trail sign.  To the right, the trail heads in the direction of the Little Crease Shelter.  Stay to the left (blazed orange and blue), headed up Little Crease Mountain and toward Sherman Gap.  About a half mile after this intersection, you’ll pass a marked group campsite on the right.

Continue meandering uphill along a gentle grade.  At three miles, the trail becomes a bit steeper with switchbacks.  There was a significant forest fire here in 2012, so the canopy is thin and allows nice views along the climb.  We saw lots of charred stumps and blueberry bushes along the increasingly rocky trail.  Eventually, the trail leveled out along the ridge.  We soon reached The Point Overlook – a small outcropping of rocks overlooking a sweeping bend on the Shenandoah River.

We had a snack, took a few photos, and spent some time chatting with a fellow hiker (Hi, DJ!) before heading back down the way we came. Veach Gap was really a lovely hike to enjoy at the peak of fall foliage season.  After getting back to our car, we made the short drive into Front Royal so we could enjoy burgers and shakes at Spelunkers.  Great day!

Adam Says…

When we were reviewing the peakbagging hikes that were listed for JMU students/faculty to try for the Outdoor Nation competition, we were surprised to see this one on there.  My guess is the coordinators looked up hikes that were close to Harrisonburg without thinking of what would be seen on the hike.  We initially thought this wouldn’t be that nice of a hike, since we hadn’t heard anyone mention it before to us, but the views made this a pleasant surprise.

When we pulled up to the parking lot, we saw a few cars already in the parking lot and a group getting ready to hit the trail when we did.  Of course, we saw vehicles for hunters, so we were a little worried about how this trail was being used overall.  We were glad that we had brighter clothes on, which is always a precaution to consider during hunting season.  We started off on the gold-blazed Veach Gap trail by crossing through the gate and walking on the fire road.  The trail was very flat and passed through some younger forest.  We were greeted with sights and sounds of Mill Run to the left of the trail.

Opening Views

The higher we hiked, the more views we got through the trees. Below: Adam takes in the view; The ridge was burned by a forest fire in 2012.  The damage is still fresh and evident; Adam descends.

Another Take on the View Rocky Ridge Descending

We soon came across two bow hunters, that seemed to be milling around, more about enjoying the outdoors than they were about hunting.  At .35 miles, the fire road turns into trail.  At 1.2 miles, take a left at the junction and join the blue and orange-blazed Massanutten Trail.  The trail continued a slow, gradual climb heading northeast.  At 3.0 miles, the trail takes a sharp, southern route and at 3.2 miles, it switches back to the normal northeastern direction.  On our climb up, we passed by a large group of boy scouts that were covering some miles over the weekend, but were looking to camp near the crossing at Mill Run.  The slightly-obstructed views of the mountains beside us were so colorful in this peak fall setting.

As you climb up to the ridge, you start seeing a lot of the forest fire damage.  Since this happened in 2012, you start seeing some of the plants starting to grow in place of those that burned.  We reached the ridge and followed it for about .15 miles.  At 3.5 miles, we found a pile of rocks marking a short climb to the overlook where we stopped.  The true highlight of the view is seeing the bends of the Shenandoah River from this rocky perch.  There wasn’t a ton of room at the top that was unobstructed, but it was enough for a few people to take in the view.

If you feel like you would like a view hike with a good amount of solitude, this may be a great selection.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 7 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1100 ft.
  • Difficulty –  2.  This is an easy hike to a nice viewpoint.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in great shape in most places.  Dry, fallen leaves made some of the descents slippery.
  • Views  3.5.  The view of the bends of the Shenandoah River is nice, but slightly obstructed.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 2.  The stream along the early part of the trail is really pretty.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We didn’t see anything but a few birds and squirrels.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.  There are a few junctions and a few unmarked trails that cross the route, but you should be fine if you follow the blazes.
  • Solitude –4.  We did see a troop of Boy Scouts and a handful of others hiking in this area on a perfect fall weekend near peak foliage color, but generally this area is very quiet.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  From Luray, VA, take SR 675/Camp Roosevelt Road.  Go .8 miles and take a left to stay on SR 675.  In 2.2 miles, take a right to stay on SR 675.  In 7.8 miles, take a right on to SR 678/Fort Valley Road.  Follow this for 9.7 miles and then take a right onto SR 774/Veach Gap Road.  Follow this about .75 miles to the end of the road, where you arrive at a parking area.  The trail starts after you walk around the gate.

MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

Appalachian Trail – Hog Camp Gap to Punchbowl Mountain

December 8, 2014

This 17 mile overnight backpacking trip had beautiful views from Cole Mountain within the first two miles of the hike.  The rest of the hike was less scenic – mostly walking through quiet woods and along seasonally low streams.  The Lynchburg Reservoir and the swinging bridge over the Pedlar River were noteworthy features on the second day.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam Takes in the View from the Summit of Cole Mountain

Adam takes in the view from the summit of Cole Mountain.  Below: Coming out of the woods onto the grassy meadow is always breathtaking;  Great views from the top of Cole Mountain; Hints of fall color near the summit.

Breaking Out of the Trees Cole Mountain Summit Coming Fall Color on Cole Mountain

Day One…

We started off our trip by leaving one car where the AT crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Punchbowl Mountain overlook.  From the lot, we could see the AT  southbound, but we didn’t see where we would return to our car from the north. It turns out it was just below us on the other side of the parking lot, but the morning fog made it a little hard to spot.  We dropped our car off and then headed to Hog Camp Rd, to start our journey.

From Hog Camp Gap, we headed south on the Appalachian Trail.  The trail started off through a wooded section uphill, fairly steeply in some parts.  Around 1.1 miles, the trail opened up to the beautiful, wide-open bald clearing that is Cole Mountain.  We have hiked Cole Mountain before as a loop and I do think it is one of the more under-appreciated hikes in Virginia.   The panoramic vistas make this look like something you would picture in an outdoors magazine.  You can’t help but want to stop and take a look at the scenery around you.  The way we split this section might not have been the best plan for enjoying vistas.  We knew we had the best views of the trip done in the first 1.5 miles of the hike.  But that is one of the biggest lessons I learned from hiking this section – you have to hold on to what you may have just seen, because there is no certainty about what is to come ahead.

Climbing Bald Mountain

The climb of Bald Mountain wasn’t terribly long or difficult. Bald Mountain also is not Bald!  Below: Adam checks out the map at our lunch stop – a clearing near the top of Bald Mountain; A little snip of a view through the trees along the top of Bald Mountain; Huge tree!

Lunch Stop Snip of a View Huge Tree

After reaching the summit of Cole Mountain, the trail descends and again enters the forest.  Around 2.5 miles, we reached a junction with a spur trail that led to the Cow Camp Gap overnight shelter and a water source.  We continued on the trail which starts an ascent up Bald Mountain.  We reached the summit at 3.5 miles and were hoping for some nice views at the top, but found that Bald Mountain wasn’t very bald (there were a few obstructed views through the trees).  We found a clearing and camp spot and had our lunch there before continuing on.  The rest of the day, the trail was a descent so our climbing was done (at least until tomorrow).

We crossed over USFS 507 at 5.5 miles and eventually came to US 60 and the Long Mountain wayside at mile 6.3.  We stopped at one of the picnic tables and took a break to eat a snack and give our backs a relief from the weight.  Local people just park on the roadside here and have a picnic at this spot.  It is also a way to do a longer out-and-back to Cole Mountain without parking or driving on a rough, gravel road.  After resting, we crossed US 60, spotting a sign for the continuation of the Appalachian trail to the right.  We continued our descent and at 7.1 miles, we reached Browns Creek, a reliable water source for a good stretch of trail.  At 8.2 miles, we reached the Brown Mountain Creek Shelter, our stop for the night.

The Brown Mountain Creek area is interesting from a historical/archaeological standpoint.  Much of the land along the creek was part of a large plantation predating the Civil War.  After the war, the land was primarily a settlement for freed African-Americans.  Houses, farms, orchards and even a gristmill could be found along the creek.  You can still see stone walls/stairs, pieces of metal, and other artifacts along the creek.  If you’re interested in reading more, this online article had a good overview of the area.

