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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.

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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)

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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)

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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!

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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)
Download a Trail Map (PDF)
Map My Hike Stats

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

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

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

Trail Notes

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

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

Hanging Rock

June 13, 2017

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

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Hanging Rock

The view from Hanging Rock is spectacular.

Christine Says…

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

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

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

Hanging Rock

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

Hanging Rock Hanging Rock Hanging Rock

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

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

Hanging Rock

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

Hanging Rock Hanging Rock Hanging Rock

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

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

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

Hanging Rock

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

Hanging Rock Hanging Rock Hanging Rock

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

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

Trail Notes

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

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

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

Blackrock Summit

June 10, 2017

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

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Black Rock Summit

Blackrock Summit has spectacular views!

Christine Says…

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

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

A Pleasant Walk on the Appalachian Trail

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

Browns Gap Walking Along Arriving at Blackrock

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

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

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

Adam Says…

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

Climbing the Rock Pile

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

Spur to Trayfoot Trail Low Fog Headed Back

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

Trail Notes

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

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

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

Lewis Peak

May 27, 2017

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

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Lewis Peak

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

Appalachian Trail at Brown Gap  Adam on Big Run

Adam Says…

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

Dwarf Iris

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

 Talus Slopes on Rockytop Trail Everything is Blooming

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

Beautiful Views on Ridge

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

 Spring Blooms Turning onto the Lewis Peak Trail

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

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

Christine Says…

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

View from the Lewis Peak Trail

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

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

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

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

The Summit of Lewis Peak

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

Lewis Peak Summit Lewis Peak Summit 

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

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

Summit of Lewis Peak

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

 Descent Descent

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

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

Pretty Hike Back

The hike back was beautiful!

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

Trail Notes

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

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

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

Appalachian Trail – Catawba to Daleville

May 5, 2017

This 20.5 mile Appalachian Trail segment crosses the most photographed spot on the entire trail – McAfee Knob.  Even though the view from McAfee is fantastic,  there are great views all along the section.  In fact, we think the view from Tinker Cliffs rivals the majesty of McAfee.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

The Iconic McAfee Ledge

Goofing off on the iconic McAfee Knob ledge!

Day One (11 miles)…

Last fall, I told Adam I wanted to backpack McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs for my birthday. We planned our mileage, picked our meals, and hired a shuttle driver. When the Friday of our hike arrived, it was forecast to be blazing hot. The area was also experiencing a prolonged drought. The water sources along this stretch are typically reliable and we thought being on a high mountain ridge would cool things off a bit, so we loaded up and headed out.

On the way to our start point at Catawba, our shuttle driver (Homer Witcher – we’ve used him before and he’s a fantastic part of the Appalachian Trail community) told us that just a few days earlier, a woman and her daughter were crushed under a falling tree at one of the campsites along the route. He had assisted EMTs with the rescue operation. Fortunately, the daughter escaped with minor injuries and the mother recovered after a hospital stay. Scary!

Rocky Climb Early in the Hike

The climb was a little steep and rocky in the beginning.  Below: Parking on Route 311; Johns Spring Shelter; Catawba Mountain Shelter.

McAfee parking Johns Spring Shelter Catawba Mountain Shelter

Homer dropped us off at Catawba parking around 9:30 a.m. Despite it being early(ish) on a Friday, there were already numerous cars in the lot. This is an extremely popular area for hiking and the lot frequently fills and overflows by mid-morning, especially on the weekends. There are strict regulations for where you can park, and cars are frequently towed from this area. Take these rules seriously! You can read more about parking issues in the Roanoke Times article.

The northbound Appalachian Trail starts on the other side of route 311.  We crossed and immediately began an ascent over dry, dusty terrain.  Just a mile into the hike, we passed Johns Spring Shelter.  It’s a typical AT shelter and has space for six people.  There are a few tent sites and a privy nearby.  The water source near this shelter is usually small, but it was bone dry on the day we hiked.

In another mile, we passed the Catawba Mountain Shelter.  It’s a similar set-up to Johns Spring in terms of space. There are also several nice campsites with metal fire pits just north of this shelter. After passing this shelter, there is a steady 1.7 mile climb to the view at McAfee Knob.  On the way to the top, you’ll cross a fire road.  Stay on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.  Near the top, you’ll pass through an impressive jumble of truck to cabin sized boulders.  The overlook is a couple hundred feet to the left of the trail and is marked by a small sign.

