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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

IMPORTANT: Please read these important regulations and helpful tips before hiking in this area

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

McAfee Knob

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,  camping is strictly prohibited on top Tinker Cliffs. 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.


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.

Special regulations for this area:

  • Maximum group size, day hikes: 25
  • Maximum group size, backpacking/camping: 10
  • No alcohol
  • Dogs must be kept on leash at all times
  • No camping or campfires outside of seven designated areas (north of Va 624/Newport Rd, the only legal campsites are Johns Spring Shelter, Catawba Shelter and campsites, Pig Farm campsite, Campbell Shelter and Lambert’s Meadow Shelter and campsites)
  • No camping or campfires on McAfee Knob or Tinker Cliffs

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

Mt. Chocorua

March 5, 2017

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This 7.2 mile hike takes you to a rocky summit with a 360 degree view of New Hampshire’s mountains and lakes. Chocorua is the easternmost peak in the Sandwich Range and stands at just 3,490 feet. It’s not one of New Hampshire’s famous 4,000-footers, but we found the views were spectacular and the summit offered unique terrain. The trail is mostly moderate but requires some trickier rock scrambling near the summit.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

The Summit of Mt. Chocorua

The Summit of Mt. Chocorua offers majestic views.

Christine Says…

When we visited New Hampshire in August 2016, we got to chatting with a couple locals on the summit of Mt. Cube. They were surprised that we’d hiked so many lesser-known trails in the area, but had somehow overlooked popular Mt. Chocorua. We’d passed the trailhead many times, but had no idea it offered such spectacular views. Adam had taken to calling it Mt. Cocoa Puffs, which is significantly cheerier than the legend of how the mountain got its name.

Supposedly, in the 1720’s a Native American man named Chocorua had a son who was accidentally killed after drinking poison on a white settler’s farm. He took vengeance and killed the farmer’s wife and children. The farmer shot and wounded Chocorua, but he escaped up the mountainside. From the summit, he cursed all white settlers, their livestock, and their crops; and then leapt to his death. Like most legends, there are no records to authenticate the tale, but Wikipedia listed a couple different versions of the curse he made.

“May the Great Spirit curse you when he speaks in the clouds and his words are fire! Lightning blast your crops! Wind and fire destroy your homes! The Evil One breathe death on your cattle! Panthers howl and wolves fatten on your bones!”

We hiked this peak on a hot, humid day during an extremely droughty New Hampshire summer. The trail started off at the Champney Brook – Bolles Trail parking lot along the Kancamagus Highway. During fair weather, the parking lots fills by lunchtime so plan to get an earlier start. There is also a small recreational use fee ($3 in 2016) for parking. Payments are made at a self-service envelope station, so you will need small bills/cash to pay for parking.

New Hampshire in Drought Conditions

The White Mountains are in drought conditions. Twin Brook was completely dry where it crossed the trail.  Below: The early trail was a mix of roots and dirt;  Constructed stairs on the trail at the junction to visit Champney Falls and Pitcher Falls (we skipped the falls, assuming they’d be dry); The trail crew working that day was hoping for tips!

Rooty Trail Junction of Falls Trail Tips for Beer Money

The hike begins on the Champney Brook Trail.  You’ll almost immediately cross Twin Brook. There used to be a wooden footbridge over the brook, but it washed away in March of 2013 during heavy rains and snowmelt. Crossing was no problem when we visited – the brook was bone dry and nothing but a bed of cobblestones. At .1 miles, you’ll pass the junction with the Bolles Trail. Pass this and continue following the Champney Brook trail. At .25 miles, the trail will meet up with the brook. The trail and brook run parallel for about a mile. At 1.3 miles, you will reach a junction with the Champney Falls/Pitcher Falls spur. The spur trail departs to the left and follows the water more closely before rejoining the main Champney Brook trail once again about .3 miles later. Since everything was so dry, we decided to bypass the two waterfalls and continue our climb up the mountain.

