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.
Christine Says: Day One – Blackhorse Gap to Trailside Campsite (4.2 miles)
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?
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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.