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Rocky Bald

November 26, 2017

Special: Smokies Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park
(while Rocky Bald is technically outside GSMNP, it’s still part of the greater Smokies region)

This hike turned out to be a fantastic “plan B” after the weather at the higher elevations turned out to be overcast and drizzly with gusting winds.  This section of Appalachian Trail was scenic with moderate grades and two nice vistas. The out-and-back route clocked in at just under six miles with 1,700′ of climbing.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Rocky Bald

The view from Rocky Bald.

Christine Says…

We initially planned to do the Blackrock Mountain hike at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but unsettled weather forced us to find an alternative hike that stayed below the cloud shelf.  We skimmed our hiking books and searched a few websites before settling on an Appalachian Trail section in Nantahala National Forest.  The hike started at Tellico Gap, which is also the trailhead for the Wesser Bald hike.  We parked our car and made our way south along the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

The terrain in this area was interesting because the road leading up to Tellico Gap had been the fire line during the cataclysmic forest fires that burned during fall 2016.  One side of the road was burned, while the other side was practically untouched.  At the parking lot, it was easy to see that the trail headed north to Wesser Bald was heavily charred and damaged, with entire hillsides of mountain laurel and rhododendron laid to waste.  Fortunately, the trail headed south from Tellico toward Rocky Bald was still green, fern-covered and lush.

Tellico Gap

The hike started at Tellico Gap. Below: Lots of snails in this lush, wet forest; Flame azalea nearing the end of its bloom; Adam walks along the Appalachian Trail.

Snail Flame Azalea 

The trail began climbing pretty quickly and steadily, as it so often does when you leave a gap. At 1.5 miles into the hike, we passed the Big Branch Campsite on the right side of the trail.  There was space for about four tents, a register log/box, a fire pit, and a water source. There are full shelters a few miles both north and south of the campsite, so I imagine the site is mostly in place to accommodate overflow during the busy thru-hiker season.

After we passed the campsite, the trail began to level out and follow a ridgeline.  In .2 miles, we reached a blue-blazed spur trail to the left leading to the viewpoint at Rocky Bald. The trail climbed for about a tenth of a mile over a wide shelf of rock before reaching another fringe of trees.  There were a few dry campsites tucked in to flat spots between the trees. At the outer edge of the line of trees, there was a rocky ledge with a log bench and an excellent vista.  There was sunshine, but there were also many fast-moving low clouds.  We weren’t sure how long the conditions would stay clear and dry, so we moved on to visit the next viewpoint.

Trailside Camp

This trailside campsite had a water source, tent space, and a log book.

The next vista was another 1.2 miles south along the Appalachian Trail.  It was all ridge walking, so the terrain was rolling and fairly easy without any big climbs or descents. Our guidebook called the next view Copper Ridge Bald.  It wasn’t really a bald.  It was just a rock jumble with a partly obstructed view. If you’re hiking for scenery, I’d probably suggest hiking to Rocky Bald and skipping the second view – it just wasn’t that impressive.  We stopped at the second view and ate lunch and watched the clouds thicken.  When we started to hear distant rumbles of thunder, we decided it was time to head back.

The return hike was quick and almost completely downhill. We flew along the trail and made it back to the car in half the time it took us to climb up.  Even though it wasn’t the day we planned, everything worked out perfectly.

Adam Says…

Christine mentioned that this was a “plan B” hike, but I thought I would elaborate on the “plan A”.  We drove for about an hour along the Blue Ridge Parkway early in the morning to get started on our hike.  However, there was heavy fog just about the entire drive up.  We got to the trailhead and pulled the car over.  I got out to try and find the trailhead, which was a challenge since at this point you could only see about ten feet in front of you.  After we finally found the trailhead, we decided to see if we could wait a bit to see if the fog would lift.  On some of these high elevations, the fog can blow over and clear out in a few minutes.  So, we waited about an hour and there was no lifting.  We knew we needed to do something else.  The week that we were in North Carolina, we felt the weather was spotty and there were lots of low hanging clouds, so we ended up doing lots of lower elevation hikes to try and embrace what nature was allowing.  So, we drove another hour and a half to get to a hike we hadn’t done yet.

Rocky Bald

Another look at the view from Rocky Bald. Below: The spur trail to Rocky Bald; Climbing the rock slab to get to the view; Nice views on the descent from Rocky Bald.

Rocky Bald Spur Trail Climbing Rocky Bald Descending Rocky Bald

We got to the Tellico Gap parking lot and it was a little more packed than we were accustomed – likely due to our now later start.  We got a parking spot and then headed south on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.  The trail was an uphill slog for the entire way to Rocky Bald, but the green and lush forest around us gave us nice scenery along the way.  After we passed the campsite to the right, we arrived at the side trail to Rocky Bald at 1.7 miles.  We took this side trail to Rocky Bald, which was a steep scramble up to the viewpoint.  The viewpoint was marked with a nice log bench to sit on and view miles of mountains in front of us through the natural window.  We took in the sites and decided to press on to Copper Ridge Bald.  We rejoined the AT and continued south.  This terrain was a fairly flat ridgeline. 1.2 miles away we reached the small overlook for Copper Ridge Bald.  There was enough space for two of us to eat a snack, but the view was not as grand since some of the area was a bit overgrown.  We questioned if we had reached the correct viewpoint so I scouted ahead and came across a hiker with his dog that said there were no viewpoints for the next bit.  So, I returned and we ate our lunch (now joined by the dog begging for scraps) at Copper Ridge Bald.  After eating, we made our way back the way we came and arrived back at our car quickly.

Ferns

The walk to the second view was pretty. Below: The second view marked in our guidebook wasn’t as nice; Stopping at Wesser Brew and BBQ for beers after our hike; It’s our favorite outdoor riverside bar.

Second View  The NOC

This was definitely a “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” hike or maybe “when nature gives you fog over high mountains, go lower” is a better description.  It wasn’t our original plan, but we had the ability to do some quick thinking and make a plan with what nature provided.  When we do a lot of hiking on our vacation trips, we usually make a list of several hikes and pick what we want to do that morning.  We didn’t have as much time to plan on this trip, so we had to do some “on the spot” planning.  While it was a bit stressful to do so, we made a great decision and were rewarded with some nice views (and beat the impending rain storm).  After the hike, we stopped at Wesser Brew and BBQ at the Nantahala Outdoor Center and enjoyed a beer under shelter by the riverside while the rain came down.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 5.8 miles, round trip,  out-and-back
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1709 feet
  • Difficulty – 3.5. The climbing is steady but always moderate.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.5. This is well-maintained, nicely graded Appalachian Trail
  • Views – 4. The views are nice, but not panoramic.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 1. There is a water source at the campsite, but there are no scenic streams or waterfalls.
  • Wildlife – 2.  Your regular assortment of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.5.  The trail is well-blazed and easy to follow.  Look for blue blazes at the spur trail to Rocky Bald.
  • Solitude – 3.  We saw a few section hikers and a few day hikers, but the trail was generally lightly trafficked.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead:   From Bryson City, follow US 19/74 for 20 miles.  Turn left on Wayah Road and follow it for five miles. Turn left on Otter Creek Road and drive 4.1 miles to Tellico Gap. The road is paved for the first 2.8 miles. At the crest of the hill, you will see the AT crossing and several parking spots.  Follow the signs to Wesser Bald and Tellico Gap.

Road to Nowhere – Goldmine Loop

September 5, 2017

Special: Smokies Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

While the Road to Nowhere is popular and well-known, the adjacent Goldmine Loop seems lightly traveled and mysterious. We had a hard time finding reliable information about the trail and did some guesswork along the route. As it turns out, it’s a beautiful, jungle-like trail that leads down to the shores of Fontana Lake. The total route ended up being 4.7 miles with a moderate amount of climbing.

View the full album of photos from this hike

Rainbow Over Fontana Lake

At the end of our hike, we enjoyed a rainbow over Fontana Lake.

Adam Says…

In early July, we made our way down to the southern end of the Smokies for a couple day stay in Bryson City, NC. There was lots of rain on and off during our trip, so we had to be strategic about timing our hiking possibilities. Our rental cabin was near a place in the Smokies called The Road to Nowhere.  This is not a Talking Heads song reference, but a road that has an interesting history. In the 1930s and 1940s, Swain County donated a lot of its private land to the federal government to help create the Fontana Lake area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hundreds of people were displaced from their homes when Old Highway 288 was covered by water after the creation of Fontana Dam.  The government promised to create a new road that would connect Bryson City to Fontana (30 miles away to the west). They began work on constructing Lakeview Drive, but came across numerous environmental issues – a study released stated that completing the road would have major, adverse, long-term impacts to topography, geology, and soils. Construction was stopped at the long, impressive tunnel that marks the beginning of this hike. The environmental issue was eventually resolved, but the road was never continued.  Ultimately in 2010, the Department of the Interior paid Swain County $52 million in lieu of finishing construction of the road.

The Road to Nowehere Tunnel

The road ends in the tunnel and you come out on trail. Below: The trailhead; Blooming Rosebay Rhododendron; The tunnel.