Once you pass the waterfall spur trail, the climbing becomes significantly steeper and rockier. The terrain is made up of a mix of boulders, cobbles, and slabs of granite. At around the 2.4 mile mark there is a good view to the north on the right side of the trail. If it’s clear, you’ll have nice views looking toward the Presidentials. We spent some time relaxing and enjoying the sun on this ledge. After leaving this view, you’ll ascend seven steep switchbacks over about half a mile up to the junction of the Champney Brook trail and the Middle Sister Trail. Bear to the right, staying on the Champney Brook trail for .1 mile where you’ll reach its terminus at the junction with the Piper Trail.

First Views Through the Trees

Our first views through the trees.  We’re pretty sure the tallest peak is Mt. Washington.  Below: As we ascended the trail became significantly rockier.  The terrain was a mix of cobbles and slabs.

All Trails in New Hampshire Are Rocky Granite Slabs All Trails in New Hampshire are Rocky

Follow the yellow-blazed Piper Trail for .6 miles over open rock ledges and crags. Some parts will require scrambling on your hands and knees to negotiate the climb. The view keeps getting better and better as you go. I personally found some of the rock scrambling to be a bit frightening.  I have some vertigo issues and there were several places I felt like I might fall backwards and go tumbling down a cliffside. My hands were shaking and I felt panicky. But, Adam (and most of the other normal people) seemed to have a fun time climbing, so clearly this is a ‘me issue’.

At the top, we enjoyed a fantastic view of  what seemed like all of New Hampshire. We could see many lakes and peaks in every directions. The day we hiked was pretty clear, so we even had a great view of distant Mount Washington. The hike down came a lot easier for me and I enjoyed the wide, theatrical presentation of mountain scenery on the descent. We soon dipped back into the woods and made quick time climbing down to the parking area. On the ride home, we passed through Holderness where we stopped at Squam Lakeside for lime cream slushes and lobster rolls – a treat well-earned by a couple of tired hikers!

A View of Middle Sister

A View of Middle Sister. Below: Nice views from a ledge below Middle Sister Mountain; Making our way up to the summit of Chocorua.

Views from the Ledge The Bare Summit of Chocorua The Bare Summit of Chocorua

Adam Says…

We love hiking in New Hampshire!  There are so many amazing hikes to do up there and this one has to be one of my favorites for views in the “Live Free or Die” state.  We picked a perfect summer day to hike this which gave us clear skies to take in the sprawling majestic landscape around us.

Climbing Mt. Chocorua

Climbing Mt. Chocorua.  Below: More scenes from the rocky climb to the top.

Views on the Way Up Chocurua Climbing Mt. Chocorua Climbing Mt. Chocorua

As Christine mentioned, the trail had a moderate climb through the bulk of the hike.   As with most hikes in New Hampshire, you can’t escape the roots and rocks on hikes in this area which make for tougher climbing than what we are used to in Virginia mountains.  It was a bit of a slog uphill, but quite manageable.  When we got to the view below the Middle Sister, we were impressed with how high we had come up and the views from the open ledge were already magnificent.  Within a short distance from this overview, we reached the junction with the Piper Trail and made our way to summit Mt. Chocorua.  The hike up to the summit is quite tricky.  While Christine talked about how it was scary to her, it was a challenge to get to the summit.  The blazes at times were a little tricky to follow and you had to use handholds and footholds to navigate up some of the tricky rock scrambles to get to the summit.  When we were able to first see the rocky slabs of the climb up, we thought it was a short distance to the summit, but it was a false summit – you get to the top of this first outcropping and then you can see the true summit further up.  This would fall in the category of hikes that you hear those warnings of not being for the “faint of heart”.  But I will say that if you can muster up the courage, you will be rewarded.  From the north, on a clear day you can see Mount Washington sitting atop the Presidential range and from the west, you can see the Tripyramid, Mount Tecumseh, and Mount Whiteface.

The 360 Degree View from Mt. Chocorua

The 360 Degree View from Mt. Chocorua. Below: Summit scenery; A look back at the summit from below; Making the descent.