Long Mountain Wayside

The trail crosses US 60 at the Long Mountain Wayside.  Below: Information at the wayside: Descending to Brown Mountain Creek; Arriving at Brown Mountain Creek Shelter.

Wayside on Rt. 60 Descending to Brown Mountain Creek Arriving at Brown Mountain Creek Shelter

When we first got to the shelter, there was still a smoldering fire in the fire pit, so we realized someone had been there recently.  We also noticed a large pile of fresh bear scat next to the shelter.  While we didn’t think a bear had been roasting marshmallows by the fire, we felt it may be wise to not set up camp directly at the shelter.  We found a nice campsite right by the creek and decided that would be a better spot.  There was a boy scout troop that was camping on the other side of the creek.  We worried about them being too loud over the course of the night, but they were fairly well-behaved (except for trashing the privy – but that’s another story).  We set up our tent, filtered water for tonight and tomorrow, and began to unwind.

We cooked dinner up at the shelter (Good To-Go Herbed Mushroom Risotto)* and played Zombie Fluxx, a card game where the rules and objectives for winning constantly changed.  I always enjoy bringing a card game along the trail – the weight isn’t too bad for the entertainment it can provide.  We played a few hands (I recall Christine being better at killing zombies than I was) and then went back to our campsite after I hung our bear bag.  We started off reading books by headlamp outside our tent (continuing with the zombie trend I was reading Night of the Living Trekkies), but the bugs were awful.  We retired to our tent probably around 7:30, read for a little while longer, and went to bed very early.  We always typically go to bed around nightfall when backpacking, but hiking with the extra weight always makes you feel a little more physically exhausted.

* Good to Go is a new backpacking food manufacturer.  They use healthy ingredients and much less sodium.  We thought it was one of the best dehydrated meals we’ve had on the trail!  We added a foil packet of chicken breast to our dinner.

Games

We arrived at camp fairly early, so after the tent was pitched and water collected, we spent some time playing Zombie Fluxx. Below: A group of 14 Boy Scouts camped along the opposite bank; Collecting water for cooking and drinking; We tried a new brand of dehydrated meal – Good to Go (tasty!)

Scouts Water Source Good to Go Risotto

Day Two…

Day two started earlier than expected (and with the added bonus of a huge, swollen mosquito bite on my eyelid – I looked like I’d been punched!) Like most Boy Scout troops we’ve met along the trail, the one camping near us on this trip was awake, packed up, and on their way before sun-up. This had pros and cons.  One con was all the crunching boots and headlamps moving around our tent in the dark.  A pro was the opportunity we had to enjoy the creekside in peace and solitude before starting our hike for the day. The solitude also meant I could find a place to dig a cat hole in complete privacy without having to worry about Boy Scouts spotting me!  I would have used the privy near the shelter, but let’s just say the privy turned out to be another con of camping near a big scout group. One of them had completely defiled the privy and there was no way I was going in there!

Breakfast was instant oatmeal, honey buns and coffee.  I’ve learned the hard way after running out of gas on past backpacking trips that one packet of instant oatmeal (140 calories) is not enough to fuel me across nine miles.  The Little Debbie Honey Bun has been a revelation for me.  I think it has the magical balance of fat and sugar I need to power through my morning miles.  They also hold up great in my pack – no smushing and no crumbling.  Some people like a healthier, protein-packed breakfast, but give me a honey bun!

Morning on Brown Mountain Creek

The morning was beautiful and quiet (after the Scouts left). Below: When water is running higher, this is probably a pretty little waterfall; Adam hikes along the Appalachian Trail: One of several small stream crossings.

Plunge Pool Walking Along the AT Stream Crossing

The first five miles of our second day were easy. The terrain was a very gradual overall descent with a couple brief uphill climbs.  The first mile or so followed Brown Mountain Creek.  The trail followed roughly parallel to the stream for much of the way.  I kept thinking how beautiful this area would be when water levels were higher.  We eventually crossed the creek via a wooden footbridge.  At this spot there was a small, but pretty, waterfall cascading into a plunge pool.  The flow was down to a trickle, but it was still a lovely spot.