Trailhead Rosebay Tunnel Headlamp

The road ends at a gate before the tunnel, but before the gate there is a large parking lot on the right hand side of the road. You will see trail signs along the side of the road. We parked there, walked down the road, went around the gate, and made our way toward the tunnel. When you enter the tunnel, it will be quite dark.  We used headlamps so we could see where we were stepping but the tunnel floor was quite flat and smooth.  On the other side of the tunnel, the true Lakeshore Trail begins.  Continuing a bit further up the trail, we reached a junction at .6 miles that is the Tunnel Bypass Trail.  We took this trail which skirted alongside the hillside.  It was incredibly humid from the recent rains and my glasses were fogging up and the ground was wet in many places. It continued to drizzle on and off.

Graffitti

Graffiti in the tunnel. Below: The first trail junction; Wet trail.

Junction Wet Trail

As we walked along we could clearly hear the sound of a barred owl nearby. It remained out of sight but was moving up ahead of us on the trail.  At 1.8 miles, we reached the junction with the Goldmine Loop Trail. We took a right to get on this trail. The Goldmine Loop Trail descends for the next mile. At 2.4 miles we came to where Tunnel Branch runs alongside the trail.  It was a very picturesque stream with lots of blooming rhododendron all around. At 2.8 miles, we reached the lowest part of elevation as we came to Goldmine Branch, a larger stream that leads into the Tuckaseigee River, which is part of the larger Fontana Lake waterway. Even though this is a river, it feels very much like a lake due to the beaver dams and high water level. A short side path leads you to a serene place to enjoy a waterside view.  We continued back along the trail and our slow ascent began.  This area was very mucky from all the water near this low part of the elevation and we slogged through some mud in a few places.

Near the trail’s low point, we saw a large hog trap that was placed by the park service.  Wild hogs are destructive to the environment and have been known to be aggressive to humans.  Just a short tenth of a mile from seeing the hog trap, we noticed something crashing through the woods toward us, followed by a deep guttural sound of a wild hog.  Knowing how dangerous they are, we decided to move along quickly to leave the hog alone.  It was quite a rush and we have never heard such sounds.  At 3.2 miles, we reached a junction that leads to Campsite 67 (a site you must reserve through the GSMNP overnight camping permit system).  We passed on checking this out since it was a bit off the trail and just continued onward.  Shortly after this campsite trail, we came upon an old chimney from a home foundation. The ground was mucky and the area was heavily overgrown so we decided against checking out the site further. The trail then really began to ascend very steeply and we reached the junction with the Lakeshore Trail again at 4.1 miles. From here, we took a right on the Lakeshore Trail and then passed by the original Tunnel Bypass Trail junction just .1 mile later.  We continued back the way we came to reach the tunnel and then back to our car on the other side to make this about a 4.7 mile round trip.

Dense Rhododendron

The rhododendron thickets here are extremely dense. Below: Rhododendrons; Views of storm clouds; Pretty, lush trail.

Tons of Rosebay Storm Clouds Goldmine Loop

Christine Says…

We planned several amazing hikes for our whirlwind three-day Smokies trip… and not a single one panned out!  Stormy weather and low clouds forced us to revisit all of the high elevation hikes we considered doing. We are capable of hiking in bad weather, but when you have a trail blog you want to do your best to capture views and landmarks. We did a bit of logistical scrambling to find lower elevation hikes where views might be open beneath the cloud shelf.

The first one we settled on was the Road to Nowhere paired with the Goldmine Loop. They hike was just a few minutes from our rental cabin, so it was easy to tackle after the rain stopped in the late afternoon. We didn’t get on the trail until almost 4:00 p.m. Online and printed guides listed the trail anywhere from three to seven miles. With the long days of summer in effect, we knew we could finish a hike in that range before the sun set. We still packed headlamps… just in case! They turned out to be handy for walking through the long, dark tunnel.

Fontana Lake

Adam sits alongside the Tuckaseigee arm of Fontana Lake. Below: Another angle on the water view; A hog trap; An old homestead chimney.

Fontana Lake Hog Trap Chimney

I thought the tunnel itself was really cool. It looks relatively short to the naked eye, but when you’re inside you walk much longer than you expect. The tunnel is a full quarter mile long and produces the most excellent echoes! The amount of graffiti was disappointing and seriously – can’t people think of better things to draw than penises? There were more of those drawn than any other element of graffiti. After the tunnel, we proceeded a short way down the trail to its junction with the Tunnel Bypass Trail.

The Bypass Trail descended into ever thickening rhododendrons. By the time we reached the Goldmine Loop, I felt like we were in a veritable jungle. I would never want to get lost off-trail in an area like this. The denseness of the forest would be very disorienting.  I think the mist, the solitude, the hooting owl, the lack of good trail information, the hog sounds, and the thickness of the forest lent an eerie feeling to the entire hike. We’ve never hiked in the Smokies and seen so few people! I’ll admit, I felt a little bit uneasy on this hike. I rarely describe a hike as creepy, but this one may have approached that feeling!

I was pretty glad when the trail rejoined familiar terrain coming off the Goldmine Loop. On the return trip through the tunnel, we left our headlamps off and enjoyed the almost complete darkness. We just kept walking toward the spot of light at the far end of the tunnel. Soon we were back in the car and headed back to our little cabin in Bryson City.  On the way, we stopped at an overlook that peered down into the watershed we just hiked.  There was a gorgeous rainbow above and everything looked so peaceful below.  It definitely didn’t feel eerie from above!

Trail Notes

  • Distance –4.7 miles
    (Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
    About a half mile of tracking was lost in the tunnel.
  • Elevation Change – About 1371 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  The ground conditions made it a little tough and there was a steep ascent before we rejoined the Lakeshore Trail.
  • Trail Conditions –2.  The trail was fairly well maintained, but the mucky conditions made for some times where we slogged along the trail at the lower elevations.
  • Views – 1.  We did get a few obstructed views alongside the Tunnel Bypass Trail, but nothing much mentioning.  Along the road leading up to the trail, there is a nice view of Fontana Lake alongside the road.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 4.  There were some nice stream views along the way and the mountain laurel created some extra scenery.
  • Wildlife – 4.  This particular loop isn’t particularly well traveled, so don’t be surprised to find some wildlife.  The wild hog encounter definitely gives this a higher score for us.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.  We had a hard time due to the lack of knowledge out there about the trail system.  Hopefully, the map we are providing will help.
  • Solitude – 4.  After we went through the tunnel, we only saw a few other people on the hike.  This could be due to the recent rains, but this isn’t a popular area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park except for local populations.

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: From the center of Bryson City, NC head north on Everett Street.  Everett Street becomes Fontana Road.  Fontana Road becomes Lakeview Drive.  Follow Lakeview Drive until you arrive at the parking lot before the road that closes off this Road to Nowhere, about 8.5 miles away from the center of Bryson City.  Park in the parking lot and continue on foot up the road leading to the tunnel.

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

Appalachian Trail – Black Horse Gap to Daleville

August 20, 2017

This 13.7 mile stretch of Appalachian Trail is mostly a walk through ‘the green tunnel’. There isn’t any grand or memorable scenery, but as you approach Troutville, there are some pretty rolling meadows with mountain views.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Black Horse Gap to Daleville

Adam walks along the Appalachian Trail. Below: We had lunch and beers at the brand new east-coast Ballast Point before setting off on our hike; Amazing Trail Angel, Molly, met us for lunch and gave us a ride; Glimpses of views through the trees.

Ballast Point Molly the Trail Angel Glimpse of a View

Christine Says: Day One – Blackhorse Gap to Trailside Campsite (4.2 miles)

Download a Day One Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats *

For quite a while, we’ve had this  13.7 mile section of trail standing out as ‘unhiked’ in the almost 360 mile unbroken stretch of Appalachian Trail we’ve completed so far.  The section between Black Horse Gap and Daleville doesn’t offer any great scenery, so we never felt rushed to get out there and tackle the miles. Doing it as a day hike would have required four hours of driving and a shuttle service. The logistics of hiking it seemed like a hassle, so we filed it under ‘later’.

In late June, Adam and I were driving into work together and making weekend plans.  It went something like this…

Adam: What do we have planned for the weekend?
Me: Nothing. Want to hike?
Adam: What’s the weather like?
Me: Gorgeous!
Both: Hey… let’s backpack that odd section we have left to finish!

After making the decision to go, plans fell quickly into place. Our pet sitter was available. We had plenty of trail food left from our Maryland hike. Then, after a chat on Facebook, my friend Molly said she could shuttle us! The final icing on the cake was the fact that the new east coast Ballast Point brewery had just opened in Daleville. On Saturday, we met Molly at Ballast Point and had lunch before hitting the trail. People may go to the Ballast Point for the beer, but they’ll walk away remembering the great food.  I had the best kale-quinoa-avocado chicken salad.  I still daydream about it a month later.