Summit of Mt. Chocorua Summit of Mt. Chocorua Descending Mt. Chocorua

Another thing I discovered when researching this hike was there used to be a three-story hotel called the Peak House that sat at the base of the summit.  It was built in the late 1800s and served meals and provided lodging for those that were hiking Mt. Chocorua.  It was, quite literally, blown off the mountain in September of 1915 from heavy winds (keep in mind this isn’t far from Mt. Washington which is known for some of the highest recorded winds in the world ever).  Supplies for the Peak House were brought up by oxen, horses, or manpower and the blueberry pies made from blueberries picked on the mountain, were legendary to visitors.  Nobody was staying in the house when it was blown over.   The Chocorua Mountain Club then built a structure to replace it in 1924, but that was also blown over by wind in 1932.  The U.S. Forest Service built the Liberty Cabin there in 1934, a smaller structure, that remains today (access is on the Liberty Trail) and can sleep 6 people on a first-come basis.  The roof of the Liberty Cabin is draped by heavy chains to keep it from blowing away, similar to what you see in structures at Mt. Washington.  This story reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the father is telling his son about the castle that was built on a swamp and kept getting destroyed.  I guess there is some stubbornness that sets in when people want to keep some semblance of the past.

I had to do some encouraging to Christine to make her want to fight through her vertigo and reach the summit, but I think she felt the journey was worth it and I was so proud of her for fighting through to make it to the summit.  Once she made it to the top, we enjoyed taking in the views and the climb back down was even more spectacular.  For hikers like us, it doesn’t get any better than spending a day in this scenery.

Views on the Hike Down Chocorua

The hike down was just as beautiful. Below: Scenes from the descent; Post-hike lunch of lobster rolls!

Views on the Hike Down Chocorua Views on the Hike Down Chocorua
Views on the Hike Down Chocorua Post-hike Rewards

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 7.2 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 2100 ft
  • Difficulty –  4.5.  Much of the trail is moderate, but the scramble at the top increases the difficulty factor a little.
  • Trail Conditions – 3.5.  The trail is well maintained, but rocky like most of New Hampshire.  Crews were out doing maintenance on the day we hiked.
  • Views –  5.  One of the nicest views from a smaller mountain.  It’s truly a 360 degree view.
  • Waterfalls/streams – 2.  This score may very well have been higher, but we visited during a period of severe drought.  The streams and falls were dry.  Champney Falls has a reputation for being pretty during spring snow-melt, but is generally considered underwhelming compared to other falls in the area.
  • Wildlife – 3.  We saw lots of birds and red squirrels.
  • Ease to Navigate –  3.  There are a few turns to pay attention to, also the scramble to the top is not well marked and it can be tricky to find the best hand and foot holds.
  • Solitude – 1.  This trail is very popular.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are: 43.990146, -71.299888.  The trailhead is on the Kancamagus Highway near Albany, NH. Look for the sign marking the Champney Brook Trail – Bolles Trail parking area.

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

Mt. Cube

January 30, 2017

Special: New Hampshire Edition

Introductory Guide to Visiting the White Mountains

This is a beautiful section of Appalachian Trail with spectacular views from the two-summit peak of Mount Cube (2,909′).  The round-trip is  just over seven miles and traverses moderate terrain (by New Hampshire standards).   It’s a worthwhile day hike in the area, especially if you want to escape the crowds.

View the Full Album of Photos From This Hike

Christine Enjoys the North Summit of Mt. Cube

Christine Enjoys the North Summit of Mt. Cube – views look toward Upper Baker Pond and Mt. Moosilauke.

Adam Says…

As we slowly work on trying to cover the entire Appalachian Trail, piece by piece, we are always looking through our AWOL AT Guide to come up with day hikes when we are near the trail.  The AWOL guide is a great handbook to get elevation profiles, campsites, water sources, and local amenities for places along the Appalachian Trail.  The AWOL guide uses camera icons in the book to denote great view places that are worth taking pictures.  The guide tends to be pretty stingy with giving out these icons, so seeing two camera icons on this trail, we knew it would be worth checking out.   We had a gorgeous summer day to do this hike and we had a feeling the scenery would be stupendous, but we were even more surprised when we reached the top.

We parked alongside the road of NH-25A and then found the AT trailhead marker heading south (see directions below).  The first .4 miles of the hike are relatively flat.  We passed a campsite fairly early on.  After .4 miles, the trail begins to climb at an easy climb and at .6 miles, we crossed a forest road.  At .8 miles, we crossed a mostly-dry stream and at 1.7 miles we crossed over Brackett Brook, which was the only reliable water source we found on the trail.  After crossing the brook, the trail really begins to increase elevation and will get your heart going.  We always find that conversation tends to die down on the big uphill climbs.