Departing Brown Mountain Creek, we walked through serene, quiet forest for a couple more miles.  There were two small stream crossings along the way.  The first didn’t seem to have a name, but the second was Swapping Camp Creek.  Both of these creeks end up flowing into the Lynchburg Reservoir.  At around 3 miles into our hike, we started seeing glimpses of the reservoir through the trees.  We followed an off-trail footpath steeply down to the shores of the water for a couple photos.  We saw several herons hunting in the mud.  There were ‘no camping’ signs posted everywhere, but there were also several well-used fire rings.  I’m guessing there are quite a few people that ignore the regulations and attempt to stealth camp in this area.

Lynchburg Reservoir

The trail skirts around the Lynchburg Reservoir. Below: The dam at the south end of the reservoir; The Pedlar River; The Pedlar River footbridge.

Dam Pedlar River Pedlar River Bridge

We climbed back up to the Appalachian Trail and continued south, skirting the eastern side of the reservoir.  At around 4.8 miles we came to the lowest elevation point of our hike – the Pedlar River crossing.  The trail crosses the river on a picturesque, bouncy suspension bridge.  From the middle of the bridge, we could see early fall colors reflecting from the trees onto the water’s surface.  After crossing the bridge, we came out on gravel-surfaced Reservoir Road.  We followed that briefly until we spotted another white blaze for the Appalachian Trail.

At this point, we began our toughest climb of the whole 17 miles.  The 2-mile ascent of Rice Mountain begins pleasantly enough.  The trail follows parallel to Little Irish Creek (which was running low and barely noticeable) and passes through a small plot of old growth forest.  There is an extremely weather-beaten sign explaining tree sizes in the area and how the area is used to study the local watershed.  Early parts of the climb are well-graded and moderate, but about .75 mile in, the trail pretty much goes straight up the mountain without the moderating benefit of switchbacks.  I wanted to push through the climbing and put it behind me, but Adam was ready for a snack.  We found some big rocks about 1.5 miles up the mountain and took a candy break.  After a half mile more climbing, we reached the ridge of Rice Mountain.  The forest was especially pretty along the top of the mountain – very open with lots of nice shade trees.

Climbing Rice Mountain

Climbing Rice Mountain was tougher than it looked on the topo map. Below: Another little peek at a view through the trees; A curly laurel thicket; The finish line!

Peek of a View Laurel Thicket The End

On the descent of Rice, we had one nice view through the trees.  We also saw more brilliant red fall colors and a lot more thickets of rhododendron and mountain laurel.  There really wasn’t anything remarkable to see or say about our last couple miles of hiking.  The terrain was rolling – there was a general uphill trend, but with small downhills as well.  There were no views or streams to speak off.  The lack of scenery gave me lots of time to fret over my feet. Two toes on my right foot had dislocated earlier in the day and were becoming increasingly painful.  With each step, it got a little harder to bear my weight plus the weight of my pack. I think if there had been waterfalls or great views, I would have been more easily able to distract myself.  But on this particular day, all I could think was ‘Ouch – when will this hike be over?’

At almost the end, we had one final road crossing at the junction of Robinson Gap Rd. and Panther Falls Rd.  After just another third of mile, we came up a small hill and found ourselves back at the parking area for Punchbowl Mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I don’t think I’d ever been so happy to end a hike. It felt great to take my boots off and change into a pair of Oofos.  While I enjoyed the great weather, the opportunity to be out, and the nice views from Cole Mountain, this wasn’t one of my favorite backpacking trips.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 17.2 miles [Day One] [Day Two]
  • Elevation Change – About 2900 ft.
  • Difficulty – 4.  Mostly for distance, but the descent of Bald Mountain is a real knee-grinder and  the climb up Rice Mountain  (Day 2) is surprisingly challenging.  
  • Trail Conditions –  4.  The trail is in nice condition all across this stretch of AT.
  • Views – 5 (for Day 1) The views from Cole Mountain are indisputably spectacular.  Enjoy them early in your hike… they’ll be the last real views of the trip.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 3.  This was hard to judge because of the unusually dry late summer/early fall.  I think under normal circumstances, Brown Mountain Creek would be beautiful with lots of small cascades and rapids.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We didn’t see any wildlife beyond a cute bullfrog in the creek.  But, there was LOTS of bear scat around Brown Mountain Creek Shelter.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  Just keep following the white-blazes and pay attention at road crossings/trail junctions to stay on the Appalachian Trail. 
  • Solitude – 3.  We saw quite a few people around Cole Mountain and spent the night at Brown Mountain Creek with a Boy Scout Troop.  We saw only one person along the trail on the second day.

