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Sherando Lake Loop

March 31, 2014

This relatively easy 2.5 mile loop goes around Sherando Lake and follows a short spur to a great mountain view!

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Sherando Lake

Sherando Lake is a popular camping/swimming area for locals. It’s just several miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Adam Says…

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.

Dam End

The fisherman’s parking lot is located at the dam end of the lake. It is where our hike begins. Below: The trail starts off rocky; Overlook View.

Rocky Uphill Overlook Rock

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.

Enjoying the View

Adam takes in a beach/lake view. Below: Services are typically open April through October; Trails are well marked; Adam hikes the Blue Loop Trail.

Sherando Beach Area trailsystem uphill

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.

Christine Says…

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.

Lookout Rock

Lookout Rock provides a nice view of the valley, lake and mountains. Below: Adam climbs his way toward Lookout Rock; Checking out the view, Making the descent.

Climb View descent

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.

Spillway

The hike ends after crossing a cement bridge over the spillway. Below: The stream leading away from the lake; Christine crossing the concrete bridge, Blue Mountain Brewery food and brewery.

Stream Bridge Blue Mountain Brewey Blue Mountain

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.

Trail Notes

  • 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. 

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

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.

Elk Run Trail

March 2, 2014

We walked a beautiful two-mile snowshoe loop on this lovely network of trails in Elkton, Va.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam Snowshoeing

Adam walks along the Elk Run Trail.

Map  Barn

Christine Says…

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.

Snowshoeing

Adam makes his way across the meadow behind the community center.

Elk Run Christine Snowshoeing

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!

Adam Says…

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.

The Kite Mansion

The Kite Mansion.

Christine Approaches  Adam and the Stream

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.

Trail Notes

  • 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.

North Fork Mountain to Chimney Top

January 29, 2014

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!

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Amazing views from Chimney Top!

Amazing views from Chimney Top! Below: Adam checks out the trail information board; The spine of the mountain offers many magnificent views, if you’re willing to do a little climbing.

Trail Sign Scaling the Spine

Adam Says…

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 Top.  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 Top.  When we got back home and did more research, we realized we hadn’t found the true Chimney Top, so we vowed to return – and we did… on our sixteenth wedding anniversary in fall 2013.

First Outcropping

The first outcropping offers stunning views. Below: The view in the other direction from the first outcropping,

Views from Ridge

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.

Fall Color

Fall color was pretty nice!  Below: The trail is often rocky and rough; Adam walks along the increasingly hidden trail.

Rocky Spine Tough Trail to Follow

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 Top.  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 Top  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 Top.  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.

Christine Says…

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!

Fall foliage and amazing views.

Fall foliage and amazing views. Below: Adam checks out one of the campsites; A nice view of the cliff face along the mountainside.

Campsite The Cliff Wall

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.

I thought this rock formation near chimney rock looked like a tortoise.

I thought this rock formation near Chimney Top looked like a tortoise. Below: More views; Adam checking out another rock outcropping along the way.

More Views Another Outcropping

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 Top. 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 Top.

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.

Trail Notes

  • 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 Top 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 Top.
  • Solitude – 4.5.  Typically, you’ll only see a few people on this trail.  Most will go to the first overlook and stop.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

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.

Appalachian Trail – Dripping Rock to Rockfish Gap

November 30, 2013

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.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Hiking Over Humpback Mountain

Adam traverses Humpback Mountain.  Below: We found trail magic right away on our hike; Adam climbing the southern side of Humpback Mountain; Rock walls along the trail.

Trail Magic Adam Hiking Rock Wall

Day One

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!  We didn’t need (or take) any trail magic on 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.

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.

Wintergreen View

Christine enjoys the outcropping overlooking Wintergreen.  Below: Hiking up Humpback Mountain; Adam checks out the view of Wintergreen; Pretty views.

Christine Hiking Wintergreen Views

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.

Hog Wall

Adam walks along one of the many hog walls.

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.

Glass Hollow

Taking in the view at Glass Hollow. Below: Trail lunch, AT logos carved on deadfall; Pretty trail with late season wildflowers.

Lunch AT Logo Pretty trail

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.

