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Mt. Roberts

February 24, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 4.9 mile hike was such a pleasant surprise. Our hiking guide said there were views, but didn’t really mention how nice they were!  The route had moderate grades and the most blueberries we’ve seen on any of our New England hikes.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Views from the Mount Roberts Hike

While Mount Roberts is a small peak, it offers great views of Lake Winnipesaukee. Below: The hike sets out on the grounds of Castle in the Clouds; Trails are well marked; The early part of the trail is very rocky!

Castle in the Clouds Mount Roberts Hike Rocky Mount Roberts Trail

Adam Says…

Since we did our big backpacking trip earlier in Vermont, we decided we would do a lot of easier hikes for the remainder of our trip to New England.  We had been to Castle in the Clouds on a previous trip and there are a good number of hiking trails there that are maintained by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.  We saw a write-up about this hike in one of our hiking books, 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire, and decided to give it a try. We parked near the stables at the Castle in the Clouds. Walking up the road past the stables, the sign for the Mt. Roberts Trail was clearly labeled.  We followed the trail which led us quickly into the woods and leads along the back side of the fenced-in stable property.  The trail takes a sharp left and then a sharp right before you feel like you are really on a trail that is leading up a mountain.

In 1.2 miles you reach a side path that leads you to an area that is called Sunset Hill. It provides a great panoramic view of the valley below you, Lake Winnipesaukee, and mountains that range from the Belknap Range, Mount Kearsarge, Mount Cardigan, Squam Range, and Mount Moosilauke among many others.  We talked to an older couple that were taking in the view and were local to the area.  The husband talked about how he had been visiting this view for many years – its nice to have this as a place you can revisit.  If you want to take a short hike or have small children, this may be a perfect family short out-and-back to do.  After enjoying the view, we pressed on to the summit.

Ridge Walking

Most of the hike up Mount Roberts follows a ridgeline. Below: Adam makes his way along the granite ridge; Near the summit the trail goes back into a pine canopy; The summit.

Mount Roberts Mount Roberts Mount Roberts

The trail from this point began to be a little more steep, but overall we found it quite moderate.  There were many times that the hike was in the open as we walked along rocky ridgeline, so keep an eye on the orange blazes painted on rocks to point where to go next.  On the climb up, we noticed that most of the views were behind us, so we thought we would just press on and then enjoy most of the open views on the way back.

We reached the summit at 2.4 miles, which was marked by a sign in a cairn.  The views from the summit were limited due to overgrowth around, but stepping on to the rocks gets you more of a view.  As soon as we got to the summit marker, a snake darted out from the rocks so be careful where you step and place your hands.  The view wasn’t as spectacular as what we had passed, so we made our way back after a short stay at the summit.

We noticed on our climb up, the abundance of blueberry bushes that were on the trail.  We decided we would pick some to eat as a snack on the way back.  I have never seen so many ripe, wild blueberries in one place than here.  Everywhere we looked, there were blueberries and they were at the perfect ripeness – there is nothing like eating a snack provided by nature in a setting like this.  On the way back, we took many more pictures and enjoyed the lake views from nice outcroppings.

We got back to our car at 4.9 miles and thought this was a perfect, easy hike that was much better than what we thought was described.  I can see us visiting this hike often and I understand why that older couple keeps coming back.  To finish the perfect day, we stopped by the Squam Lakeside, which serves our favorite lobster rolls with tons of fresh lobster and lime cream slushes.

Christine Says…

Adam described the hike really thoroughly, so I’ll chime in with just a few of my memories from the hike. The best part of the hike was the spectacular views on the hike down. It was like a mountain theater and truly breathtaking.

Another note – this hike was really popular with DOGS!  I think we saw as many dogs as we did people along the way. From big labradors to jack russell terriers to a dachshund. After seeing one of the dogs make a ‘pit stop’ on the blueberries, it made me choose bushes that were far from from the trail to snack on.

Summit Views from Mount Roberts

You get great views of the Presidentials and Mount Chocorua from the summit of Roberts. Below: A great look at the rocky cone of Chocorua; Trail markers back to the castle grounds; This hike had so many blueberries!