Directions to trailhead:  Requires a shuttle.  We parked one car where the AT crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway near Punchbowl Mountain.  This is mile 51.7 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 6 miles south of where the Blue Ridge Parkway meets with US 60.  From this point, we drove our other car back north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for 6.0 miles and took the exit leading us to US-60 East.  We headed 4.3 miles on US 60 E before taking a left on SR 634/Coffeytown Road.  Follow this for 1.6 miles before taking a right on SR 755/Wiggins Spring Road.  Follow this gravel, bumpy road for 2.7 miles until you reach the parking area where the AT crosses the road.  Follow the white-blazed Appalachian trail heading south.

Red Hill

November 12, 2014

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This short, moderately challenging 3.5 mile hike has stunning views of both lakes and mountains from a summit fire tower!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam Takes in the View from Red Hill

Adam Takes in the View from Red Hill.  Below: Trail conservancy sign;  Adam makes his way up the trail; The foundation of an old farm house along the trail.

Trailhead signs Red Hill Trail Old Building Foundation

Christine Says…

We considered not hiking at all on our final day in New Hampshire – we needed time to pack and we still wanted to hang out a bit more with my parents.  But, it was too gorgeous to stay off the trail – crisp, cool, vivid blue skies punctuated by cottony white clouds. So, for our last hike, we chose something short, relatively easy, and close to my parents’ home in Plymouth.

I remembered a conversation we had earlier in the week with a docent from Castle in the Clouds. We had been asking her about the trails on the property.  After talking about options on the Lucknow estate, she asked if we’d ever hiked to the top of Red Hill.  She told us the hike was very popular with locals and that we should do it if we had time. We looked at maps, and decided Red Hill was the perfect distance and length.

When we got to the trailhead, we found the parking area blocked by a construction crew repairing a failed drain pipe under the road.  There had been heavy rains the day before, and it looked like the road had buckled and crushed the drain.  Luckily, we were able to find a small pullout for parking and walk up to the trailhead.

The Red Hill trail is maintained by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.  You’ll see one of their informational panels at the beginning of the trail.  Early on, the hiking trail is crossed by snowmobile trails.  At about three tenths of a mile in, you’ll find remnants of the old Horne farm and another informational board.  Essentially, all that’s left is the foundation, but if you look closely you might see other hints of the farm.  Follow signs for the tower, passing a gate indicating an area closed to snowmobiles.

From there, the summit is a steady 1.4 mile climb.  The trail is not rocky or rooted, and we found it dry and easily passable – even after heavy rain one day before our hike.   The summit has a tall firetower and a couple associated buildings.  I read online that this is the only firetower in New Hampshire not run by the state.  Instead, this one is tended by the Moultonborough Fire Department.

From the summit we enjoyed a superb look at  Lake Winnipesaukee from above.  From the tower, we had great views of Squam Lake, the Sandwich Range and the Ossipee Range.  It was really windy on the observation platform of the tower, so we didn’t stay on top for long.  We shared some snacks and then headed down the way we came.

We were lucky to have the summit all to ourselves!  On our way down, we passed dozens of people – not surprising! It’s a very nice hike!  After getting back to the car, we called my parents and arranged to meet at the Town Docks in Meredith.  It was a beautiful day to enjoy one last lakeside lunch!

Fire Tower on Red Hill

The fire tower atop Red Hill. Below: Buildings at the top of Red Hill; Views in both directions from the fire tower.