Camp

Our nice campsite along Mill Creek. Below: Overlook on the descent of Dobie Mountain; Junction with the Albright Trail; Crossing Mill Creek

View from Dobie Albright Intersection Crossing Mill Creek

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.

Campfire

Our nice little campfire. Below: Adam filtering water; The Paul C. Wolfe Shelter; The steep climb that starts Day 2.

Filtering Water Shelter Climb Behind the Shelte

Day Two

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.

Mayo Cabin

The remnants of the Mayo Cabin sit right along the trail. Below: Approaching Rockfish Gap; We can see Rt. 250; Waynesboro’s great network of trail angels.

Done The Gap Trail Angels

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!

Bold Rock

The tasting room at Bold Rock. Below: Enjoying a post-hike beer at Devil’s Backbone.

Devils Backbone

Trail Notes

  • 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.  

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:  Follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to mile 9.6.  Park in the small Dripping Rock parking area.

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

Our Most Popular Trails

November 18, 2013

It was time to update our ‘Most Popular’ list!  These are Virginia Trail Guide’s most searched and most viewed hikes as of April 2014!

Mt. Rogers is beautiful, rugged and home to several herds of wild ponies.

1. Mt. Rogers

At the top of the list for the latest update –  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!


Adam Explores Spy Rock

Adam Explores Spy Rock

2. Spy Rock

Spy Rock remains 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.


This View of McAfee is an Appalachian Trail Icon

This View of McAfee is iconic Appalachian Trail imagery.

3. McAfee Knob

This hike climbed from number seven to number three – which we personally think is more appropriate!  It’s a classic and it was one of our very first blog posts!  McAfee Knob is considered a must-do Virginia hike.  The ledge in the photo above is the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail.


The summit of Humpback Rock

4. Humpback Rock

Our old number one, Humpback Rock, has dropped yet another spot (it was number three at the last update).  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.


Rose River Falls

5. The Rose River Loop

Do you like waterfalls? If so, our number five hike, 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.


Another beautiful section of Crabtree Falls.

6. Crabtree Falls

Crabtree Falls remains at the number six spot. 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!


Upper Falls of White Oak Canyon

7. 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.


The Sites Homestead

The Sites Homestead sits in the shadow of dramatic Seneca Rocks.

8. Seneca Rocks (West Virginia)

Seneca Rocks, climbs up a spot from nine to eight, and 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.


This is the first of the four summit views you’ll come to along the Hawksbill Loop Trail.

9. 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.


The Pinnacle offers spectacular views.

The Pinnacle offers spectacular views.

10. 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 ten (dropping two more spots down from number 8).  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.


Hikes That Just Missed the Top Ten

These hikes were all just outside the top ten.

11. Sharp Top

11. Cold/Cole Mountain

13. Massanutten Ridge Trail

14. The Devils Marbleyard

15. Bearfence Mountain

16. Dark Hollow Falls

17. The Priest

18. Stony Man & Little Stony Man

19. Old Rag

20. Riprap Trail

(Trails that recently lost spots in the top 20 include:  Appalachian Trail: Skyland to Big Meadows, Knob Mountain – Jeremy’s Run Loop, Loft Mountain Loop, and Buzzard Rock)

Mount Moosilauke

November 3, 2013

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

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.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Mt. Moosilauke Summit Views

Adam enjoys the summit of Mt. Moosilauke. Below: Damage from Hurricane Irene forced the rerouting of trails; Adam climbs the Gorge Brook Trail; Open views along the ‘balcony’ section of the hike; The area right below treeline was thickly forested with evergreens.

Irene Damage Climbing Gorge Brook Balcony Dense Pines

Christine Says…

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.

Moosilauke Ravine Lodge

Dartmouth College owns and runs the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge.  Below: The lodge is very rustic and comfortable.  It was even cool enough in August to have a fire in the fireplace; The food at the Ravine Lodge is supposed to be pretty good!; Adam checks out out route.

Inside the Lodge Ravine Lodge Trail Marker

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?

Gorge Brook Trail

Adam climbs the rocky Gorge Brook Trail.  Below:  Beautiful stream scenery; The  Gorge Brook trail was very rocky; Our first views along the way.

Brook More Rocky Climbing First Views

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.