Summit Views from Mount Roberts Wayfinding on Mount Roberts Blueberries

Another thing that struck me on the early section of the hike was how tough the footing was to traverse safely.  Climbing to Sunset Hill was a little bit steep, but the footing was the challenge. The area had a drought-y summer, so the dirt was loose and gritty. On top of the loose soil, there were lots of round, softball-sized stones.  It was definitely ankle-turning terrain.

After we passed Sunset Hill, we came across a large group of backpackers from a girls’ summer camp. The Lakes Region of New Hampshire is packed with sleep-away camps. I was really glad to see such a big group of girls, campers and counselors alike, being exposed to overnight backpacking. When I was growing up, backpacking was typically something meant for boys. My Girl Scout troop’s camping trips were limited to cabins and platform tents. We learned to cook, do dishes, clean latrines, and make crafts. My first exposure to backpacking was a single overnight when I attended summer camp with the National Wildlife Federation the summer after my fourth grade year. After that, I never had the opportunity to backpack again until I was an adult.  It’s something I truly love and I wish I’d started years before. Seeing all these girls on the trail also made me wonder how this hike hooks into the larger trail network in the area… something I plan to research!

Views on the Way Down Roberts

You get great views looking toward the lake on the way down. Below: A moment to enjoy the lake view; Shuttles and the castle’s stable grounds; Post hike lunch of lobster rolls!

Roberts Views Stables Lobstah Rolls

I guess another favorite memory from this hike was the great view of Mt. Chocorua and the Presidentials from the summit of Roberts.  Yes… the mountains were far off and the view wasn’t panoramic, but those mountains are super impressive even at a distance.  Mt. Chocorua was especially breathtaking from this angle, as you could really see the sheer stone cone of its summit.

And finally… who can forget lobster rolls!  Squam Lakeside finds a way to pack about two full lobsters’ worth of tender meat onto a hot dog roll for each of their sandwiches. They’re nothing short of glorious!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 4.9 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 1320 ft.
  • Difficulty –  2.5.  With a short elevation gain, we never found this trail to be very tough.  There are a few rocky areas, but they are short-lived.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The Lakes Region Conservation Trust does a great job maintaining this trail.  We never experienced any blow-downs or overgrown areas on the trail. 
  • Views –  4.5.  The Lake Winnipesaukee views were outstanding.  Views from the summit were a bit disappointing, but you have plenty of other spots to enjoy on the way up.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 0.  Non-existent.
  • Wildlife – 3.  Watch out for snakes on the exposed rocks.  Lots of bird watching to be done from the rocky overlooks also.
  • Ease to Navigate –  3.5.  The trail was mostly easy to follow, but we did have to watch for some of the blazes on the open areas.
  • Solitude – 3.  This is a popular hike in the summer.  With that being said, there is plenty of space at the views to carve out your personal space if needed.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are: 43.732003, -71.324513.  This is the hiker parking lot at Castle in the Clouds.

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

Artists Bluff – Bald Mountain Loop

January 30, 2018

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This easy 1.6 mile hike is a great beginner’s sample of what it’s like to hike in the White Mountains region.  You get great views, rocky summits, and a little bit of rock scrambling.  It’s a popular family hike, so expect a crowd!  We enjoyed the scenery so much, that we returned a second time to hike just the Artists Bluff portion with our little pug, Wookie!

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Artists Bluff

Wookie and Adam take in a great view of Franconia Notch from the viewpoint at Artists Bluff.

Christine Says…

When compared to all the surrounding mountains, Artists Bluff and Bald Mountain are downright tiny – topping out at around 2,300 feet.  However, both summits offer outstanding views and the trail is just rugged enough to provide a fun little challenge. We thought it was a perfect recovery hike after our Vermont backpacking trip just a couple days earlier. We started off by parking in the Echo Lake lot. Exiting the lot, we took a right and walked east along the road (back toward the interstate) for a short distance. Across the road there is a clearly marked path with a sign pointing the direction toward Artists Bluff.