Nice Campsites

There were several nice campsites along this stretch of Appalachian Trail. Below:  Trail signage; Crossing what would be a marshy area;  Forest road crossing.

Trail Signage Appalachian Trail Near Mt. Cube Appalachian Trail Near Mt. Cube

It was a tough slog for the next 1.5 miles of switchbacks up the mountain, but at 3.3 miles the climb levels and we reached a sign at an intersection.  We took a right to check out the northeast summit of Mount Cube first.  The trail is a little tough to follow to the summit.  Follow the sparse blazes through the woods and the trail opens up to above treeline.  Walking on the rocky surfaces made it hard to find the proper path, but we would pick up a blaze eventually and knew we were on the right path.  At 3.55 miles (just .25 miles from the junction), we reached the northeast summit.  The views were phenomenal and we found ourselves surrounded by wild blueberries on the shrubs around us, which made for a snack among the majestic views.  We spent a long time on the rocky ledges overlooking the valley, with views of Mt. Moosilauke in the far distance.

We were impressed we had the views entirely to ourselves, but we made our way back to the intersection to see what the southern main summit of Mt. Cube would give us.  At 3.8 miles, we reached the intersection and continued on the AT to the summit of Mt. Cube just .1 mile away from the intersection.  At the main summit, there were several people at the top.  While we found these views nice, we were at tree level and we felt if we were just about 10 feet higher the views would be more impressive.  We talked with a few people at the top and told them they shouldn’t miss the views from the northeast summit.  We ate a snack here and then made our way back to the intersection and back down the mountain the way we came.

Brackett Brook

Brackett Brook was the only water source still running along this stretch of trail.  Below: Crossing the brook; Scenes from the steeper part of the climb.

Crossing Brackett Brook The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube
The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube

When we got back to the road, we saw an older hiker waiting at the bottom of the trail.  Christine had thought it was Warren Doyle, a well-known AT hiker and supporter of others on the trail.  I told her I would find out and asked the gentlemen if he needed a ride.  He declined, since he was waiting for a friend to pick him up and I slipped the name “Warren Doyle” cleverly into the conversation to see if he would react.  He said that he knew Warren and he was actually going to get some help from him a little further up the trail and had been part of one of Warren’s fabled AT hikes years ago.  So, while we were wrong, it was still interesting to make that connection.

Mount Cube was a wonderful pick and the camera icons didn’t lie.  This is definitely worth doing on a nice spring/summer/fall day, but the ripe blueberries in August made this for a classic day in New England.

Christine Says…

While Mt. Cube isn’t a 4,000-footer, it still offers lofty views from two distinct summits.  It’s a great dayhike if you’re in the area and looking to escape the thicker crowds around the Presidential peaks. We hiked Cube on an absolutely gorgeous Sunday morning, and saw just a handful of other hikers – most of them Appalachian Trail thru-hikers nearing the end of their long voyage north. We hiked southbound on the AT, starting from the road-crossing near Orford, NH.

The Climb to Mt. Cube

There were many beautiful birch trees on the climb. Below:  The rocky, rooty climb continues; The junction for trails to the north and south summits.

The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube The Climb to Mt. Cube

The first mile and a half of hiking was beautiful and easy.  We climbed gently uphill and passed through a mixed hardwood and pine forest.  The overhead canopy kept the trail shady and cool, even on this rather warm summer day.  Our guidebook marked a stream about 3/4ths of a mile into the hike.  When we got there, we found a southbound section hiker filtering what amounted to a mud puddle.  He was worried about running out of water and didn’t want to pass any source without gathering what little he could.  Last summer, New Hampshire experienced serious drought conditions.  Many streams that normally flow year-round were reduced to a trickle, so I understood his concern.

We reached the second stream marked in our guide, Brackett Brook, and found it was still flowing with clear, clean water.  Side note: I love how New England has brooks and notches instead of creeks and gaps. As a southerner, they just sound more exotic and picturesque. After crossing the brook, the climb became a bit steeper, but remained uncharacteristically smooth and uncomplicated.  We stopped to chat briefly with another thru-hiker.  I said something to him about how nice the terrain had been along this stretch of trail and he just replied ‘Ugh‘ and shook his head.  I thought to myself, ‘Hmmm… maybe there’s something I don’t know?’