Above Treeline

Mt. Moosilauke is the first New Hampshire peak on the Appalachian Trail that includes an alpine zone.  Below:  Coming out of the trees; The final push to the summit; At the summit marker.

Approaching the Treeline Nearing the Summit Summit Marker

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!

Adam Says…

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.

Leaving the Summit

The first trail we used for our descent was the Appalachian Trail, also called the Glencliff trail in this area.  Below: Christine makes the descent; Looking back through the pines toward the summit; Alpine zone marker.

Views on Hike Down More Pines Alpine Warning

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.

Snapper Trail

The Snapper Trail was delightfully green and shady.  Below: Adam descends the Old Carriage Road; The Snapper trail was mossy; Water crossing on the Snapper Trail.

Old Carriage Road Mossy Water Crossing

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.

Back at the Ravine Lodge

The trail returns to the Ravine Lodge. Below: Looking back toward Mt. Moosilauke; A pleasant patio spot to take in views of the summit; Lodge decor

Looking Back to Moosilauke Patio Moosehead

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.

Trail Notes

  • 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.

Download a trail map (PDF)

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.

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

Mt. Washington via Ammonoosuc Ravine

October 6, 2013

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 4.5 mile ascent of Mt. Washington follows challenging, steep, slick terrain along a ravine that showcases waterfall after waterfall.  Once you clear the treeline, you are treated to a hut visit and some of the most dramatic alpine walking in the east.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam On Crawford Path

From Lakes of the Clouds Hut, you follow the Crawford Path (America’s oldest continually used hiking trail) to the summit of Mt. Washington. In this photo, you can see the summit and its weather towers looming in the distance.  Below: The trailhead begins near the cog railway on Basecamp Rd; The beginning of the trail is deceptively easy; There are many water crossings en route to the top – some easy, some not so easy.

Ammonoosuc Ravine Trailhead Deceptively Easy Water Crossing

Adam Says…

Hiking to the summit of Mount Washington (also known as ‘the most dangerous small mountain in the world‘) was definitely a bucket-list item for me.  Making it to the top of the highest peak in New England feels like an accomplishment and we definitely have memories from the hike that we will never forget.

Before you attempt to hike up Mount Washington, some planning needs to take place.  Mount Washington has been called the Home of the World’s Worst Weather due to the high winds, ice, and low visibility that can rear quickly.  In fact, in 1934, they recorded a wind gust of 231 mph.  Check out the funny video of someone trying to eat breakfast from the summit area during one of these high wind days.  Needless to say, I would strongly recommend checking out the weather from the Mount Washington Observatory to determine if a summit is possible and how different the weather and temperature will be at the top.

We  arranged for Christine’s parents to meet us at the top and shuttle us back to our car.  Many people descend by trail, but there is a hiker shuttle and a limited number of seats available on the Cog.  It’s important to note that you should always be prepared and have a plan for walking off the mountain.  Trains and shuttles book up quickly and the auto road closes from time to time.  Ultimately, you are responsible for your safety and the manner of your descent.  Visit New Hampshire’s Hike Safe site so you can learn more about mountain safety and the state’s expectation that every hiker be prepared.

Stream

The entire Ammonoosuc Ravine trail followed a stream which tumbled down the mountainside in waterfall after waterfall. Below: Lakes of the Clouds advertisement; The early parts of the trail are rocky, but only slightly uphill.

First Lake of Clouds Sign  Early on the Ammonoosuc Ravine

As we were driving along the road to the parking lot, the sky was completely cloudy.  The online forecast said it was going to be a perfect day, but the clouds were saying something different.  We hoped that the weather would push off and made it to the parking lot.  We packed some extra gear knowing that the temperature was going to be much cooler at the top.  We started off from the parking lot and filled out our parking permit, enclosing $3 in an envelope to allow us to park in the lot.  The parking lot was already getting full and we could tell that all the people getting ready to hike were in great shape.  We hoped we were ready for the challenge and started on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail from the end of the parking lot.  The trail started off relatively flat through a thickly forested area.  At .25 miles, we reached a stream crossing.  Because a heavy rain fell just the day before, the crossing, which is normally easy, presented a real challenge.  We saw a few others cross in different areas, but ultimately decided the best route was tightrope-walk across a thin log that spanned the creek.  This is always more unnerving when you are carrying expensive camera gear, but we made it across without a hitch.  We were worried how many other crossings we would have to make seeing the Ammonoosuc River on our trail map coming ahead.