Artists Bluff Climb

There are some short but steep climbs en route to Artists Bluff. Below: The beginning of the hike has a trailhead marker; Adam makes his way through the boulders; The trail is very rocky.

Artists Bluff Trailhead Climbing to Artist Bluff Climbing to Artist Bluff

As you enter the woods, bear to the right. The return arm of the loop trail is to the left. The trail immediately begins a steep climb over rocky terrain. You’ll pass boulders and climb up stone stairs for a couple tenths of a mile. At .25 miles, you’ll reach a large boulder marked with red directional arrows and labels. Follow the marked spur trail to the right out to Artists Bluff. Enjoy the fantastic view of Echo Lake and Cannon Mountain Ski Area. You can see I-93 trailing its way through Franconia Notch. On the eastern side of the highway, you can see towering Mount Lafayette and Eagle Cliff.  If you’re feeling adventurous and energetic, use another day to hike to the summit of Mt. Lafayette and take in the splendor of Franconia Ridge.

After enjoying the views from Artists Bluff, follow the spur trail back to the marked boulder at the junction.  Follow the red blazes in the direction of Bald Mountain. The trail will meander up and down hills, crossing a saddle and climbing a small knob before reaching the Bald Mountain spur.  This junction is about .65 miles into the loop. The spur trail circles around the shoulder of Bald Mountain, climbing gently until you reach the ledges directly beneath the summit.

Artists Bluff Vista

A nice view of Cannon Mountain ski slopes, Echo Lake, and Franconia Notch. Below: The loop junction is well marked; A view across Franconia Notch looking toward the Lincoln and Lafayette; The saddle between Artists Bluff and Bald Mountain.

Blazes and Wayfinding Franconia Ridge Saddle Between Artists Bluff and Bald Mountain

From here, there is a little over a tenth of a mile of steep boulder scrambling. Near the top, you will pass through a brief pine-covered area before stepping out onto an expansive dome of bare rock. Pay attention to where the trail exits the trees and steps out to the view. We kind of lost the way and had to backtrack to find the trail again. It wasn’t a big backtrack, but still worth noting. The view from the summit of Bald Mountain includes the ski area and a little bit of the lake, but it also includes views of mountain ranges to north and glimpses west into Vermont.  It’s really an excellent vista!

After we spent some time enjoying the view all to ourselves – Artists Bluff is infinitely more popular than Bald Mountain – we made our way back down the spur trail.  After returning to the junction with the loop follow the trail downhill for about .3 miles. At this point, you should see the road and alternate parking through the trees.  Turn left, continuing on the loop for .4 miles.  The last .4 miles parallels the road and returns you to where you started at the Echo Lake parking area.

Adam Says…

As Christine mentioned, we hiked this one twice. It’s an easy hike to fit in just about any day you have some extra energy while in the White Mountains. The first time we hiked it, we wanted to make sure it would be OK for Wookie to join us on a future hike. We always like to get him out for a hike or two on our vacations.

We knew there was rain coming later in the first day we hiked it, so we wanted to tackle it early.  The trail up to Artists Bluff is short but steep. There are lots of boulders to scramble up, but if you take your time, most people should be able to handle it.  On the first day, we came across two girls at the summit that were celebrating the view with morning mimosas.  I could tell it was a nice moment for their friendship. We left the summit and backtracked until we veered off to the trail to head towards the Bald Mountain summit. On our way to the second summit, we came across a large family group from New Jersey.  They had decided to do the full loop but skipped the summit of Bald Mountain. We could tell this was a family that didn’t do much planning for hiking, because they had a lot of questions about distance, directions, and terrain. It wasn’t long before we came to the junction where the Bald Mountain summit side trail is marked by a sign.  It was a short, tough scramble up, but once we got to the top the views were great. The wind was incredibly strong that first day, so it was hard to stand straight and actually take a picture.  We could only imagine how strong the wind was on the summit of Mt. Washington, just about an hour’s drive away.