McAfee Knob

The view from McAfee Knob is gorgeous! Below: Before you reach the knob you pass under powerlines;  Rock formations before McAfee Knob; It’s a tradition to sit on the edge of the overhanging rock.

Crossing the Powerlines Boulders Sitting on McAfee Knob

Views from the overlook are majestic and expansive. The long ridge on the the right carries the Appalachian Trail over to Tinker Cliffs. On a clear day, you’ll see the cliffs shimmering in the distance. When you’re at McAfee, don’t miss the opportunity to sit on the ledge with your feet dangling into the abyss. It’s a tradition and isn’t as scary as it looks.

After leaving the viewpoint, you’ll descend steeply into a maze of giant boulders. There are narrow openings in the maze, making it a fun place to explore. A half mile later, there is an open meadow under powerlines and a nice view of the distant mountains. The descent continues for about 1.2 miles. At the bottom, you’ll reach the Pig Farm Campsite and shortly after that – Campbell Shelter. The shelter is on an elevated platform and there is a privy, picnic table, and bear locker at the site.  The water source, located about 150 yards to the left of the shelter, was also dry!

Rock Formations

After leaving McAfee, you descend through a maze of boulders. There are many interesting rock formations on this section. Below: An eastern fence lizard; Campbell Shelter; The weeds were hip to shoulder high along the trail; A nice shady spot to rest; We got one distant look at the reservoir on the first day; After descending into this grassy area, you begin the tough climb to Tinker Cliffs.

Eastern Fence Lizard Campbell Shelter Tall Goldenrod Along Trail
A Shady Spot to Rest First Reservoir View Tinker Climb

After the shelter, the trail follows rolling terrain for 3.1 miles until you reach a grassy opening at Brickeys Gap. There is a trail to the left, but you’ll stay on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail and begin a steep uphill climb toward Tinker Cliffs. The ascent goes on for 1.8 miles.  On this particular day, the climb was especially rough. We were both tired from the heat and running low on water.

Navigating the trail as it heads up Tinker Cliffs is a bit tricky. Look carefully for white blazes and arrows. There will be openings in the rocks that look like trail, but they’re not. Most of these openings are blocked by branches dragged across the ground, but if you’re not paying attention you might head the wrong way. When we finally made it to the top of the cliffs, the views made all the effort worthwhile. We had the entire overlook all to ourselves! I thought the views from Tinker Cliffs were even better than McAfee Knob.  I took off my shoes and socks and let myself bake for a few minutes in the late afternoon sun.  It was probably still in the low 90s – such a hot day for late September!

It was clear that many people had camped at the top of Tinker Cliffs, but we were out of water and I’m pretty sure camping on top Tinker is prohibited. We made our way along the open cliffside for about half a mile before descending back into the trees.

Tinker Cliffs

The view from Tinker Cliffs was as nice as McAfee. Below: On the climb up you get a nice meadow view; The trail is a little tricky so pay attention to signage and look for logs blocking the wrong way; It was still around 90 degrees when we got to the top of Tinker (notice the beet red face); Adam walks along the cliffside; Descending beneath Tinker Cliffs; the final mile into camp was easy terrain.

View on the Climb Pay Attention to The Turn So Stinking Hot
Tinker Cliffside Descending Under Tinker Approaching Lambert Meadow

The trail passes beneath the cliffs and then rambles downhill for about a mile until it reaches Scorched Earth Gap and the junction with the Andy Layne Trail. From there, we had an easy .6 mile stroll to our campsite at Lamberts Meadow Shelter. When we arrived, there was one other section hiker already there. We picked a campsite across the ‘stream’ from the shelter. Note, I put stream in quotes because when we visited it was nothing but a series of shallow muddy pools.

We got the tent set up and changed into camp clothes. It took us a full hour to filter four liters of water! First, we had to scoop water into our bucket. It was full of mud, pebbles, mosquito larvae, and algae, so we had to filter that water through a bandanna into our Sawyer bags. The we squeezed the water through the Sawyer into our Camelbaks.  It was the color of weak tea, so I chose to treat it with Aquamira on top of the filtering.  It was nasty!

We Made It to Camp

We made it to camp at Lamberts Meadow Shelter! Below: We set up camp on the opposite side of the stream; The lousy, dank water source.

Camp Dank Water Source

We set aside a couple cups of the water to make dinner, leaving us each with just under two liters of water for the next day. It took so long to deal with water, that it was almost dark when we headed up to the shelter to cook. By then, a couple other section hikers had arrived at the shelter. They were former military and had done a lot of the trail. We chatted about gear and favorite spots along the AT. They told us a tale about finding a body near Tinker Cliffs on a hike fifteen years earlier. They had become lost on the trail headed up the cliffs and found a body from the 1940s or 50s in the woods under the cliffs. It was a crazy story!