At 1.0 miles, the trail reached the Ammonoosuc River, but the trail turned quickly to the right.  We saw the rushing water of the river and glimpsed up at the sky, which looked less foreboding than earlier.  The trail hugs the riverside and begins a steep ascent up a rocky slope.  At 2.1 miles, we reached the Gem Pool, a serene swimming hole created by a small waterfall.  We rock-hopped across to continue the path from the pool and stopped for a short rest in this peaceful area.   After leaving the Gem Pool, the trail becomes very steep as you climb up the rocky slope.  At 2.35 miles, a small trail to the right leads about .1 miles to The Gorge waterfall.  I highly recommend checking out this waterfall, which you can see plunging over 100 feet.   We returned from The Gorge and rejoined the trail.  The trail continues its steep ascent and you can only imagine that you are climbing up a slope that seems to be as steep as the slope of the waterfall you just saw.

Christine at Gem Poo

Christine crossing the water at Gem Pool. This is the point of the hike where the climbing starts getting serious. Below: Adam works his way uphill on the steepest part of the hike; It was seriously steep; One section had a little ladder to help you over the boulder.

Adam Climbing Seriously Steep Ladder

We continued to climb up the very steep slope until we reached a great viewpoint at 2.7 miles. Along with the view, there were also multiple waterfalls falling in dramatic cascades.  It was here that we were finally able to see that the clouds had moved off and we should have a gorgeous hike to the summit.  The unnerving this was that in order to continue the trail we had to walk across the top of a waterfall, with a very precipitous drop to one side  Due to the rain, there was no way to rock-hop across.  We knew we had to put our feet in the water to make it across, but we couldn’t tell how deep the water was or how fast it moved.  As we realized that a false step could have meant a long plummet down, it definitely gave us a gut-check to see if we could make it.  We tried to look around for the best way to cross and decided to wait and let a few other hikers attempt it first.  After learning what others had done, we followed suit and crossed without any difficulty.

The hike from this point continued to be steep as you climb along some areas of bare, slick rock.   Eventually, we began to rise above treeline and were able to see Lakes of the Clouds hut seated on the edge of the ravine.  The wind was already picking up and the cold wind had us switching into cold-weather clothes.  To the left of the hut was the summit hike to Mount Washington and we could clearly see the Observatory Tower in the distance.  We reached Lakes of the Clouds hut at 3.2 miles and decided to go inside to eat a snack.

Big Waterfall

One little spur trail on the steepest section of climbing led to this large and impressive waterfall called Gorge Falls. Below: Christine picks her way through boulders and across the water; Our first views into the Washington Valley; At the halfway point

Bouldering First Views Halfway There

Lakes of the Clouds hut was built here over 100 years ago and has some interesting history.  Two AMC members, William Curtis and Allen Ormsbee, were hiking up the Crawford Path to go to an annual AMC meeting at the Summit House on the top of Mount Washington in 1900.   They reached what is now Mount Eisenhower and met 60 mph winds and cold temperatures.  By the time they reach Mount Monroe, the temperature had plummeted to freezing and the rain became ice.  Curtis died at Lakes of the Clouds and Ormsbee pushed on for help before perishing himself only a few hundred yards from the summit station.  The storm lasted for 60 hours and there bodies were discovered.  The AMC created a wooden shelter first near where Curtis had died.  In 1915, the wooden shelter was replaced with a stone shelter and it has since had several additions and improvements made.  It can accommodate up to 90 guests per night.

From the shelter, you can see a trail that leads up to Mount Monroe.  If you are interested in peak-bagging a few of “the Presidentials”, it is a short but steep hike.  We decided to save our energy and just tackle Mount Washington.  We continued along the trail and soon reached views of the Lakes of the Clouds, which are actually more like mountaintop ponds than full lakes.