Scramble to Bald Mountain

The scramble to the summit of Bald Mountain is brief, but intense. Notice the red blaze way at the top? Below: The view from Bald Mountain looking toward Cannon Mountain ski area; The view off the back of Bald Mountain looks into Vermont; Christine scrambling down; Back at the parking area.

Bald Mountain View Bald Mountain View into Vermont
Scrambling Down Parking

The views from Artists Bluff are a bit more picturesque with the lake below, but you get a highway view also.  From the summit of Bald Mountain, the views are mostly of mountains beyond.  You also will find that most people only hike to Artists Bluff and don’t take in nearby Bald Mountain, so there is more solitude on that summit.

We made our way back down to the junction and bore right to continue the loop and head back to the car.  When we were almost back, we came across the same family that we had seen earlier.  They were exhausted from the hike and were dreading their walk back to the car at the alternate parking lot.  We offered to give them a ride, but they politely declined.  One of the family members was then going to hike to the car and come back and pick them up.

On the second trip to do this hike, we just did the short trip to Artists Bluff. We were very proud of Wookie tackling the hike without any trouble.  It was so cute to watch him navigate the boulders climbing up and down. On the ascent, his tail was down sometimes as he does when he is feeling less confident, but it was curled tightly on the way down as he was confident he knew the way back.  He truly enjoyed himself up on the top and took in the scenery.  We often wonder what is going through his mind at times, but we could tell that the view made him happy.  We love our little hiking buddy!

Wookie Says...Wookie Says…

It had been quite a while since I’ve been on a new hike.  Whenever I see Adam and Christine put on their hiking clothes and grab their trekking poles, I’m hoping that I can come along.  They usually leave me behind since a lot of hikes are tough on a short-legged pug like me, but this time my luck turned.

I enjoyed the hike up Artists Bluff but some of the boulders were huge. You can always see my quick brain working to find the easiest path up, but there were some steps that were just too large for me.  Adam had to lift me up a few of them and on the return had to carry me down a couple.  I mean, there is no need to overdo things when you have a perfectly capable human to take some of the danger out of it.

At the top, I did look out quite a bit and enjoyed the view.  I was startled to see cars on the highway. This was my first hike ever where I could see and hear cars below, so it had me cock my head to the side as I was trying to figure it all out.  We sat at the top for a good while and enjoyed the view.  It was quite windy at the top, but the scenery was beautiful.  I made my way quickly down in hopes that there would be an extra bowl of food at the end for all of my efforts. Instead of dog food, Christine surprised me with a glazed munchkin from Dunkin Donuts. I gulped it down and settled into a goof nap on the car ride back to grandma’s house.

Wookie at View

I love a beautiful view! Below: But hiking makes me so tired!

Wookie

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 1.6 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 433 ft.
  • Difficulty –  2.  Most of this hike is very simple with easy terrain, however the ascent to the summit of Bald Mountain will require scrambling over bare rock.  There are a couple steep, but short, climbs.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.  The trail is generally well maintained and traveled. There will be some rocky areas and muddy areas.
  • Views – 5.  Excellent views from both Artists Bluff and Bald Mountain.  The Bald Mountain view is especially panoramic.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 0.  You will see water in the viewshed, but there is none along the trail.
  • Wildlife – 2.  You will likely see birds, chipmunks, and squirrels.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3. There are several junctions where trails intersect. There are also two places you can begin your hike.  However, everything loops back, so you should find the trail system easy to follow.  Pay attention to where the trail enters/exits the summit area of Bald Mountain.  It is not clearly marked and is easy to lose if you’re not paying attention.
  • Solitude – 0

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are: 44.178537, -71.696247.  There is a large parking area near the entrance to Echo Beach.  To begin the hike, park in the lot.  On foot, take a right onto Profile Road and walk about a tenth of a mile along the road.  The trail begins on the north side of Profile Road.  You will see a sign marking the loop.