Forest Service Building View from Red hill View from Red hill

Adam Says…

With our trip to New Hampshire coming to an end, we couldn’t resist hitting the trail one last time.  The previous day we had a lot of rain, so we had spent the day shopping around the area to get some souvenirs.  There was some flooding from the previous day in some areas.  Since we were facing a 12 hour drive the next day back home, we wanted to get a hike that was fairly close and not too long.  We remembered our talk with one of the volunteers at Castle in the Clouds and decided to see what this one was like.

This hike combines two things I always like to think about when visiting New Hampshire – the many lakes and the mountains.  From this viewpoint, you get a picturesque view of both.  This definitely is a hike for the locals.  We couldn’t find any great information in guide books, but we found a few write-ups online, including a winter trek up from Hike New England.

We started on the trail at the kiosk.  In .1 mile, the trail splits in half.  We opted for the trail to the right, which starts off on a fire road.  At .4 miles, the trail comes to the signage for the old farmstead here.  The trail takes a sharp left at the sign and continues uphill.  The trail was a continuous uphill climb, but the terrain was fairly nice, making for better footing considering the rain from the day before.  At 1.5 miles, the trail reaches a junction again with the Red Hill Loop Trail (we did not do the loop option).  Continuing to the right for another .2 miles, you’ll reach the summit and fire tower at 1.7 miles.

The summit had a nice picnic table at the top near one of the buildings giving you nice views of the lake below.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have a bit of a fear over man-made structures, so I felt uneasy about climbing up to the top of the tower.  The tower was a little rickety and the wind was blowing strongly, but I felt I couldn’t end the trip without taking in the view.  At the top of the tower, you do get some nice views, but we found it was hard to get clear, unobstructed photos due to all the wires and screen around the top.  I made my way back to the bottom to get the views that nature had intended from the safer ground.

When we arrived at the summit, there was one other person there, who quickly handed over the solitude of the views to us.  We stayed for a while to eat a snack and reflect on all of the great hiking we accomplished during this trip.  It is always a bitter feeling knowing that you have to return home and back to the doldrums of work and everyday living, but we will have the memories of these mountains, lakes, and beautiful skies to lift our hearts until the next adventure.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 3.5 miles
    MapMyHike Stats *
  • Elevation Change –  1350 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.5.  The climbing is moderate, but steady.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  This trail is in great shape.  The footing is nice and we didn’t have any trouble with mud, even after heavy rains.
  • Views – 4.5.  Beautiful – a small markdown because the cables and side panels of the tower block a little bit of the view.  You must climb the tower if you want the full view, too.  The picnic table at the base has a nice, but not panoramic, view.
  • Waterfalls/streams 0. None
  • Wildlife – 0. None
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5 - There are a few crossing snowmobile trails, and there is a trail on the other side of the hill, but generally the route is easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 2.  While we enjoyed quite a bit of solitude on our early morning hike, we saw many people hiking up on our hike down.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From I-93:  Take exit 24 on I-93 for US-3/NH-25 toward Ashland/Holderness.  Turn right on US-3 S/NH-25 E and go 9.2 miles.  Turn left on NH-25B E and go 2.9 miles.  Turn left on Kelsea Avenue and go .2 miles.  Turn left onto Bean Rd and go 1.3 miles.  Turn right on to Sibley Road and go 1.1 miles.  Take a left on to Red Hill Road and go about .2 miles until you reach the parking area to the right.  The trail starts off from the kiosk.

Zealand Falls

October 27, 2014

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 5.6 mile route to Zealand Falls is one of the easiest hikes we’ve done in New Hampshire.  Most of the footing is smooth, soft, and flat!  It was a real treat after climbing Pierce and Madison.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam on Zealand Falls

Adam sits at the top of Zealand Falls and takes in the view of mountains beyond and wetlands below.  Below:  Zealand Falls Hut is a popular hut for people who want to stay at an AMC Hut, but don’t want a tough hike;  Christine hikes along; While the trail was generally flat and smooth, there were occasional roots and rocks to negotiate.