After lunch, we left our car at Valley Cleaners in Daleville and Molly drove us to our start point at Black Horse Gap. I’ve been online friends with Molly for a while, but this was our first in-person meeting. She was just like I imagined she would be – friendly, enthusiastic, outdoorsy, and all-around awesome! I love all the people I’ve met through the Appalachian Trail community! We said our good-byes at the trailhead. Adam and I headed south, descending gradually but steadily.

Wilson Creek Shelter

We reached Wilson Creek shelter really quickly. It was too early to stop and make camp, so we decided to push on and find a trailside campsite. Below: Wilson Creek; We found a nice campsite along a small, unnamed stream; Cards at camp.

Wilson Creek Our Campsite Camp Games

The trail was really narrow and built into the shoulder of the mountainside. In 2.4 miles, we reached Wilson Creek shelter. It was only 2:00, but there were already a few hikers at the shelter, settled in for the night. We asked a couple northbounders if they’d passed any nice trailside campsites in their last few miles. Everyone said they remembered sites, but not specifically how far away they might be. Adam and I decided to continue hiking and gamble on finding a place to camp somewhere in the next couple miles.

After the shelter we decended another half mile down to Wilson Creek. There was a campsite, but it was literally right on the trail, so we kept hiking.  After crossing Wilson Creek, we had a bit of uphill for about a mile. It wasn’t tough uphill, but it was still tiring in the mid-afternoon heat and humidity. At 4.2 miles, we reached an unnamed stream marked in our AWOL guidebook.  There was an established campsite a couple hundred feet off the trail.  It was the perfect site for the night – flat and close to water.

We set up camp, collected water, and spent the afternoon playing cards.  We cooked dinner and spent the evening talking and reading. Before it got too dark, we set off to find a perfect tree for our bear hang. it turned out to be the one thing our otherwise perfect site was lacking.  We did the best we could with a branch that was a little bit low and flimsy.  Sometimes you just have to settle for the best possible option and hope that determined bears stay away from your campsite.

We got into the tent around 8:30, just as the woods were getting dark. It was a warm and sticky night, so we left the vent and the rainfly wide open. We both left our sleeping bags home on this trip and used lightweight quilts instead. It was a good decision and we both stayed warm (maybe a bit too warm) during the night. We eventually drifted off to the sound of distant owls and whippoorwills.

Adam Says: Day Two – Trailside Campsite to Daleville (9.5 miles)

Download a Day Two Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats *

The next morning, we ate breakfast, packed up camp, and were back on the trail in under an hour. We had a very steep but short section of uphill to climb to start things off. We were breathing deep, but we quickly reached the apex of the hill just about .2 miles in. The trail descended just as steeply and we arrived at Curry Creek at .8 miles. At the creek, there was a Curry Creek Trail to the west of the trail, but stay on the white-blazed AT. From the reliable water source of Curry Creek, we began to climb again up another steep section of trail. At the 1.9 mile mark, we reached an area where the trail then began to descend again. The trail descended for about a mile and then rose up again with a steep climb to reach the junction with the Fullhardt Knob Shelter at 4.4 miles. We took the side trail for .1 miles to reach the shelter. We stopped and ate a snack here, knowing that most of the climbing was behind us.

Trail Curves

The Appalachian Trail climbed the mountain on a series of curves and switchbacks. Below: We saw a lot of views through the trees; Crossing Curry Creek; A whitetail deer watching us from the woods.

More Glimpses Curry Creek Whitetail

While we were at the shelter, we were joined by a couple that was working on section hiking the AT and we enjoyed talking about some of the things we had both seen along sections of the trail. At the shelter, there is a privy and a cistern behind the shelter to get water (water should still be treated before drinking). We were good on water, so after relaxing a few minutes, we pushed on. We rejoined the AT at 4.6 miles and began our big descent.  The trail had a few switchbacks on the way down and it was rather steep in sections. We came across a sign stating that the trail soon passes through private lands and to stay on the trail. At 6.5 miles, we passed through a fence, beginning the start of some of these private lands.  We had a short bump to climb before we reached VA 652/Mountain Pass Road at 6.8 miles. This bump however was the prettiest part of the trail as you ascend over a large field and have nice mountain and farmland views all around you from the top. A few tenths of a mile later, we went through another fence stile.  We then crossed over another road, over train tracks and then US 11.  At 7.6 miles, we passed underneath I-81 by walking on VA 779 underneath the interstate.

Ascent Toward Fullhardt Knob

There were a couple moderate climbs in the morning.

Firepink Blueberries Fullhardt Knob Shelter
Shelter Log Mossy Private Lands

The sun was hot and beating down on us. We were desperately hoping to find some shade, but most of the hike from here on is out in the open. We were at least glad we got an early start. The trail ascended to the left after the overpass and led us through a grassy swath of land that cut through some of the brushy area around it. Around the 9.5 mile area, we finally arrived at US 220 and Daleville, Va. We crossed the road to get back to our car that we had left at Valley Cleaners. When we got back to the car, it was right around noon.  Whenever we go through Daleville around lunch, we always stop at Three Li’l Pigs barbecue.  We were hot, tired, and hungry so it was a great place to cool down and eat some amazing food. Our waitress could see that we were hikers and we talked to her about what we were doing. While we chatted, she brought us an endless stream of Diet Dr. Pepper refills. She said she was hoping to do some AT hiking, but hadn’t decided if she wanted to do a section or the entire thing.  As we continued to stuff our faces, she came over with a bowl of banana pudding. She told us that AT hikers get a complimentary serving of banana pudding. While I think this is more intended for thru-hikers, we didn’t turn it down!

Open Hills

The open meadows near Troutville were beautiful. Below: Posing at the road crossing; Open views from the meadow’s high point; Crossing the train tracks.

AT Pose Mountain Views Train Tracks

We then decided to bookend the trip with another visit to Ballast Point. We got to sample a few beers before we had started, but since they had over 20 on tap, we decided to get sample pours of a couple of others.  We then made our way back home. We were very glad to finish this section of elusive trail.

Home Stretch into Daleville

The home stretch into Daleville. Below: The I-81 underpass; More open meadows before Daleville; Piney woods.

I81 Underpass Open Meadows Piney

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 13.7 miles
  • Elevation Change – 2810 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.  This was a pretty easy backpacking route.  The switchbacks early on day two were pretty long and steep, but it was the only challenging part of the hike.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in typical Appalachian Trail shape for this part of Virginia – well maintained and nicely graded.
  • Views  2.  The rolling meadows near Troutville were lovely.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 0.  This is a quite dry stretch of trail. There is a small, low-flow spring at Bobblets Gap and a seasonal stream at Bearwallow Gap. There is NO WATER SOURCE at the Cove Mountain Shelter, so plan ahead.
  • Wildlife – 3.  We saw several deer. At night we heard a barred owl and several distant whippoorwills.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The trail is well marked and easy to follow. There are road crossings, but the white blazes are easy to follow in most places.
  • Solitude – 3.  We actually saw very few people on this hike considering the beautiful weather and its proximity to the parkway.  

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

Directions to trailhead: We parked our end point car at Valley Cleaners in Daleville.  It’s along  Route 220 where the Appalachian Trail crosses.  Please ask the cleaners for permission to park here and park where they tell you to.  Parking here is a courtesy provided to hikers that can be rescinded at any time if people take advantage.  Coordinates for the dry cleaners are: 37.393538, -79.906817.  From there, we took a shuttle to Black Horse Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Coordinates for the hike’s start point are: 37.424611, -79.757202. Head right and start on the trail.

Appalachian Trail – Maryland

June 27, 2017

This 42-mile Appalachian Trail segment traverses the state of Maryland  – starting at PenMar Park and heading south to Harpers Ferry.  The section generally consists of easy terrain with a few moderate, rocky stretches.  We enjoyed taking our time hiking over five days of beautiful views and interesting history. Ambitious hikers can definitely cover Maryland in less time, but a leisurely pace seems to suit this section with so much to see!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Maryland Appalachian Trail

Our last nice view on the fifth day of hiking came atop Weverton Cliffs.

Adam Says: Day One – PenMar to Raven Rocks (4.8 miles)
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We started our day off at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The HFNHP allows you to leave a car overnight for up to 14 days. Knowing the limited parking in the area, we decided to take advantage of this service. We paid the fee and completed the form for overnight parking. Our friend Anthony offered to shuttle us up to PenMar Park, named because it sits right on the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland. He dropped us off across from PenMar park at the overnight parking lot. We thanked him and set off. We weren’t entirely sure where the Appalachian Trail crossed the park, but we made our way past a kiosk and soon came upon a nice overlook with a pavilion, a sign showing the split of the AT, and restrooms. We took a few minutes to enjoy the view and hit the restrooms before we started. We headed south on the white-blazed AT, which soon ducked into a wooded area. The trail looked flat and soft. We had heard how nice the AT was in Maryland and we were hoping this would stay this way. There were pink azaleas blooming alongside the trail and we were excited to take on this section. Soon, there was a sign to the left of the trail showing the AT going uphill. We took this left and we had a short uphill.  In just a short distance, the trail turned into a rocky mess. There were large boulders and the trail became very hard to follow with limited blazes. I was leading the way and trying to go with leaves that were more trampled underfoot to be the sign that we were still on the trail. There were a few times that we got off the trail for a few feet (Christine found a sweet pair of mirrored sunglasses on one of our ‘detours’), but we managed to find a white blaze by looking around to get back on the trail. Through a lot of the rocky area, the trail seemed to be marked by small ground flags rather than blazes.