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

Appalachian Trail – Hanover to Woodstock

January 7, 2018

We tackled this 24.5 mile section of Vermont’s Appalachian Trail during a spell of very hot, dry weather – especially by New England standards. The route has quite a bit of road-walking and traversing open fields in full sun. We’ll admit… it wasn’t one of our favorites.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Adam Says: Day One – Hanover to Happy Hill Shelter (6.2 miles)

Download a Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats

This is the first section of Vermont’s Appalachian Trail that we have attempted. We looked at a few different routes but decided on this short three-day trip. We were staying with Christine’s parents in central New Hampshire and wanted to start tackling some miles nearby since they could watch our dog, Wookie, while we were backpacking. Another great thing about staying with them is they offered to provide the shuttle for us. Probably like most family members, they don’t quite understand what we were doing since they have never done a backpacking trip. We are often riddled with questions about where we are going, preparations, how we use different equipment, etc.  They tried on our weighted packs and didn’t understand how we could walk for miles with these strapped to our backs and make decent time. They followed us in their car and we parked at our end destination. We then shuttled back in their car to Hanover, NH.

AT/NH Line

Shortly after leaving downtown Hanover, you cross the Connecticut River which is the state line between New Hampshire and Vermont. Below: the Connecticut River is a significant body of water; Hiking into Norwich, Vermont; Just a couple miles in to our hike, we were already in need of shade and a cold drink.

Connecticut River Norwich, VT Shady Gazebo in Norwich

Before we began our trek, we had lunch with her parents at Molly’s in the heart of Hanover.  They have great American fare and a trip to Molly’s has been an annual tradition for us for the last several years. We ate an early lunch, got our backpacks out of the car and started walking towards Dartmouth College on Main Street. The Appalachian Trail cuts right through the heart of Hanover, NH.  It may be a rarity in most small towns to see people walking through your downtown with large backpacks, but Hanover is a classic hiker-friendly town.  People would whisper as we walk by and take photos, making you feel like a celebrity more than anything.  Of course, we had not walked all the way from Georgia to this point, but people are fascinated with long-distance backpacking. We took a few pictures on Dartmouth College’s quad lawn called The Green, walking by an admissions tour group, before turning down Wheelock Street/SR10 after just a few tenths from Molly’s to keep south on the Appalachian Trail.  The white blazes that signify the AT trail markers through towns typically are blazes painted on lampposts or backs of signs.

The day was hot – abnormally hot for the summer in Vermont. The day was approaching 90 and we were walking on open road with no shade so we quickly got overheated. SR10 crossed over the Connecticut River and you see a sign halfway across the bridge that signifies the state border between New Hampshire and Vermont at .8 miles. With more road walking, we reached Norwich, VT and began to climb up a steeper section of sidewalk. With the sun beating down and the uphill climb, it was quite unbearable. At 2.7 miles, we rested at a gazebo in front of a church. Christine couldn’t take much more sun, so we threw our backpacks off and I went searching for places to buy some cold drinks in fear of losing all of our water in just a short amount of time. I found a nearby deli shop and got some cold drinks.  We had trouble finding the blazes at this point so I also looked around for blazes (which ended up being on the opposite side of the road). Luckily, the road that I found the deli was also where the AT turned down Elm Street.

So much road walking

Vermont had so much road walking in the open sun. It was tough going!  Below: Some nice people in the houses along the trail had cold drinks and ice; Finally some woods and shade; A tiny bit of “Vermud” – we had the mixed blessing of hiking during a drought-y time.

Trail Magic Finally in the Woods Vermud

We continued on Elm Street going steeply uphill. There were several houses along the way that had trail magic – cold drinks and snacks in coolers or places to get a new paperback to read for the trail. I stopped again on our climb and took advantage of some ice cold water to drink and poor over my head to keep my body as cool as possible. We eventually came to a large kiosk (adorned with Uber business cards to avoid the road walking and get right into Hanover) where the AT finally entered into the woods and we had a bit of shade from the trees. The trail passed by a small stream (which was dry) and continued uphill.  Overall the trail to our first shelter was mostly non-descript but serene. There was a brown path cutting through the sea of fern around us with pine, oak, and birch trees around us.