After dinner, we headed back down to the tent. It was still too hot to make a fire and we were both pretty tired, so we turned in early. It was a stuffy, fitful night in the tent. It’s hard to get comfortable when you’re sweaty and stuck to your sleeping pad. Still… it had been a beautiful day with lots of amazing scenery.

Day Two (9.5 miles)…

We woke up at daybreak and knew it was going to be a hot day.  The temperature was already in the mid-70s. We didn’t have much water to drink or cook with, so we opted to eat some Little Debbie Peanut Butter Pies for breakfast. They are good calorie bombs for some fast energy and didn’t require any water. This was definitely the scariest water source we have had to use, so conserving water until we found something else was our plan. We packed up camp quickly and then made our way back on the Appalachian Trail, heading north to make our way back to our car.

In .3 miles, we came across the Lamberts Meadow Campsite, which also had no water in the stream next to the campsite. We saw the fallen tree that had smashed through the picnic table. Homer had told us that if that picnic table hadn’t been there, it would have likely fallen directly on the tent.  He was planning in another week to build and bring another table down there to replace the one that had been smashed. Since there isn’t great access to this area except for a long hike, I can’t imagine hauling a big table through the woods like this, especially at Homer’s age (in his 70’s). Homer is the true definition of a trail angel and has helped so many AT thru-hikers and others along the way.

Pretty morning light

We set off early. The morning was already hot and humid. Below: This huge tree fell and injured two hikers the weekend before we hiked; A beautiful farmland view on day two; There was not a lot of climbing on day two, but the terrain was rockier.

Blowdown Farm Views Rocky Terrain

From the campsite, we continued on the AT.  At 2.5 miles, we reached a junction with a blue-blazed trail that led to a nice viewpoint to the west.   The trail began to slope downwards and at 4.3 miles we reached Angels Gap.  The heat continued to increase and we were already extremely thirsty. We drank when we felt we needed to, but we both were already running low on water.  The sun was beating down since the area was more open. At 4.7 miles, we first heard the buzzing of a powerline and soon it came into view.  At 5.5 miles, we reached Hay Rock.  We skipped climbing up the rock, since we were already getting good views of Carvins Cove Reservoir all along the trail. Many people do Hay Rock as a day hike coming from Daleville.

The trail stayed relatively flat, but was rocky and exposed us to the sun for a bit. We crossed over an open field with tiny little seed pods that were blowing in the hot wind.  It looked like snow that was coming down, but the temperature told us otherwise.  We had just watched Stranger Things on Netflix and it reminded us of something supernatural or alien that was happening in this area. We came to another powerline at 6.7 miles, but this one gave us wonderful views.  We didn’t stay long since we wanted to get out of the direct sun. Christine had run out of water, but I had saved a bit for her to have.

Enjoying a View

Christine enjoys a view on day two.  Below: Adam approaches Hay Rock.  There’s a nice view of the reservoir from the top, but we skipped climbing it; More rocky terrain; Carvins Cove reservoir.

Hay Rock More Rocks Carvin Cove Reservoir

Shortly after we left these views from the power lines, the trail finally ducked back into the woods and began a descent. We ran into a Ridge Runner on the trail that was talking to hikers and seeing if they were alright with the heat and lack of water. Ridge Runners are paid to monitor the trail and assist hikers. I would have loved some water, but we knew we could make it just a few more miles. We told him about the lack of water on the trail, so hopefully they came across others that were in bigger need. We crossed powerlines again at 7.5 miles, 8.3 miles, and 8.9 miles. Shortly after this last powerline, we crossed over some railroad tracks and a bridge.  It was only a few more tenths of a mile and at 9.5 miles we made it back to our car exhausted and thirsty.

Carvin Cove Reservoir

A beautiful view of the Carvins Cove Reservoir.  Below: A lot of day two was unshaded; We passed through a meadow with seed pods flying everywhere in the breeze – it was like being in a snowglobe; The descent was welcome as the day got hotter; We crossed railroad tracks; A pretty section of pines; We met this blacksnake.