Day One: Maryland

The graffitti covered viewpoint at High Rock offers a great view of farmland. Below: Our start point at PenMar; The climb up to High Rock was very rugged and rocky; The hang glider launch.

Day One: Starting at PenMar Day One: Rocky Trail Day One: High Rock

Around 2.2 miles, we reached a very steep section of rocks to traverse. At 2.8 miles, our climbing ended and we reached a junction where you can take a side trail that leads to High Rock. Knowing we could loop right back to the AT, it was an easy decision to check this out. In just a tenth of a mile, we came to a road and parking lot that led to the High Rock overlook. My first thought when approaching it was disgust from all the graffiti. However, this overlook is so covered in graffiti that it almost approaches art – clearly the idea of “take only pictures, leave only footprints” is alien to the people that contributed to this. The view from High Rock, which also serves as a hang gliding launch, was gorgeous and the scenery with the graffiti made for some interesting photos.  We then put our packs back on and found the spur trail that joined back to the other side of the Appalachian Trail. In a tenth of a mile, we were back on the AT to continue our journey.

The trail was relatively flat for the rest of the day and we reached a junction that led us west for a tenth of a mile to the Raven Rock Shelter at 4.8 miles, our stop for the night. It was still in the early afternoon, but we were trying to have an easier first day. We were the first ones there and found a great campsite just a few hundred feet away from the shelter. There were tent pads and a circle of benches with our own fire pit and picnic table. While Christine and Kris started working on getting things set up at camp, I trekked off to the water source. The water was located about .4 miles away down a steep path a little over .3 miles from the junction in the opposite direction from the shelter. It was tough to haul a bucket of water back up the trail and back to camp, but I didn’t want to go multiple trips to carry what we needed for the night and next morning. We highly recommend the Sea to Summit ultra-sil bucket for collecting water to use at camp. It weighs next to nothing and saves you from making multiple trips.

Day One: Raven Rocks

Raven Rocks Shelter and its nearby campsites are beautiful and spacious. Below: Pinxter azaleas were abundant along the trail; Fly Girl (Kris) reads and signs the shelter log; It was a cold night, so we all enjoyed the campfire.

Day One: Azaleas Day One: Signing the Log Day One: Campfire

We finished setting up camp and took some time to read through the shelter log. It wasn’t long before others started arriving at camp. There were probably close to 15 other people there by the end of the evening. Little did we know that most of these people were with us for the rest of the journey. There were nine others that had started on the same day as us and were doing the exact same trip, at the same exact pace. We kept to ourselves for the night and enjoyed a nice campfire before the freezing temperatures set in for the night.

Christine Says: Day Two – Raven Rocks to Pogo Memorial Campsite (9.8 miles)
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Our second day started with a very frigid morning. None of us wanted to get out of our tents, preferring to stay warm and snug in our down sleeping bags. But, we had a ten mile hike to our next camp stop and wanted to get an early start. After coffee and two packets of oatmeal each, we packed up and headed out of camp. In .7 of a mile, we reached the rocky outcropping known as Raven Rock Cliff. The view was partially obstructed, but offered a nice peek at expansive farmland in the distance. From there, the trail descended through a boulder jumble to Raven Rock Road and Little Antietam Creek. The logbook at the last shelter had indicated that the creek had been hip-high rapids the day before, so we were exceedingly relieved to find the water level had come back down to an ankle deep rock-hop. A lot of the stepping stones were underwater, so we all took a minute to change into our Crocs for the crossing. After crossing, we climbed up and down a steep knob in the terrain. This is a common feature of the Appalachian Trail called a ‘PUD’ or a pointless up and down. Basically, something steep that seems to serve no purpose and offers no scenery. At two miles into our hike we reached Warner Hollow, where we crossed another small stream. This one had a double plank laid across the water as a bridge. The boards were halfway submerged, but still offered enough footing to cross without having to take our shoes off again.

Day Two: Crossing Little Antietam Creek

Just a few days earlier, this stream was hip-deep rapids. Below: The view from Raven Rocks Cliffs; One of several meadow crossings; Ensign Cowall.

Day Two: Raven Rocks View Day Two: Fields 

After Warner Hollow, the trail ascends steadily uphill through varied terrain for 1.8 miles. We passed under powerlines and back into the woods for a surprisingly rocky section. The trail was covered with slabs of stone and followed a small cliffside for a short while. We passed an abandoned Big Agnes tent sitting about 15 feet off the trail. From the wear and tear on the tent, we could tell it had been left in the woods for quite a while. It was a bit eerie and none of us chose to look inside. The trail crossed a pretty, open meadow before reaching Foxville Road, at  3.6 miles into the day’s hike. On the other side of Foxville Road, we found a crate full of gallon jugs of fresh, filtered water. In a state known for its tendency to run dry, clean water is a welcome form of trail magic. We weren’t sure what the water source would be like at our lunch stop (it was described as a ‘somewhat stagnant boxed spring’), so we all topped off with enough water to get us through a few more miles. At five miles into the day, we reached our mid-day rest-stop at Ensign Cowall Shelter. It was early, but we decided to go ahead and eat lunch. Adam and I brought a few Packit Gourmet meals for lunches on this trip, including their Smoked Cheddar-Jack Cheese Spread. It rehydrated with just two ounces of cold water. The spread was both convenient and delicious. We enjoyed it on some brioche crisps we brought from Trader Joe’s. As it turned out, lunch also came with some entertainment! We met Pennsylvania brothers and section hikers, Blackbeard and Weird Harold. Then we met thru-hikers Wonder Woman and Peace Walker, who serenaded the group with a ukelele. We always meet the most interesting people at shelters.

After lunch, we had a short and rather steep climb uphill to Wolfsville Road. After crossing the road, our AWOL Guide showed a flat walk for the last 4.8 miles to camp. What the guide did not indicate was how rocky the trail would be. It said there would be lots of poison ivy, but not a word about the jumble of ankle-turners that comprised most of the trail. It was slow-going over mostly exposed terrain. Adam and Kris paused to de-layer to cooler clothing, but I decided to keep my long sleeves and tights as sun protection. There really wasn’t much interesting to see along this section of trail – lots of pink ladyslipper flowers being the exception. We marched along, passing the miles, until we finally reached our stop for the second night – Pogo Memorial Campsite.

Lady's Slipper

One of the many pink lady’s slippers we saw along the trail. Below: Much of the day covered rocky terrain along a ridge; There were big rocks and little rocks; Our camp at Pogo Memorial.

Day Two: Maryland Rocks  Day Two: Camp at Pogo Memorial

Pogo does not have a shelter or a bear pole/cables, but it has a privy, a water source, and tons of tent sites. None of the tent sites are particularly flat and there aren’t a lot of suitable trees for making a bear hang. We figured bigger groups would take the large areas close to the trail and the privy. Also, the privy at this site was especially foul, so we wanted to put a lot of distance between us and the smell. Our spot was at the upper reaches of the campsite and had a nice firepit with a bench. It was still a shabby site compared to the luxuries of Raven Rock, but we made do!  Pogo was definitely my least favorite camp stop on the trip.

We had lots of time to relax at camp, so we collected firewood, filtered water, and chatted. As the afternoon went on, more and more people filed into camp, including a huge group of teachers and students from an alternative program high school. They were loud and active, so I was even more glad we had selected a site near the back of the tent area.  The second night was cool, but not frigid like the prior night.  We stayed up a bit later, talking and tinkering with the campfire. As the sky darkened, we retreated to our tents to get some rest for day three.

Adam Says: Day Three – Pogo Memorial Campsite to Dahlgren Backpack Campground (10 miles)
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Day Three was probably the highlight of the trip.  We started off our morning early, but there were still others that beat us out of camp. The hike started off by heading uphill. In just .2 miles, we crossed over Black Rock Creek. At .6 miles, to the left of the trail was a short scramble that took us to a small overview called Black Rock Cliffs where there were a couple of rocks to sit on to take in the view. From here we continued on the AT for a flat section and came up to a junction at 1.6 miles for Annapolis Rocks. We took this side trail that led us past a large caretakers tent (someone who monitors the activity here and can call for assistance) and then past a series of other backcountry campsites.  At .25 miles off the trail, we came to the magnificent viewpoint known as Annapolis Rocks. When we arrived, there was a group of students that were learning how to rock climb (Annapolis Rocks being a popular destination for Maryland rock climbing). Not so ironically, there was also a group of firefighters that were up there to train on how to rescue someone that had fallen. It was interesting to talk to them to see how they prepare and see the equipment needed to attempt a rescue. People have died from falling at this spot, so please be careful. The large cliffsides of Annapolis Rocks provides some stunning views and the rock jutting out over a canvas of trees makes this quite the picturesque spot.  Annapolis Rocks is an extremely popular day hike; while you may see lots of people, the rock edge is large enough where you will likely be able to find an unobstructed view.