Since we were now above treeline, the hike to the summit of Mount Washington was now just a series of steps across boulders for the remaining 1.3 miles.  The wind was incredibly strong and I believe gusts were at least 50 mph, which is considered more of a calm day on the mountain.  The wind was blowing up the ravine to the left of our bodies, so there were times that we had to angle ourselves to fight the winds as we pushed onward.  The views of the ravine and behind us were more breathtaking with each step.  Whenever we stopped to turn around, the wind had our noses running from the cold and it was hard to even talk to each other through the force of the gusts.

Waterfalls Near the Headwall

Near the top of the headwall, there is a series of several impressive waterfalls and the scariest water crossing we’ve ever done. Below: This trail had so many waterfalls; Our first view of the Mt. Washington summit; Hikers coming out of the ravine.

More Waterfalls First View of Summit Climbing Out of the Ravine

At 4.5 miles, we reached the summit area.  We followed the signs to the summit marker, that was crawling with people.  Most people reach Mount Washington by car or by the cog railroad.  When you pay to take the Mount Washington auto road, you receive a sticker that states “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington”.   We waited our turn to get a picture with the summit sign.  Some people were amazed that we had hiked up.  We made our way over to the visitor center and snack bar.  We had agreed to jokingly meet her parents by the “death plaque”, a plaque that shows a list of the names of  people who have died on the mountain.  When we arrived at the snack bar area, a group of hikers we had seen earlier on the trail whispered to us “there’s a hiker’s lounge downstairs”.  While the upstairs area was crawling with people, the hiker’s lounge was quiet and nearly empty.  We had a peaceful time to eat our lunch and then were able to meet her parents in about 30 minutes.  From here, we jumped in their vehicle and enjoyed the car ride down the narrow road that snakes down the mountain.  We stopped a few times along the way to catch some last views of the Presidential Range before we were back on the road.

The hike up Mount Washington was definitely something that Christine and I felt that we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish several years ago.  I can’t think of any other time that I have felt such a sense of accomplishment after reaching this summit.  We were so blessed with the great weather and we have already begun talking about how we could do an entire hut-to-hut Presidential traverse.

Christine Says…

With our days in New Hampshire running out and great weather in the forecast, we decided we had to tackle Mt. Washington.  With a reputation for fickle weather, ice storms that happen at the height of summer, and gusts of wind that can blow a grown-man sideways, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  The night before our hike, we were looking at maps and guidebooks and discussing our different route options.  Across the living room, my mother was Googling ‘deaths on Mt. Washington‘, ‘failed hikes of Mt. Washington‘ and ‘accidents on Mt. Washington’. Comforting, right?  She also told me to make sure I had the phone number for New Hampshire’s Fish and Game department on hand – they do most of the mountain rescues in the state.  Her worries and cautiousness got into my head, and I went to bed feeling really nervous about my ability to make it to the top.

Adam Approaches Lakes of the Clouds

Adam approaches Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Below: Inside Lakes of the Clouds; We ate cake!; Wooden racks for carrying supplies.

Inside Lakes Cake! Racks

On the drive to the trailhead, dark blackish clouds completely obscured the mountain.  I said to Adam, ‘This is probably a bad idea.’  He reassured me, telling me he was certain the clouds would blow off, the day would be beautiful, and that we would have a great time.  I let my worries non-verbally stew in the back of my mind.  We parked, geared up and made our way down the trail with several other groups of people.

Within the first mile, we came to a rain-swollen stream with no clear way to cross. The rocks normally used to rock hop were all under rushing water.  I tested a few spots, and ended up falling shin deep into water and wrenching my knee. I was feeling discouraged, because the only other potential crossing left was a thin, bouncy, moss-covered log that had fallen across the stream.  I have problems with vertigo and balance, so situations like this really push me outside my comfort zone.  Adam carried all the expensive camera gear, and I slowly and carefully stepped across that log.  Phew!  I told Adam if there were lots of crossings like this one, I didn’t think I could do the hike.  He offered to turn back, but I told him that I wanted to challenge myself and keep going.

Fortunately, most of the hike followed alongside the stream with only a few much easier crossings along the way.  Eventually we reached the Gem Pool. What a gorgeous spot!  It’s a crystal clear, green, pool; fed by a cascading waterfall.  It would be a great place to take a picnic and go for a swim. We did one more rock hop at the end of the pool and prepared ourselves to do some serious climbing!