Soon after that, the trail went from mostly dirt tread to a steep mix of roots, rocks, and log steps built into the earth. It still was pleasant terrain compared to most of what you see in the Whites, but I get the origin of the thru-hiker’s Ugh!  Near the summit, the trail leveled out through a stretch of hemlocks and pines. The footing was a mix of fallen needles and granite sand.

North Side Summit of Mt. Cube

North Side Summit of Mt. Cube.  Below: More of the north summit

Exploring the North Summit of Mt. Cube Exploring the North Summit of Mt. Cube mt-cube19

At the top, we decided to check out the north summit first.  To get to the north summit, you follow a spur trail that departs the AT.  It was gorgeous – ledges and blueberries and views for miles and miles!  Upper Baker Pond added a lovely water feature to the vista. The pond is home to vacation cottages and a summer camp called Camp Moosilauke.  We spent lots of time enjoying the solitude, taking photos, and eating our lunch.  Eventually we made our way back to the junction and followed the trail a few tenths of a mile to the south summit.

It was also beautiful, but lacked the majesty of the north summit.  We chatted with a few fellow hikers, including two women from the area. They gave us some hiking recommendations, but it turned out we had already hiked most of them.  The one we hadn’t yet hiked was Mt. Chocorua.  They told us it was a ‘must hike‘. (so, we hiked it – and it will be our next post).

South Summit of Mt. Cube

The South Summit of Mt. Cube. Below: South summit scenes; The return hike to the start point.

South Summit of Mt. Cube South Summit of Mt. Cube
The Hike Down Mt. Cube mt-cube24

After leaving the summit, we made quick work of the descent. With about a mile and a half left, I started having horrible foot and toe cramps.  I hobbled along for as long as I could before I finally sat down in the middle of the trail and told Adam I had to take my shoe off immediately.  Once I massaged it a bit and did some foot stretches, I was able to continue.  The injury has continued to plague me ever since this hike.  It stinks, but I’ve been able to manage the pain and hike through it.

After we got back to the car, I kicked off my trail runners and switched into my Oofos flip flops.  They’re the best for sore feet!  On the way home, we found a little country store that had a dozen different flavors of whoopie pies.  I tried a gingerbread-lemon pie that was so delicious.  It was the perfect way to wrap up another excellent day of New England hiking!

Trail Notes

  • Distance – 7.2 miles
    (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
  • Elevation Change – 2025 ft
  • Difficulty –  4.  Everything is a little tougher in New Hampshire, but we were able to take our time and enjoy it.
  • Trail Conditions – 4.  The trail was well-maintained and not very overgrown.  We didn’t experience any blowdowns.
  • Views –  4.5.  The expansive views from the northeast summit of Mt. Cube are not to be missed.
  • Waterfalls/streams 1.5.  We did find a water source on Brackett Brook, but most of the streambeds we saw were bone dry in the summer. 
  • Wildlife – 1.  We didn’t spot anything other than some squirrels and chipmunks.  There were a few juncos and chickadees at the summits.
  • Ease to Navigate – 3.5.  Overall, the trail was easy to follow, but we are marking it down due to the lack of blazes leading to the northeast summit.
  • Solitude – 3.  We were pleased to find nobody on the northeast summit, but there were several at the southern summit.  There is room to spread out, so if you want to avoid people, you can.

Download a trail map (PDF)

Directions to trailhead: GPS coordinates: 43.9013  -71.9838   Take Route 1 25A East out of Orford, NH. Pass through Orfordville in 2.5 miles and continue up the northern shoulder of Mount Cube, whose summit ledges are visible above the trees. After 8.3 miles, at the height-of-land, pass Mount Cube Farm and former governor Mel Thompson’s famous pancake house. Continue on Route 25A and descend steeply to Upper Baker Pond. Just before crossing a steel highway bridge, 10.2 miles from Orford, the AT south leaves from the right hand side of the road. Park in the parking lot across the bridge.

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