Day Three: Annapolis Rocks

We enjoyed spectacular views from Annapolis Rocks. Below: Tearing down our campsite at Pogo; Christine on Black Rock Cliffs; The trail was a wide, flat road.

Day Three: Breaking Down Camp Day Three: Black Rock Cliffs Day Three: Easy Trail

After taking a long break at Annapolis Rocks, we headed back to the AT junction to bring our total up to 2.1 miles. We took a right and continued south on the AT. The trail continued to be flat and we came across a PATC volunteer that was doing some trail work. We thanked him for his hard work and continued on. The trail started to descend about a mile after Annapolis Rocks and at 3.7 miles we reached the junction with the Pine Knob Shelter. The shelter was just .1 off of the trail, so we decided to explore it.  Pine Knob Shelter has campsites around it, a privy, and reliable water (a piped spring is next to the shelter). We returned to the AT junction the way we came for another .1 miles to take us up to 3.9 total miles. The trail sloped downhill and then we came to the I-70 footbridge, an ivy-covered footbridge over the interstate.  It made me sad to see all of these people flying by in their rat race of a hectic life when I was out here enjoying the tranquility of nature.  These moments always make me feel lucky that I can have these moments to get away from it all. After we crossed over I-70, we had a short uphill climb.  At 4.1 miles, we passed through a junction with the Bartman Hill Trail (which made me think of the old Simpsons song, “Do the Bartman”) and at 4.5 miles, the AT passes through a residential area.

The trail was relatively flat for the next bit and then had a short climb down until we reached some power lines at 6.3 miles. From the power lines, we had a steep climb up for about .3 miles until we reached a side trail for the first Washington Monument. We took this short side trail and were at the monument in just .1 miles.  This Washington Monument was completed in 1827 and is a 40 foot stone tower that overlooks the area. You can climb to the top through a winding, dark (and somewhat creepy) spiral staircase. After getting a few pictures, we decided this was a perfect spot to have lunch.  We sat down and chatted with a couple that we had been camping near the last few nights and finally had a chance to introduce ourselves. They were from Florida and were enjoying this section as much as we were.

Day Three: The Original Washington Monument

This was the first monument built to honor George Washington.  Below: Fly Girl signs the logbook at Pine Knob Shelter; We cross the I-70 footbridge; A nice view from the Washington Monument.

Day Three: Pine Knob Shelter Day Three: Crossing the Interstate Day Three: View from Washington Monument

After leaving the Washington Monument, we rejoined the AT and started to head down a steep trail. On the left of the trail were signs that detailed some moments of George Washington’s life and career as the first President of the U.S.  We were getting the story in reverse, but it was a good way to refresh on history that I had long forgotten. At the bottom of the hill, we reached Washington Monument State Park. We were able to take advantage of a water pump next to the trail to refill our water bladders and restroom facilities were just a short walk away. The trail descended to the left down the edge of the park and crossed the park road before re-entering the woods. We crossed Monument Road at 7.1 miles and then had another climb through open forest. The sun was quite hot, but it was a pretty scene. The trail then continued downward on a steady descent and we passed by Dahlgren Chapel. The Chapel is a picturesque church that was built in the late 1800s by Madeline Dahlgren, wife of Admiral John Dahlgren. We reached Turners Gap Road and saw the Old South Mountain Inn directly across.

Day Three: Dahlgren Chapel

Dahlgren Chapel is a beautiful spot. There is a great view right behind the chapel, too. Below: At the last road crossing before our campsite, we passed the Old South Mountain Inn; At dinner time we hiked back and ate crabcakes, filet mignon, creme brulee, and wine; After dinner we walked back to our campsite at Dahlgren Backpack Campground.

Day Three: Old South Mountain Inn Day Three: Fine Dining Day Three: Walking Back to Dahlgren

Once we crossed the road, we followed the AT for just a few tenths of a mile before we came to the Dahlgren Backpack Campground off to the right of the trail. The campground had several gravel pads to pitch a tent with a picnic table and firepit at each site. At the campground there are also bathrooms with free showers and a tap for water at the back of the building. There are also outlets to charge your electronic devices. We set up camp and then had decided to go to Old South Mountain Inn for dinner.  They allow hikers to visit as long as they shower and men don’t wear tanktops. So, after taking showers we walked up to the inn as soon as they opened. The staff were very hiker-friendly and put us in a comfortable sunroom. We were joined by our Florida hiking companions and sat down to a meal with crabcakes, filet mignon, wine, beer, and creme brulee for dessert. Sorry, Mountain House dehydrated meals, you lose to this fine dining. We stuffed our bellies and then made our way back to camp. We played a round of Rage, a fun card game of betting on tricks you will win, before hanging our smell-ables on a nearby bear hang and retiring for the night. What a wonderful day on the trail! We knew heavy rain was in the forecast for our fourth day, so we went to bed feeling a touch anxious about the next day’s plan.

Christine Says: Day Four – Dahlgren Backpack Campground to Gathland State Park (6.8 miles)
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Ah… it was a deluge!  Everyone who had camped at Dahlgren was awake and stirring before it was fully light.  People were skipping their cooked breakfasts and packing gear as quickly as possible, in hopes of beating the impending rain. We stuffed our faces with peanut butter pie cookies and were packed and hiking before 7:00 a.m. We all decided to start with packcovers on and rain gear within easy reach. It was a good plan, because the downpour started before we’d even made it a mile out of camp. At .8 miles, we crossed Reno Monument Road.  More appropriate to a nice, sunny day, there’s a homemade ice cream shop (South Mountain Creamery) just .2 miles east of the trail. I might be the world’s biggest ice cream fan, but even I don’t want it on a wet, windy, 48 degree day.

After crossing the road, we had a one mile gradual uphill climb to Rocky Run Shelters. Typically, we stop at every shelter to report on the facilities, but my camera was stowed away in my dry bag, and no one wanted to add the extra .4 mile round trip on to go visit the shelters. Notice I said shelter(s)? Rocky Run actually has two separate structures. One is a traditional old log and mud shelter and the other is a new shelter similar to the one at Raven Rock. Reportedly, the old shelter has a more reliable water source.

Day Four: Oh No

Day four was a deluge! We ended up calling the day short at Gathland State Park The photo above is the War Correspondent’s Arch. Below: We left camp early with pack covers on; The last dry moment came in the first half mile of hiking; Thank goodness for a picnic shelter.

Day Four: Pack Covers On Day Four: The Last Dry Moment Day Four: Picnic Shelter

After passing the spur trail to the shelter, we had another 1.4 mile climb up to Lambs Knoll. We crossed the paved Lambs Knoll Road and ascended the mountain. We saw a small sign indicating a side trail to visit a view tower. We were in dense fog and pouring rain, so we made a collective ‘nope!’ to visiting the view. Another .2 miles past the tower, there was another view at White Rock Cliff. It was all fog and rain, so we kept moving along the trail. It’s amazing how fast you can hike when it’s cold and wet and there’s nothing to see! After White Rock Cliff, we had a gradual 3.2 mile descent to Crampton Gap Shelter. The descent followed a rocky ridgeline. It would probably have been beautiful on a nicer day. Kris and Adam were moving a bit slower due to the slippery footing. I wanted to go faster to stay warmer, so I pressed ahead. Being cold and wet is one of my outdoor fears (just behind Lyme Disease), so I was doing everything I could to keep my blood pumping. At the spur to Crampton Gap Shelter, we discussed altering our plans for the day. Our goal was to make it to Ed Garvey Shelter (4.1 miles ahead on the trail). It was only 9:45 in the morning, so we knew we’d be there by lunch. We also discussed whether or not we really wanted to spend all day holed up in our tents or the shelter. The alternative would have been a long, cold, miserable, viewless 18 mile day into Harpers Ferry. We agreed to give the matter some thought and re-discuss it when we reached the picnic shelter at Gathland State Park.

Gathland is just .4 miles past Crampton Gap Shelter, and we arrived a little after 10:00 a.m. The park is the former estate of George ‘Gath’ Townsend, a war correspondent during the American Civil War. Visitors can tour the grounds and see the ruins of his mansion, a mausoleum, a museum, and the War Correspondent’s Arch. The park also has a picnic pavilion, which became our refuge from the rain. At our stop, we collectively decided that we didn’t want to spend the day hunkered down in a shelter with tons of other hikers. But, we also didn’t want to hike 18 miles or miss the views from Weverton Cliffs. Fortunately, there is cell phone service along most of the AT in Maryland, so I was able to call the Teahorse Hostel in Harpers Ferry. We asked their shuttle service to pick us up at Gathland and take us into town for the night. We decided to rent bunks in their hostel and finish our last 12 miles the next day (which was forecast to have much better weather.) It was a great decision.