More Powerlines Pollen Storm Descending
Tracks  Pines Black Snake

When we got back to our car, our first order of business was to get something to drink.  We hopped in our car and jumped into a gas station across the street and downed some Gatorades in record time. We decided we wanted to eat some barbecue and drink some beer to celebrate. Since we had made an early start to our day, it was just a little after noon when we got off the trail. We made our way to Flying Mouse Brewery and our Maps app on our phones said that it would be closed when we arrived.  We thought we would give it a shot anyway in the off chance it was open.  As we were driving up, I saw signs for Virginia Momentum and saw runners.  Virginia Momentum is a company started by a friend of mine that holds races across Virginia that helps support local charities. When we got to Flying Mouse Brewery, they were hosting a brewery-to-brewery race there, so it was open. We felt that someone was looking out for us and went inside to get a flight of beer samples and enjoyed talking to our friends that were participating. While running these long races is impressive, we did earn some props by just having come off the trail carrying some heavy weight.  After some tasty beverages, we made our way to Three Li’l Pigs BBQ, which always has amazing food and is perfect for a post-hike stop.

This backpacking trip had some other significance to us as well. While it was Christine’s birthday, McAfee Knob was one of the first posts that started Virginia Trail Guide. We’ve learned a lot along the way about how to tell our story of the trails.  If you’re looking for one of Virginia’s most famous hikes to serve as a backpacking route, try this one out.  McAfee Knob is the most photographed spot on the entire Appalachian Trail.  We enjoyed taking the ceremonial pictures at the top.  We even mimicked the A Walk in the Woods movie poster shot of Robert Redford and Nick Nolte to show how the scale was wrong for that poster. While we had hiked McAfee Knob before, this was our first trip to Tinker Cliffs and we both thought this was something not to be missed.  This route makes up two-thirds of Virginia’s Triple Crown (with the other third being nearby Dragon’s Tooth) and it is definitely worth the hype.  Just go on a cooler day and pray for better water sources.

Beers

You have to finish with a cold beverage!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 20.5 miles
    Check out the stats from Map My Hike [Day 1] [Day 2]*
  • Elevation Change – 3400 ft.
  • Difficulty –  4.  Day one is the tougher day with about 2500 feet of climbing.  Day two is significantly easier with just over 900 feet of elevation gain.  
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was in great shape and beautifully maintained by the RATC (Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club).
  • Views  5.  The views here are iconic, magnificent, and they just keep coming!
  • Streams/Waterfalls – 1.  There are small springs and streams adequate for a water source for cooking/filtering, but there was nothing really scenic. 
  • Wildlife – 4.  A yearling bear hung out between Lamberts Meadow shelter and Lamberts Meadow campsite for much of the evening. We also saw fence lizards and deer in a couple places.
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.  The trail is well-marked and easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 1.  This is one of the most popular stretches of trail in the area, so expect to see many people – especially if you go in fair weather. Campsites can be crowded and parking is an issue on the Catawba side.  Note: Parking regulations were recently changed.  Do not park along the road, or you will be towed.

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

Download a Trail Map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: GPS coordinates for the parking area to start this hike are 37.380125, -80.089694.  You will park at the McAfee Knob trailhead parking area on Rt. 311 in Catawba.  You must park in the lot.  Roadside parking is prohibited and cars will be towed.

Mt. Eisenhower

April 23, 2017

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 6.6 mile route is one of the fastest, easiest ways to get above treeline in the Presidentials. The trail is rocky (like everything in this area), but the climb is very moderate by White Mountain standards. Trivia: This peak was named Mt. Pleasant until after President Eisenhower’s death in 1969.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Summit of Mt. Eisenhower

The Summit of Mt. Eisenhower.  You can see Mt. Monroe and Mt. Washington off in the distance.

Adam Says…

We have made it up to New Hampshire the last several years. Each year we try to do at least one of the Presidential peaks – big, granite mountains named after our country’s past presidents. This year, we decided to tackle Mt. Eisenhower by way of the Edmands and Crawford Paths. We read in our Falcon Guide to Hiking New Hampshire that this trail route had a moderate grade and the footing was “pleasant”

We have learned to not trust New Hampshirite descriptions with regard to grade or footing. From a Virginian’s standpoint, most of the hiking in the White Mountains is so much tougher than anything we experience in our state. Your body will pay a price and you may end up cursing the granite you walk upon.

They Said It Had Pleasant Footing

So, they said the grades were moderate and called the footing pleasant. The rock jumble pictured above is the actual trail.  Below: Adam makes his way along the easy old road grade seen early in the hike; The climbing got much rockier and steeper as we went along.