Happy Hill Shelter was cute, but lacked a consistent water source. We had to dry camp and fill up a couple miles into the next morning.

The trail crossed over a woods road at 4.5 miles and continued slightly up and down until we reached a junction with the blue-blazed Tucker Trail at 5.9 miles (a trail that also leads to Norwich, VT in 3 miles). From this point, it was just another .3 miles until we reached the sign that marked the side trail to the Happy Hill Shelter which was just less than a tenth off the main trail. We stopped for the night and were soon joined by some other hikers, including one of our favorites, Hobbes the dog, who had been suffering like all of us in the heat.  He collapsed on the soft ground telling his owner, trail-named Calvin, that he was done for the day.  He rolled onto his side while Calvin peeled off his doggy pack with no help from Hobbes. We talked while eating some dinner about things we had seen on the trail.  We learned a bit about porcupines from one thru-hiker that told us that they mostly climb in trees during the day and are active at night. They gave us a warning to hang our poles because they like nibbling on the cork handles. We set up camp and tried to go to sleep but it was too hot of a night and everything felt clammy and sticky.

Christine Says: Day Two – Happy Hill Shelter to Thistle Hill Shelter (9.6 miles)

Download a Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats

Our night at Happy Hill was kind of hot and fitful. Neither of us slept well. The tent was stuffy and I kept thinking I heard animals walking around the tent (porcupines!) The sun comes up so early in the New England summer that we were awake and packing up our gear before 6:00 a.m. We knew we had another hot day ahead of us, so getting an early start was important.

Our first stop of the day was 1.7 miles into the hike. We stopped to filter water from a unnamed small stream along the trail. Since the water source at the shelter had been dry, it was nice to replenish our Camelbaks.

AT in Vermont

The second day of hiking was a mix of forests, fields, and meadows. Below: Fields, fields, fields; Filtering water for the day; Pretty ferns!

AT in Vermont AT in Vermont AT in Vermont

Our first four miles of the day were mostly downhill and under the shade of the forest canopy. We walked through beds of fern, small meadows, and across a couple small streams. It was how I imagined Vermont would be.

At 3.4 miles into the day, we came out onto pavement and crossed under I-89. It’s always strange to step out of the woods and see 18-wheelers zipping by on a four-lane highway. The next mile of ‘hiking’ was over paved town roads heading into West Hartford.  It was still pretty early, but the sun was already high in the sky and beating down full force on the asphalt. We were both red-faced and drenched with sweat.

The Harts

The Harts provide support and kindness to all hikers. Adam got his AT passport stamped there. Below: Crossing under the interstate; The West Hartford Library; Bridge crossing over the White River.

Crossing Under the Interstate Hartford Library Brook Crossing

We arrived to the main part of town right at 9:00 a.m. – which happened to be the same time the community library opened. The library door had a ‘hikers welcome’ sign, so we figured we’d go in and make use of their facilities. Even after one night in the woods, it’s wonderful to be able to wash your hands with soap and running water. The library attendant told us to make ourselves comfortable and to help ourselves to coffee or water from their cooler. We sat in the air conditioning and chugged a couple bottles full of chilled spring water. After about 45 minutes, we decided we should probably move on because the day was only going to get hotter.

We had only been walking about 50 feet when a woman starting waving and shouting to us from her front porch – “Hello hikers!!  Come on over!” Adam and I always stop to chat with people and explore towns along the trail, so we made our way over to the house.  It turned out we were at the Hart’s residence.  The Hart’s are a well-known and valued provider of trail magic. She offered to cook us breakfast – there were eggs, pastries, muffins, watermelon, and cold sodas.  We weren’t hungry, but we gratefully accepted a cold soda and stayed to chat for a while. People along the Appalachian Trail are always so kind and generous. Finally, we said farewell and made our way across the bridge over the White River and back into the woods.

A View!

Our first view of the trip. Below: A little mud; Another overgrown field; Resting in the shade.