After we got settled into our hostel, we ate at Mena’s Pizza. Below: Scenes from the Teahorse Hostel in Harpers Ferry.

Day Four: Teahorse Day Four: Teahorse Day Four: Teahorse

Within twenty minutes, the three of us were all loaded into a toasty warm Honda and motoring into Harpers Ferry. Since we were so cold and wet, the hostel proprietor let us into the bunkroom before check-in. The hostel was cozy, comfortable, and very clean! We had a chance to shower, wash our muddy clothes, and get warm. While Kris and I showered, the shuttle driver took Adam over to Harpers Ferry Historical Park where we had left our car. The hostel invited us to leave our car in their parking lot so we could slackpack (hike without our heavy camping/cooking gear) our final day.

Our day at the hostel was a lot of fun! It was a full house because of the rain, so we met lots of other hikers. We had good meals at a couple different Harpers Ferry restaurants, relaxed, and had a Connect-4 Tournament. Adam took a couple thru-hikers to WalMart to resupply. During the course of the evening, we reflected several times on how glad we were to not be sitting in a cold, wet shelter. Staying at the hostel turned out to be the perfect fun surprise to mix-up our hiking plan.

Adam Says: Day Five – Gathland State Park to Harpers Ferry (10.8 miles)
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The next morning we were treated to breakfast of waffles, coffee, orange juice, and fresh bananas by the hostel staff. We had arranged for a shuttle back to the trail at 8:00 a.m., (accompanied by thru-hiker Norseman who wanted to take advantage of some easy slackpack miles back to the hostel). We left our car at Teahorse Hostel so we could slackpack back to our car. Getting dropped back at Gathland State Park, we were able to see some of the surrounding buildings that we could barely make out in the downpour and fog the previous day. The trail crossed from the pavilion where we had ‘evacuated’ the trail the previous day. It passed by a few historical buildings before ducking into the woods. The trail was fairly muddy and beat up from the previous day of hard rain. Our thoughts were filled with curiousity about how the rest of our fellow section-hikers were doing. We were worried about how everyone held up because we felt some of the group was struggling even before we added the extra challenge of bad weather.

Day Five: Gorgeous

Hiking in the green, foggy forest was amazing! Below: More history at Gathland State Park; Hiking into the fog; Ed Garvey Shelter.

Day Five: Back at Gathland Day Five: Hiking Day Five: Ed Garvey

The trail was fairly flat for most of the day. We reached Brownsville Gap and 1.9 miles and then continued on a flat, but gorgeous green trail through the woods until we came to the Ed Garvey Shelter at 3.7 miles. We ran into a pair of siblings that were the last to leave the shelter and we asked about the other groups we had met on our section. Almost everyone had stayed there the previous night, but it sounded like everybody hunkered down grimly in their tents and had a rough night. They told us that one family we had met, the parents had bailed out and called for a ride into Harpers Ferry while the sons continued on (they were thinking about hiking parts of the AT in sections as a family). I guess everyone’s spirits were beaten down from the weather, which made us feel guilty for a brief second that we had made the call to get to the hostel and enjoy showers and hot food. The Ed Garvey shelter is a two-story shelter that had an AT symbol formed out of the railings in the loft looking down from the top story. We signed the log, ate a quick snack and then continued. A short time away, we ran into Medicine Man, one of the AT thru-hikers that stayed with us at Teahorse Hostel and had started early to go northbound for the day. Medicine Man was a retired pharmacist (fitting trail name) and one of the most genuine, friendly people you will meet. We wished him luck for the remainder of his hike and continued on. At 5.8 miles, we had caught up to the siblings at the junction with the side trail to Weverton Cliffs. The side trail led down a couple of tenths of a mile down to a large outcropping that overlooks the Potomac River. We could soon hear the sounds of a train going by below us. While the day was hazy and a bit cloudy, we enjoyed watching the river flow below us. This was the last of our scenic views, so we stayed here a while to capture some memories and reflect on all we had done so far.

Day Five: Weverton Cliffs

Enjoying the view of the Potomac. Below: Walking the C&O Towpath; Crossing the pedestrian bridge into old town Harpers Ferry; A view of all the historical buildings.

Day Five: Towpath Day Five: Crossing the Potomac Day Five: Harpers Ferry Oldtown

The remaining “home stretch” of the trip consisted of us rejoining the AT and then hiking down a steep section of switchbacks until we came down to Weverton Road at 6.2 miles. We crossed the road and followed the white blazes until it joined the C&O canal towpath, a converted rails-to-trails biking and walking path. We turned right on the perfectly flat, C&O towpath which coincides with the AT to Harpers Ferry. This part of the hike was honestly a bit boring as we were walking on a wide fire road for miles. On the right, we had a passenger train pass by us, with people waving to us like they were wishing us bon voyage or gawking at us like we were novelty safari animals. On the left we soon came to scattered views of the Potomac River. The water was high from all the rain, but there wasn’t much activity on the river. Driving through this area to visit family, we often see kayaks or whitewater rafts on the river, but I’m sure the water was too dangerous for those escapades. At long last, we finally reached the edge of Harpers Ferry at 8.8 miles. We climbed up a staircase and crossed over the Potomac River via the Byron Memorial Footbridge, marking the border between Maryland and West Virginia.  When we reached the other side of the footbridge, we came to another AT sign and then came into what is known as the historic Old Town part of Harpers Ferry.  The trail walks you right by John Brown’s fort, the site where John Brown and several of his followers barricaded themselves inside in 1859 to initiate a rebellion against slavery in his famous raid.

Beautiful St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church is in old town Harpers Ferry. Below: We were surprised that the trail went back into the woods after old town; At the Appalachian Trail Conservancy; Of course, we ended with beers.

Day Five: Back Into the Woods Day Five: At the ATC Day Five: Of Course - Beers

After the fort, the trail is marked by white blazes carved into lightposts through town. Much to our dismay, the AT through Harpers Ferry has you going continually upward over many steep stairs. We passed by St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and went inside to see this quaint but stunning church that was built in 1833. It was the only church to survive destruction in the Civil War. From here the trail then skirts a hillside until you reach Jefferson Rock at 9.3 miles, a rock named because Thomas Jefferson stood here in 1783 and noted “this view is worth a voyage across the Atlantic”. I don’t know if I would personally agree with him today, but it is a spot to see the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers join. From here, we had more climbing to do until we finally reached a spur trail that led us to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (marked on the sign as the Appalachian Trail Visitor Center). The trail goes through the campus of Storer College, a school that was founded originally as a freedmen’s school to educate black people and once had Frederick Douglass as a trustee. The school was shut down due to funding cuts in 1954, but you can learn about its history on plaques throughout the campus.

We stopped by the ATC and Kris got her section hiker picture taken. We then had about a mile more to walk before we reached Teahorse Hostel and our car. It was a long day, but we felt so accomplished. We drove into to Frederick, MD to eat some celebratory barbecue at Black Hog and then met up with Anthony (who provided our shuttle to start our hike) and his wife, Suzanne, at Flying Dog Brewery. We toasted with beers as we recounted our journey to our friends. It was a wonderful several days on the trail that gave us so many memories that we will remember for some time. While our mileage may seem like child’s play to thru-hikers, we felt accomplished that we had knocked off an entire state in one fell swoop. Some AT thru-hikers go through Maryland as part of a four-state challenge, where they start in Virginia, go through West Virginia and Maryland, and end in one day in Maryland for a total of about 45 miles in one day.  I’m glad we did it they way we did.  We took a leisurely trip with a decent amount of miles each day, but the goal was to have fun and spend some time together sharing the journey.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 42 miles
  • Elevation Change – 6057 ft.
  • Difficulty – 3.  None of Maryland is really tough.  The first 15 miles are rocky, rolling terrain.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail gets a lot of attention from PATC.  The heavy rains made the trail very wet and muddy the last two days, but there’s nothing you can really do with that much rain.
  • Views – 4.  There are nice views in many places along the trail.  Most look into farmland and suburbia, so they’re not as impressive as other mountain views.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 2.  There are a couple small creeks to cross along the way.  We found adequate water sources, but during dryer weather, we’ve heard water can be a challenge on this section.
  • Wildlife – 2.  We saw and heard lots of bird, squirrels, and chipmunks.  We also saw one deer.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  Other than one tricky part between PenMar and High Rock, the trail was well blazed and easy to follow. The spur to Weverton Cliffs is unmarked, but so well-established that you can’t miss it.
  • Solitude – 3.  There were a lot of people on the trail despite us avoiding the weekend.  There were probably more section/day hikers than thru-hikers at camp each night and we traveled at the same pace as three other section groups.

Directions to trailhead: We left a car at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and had a friend shuttle us to PenMar Park.  Parking coordinates to Harpers Ferry are 39.315802, -77.756453. Parking coordinates for PenMar are 39.717725, -77.508274.

Hanging Rock

June 13, 2017

This 7.25 mile hike is a great choice for anyone who wants to experience Three Ridges’ spectacular views without having to complete the challenging 13+ mile loop. The route climbs moderately along the Appalachian Trail until you reach Hanging Rock – the best vista on Three Ridges mountain.