Mount Monroe & Hut

Mt. Monroe looks like a small hill above the hut. Below: Mt. Monroe; The Lakes of the Clouds’ namesakes.

Mt Monroe Lakes Lakes of the Clouds

About 1600 feet of elevation gain comes in just about a mile of hiking after you pass the Gem Pool.  It’s grueling and steep, but both Adam and I were well-prepared with all the hiking and other cardio we’d done to prepare for this trip.  We were able to make the ascent without having to take a breather!  The only stop we made along the way was the side trail to check out the Gorge Waterfall.

On the climb up, we started seeing glimpses of the valley through the trees.  The majestic Mount Washington Hotel looked like a tiny red speck below.  We’d come a long way up already!  The remainder of the steep climb followed the Ammonoosuc River through the plunging ravine.  Even when we couldn’t see the water, we could hear it.

Eventually, the trail exited from the woods onto a wide rock plateau.  Above, we could see a waterfall falling in several distinct drops and below, we could see the water crashing over a steep, long drop.  We decided to take a break and enjoy the view from the rocks.  We sat for a minute taking it all in.  At that point, I noticed I didn’t see the trail continuing anywhere.  Horror dawned on me when I realized that the trail continued on the other side of the river. We saw two people cross it successfully, but I still wasn’t so sure.  The water was fast and a little deep from the rainfall the day before.  I had no idea how slick the rock under the water would be.   The crossing had just a couple feet of flat width on the downhill side before the water dropped over a 100 feet down into the ravine.  A slip at this crossing would almost surely be fatal.  I took a moment to hyperventilate and freak out, and then I plunged across.  This was followed by another ‘Phew – I’m still ALIVE’ moment.

Fighting the Wind

Adam fights the 50-60 mph winds.  Below: The hut grows increasingly tiny; Christine hikes along; There were several rock fields to cross.

Tiny Hut Christine Climbing Boulder Field

After that crossing, the hike was less steep but a lot rockier.  The trees were getting smaller and more stunted as we approached the treeline.  We could see the summits of both Mt. Washington and Mt. Monroe looming above. Lakes of the Clouds Hut was in view, but distances are so deceptive above treeline.  Everything looks so close, but it’s always further than you expect. I guess it’s a bit of an optical illusion when you don’t have trees to compare for scale.

As soon as we broke the treeline, just slightly below the hut, the wind was shockingly strong.  I was hiking in long pants and long sleeves, but I had to add my hooded jacket right away.  Even so, my face and hands were freezing!  I was sure I had packed gloves.  I usually keep a spare pair in all my backpacks, but I couldn’t find them anywhere.  I ended up paying the premium price to buy a cheap pair of gloves at the hut (only to find the spare pair of gloves in a side pocket that night when we got home).

We took a twenty minute break at the hut and enjoyed some of the baked goods made by the Croo.  Adam had pumpkin cake and I had chocolate cake.  I had my phone with me, so I decided to take a look at MapMyHike to see how we were progressing.  I found that Lakes of the Clouds actually has 3G service, so I posted an Instagram and a Facebook status from the hut.  Ah… technology! :-)

Tough Climbing

Adam pushes uphill against wind, over rocky terrain. Below: Spectacular Presidential Views; Christine has made a lot of uphill progress;  Many cairns mark the way above treeline.

Beautiful Views Progress So Many Cairns

After our snack and rest, we were ready to tackle the last mile and a half of trail to reach the Mt. Washington summit.  I can’t even describe how much I enjoyed this portion of the hike!  The climb up the Ammonoosuc ravine had been moderately scary, physically challenging and really slippery, but the hike along the Crawford Path was pure, unadulterated hiking joy!

The Crawford Path was built in the 1800’s and originally used as a horse trail to the summit of Mt. Washington. The trail celebrated its 175th anniversary in 1994 and is the oldest, continuously maintained, hiking path in America.  I felt so privileged to be walking someplace so beautiful and historic.

We spent some time exploring and photographing the glacial ponds that give Lakes of the Clouds its name.  On this particular day, the pools were sapphire blue and covered with scalloped ripples from the brisk wind.  It was spectacular and gorgeous.