Mt. Eisenhower Hike Mt. Eisenhower Hike Mt. Eisenhower Hike

Over the first 1.4 miles of the Edmands Path, you gain about 650 feet of elevation, but in the last 1.5 miles, you gain 1750 feet. The first half of the outgoing hike is a steady climb, but the steeper grade and bigger steps on rock and gnarled roots take over pretty quickly!

As we huffed and puffed up the mountain, we eventually got some views through the trees and knew that our hard work was going to pay off.  Through some of the openings we could see the red roof of the grand Mount Washington Resort below, which gave some perspective of how far we had come.

First Views

It’s always fun to get your first views from the trail.  You can see the red roof of the Mt. Washington Omni between the trees.  Below: Scenery as we reached the treeline.

First Views Mt. Eisenhower Climb Mt. Eisenhower Climb

We eventually came across a U.S. Forest Service Alpine Zone sign warning us that we were entering an area with some of the worst weather in the world. This is definitely a sign to heed on rough weather days, but we had a gorgeous day of mostly clear skies above us. We arrived above treeline and were soon on a rocky path that skirted the shoulder of Mt. Eisenhower. At 2.9 miles, we reached the junction with the Crawford Path (the name given to the Appalachian Trail through these parts) and took the first right on the Eisenhower Loop Trail, which leads to the summit. The views from the junction were phenomenal as we were looking right at Mt. Monroe with Mt. Washington in the distance behind it. The path to the summit zig-zagged up some switchbacks on a skinny path that mostly had nice footing and in about .4 miles we had reached the summit.

Climbing to the Junction with the Crawford Path

Climbing to the junction with the Crawford Path.  Below: The junction of the Edmands Path and the Crawford Path; More open views.

Junction With the Crawford Path Mt. Eisenhower Mt. Eisenhower

When we got to the top, we found lots of people that had hiked over from Lakes of the Clouds Hut or Mizpah Spring Hut. We ate our snack while taking in views in all directions. We took a ton of photos to capture the vast landscapes and beautiful partial cloud coverage.

We made our way back down the same way we came up, reaching the Crawford Path junction quickly. We then took the Edmands Path back down to our car.  We paused for a few moments before ducking back in below treeline to soak up some last views of the majesty of mountains and valleys below us. It is moments like this that we revisit in our minds to help us get through the stress of work and life through the rest of the year.

Climbing Mt. Eisenhower

On our way up Mt. Eisenhower.  The Eisenhower loop trail branches off the Crawford Path to give you an opportunity to see the summit.  Below: Scenery climbing up to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower.

Mt. Eisenhower Climbing Mt. Eisenhower Climbing Mt. Eisenhower

If you’re interested in visiting these high peaks, you can do a multi-day backpacking trip that is called a “Presidential Traverse”. The route connects Mt. Jackson, Mt. Pierce, Mt. Eisenhower, Mt. Monroe, Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, Mt. Quincy Adams, and Mt. Madison. Hikers typically stay at the AMC huts along the way. This route is nice, because you only have to climb up from the valley floor once! The rest of the traverse is tough, but the bulk of the big climbing is done on the first day. The Presidential Traverse entails additional perils because the constantly changing weather can put you at risk for getting lost in the fog or pinned down by storms. We hope to do a Presidential traverse someday to take in the full experience, but for now we have settled for day hikes. We’ve enjoyed the majestic views, but we have had to work a little harder for each one (climbing all the way from the bottom to reach each summit).

Christine Says…

Mt. Eisenhower was a great choice for our 2016 Presidental climb! We had gorgeous, clear views and the mountain’s lofty elevation gave us a little bit of relief from the brutally hot summer day in the valley below.  The area broke a heat record on August 11 – close to 100 degrees at the base of the mountain. The normal high is usually closer to 80.

We got an early start and arrived at the Edmands Path parking area before the crowds.  We paid $3.00 for our WMNF one-day parking pass and set out on our way up the mountain. (There is a self-service parking fee station at one end of the lot.)

Like Adam said, nothing in Virginia really compares to the rigors of a New Hampshire climb, but this route was definitely a more moderate climb than others we’ve tackled. Today’s hikers can thank revolutionary trailbuilder J. Rayner Edmands for many of the gradual, meandering trails in the White Mountains. Edmands, one of the founding members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, modeled his eastern trails after the livestock trails he had climbed as a young man in the Rockies. He believed in the philosophy of “always climbing, never steeply” when it came to trail design.

On the Summit of Mt. Eisenhower

There were a lot of people on the summit of Mt. Eisenhower.  Below: Summit scenery.