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Hanging Rock

The view from Hanging Rock is spectacular.

Christine Says…

Last fall, I went on a girls’ backpacking trip from Cole Mountain to Waynesboro. Near the end of the trip, we hiked up and over Three Ridges. While we were eating lunch and enjoying views on Hanging Rock, I thought ‘This spot is gorgeous and it would be a fantastic dayhike.

Many casual hikers take a pass on Three Ridges because the 13+ mile hike with more than 4,000 feet of climbing can be intimidating. The full traverse of the Three Ridges – MauHar loop has the deserved reputation for being one of the toughest hikes in the state. But 7.25 miles with under 2,000 feet of climbing – that’s right in the dayhike sweet spot.

In early June, I had a Saturday with absolutely zero obligations. Adam decided to stay home and work on some chores and projects around the house. I set out to hike from Reeds Gap to Hanging Rock. I was at the trailhead by 8:00 a.m. in hopes of beating the heat, humidity, and weekend backpacking crowds.

Hanging Rock

The Appalachian Trail ascending Three Ridges. Below: Parking at Reeds Gap can get crowded; The AT ascends from the parking lot through a meadow; There are dry campsites along the top of Meadow Mountain.

Hanging Rock Hanging Rock Hanging Rock

When I arrived, there were still a few spots in the Reeds Gap parking area. The lot fills quickly – especially on weekends. I started southbound on the Appalachian Trail, climbing gradually uphill across the edge of an open meadow. Wild hibiscus was blooming and butterflies were everywhere. When the trail first enters the woods, it’s flat and comprised of soft dirt. But within a couple tenths of a mile, the trail begins to ascend steadily up Meadow Mountain. Along the ridge of Meadow Mountain there are a couple small, dry campsites.

After a short ridge walk, the trail descends Meadow Mountain. At 1.6 miles, I reached a three way junction. The Appalachian Trail continues straight. To the right are a fire road leading back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and a spur trail leading to Maupin Field Shelter and the MauHar Trail. This area is well-marked with trail signs, blazes, and a kiosk describing the wilderness area.  I decided to pass the shelter and continue on to Hanging Rock.

Hanging Rock

The mountain laurel was in full bloom. Below: The Appalachian Trail is nicknamed ‘the green tunnel’ for a good reason; Rose of Sharon/Wild Hibiscus (I think); I missed the peak bloom of the Catawba Rhododendron.

Hanging Rock Hanging Rock Hanging Rock

After passing the junction, the trail climbed steeply, but briefly, to the top of Bee Mountain at 2.2 miles. The trail becomes rockier along this stretch and remains so until the viewpoint. Along the top of Bee, there are several more dry campsites. After a short ridge walk, the trail descends Bee Mountain for .2 miles into a small saddle.  This is where the climb up Three Ridges Mountain begins.

The climb continues gradually for 1.2 miles. I thought this stretch of trail was so beautiful.  It was a classic example of why the Appalachian Trail is nicknamed ‘the green tunnel‘. There were lush ferns, blooming mountain laurel, thick trees, and green vines. The forest floor was carpeted with the bright purple petals from Catawba rhododendron.

At 3.6 miles I reached the viewpoint at Hanging Rock. The view is on the right side of the trail and is accessed by following a small path through an opening in the trees. The actual high point of Three Ridges Mountain is another .8 mile south, but Hanging Rock is a perfect stopping point.

Hanging Rock

Another angle on the view. Below: Blooming mountain laurel; I stopped by the Maupin Field Shelter on my way back; Near the shelter the trail splits into the AT and a fire road.  Make sure you remain on the well-marked AT.

Hanging Rock Hanging Rock Hanging Rock

The outcropping at Hanging Rock is wide and spacious. The views include the southern slopes of Three Ridges, the Tye River Valley, and the Priest. The Priest is the large mountain on the other side of the valley. Even though this is a popular area, I magically had the viewpoint all to myself for almost forty minutes. Just as I was stowing my camera and getting ready to leave, northbound thruhiker Tengo Hambre arrived at the view. He didn’t have a camera and his phone was dead. I ended up taking a photo of him and emailing it to his wife.  He agreed that the vista was breathtaking and worth remembering with a photo.

I hiked back the same way I came up. I stopped a while to chat with the Tidewater Appalachian Trail Club member who was doing trail maintenance. Because Three Ridges is designated wilderness, he has to use hand tools (gas-operated weed whackers are not allowed in wilderness!) I also stopped briefly at Maupin Field Shelter on my way back. I like to stop and pack out any trash I find. When I reached the parking lot, it was overflowing with cars and the day was sweltering. I had timed my walk perfectly and had a great day!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 7.25 miles roundtrip
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1942 ft.
  • Difficulty –  3.5.  This is a moderate hike with several climbs and descents.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  The trail is well maintained, but it is rather rocky.
  • Views  5.  Hanging Rock offers superb views of the southern slope of Three Ridges and a great look at The Priest across the valley.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 1.  There are no scenic water features on this hike.  But there is a water source at Maupin Field shelter.  
  • Wildlife – 1.  The trail is heavily traveled, so you probably won’t see much wildlife.
  • Ease to Navigate – 5.  The trail is heavily blazed and signed.
  • Solitude – 2.  Three Ridges is one of the state’s most popular backpacking loops.  It’s likely you’ll see many people along the way.

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Park at Reeds Gap.  Coordinates: 37.901451, -78.985310

Blackrock Summit

June 10, 2017

This easy 5.1 mile hike takes you to the magnificent viewpoint at Blackrock Summit.  Most people access the view by a .5 mile walk from Blackrock parking area, but this route lets you spend a little more time enjoying the beautiful Appalachian Trail.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Black Rock Summit

Blackrock Summit has spectacular views!

Christine Says…

Most of the time, we opt to hike the shortest and most direct route to any nice viewpoint. However, in the case of Blackrock Summit, the traditional one-mile round trip route from the Blackrock parking area is not enough of a hike to make the drive into the park worthwhile.  Without a doubt, Blackrock is one of the most expansive views in the park, and starting the hike at Brown Gap (a couple miles north) is one of the best ways to reach the vista!

We set out on this hike on a particularly hot and humid late April morning.  We parked at Brown Gap (near mile marker 83 on Skyline Drive).  From there, we crossed the road and followed the Appalachian Trail south. The first three tenths of a mile ascend gently uphill before reaching a mostly flat ridgeline.  Everything in the park was bright, spring green and the native pink azaleas were just starting to bloom.  At .7 miles, we passed the Dundo Group Campground.  The campground has water and restrooms (seasonally).

A Pleasant Walk on the Appalachian Trail

This hike is essentially a pleasant, easy walk on the Appalachian Trail. Below: Parking at Brown Gap; Walking the AT; The boulder pile comes into view.

Browns Gap Walking Along Arriving at Blackrock

At 1.3 miles, we passed the parking area for Jones Run. Another tenth of a mile after that, we crossed Skyline Drive a second time, and began a gradual uphill climb toward Blackrock Summit. In April, the trees along this stretch of trail had not fully leafed out, so we were able to catch views of the valley to the west.  At 1.9 miles into the hike, we passed Blackrock Parking area. After the parking area, the trail becomes a moderately steep uphill climb for .6 of a mile.

Near the top, the giant boulder pile comes into view through a tunnel of leaves. It’s impressive to see such a tall jumble of rocks! We took some time to climb up the pile for a loftier view.  Even if you choose to skip the climb, the views from this summit are spectacular. The Appalachian Trail skirts the western edge of the summit. At the far end of the rock pile, we reached the spur to the Trayfoot trail. If you want even more views and a chance to explore some interesting rock formations, follow the spur downhill for a couple tenths of a mile.  There are views in every direction and an interesting alley of boulders to pass through.

Once you’ve explored, head back the way you came for a hike of just over five miles.  It’s really a great way to see this popular summit!

Adam Says…

On a clear day like we had, you just have to pick a hike with views.  While we have done Blackrock many times, we decided to try a different approach that added a few miles and made it feel like we did something to earn the views.  With very little elevation gain on this hike, it is an easy hike that most people could handle.  This section of the AT is very well-maintained and traveled.  We enjoyed walking through the tunnel of trees with just a small brown path dividing all the green around us.

Climbing the Rock Pile

Climbing the rock pile at Blackrock Summit is fun.  Below: Adam passes through the boulders on the spur trail; More views of distant fog and clouds; Walking back on the Appalachian Trail.