Zealand Trail Boardwalk Roots

Christine Says…

The hike to Zealand Falls is doubtlessly the easiest ‘hut hike’ in the White Mountains.  The elevation gain is barely discernible until the last couple tenths of a mile.  The route offers mountain views, waterfalls, stream scenery, and lovely ponds.  Guidebooks say it’s a great place to bird-watch and spot a moose (though I have my doubts about the actual likelihood of seeing a moose!)

The hike starts out at a parking area at the end of Zealand Road.   It’s a fee area, so make sure you bring cash to pay at the self-service parking station.

We made our way along the trail, marveling at how smooth and soft the footing felt.  There were certainly some spots with roots and rocks, but generally the trail was level and covered with a bed of pine needles.  We could hear the Zealand River, but didn’t reach a close view of the water until .8 miles into the hike.  When we hiked (early August), the water was low, clear and running quietly along. Almost all of the water crossings we encountered on this trail were assisted by wooden footbridges – no wading and very little rock hopping necessary!

Christine Checks out the Wetlands

The Zealand Falls trail passes many ponds and marshes.  Below: Several views of the ponds and marshes along the Zealand trail.

Wetlands Wetlands Wetlands

As we walked along, the terrain became marshier.  At about 1.8 miles in we passed a lovely beaver pond.  We could see the dam from the trail, but didn’t see any beavers.  The reflections of trees and mountains in the water were especially beautiful!  With all the wetlands, I expected biting flies, mosquitoes and gnats to be a major issue, but we didn’t have any trouble at all. Maybe there was just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay.

At 2.3 miles we passed the junction with the A-Z trail, where we continued on the Zealand Trail.  A couple tenths of a mile later, we passed Zealand Pond and reached the junction with the Twinway (which is also the Appalachian Trail in this area) and Etlan Pond Trails. The last couple tenths of a mile to the hut follow the Twinway Trail.

Almost immediately after the junction, we reached the bottom of Zealand Falls.  The water was running low, but it was still beautiful.  There are two places to stop and admire the falls on the way up.  The first stop is a view of the gradual, slide-like lower falls.  The view of the upper falls is a bit more dramatic. The rocks around the falls are blocky and reddish-orange in color. The water comes plunging steeply over a cliff-side. The last tenth of a mile up to the hut is steep and rocky – honestly, it’s the only challenging part of the hike.

Zealand Falls

Zealand Falls make a couple distinct drops.  Below: New signs were recently posted to mark trails in the area; Adam checks out the falls; The final ascent to the hut was the only steep part of the hike.

New Signs Zealand Falls Final Climb to Hut

Zealand Falls Hut enjoys a lofty perch looking out across two notches.  You can see the Bonds and Mt. Carrigain. There’s even a bench available for anyone who wants a nice seat to enjoy the view.  We spent some time poking around the hut.  The Croo had just made cinnamon rolls and purple frosted blueberry cake, but we weren’t quite ready for a snack.  Instead, we decided to take the little side trail to the ledges of Whitewall Brook.  It’s just a 25-30 foot walk through the trees.  The brook passes over immense slabs of rock.  It’s a nice place to sit, soak in the sun, and enjoy the view of the pond below and distant mountains beyond.

After spending some time enjoying the hut, we returned the way we came.  The walk back was all downhill, so we made quick work of it.  I would highly recommend Zealand Falls to anyone looking for a low-key hike without much climbing.  In fact, we gave it such glowing reviews that my parents tried the hike a few weeks later.  They enjoyed it and felt it was very approachable for hikers of any level.

Adam Says…

When we go about trying to cover a lot of hiking mileage on our vacation trips, we like to alternate some easier hikes with the tougher ones.  Since we had just climbed Mt. Madison, our feet and joints were happy that we chose this easier leg-stretcher.

Christine and I do like to hike with goals in mind.  Since we have climbed a few of the 4000-footers in New Hampshire (there are 48), we have thought about possibly trying to bag all of those peaks.  Last year on our visit, I picked up AMC’s Passport to AMC’s High Huts in the White Mountains.   That book describes each of AMC’s huts through the White Mountains and details the history, features, and interesting stories about each of the huts.  It also serves as a passport that you can have stamped at each location to mark that you have been there (you can even earn a patch when you’ve visited them all).  This was definitely enough of an incentive to try and reach all the huts.