On the Summit of Mt. Eisenhower On the Summit of Mt. Eisenhower On the Summit of Mt. Eisenhower
On the Summit of Mt. Eisenhower On the Summit of Mt. Eisenhower  Descending Mt. Eisenhower

He spent time surveying each mountain to find the best grades and the most favorable terrain to reach the summit. He built each trail like a puzzle; using large boulders, extensive cribbing, and selective tree clearing. His philosophy differed greatly from other well-known New Hampshire trail builders of the time; most of them opting for the shortest routes, regardless of steepness or terrain. Built in 1909, the Edmands Path was one of the last trails Edmands built before dying of a stroke at the age of 60 in 1910.

If we’re being completely honest, we have to say that there’s no truly easy way to hike to mountain summits in the Presidentials. Even with Edmands’ thoughtful design, you’re going to get a solid cardio workout climbing to the summit of Mt. Eisenhower.

Descending Mt. Eisenhower

Great views occur everywhere above treeline. Below: Making our way back down the mountain.

Descending Mt. Eisenhower Descending Mt. Eisenhower Descending Mt. Eisenhower

Since it was a hot day, we took many water breaks as we worked our way uphill.  Despite the effort, I still thought the tough climbing over boulders and roots went by quickly.  I was actually surprised when we reached the alpine zone sign… “Here? Already?”  The last bit of the Edmands Path before we reached the junction with the Crawford Path was almost flat and passed through a lush bed of alpine mosses and wildflowers.  After we cleared that last swath of green, the view gave way to a theater of bare granite mountains.

The last tenth of a mile before the junction with the Crawford Path was a jumble of football-sized rocks along an exposed cliffside. When it’s wet, a stream flows over these rocks, but on this day it was thankfully bone dry. In the winter, this particular spot is known for being treacherously icy and windy. I’m glad we only visit New Hampshire in the summer. Virginia winters are tough enough for me!

Descending Mt. Eisenhower

We saw interesting Alpine plants. Below: More scenery on the descent: Lunch afterwards at Moat Mountain Brewery & Smokehouse.

Alpine Plant Descending Mt. Eisenhower Post-Hike Meal at Moat Mountain

The last .4 miles of trail from the Crawford Path junction to the summit of Eisenhower follows the Eisenhower loop – essentially a spur trail that detours people from the Crawford Path over the summit. Most of the mountains in this area have an “over or around” option.  No matter which option you pick, you’re going to have SPECTACULAR views if you hike on a clear day. The majesty of the Presidentials is without compare – so much rugged beauty. It takes my breath away every time!

The hike down simply retraced our steps.  As we descended, we could feel the heat and humidity of the lower elevations closing in around us. I was glad we finished hiking rather early in the afternoon, as it gave us time to make a couple more stops before heading back to my parents’ house. First we detoured into Jackson. We stopped at a great bakery for cold drinks and cookies and paid a visit to the White Mountain Puzzle Company. If you enjoy working jigsaw puzzles, they make a great variety!  After Jackson, we hit one of our favorite lunch spots in the area – Moat Mountain Brewery and Smokehouse. A tasty lunch and cold craft beer made the perfect ending to another excellent New Hampshire day.

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 6.6 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 2800 ft
  • Difficulty –  4.5.  The hiking may be moderate by New Hampshire standards, but it is a tough hike and you should be in decent hiking shape to tackle it.
  • Trail Conditions – 2.  While the trail was well maintained, the boulders of rock that you have to climb in the last 1.5 miles of the Edmands Path makes it tough climbing. 
  • Views –  5.  The 360-degree views from the Presidential Range is hard to beat anywhere on a clear day.
  • Waterfalls/streams 1.  You cross over a small stream early in the hike, but otherwise there wasn’t much water to see.  However, we visited in drought conditions.  In a normal to wet year, stream crossings may be more numerous and/or more difficult.
  • Wildlife – 1.5  Squirrels scampering and birds chirping will give you sounds along the way, but don’t expect anything once you go above treeline. 
  • Ease to Navigate – 4.5.  There is just one turn from the Edmands Path to reach the summit, so it should be very easy to follow.
  • Solitude – 3.  We didn’t come across many on the Edmands Path, but on a beautiful summer day, the summit had a lot of people. 

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Parking Coordinates: 44.248988, -71.391665.  The trailhead is on Mt. Clinton Road, off U.S. 302 near the AMC Highlands Center. The parking area requires a White Mountain National Forest parking pass.  You can buy an annual pass or use the self service station to pay the $3 day fee.  For more information about parking passes, visit the national forest website.

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