Spur to Trayfoot Trail Low Fog Headed Back

Christine did a great job describing the path and turns above.  We didn’t really see anyone on the trail since we started the trail fairly early in the morning.  When we arrived at the summit, we had it all to ourselves.  The summit gives you the opportunity to climb around on the large pile of boulders if you prefer (but watch out for timber rattlesnakes) or you can enjoy taking a moment to enjoy the views from down below.  Our favorite spot is to travel down the Trayfoot trail because you get panoramic views on both sides of the trail.  We paused for a quick snack before heading back.  On our way back, we saw several others that had parked at the closest parking lot, but we were glad we had added a few extra miles.  If you have a clear day in the forecast and are looking for an easy hike with a big payoff in the southern section of Shenandoah National Park, put this on your list.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 5.1 miles roundtrip
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 636 ft.
  • Difficulty –  1.5.  This was an easy hike with gentle climbs and descents.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail is smooth and well-maintained.
  • Views  5.  Blackrock Summit is one of the nicest views in the park.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 0.  There are no scenic water features on this hike.  But there is an in-season source of drinking water at Dundo Group Camping.
  • Wildlife – 3.  We saw lots of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks along the walk.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 2.  Blackrock is a popular viewpoint and can be accessed by a short .5 mile walk. You’ll likely see others.

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply).  The Brown Gap Parking lot is located around Mile Marker 83 in the Southern Section on Skyline Drive.  Park in this lot.  Cross the road and come to the cement marker marking the trail.  Head south on the Appalachian Trail.  GPS Coordinates: 38.240676, -78.710687

Lewis Peak

May 27, 2017

This nine mile hike is not very well-known, but it’s truly one of the park’s most scenic summits. Past fire damage has left the summit open, with views in every direction. We hope sharing this post won’t spoil the solitude we enjoyed on this hike.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Lewis Peak

This beautiful view is about half a mile from the true summit, but it was too beautiful to pass up!  Below: The hike starts northbound on the AT at Browns Gap; Pink azaleas were just starting to bloom; Adam hiking on the Big Run Trail.

Appalachian Trail at Brown Gap  Adam on Big Run

Adam Says…

How has this hike escaped us before?  We’ve covered most of what Shenandoah National Park has to offer, but this was a hidden gem that we are so glad we did.  While this hike is about 9 miles, the elevation gain feels fairly minimal considering the distance you are covering.  We were getting ready to do a multi-day backpacking trip in a couple of weeks and we wanted to get some training in before we hit some bigger miles with heavy packs.  Christine had seen a few photos from the viewpoint and mapped out this possibility of a hike.

Dwarf Iris

We saw a ton of these Dwarf Irises on the hike.  Below: Early spring on the Rockytop Trail; Adam crossing talus slopes on Rockytop; Everything in bloom!

 Talus Slopes on Rockytop Trail Everything is Blooming

The hike starts at Browns Gap (the sign reads “Brown Gap”, but maps of the area show “Browns Gap”), at mile marker 83 of Skyline Drive.  We parked our car and found the Appalachian Trail post from the parking lot and headed north on the white-blazed AT.  The trail climbs a bit from the beginning and parallels Skyline Drive.  At .5 miles, you come to the junction with the Big Run Loop Trail.  Take a left here to join the blue-blazed Big Run Loop Trail.  At 1.1 miles, you come to a four-way junction where the Big Run Loop Trail breaks off to the right and the Madison Run Spur Trail heads to the left.  You will just stay straight.  At 1.5 miles, the trail reaches another junction with the Austin Mountain trail bearing to the left; bear to the right to join the Rockytop Trail.  Around 2.3 miles, you will pass along a rockier section of trail as it passes through some large talus slopes.  At 3.4 miles, you reach the Lewis Peak Trail junction.  Take a left at this junction to make your way to Lewis Peak.  The trail descends at this point,  At 3.6 miles, you reach a great viewpoint off the trail to the right.  There is a large talus slope here that opens up into views of a valley between two mountains and Massanutten Mountain perfectly framed at the center in the distance.

Beautiful Views on Ridge

The ridgeline on the Rockytop Trail provided nice views.  Below: Mountain view from the ridgeline; Spring blooms; Junction of the Rockytop and Lewis Peak trails.

 Spring Blooms Turning onto the Lewis Peak Trail

The trail continues to descend from this viewpoint until you reach 4.0 miles and then the trail begins to climb again.  At 4.2 miles, you reach the junction with the Lewis Peak Summit Trail.  Take this trail to the right and you will climb rather steeply to the summit through a series of switchbacks that will eventually wind around until the trail reaches its end and the summit at 4.5 miles.  A forest fire from 2006 has destroyed a lot of the taller trees in the area, but it has created a very nice viewpoint from the summit.

We stopped here and ate a snack while enjoying the expansive views all around us.  Clouds were starting to roll in, but we had the stunning panoramic views all to ourselves.  When reflecting upon this hike, Christine and I both think that it may arguably have the best views from the southern district of Shenandoah National Park.  We made our way back the way we came.  There is some steep climbing on the way back, but most of the steep stretches are short-lived.  If you can handle the distance, put this on your upcoming hiking agenda.

Christine Says…

For the last week of March and the first three weeks of April, I was bed-ridden from a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics. I burned with fever, my skin blistered and peeled, I itched all over, and struggled with excruciating nerve pain.  As the weeks passed, I thought I would never be well enough to hike again. When I finally started feeling better, I went for short, easy walks around my neighborhood. But pretty soon, I felt a strong draw to get back to the ‘real’ trail. I don’t know what made me think a nine mile hike with 1500′ of climbing was a good idea for a ‘first hike back’.

View from the Lewis Peak Trail

This spectacular view is just a short distance from the junction of the Rockytop and Lewis Peak trails.

Talus Slopes Spur to Lewis Peak Summit Rocky Trail to the Summit

I’m not going to lie – I really struggled on this hike.  My endurance definitely took a hit from spending a month in bed.  On top of that, it was a hot, humid day. My doctor had directed me to fully cover up with long sleeved Capilene, long pants, a hat, and sunscreen to protect my healing skin.  I felt like I was sealed in plastic wrap. I just couldn’t cool off. The whole hike, I had a mantra… ‘just take the next ten steps.’ Fortunately, taking ten steps over and over again eventually adds up to a nine mile hike.

Despite the physical challenge, there were some memorable high points on this hike.  When we first set out we met a neat retired couple – Swallow and Blind Pig. They were section hiking Virginia’s Appalachian Trail. They were from Oregon and had previously finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. We talked to them about the park, the AT, gear, food, and wildlife. I hope when Adam and I are retired we’ll still be having adventures like Swallow and Blind Pig.

The Summit of Lewis Peak

Lewis Peak is steeper, rockier, and pointier than most mountains in Shenandoah. This are was burned out by a forest fire in 2006. Below: Views from the Lewis Peak summit are amazing! Clouds moved in on our hike, but on a clear day, you can see for miles!

Lewis Peak Summit Lewis Peak Summit 

I also really enjoyed all the signs of spring emerging in the park. Most of the high elevation trees were still leafless, but we could see the brilliant green of emerging leaves creeping up the mountainsides. There were a few azaleas starting to bloom, spring beauties were abundant, and we passed several large patches of dwarf irises. Spring is my favorite season. I love seeing color and life waking back up after dull winter.

A significant part of this hike followed a ridge, so we enjoyed views through the trees. The open vista of Massanutten from the Lewis Peak trail was simply spectacular. The mountains in the foreground perfectly framed the distinct peak of Massanutten.

Summit of Lewis Peak

A great view from the Lewis Peak summit.  Below:  The views descending Lewis Peak were excellent, too!  The area is so cleared out that you can see views in almost every direction.

 Descent Descent

When we started making switchbacks toward the summit of Lewis Peak, I knew we were going to have even more amazing views. The entire summit climb was open and there were wide open looks at mountains and the valley in every direction.  The summit itself is sharper and pointier than almost any other peak in Shenandoah. The end of the trail has a wide sweep of rock to sit upon while you enjoy the view. There were berry bushes growing all over the place. In mid to late summer, this would be a good place to pick wild blueberries.

We enjoyed the view and a couple snacks before heading back the way we came. The hike back had a couple steep climbs that challenged me. I hadn’t remembered any of the downhills feeling step on the outward hike, so the uphill climbs surprised me on the way back!

Pretty Hike Back

The hike back was beautiful!

I was quite glad when we got back to the Appalachian Trail and the final gentle descent back to the parking area. After our hike, we stopped for lunch at the Loft Mountain wayside – grilled cheese sandwiches and our first blackberry milkshakes of the season. It was great to be back on the trail!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 9.1 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Change – 1527 ft.
  • Difficulty – 3.  The mileage is a little long for most people for a day hike, but with moderate climbs if you take your time it should be doable by most.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in great shape.  There was one larger blowdown on the Rockytop Trail we encountered, but otherwise was well maintained.
  • Views  4.5.  Amazing views from the summit and the viewpoint over the talus slopes just .5 miles from the summit.
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 0.  non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 3.5.  This area is a bit remote, so you may see some deer and bears on your hike.  Watch out for rattlesnakes, especially if you venture onto any of the talus slopes. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.  There are a number of turns to get to Lewis Peak on this hike, but all of the junctions are marked with concrete posts.
  • Solitude – 5. We didn’t see anyone on this hike.

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply).  You will park at MM 83 on Skyline Drive at the parking lot marked “Brown Gap”.  Parking coordinates are: 38.240652, -78.710379