Mud Fields Checking the Map

The shade of the woods was short-lived and all the remaining miles of the day were uphill and mostly crossing open fields and forest with thin canopy. It was blazing hot. We took lots of breaks to cool off. We came to a partially obstructed view at 5.2 miles into the day.  There was a bench shaded by an apple tree at the vista.

We took our lunch break at a forest road crossing at 7.5 miles into our day. We sat in the dirt and ate crackers and cheese, candy, and nuts. We were both running low on water, but figured we could make it a couple more miles to the water source at the shelter. While we ate, we checked out the large sugaring operation in the woods around us.  It looked like there were miles of tubes to collect sap from the maple trees. It was neat and something we never see in Virginia.

After lunch, we made the final push to Thistle Hill shelter.  There were so many open fields to climb across. It was in the mid-90s, breezeless, and the sun was unrelenting. I could feel my skin burning despite multiple applications of sunscreen. We both ran out of water and were so totally ready to be done for the day. As it so often goes, you reach camp just when you think you can’t take another step. We were so thankful to reach the spur trail to the shelter.

More Fields

We were baking in the sun for much of day two. Below: Thistle Hill Shelter; Tent resting; Even Rosco was tired from the heat.

Thistle Hill Thistle Hill Thistle Hill

Adam probably had heat exhaustion and was badly dehydrated.  He collapsed into the shade of the shelter to rest. I went about setting up camp while he took a break. After some time resting, we went to collect water. The source was really nice – a lacy little waterfall pouring over mossy rocks. I mixed electrolyte drinks and tried to get Adam to drink more.  Several southbound thru-hikers we’d met the night before (and Rosco the dog) rolled into camp over the next hour.

We had an early dinner at the shelter. Everyone talked about the heat and the brutality of the five+ mile uphill climb. We retreated to our tent a little before sundown. Adam still didn’t feel well and I started to worry that it might be more than dehydration. At one point, I said to him, ‘We have cell service, we can call for help if you need it.’  He refused and fortunately started to feel better as the day cooled and the fluids started to rehydrate him.

More and more hikers arrived at camp as nightfall approached. I think there were probably close to 25 people camped at Thistle Hill by the time it was dark. A few more even stumbled in by headlamp as late at 10:00 p.m.  We left our rainfly off the tent to catch the cross breeze, so every headlamp at camp woke us up.  It was still a cooler, more comfortable night than we’d had at Happy Hill. We both got a decent night of rest in advance of our final day of hiking.

Adam Says: Day Three – Thistle Hill Shelter to Woodstock (8.7 miles)

Download a Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats

With our last day ahead of us, we  got up with the sunrise, used the neat screen-porch privy at the shelter, quickly packed up camp, and were on our way. I think only one thru-hiker made it out of camp before us.  The heat was tough on a lot of us.

From the shelter, the trail descended.  At 1.8 miles, we came to a junction marking a trail to the Cloudland Shelter (.5 miles west of the trail). This shelter used to be maintained by AT volunteers but was now on private land. Hikers can still stay there and it is owned by the owners of Cloudland Market.  For the past two days we had been asking northbound hikers about Cloudland Market. It had been closed on Sunday and Monday when we started our hike but this was Tuesday and we had read in our AWOL thru-hiking guide that it was open on Tuesday. One guy had told us it was also closed Tuesday, but we had heard how great the shop was and thought a cold soda or snacking on some Vermont cheese could be nice. When we reached Cloudland Road at 2.3 miles, we saw a note taped to a sign stating that is was closed on Tuesday also, so we missed out.

Morning Beauty

The third day started off almost cool. Below: Tall, straight pines; Farm field; Old country road.

Pines More Fields Country Roads

We crossed Cloudland Road and had a very steep climb up an open field of grass and wildflowers to reach a hilly summit at 2.9 miles. This was probably the nicest view on the trail and gave us a glimpse of Vermont farms  and mountains in the distance. We stopped for just a short time because the sun was beating down again, whipping us to push on for shade. The trail descended from this point and then we had another short uphill to reach another small view at 3.7 miles. We could see ski slopes off in the hazy distance. From this second viewpoint, it was a steep downhill until we reached the paved Pomfret Road at 4.1 miles.