We toiled along, pushing our bodies against the 50 mph winds.  The alpine terrain was breathtaking and otherworldly.  I’ve never seen mountain views like the ones I saw in New Hampshire on this trip.  Between the walk along Franconia Ridge, and then the hike along the Crawford Path, I had my mind blown twice in one week. These places should be on every American hiker’s bucket list!

Summit

We made it to the top! Below: Adam makes the last push to the summit, The Crawford Path is also the Appalachian Trail; The summit was crawling with people who had driven or taken the cog to the summit.

Nearing the Summit crawford path Crawling with People

The stretch of trail between the hut and the summit is a rock field.  Sometimes the rocks are wide and flat, sometimes they are uneven, loose and pumpkin-sized.  The trail isn’t so much a path as it is a series of cairns that keep hikers on course.

At first, the trail between the hut and Mt. Washington was pretty flat, but the final push to the summit required a little more steep climbing.  The weather station towers looked so close you could almost touch them, but it turned out they were still about a half mile away.

We could tell we were getting really close when we started seeing more and more people in jeans, sneakers and sweatshirts milling about the trail.  These were the car and train people!  Eventually the trail emptied us out onto the summit.  We passed the historic hotel-turned-museum – Tip Top House – and made our way over to the summit marker.  We actually had to wait in line with all the car and train people to have our picture taken at the summit sign.  It’s always funny to finish a hike that has a summit that can also be reached by car – Clingmans Dome comes to mind (the high point on the Appalachian Trail).

Cog Railway

The cog makes a few daily ascents/descents of Mt. Washington. Below: The crowded summit building; The Mt. Washington Hotel sits below the mountain – what a beautiful day!

Summit Building Hotel

After taking our obligatory summit photo, we grabbed some drinks and hot dogs from the summit building’s snack bar and waited in the hiker’s lounge.  My parents still hadn’t arrived, so we had about a half hour to kill.  It made me wish we actually had taken the time to do the short side-trip climb to the summit of Mt. Monroe when we had been at Lakes of the Clouds.  I just didn’t want to leave my parents waiting in case we took longer than expected.  I didn’t want them to worry more than they had to.

Every 10 minutes or so, I ran up the stairs to look for my parents.  On the third trip up, I spotted my father and my (nervous-looking) mother waiting by the death sign.  I know it sounds kind of mean to have them meet us there, but honestly, it’s the easiest ‘landmark’ to find in the summit building.  The place is so crowded that you can’t really say ‘meet me by the snack bar, museum or gift shop’.  My parents were both relieved and impressed by how quickly we’d made it to the top.

Honestly, other than the two nerve-wracking water crossings, the hike up Mt. Washington was not nearly as difficult as I expected.  The elevation gain was challenging, but I think it would be doable for most reasonably fit people.  And the walk from Lakes of the Clouds to the summit was a pure pleasure, and definitely one of my most memorable hikes ever!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.5 miles
    (Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
  • Elevation Change – About 3800 ft.
  • Difficulty – 5.  The steepness of the hike is no joke.  The winds and weather possibilities just add to the difficulty.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  The trail is well-maintained, but there were some stream crossings, loose and wet rock that made this tough in some parts.
  • Views – 5.  Once you rise above treeline you have great views of the ravine.  The view from the top of The Gorge is also nice.
  • Waterfalls/streams 5.  You get the rushing waters of the Ammonoosuc River, the Gem Pool, The Gorge waterfall, and Lakes of the Clouds.
  • Wildlife – 1. We didn’t see much other than squirrels.  Some moose have been spotted near the lower parts of the trail. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  Junctions were clearly marked.  The hike from Lakes of the Clouds to the summit could be difficult on foggy/rainy days, but follow the cairns. 
  • Solitude – 2.  On a gorgeous day, there were lots of people.  But, due to the danger of hiking this trail, that is probably a good thing to have others nearby.  We were always able though to find our own space to enjoy views.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 93, take exit 35 to merge on to US-3.  Take US-3 for 10.4 miles and then take a right onto US-302 East.  In 4.4 miles, take a left on to Base Station Road.  Follow this about 5.7 miles until you reach a large gravel parking lot on the right.  The trailhead can be found as you entered on the lefthand side of the lot.

* 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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