Zealand Hut

Zealand Falls Hut sits at the top of a waterfall.  A short trail from the side of the hut leads to the streambed; Inside the hut; View from the hut; Christine at the top of the falls.

Inside Zealand Hut View from Hut Christine at the Top of Falls

As Christine mentioned, this trail had nice footing compared to what we were used to in the White Mountains.  The trail was fairly smooth as it started through the woods mixed with pine and birch.  The trail eventually opened up into some great views over marshy ponds.  There was a large boardwalk to walk across that I thought would be a perfect vantage point for spotting a moose.  There were such nice views over the dammed-up ponds and it reminded me that we were in a state filled with lots of lakes, ponds, and streams.  We took a while to enjoy the scenery around us.  The trail continued to give us lots of similar views and short step-offs to pond views.  The trail eventually goes back into the woods as you get closer to Zealand Falls Hut.

At 2.3 miles, we reached the junction with the A-Z trail, which I came to realize after looking at our map that it connects the Avalon and Zealand trail, hence the A-Z name.  At 2.5 miles, we reached a short side trail to check out Zealand Falls.  The falls here were a nice place to get sidetracked.  We crossed a few rocks and enjoyed climbing around the rocks at the base of the falls.  Looking up towards the top of the fall is where this hike ends, but you should stick to the trail rather than trying to climb up the falls.

We continued our last piece of the hike, which was a steep and rocky .2 miles until we reached the Zealand Falls Hut at 2.8 miles.  There were a few day-hikers at the hut, recounting tales of all the places they had visited around the world.  We decided to take the short trail from the hut to the streambed of Whitewall Brook, which is the top of the falls we had seen below.  Christine got a lot of pictures while I walked around climbing on some of the rocks and collecting a few blueberries from the nearby bushes.  We then found a picturesque spot on the large rocks to take in the view of mountains ahead and the waterways below.

Beautiful Forest

The woods along the trail were so beautiful! Below: Adam rock hops; Beautiful, tall, straight trees; A beaver dam.

Adam Rock Hops Beautiful Trees Beaver Dam

We stopped back in to the hut to talk to the Croo members who were cleaning up breakfast and starting to prepare some food for lunch.  I know they have some busy days, preparing meals, cleaning the hut, and transporting supplies on their backs to and from the hut.  I talked to one of the members about how this hut was so much easier to reach than most of the others we had seen.  I wondered if there was a selection process that was made to match up Croo members to the huts or if they even had a choice.  It seems like maintaining this hut and transporting supplies would be made for those that wanted or needed an easier experience.  We made our way back to our car the same way we came up.

I would recommend this hike to anyone that would like to see what one of the AMC huts looks like.  It is the easiest one to reach, so people of most abilities should be able to attain the top.  This is one I could see us doing many times in the future due to the ease and the serenity that the scenery of the marshes and waterfall evokes.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 5.6 miles
    MapMyHike Stats *
  • Elevation Change –  650 feet
  • Difficulty –  2.  This is a pleasant, easy walk until the last couple tenths of a mile.  The last push to hut is short but steep.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail is so nicely built and easy to walk.  Most of the water crossings and marshy areas are traversed by sturdy bridges and boardwalks.
  • Views –3.5.  Views from the hut and Whitewall Brook are nice, as are several views across the wetlands, but generally the views here are less dramatic than other spots in the White Mountains.
  • Waterfalls/streams 4.5.  The river, pond, wetlands, brook and waterfalls are all lovely!
  • Wildlife – 3.  It’s supposed to be a nice area to spot wildlife, but we just saw birds and squirrels.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  Trail junctions are clearly marked and easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 3. We saw relatively few people, but we hiked on a weekday in August. I think this is generally a popular trail.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From I-93: Take Exit 35 for Twin Mountain. Follow 3N for 10.4 miles. Turn right onto 302E for 2.2 miles.  Turn right onto Zealand Rd. and drive about four miles.  The road will turn to gravel.  The parking area is at the dead end of the road.  There is a $3/day fee to park at the trailhead.

* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.

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