Best View of the Trip

This was the best/prettiest view on the trip. Below: White birches; The trail followed an old road bed; Another view with ski slopes.

Birches Old Roadbed Another View

On the other side of the road, was a small brook and we filled up water while talking with a bunch of northbound thru-hikers.  They were having a debate on who would win in a fight between a horse and a cow and asked us for an opinion. We debated with them on why we felt a horse would win (because it had more speed and agility and could also pull off a painful kick or bite).  It was a fun conversation and reminded me that when you don’t have the depressing world news to hear every day that these common topics were more enjoyable than the nightly newscast.  Conversation with hikers that are going the opposite way are your version of the internet.  You get information about trail conditions, water sources, sights to see, and how much uphill is ahead (its always stated that its not too bad even if it is).  We also heard from other hikers that this section of Vermont that we had picked was probably the least beautiful of any of the sections of Vermont.  While it was disheartening to hear, it at least renewed our opinion that the rest of Vermont would have nice streams, views, and farmlands fit for a postcard and we should do more of it another year.

Stream Crossing

A stream crossing. Below: Pretty trail; So many fields; Huge broken tree.

AT in Vermont Fields, dammit Broken Tree

After taking a short break and filling up with water we pressed on. We crossed another small stream and reached the gravel Bartlett Brook Road at 5.7 miles.  At 6.5 miles, we crossed Totman Hill Road and reached another stream at 7.0 miles (where was all this water earlier in the trip?).  At 7.3 miles, we reached Woodstock Stage Road and Barnard Brook.  We had one less-steep climb up, a one mile climb up Dana Hill before descending again.  On our final descent, we saw a black bear foraging off to the side that took off running when we got close.  It was very exciting to finally see some wildlife and was a reward for the end of our journey!  We finally reached our final road crossing at 8.7 miles, Barnard Gulf Road, and got back to where we had parked our car.  We made it!  We had been so hot and miserable for most of the trip we wondered if we would make the entire section.  Filled with pride it was now time to fill our stomachs.  We drove to nearby Long Trail Brewery for some cold beers and amazing food to toast our accomplishment.

The last big climb

The last big climb was a tough one! Below: Our final descent – close to where we saw the bear; Some well earned beers at Long Trail Brewery.

The last descent Well earned beers at Long Trail

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 24.5 miles
  • Elevation Change – 6,341 ft
  • Difficulty –  4.  This section had tons of steep, unrelenting ups-and-downs (most without a view payoff). It was similar to a bigger, badder version of Virginia’s roller coaster.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5. The trail was generally well maintained, but there were some very overgrown sections.  There was also a bit of mud and erosion in places.
  • Views –  2.5. There were a couple nice views from high meadows.  They were pretty, but not spectacular. Many were partly obstructed.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 3. There were streams for water sources and several larger rivers to cross (on bridges).
  • Wildlife – 4. Other hikers near us saw porcupines and we saw a bear!
  • Ease to Navigate –  4.  The trail was easy to follow with adequate blazing and signage.
  • Solitude – 3. Surprisingly, we saw very few people on the trail, but campsites were moderately crowded.

Directions to trailhead: The parking lot that we left our car was at 43.6552N 72.5662W on Barnard Gulf Road on VT 12.  From here, we made our way to Hanover, NH by heading south on VT 12 for 3.7 miles.  We turned left when reaching to town of Woodstock to stay on VT 12 for .6 miles before turning left on to US-4 east.  Stay on US-4 East for 9.4 miles and then merge on to I-89 South.  Stay on this for 3 miles before taking the I-91 exit towards Brattleboro/White River.  Keep left at the fork and follow signs for I-91 North.  Stay on I-91 North for a little over 5 miles before taking exit 13 for Norwich.  Take a right to merge on to 10A/W. Wheelock Street.  Follow this for .8 miles before turning right on to Main Street.  Parking is available hourly behind a lot of the restaurants/shops but is a good dropoff point for a shuttle.

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

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.