This 4.75 mile hike is probably one of the best places in the park to experience the spring trillium bloom. It’s nothing short of spectacular along this section of Appalachian Trail. This route also features two views – both are obstructed – so it’s best to hike this route before trees at higher elevations leaf out.
When the days get longer, I find myself skipping the gym and hitting the trail instead. I like having an arsenal of short 3-5 mile hikes I can do on weeknights after I get off work. This route is one of my favorites, especially in the spring when the trillium are blooming in Shenandoah National Park. The flowers are so abundant along this stretch that they practically carpet the forest floor. It’s beautiful, but it’s also ephemeral. The trillium only last a couple of weeks each April into early May.
Last night, I loaded Indy the Hiker Pug into his crate and headed up to the park. Down in the valley, it was sunny and 87 degrees. When I parked along the Pocosin Fire Road – where the hike starts – it was a full 17 degrees cooler and delightfully breezy. We followed the fire road for .2 of a mile to its junction with the Appalachian Trail. If you continue straight down the road, you’ll pass the PATC’s Pocosin Cabin and eventually reach the old mission ruins. It’s a nice hike for another day. But for this route, take a left at the cement marker and head north on the Appalachian Trail. The trail meanders downhill for a couple tenths of a mile where you’ll cross a spring and get a pretty view of the valley to the east.
From there, the trail levels out, allowing you to saunter along for about a mile. At about a mile and a half, the trail runs closely parallel to Skyline Drive. You’ll see cars passing – sometimes people wave. As the trail moves away from the road, you’ll begin to ascend gently but steadily uphill for about half a mile. At close to the two mile mark, you will reach a road and another cement marker at the southern end of Lewis Mountain Campground. If you need a snack or bathroom break, Lewis Mountain Campground has a camp store and restrooms open seasonally. Take a right, and follow the Lewis Mountain Trail. For the first tenth of a mile, the trail follows a utility road, but then it turns back into single track through the woods for the remaining few tenths of a mile. The forest around here is open and grassy. You’ll then climb some wooden stairs built into a hillside and pass through a small tunnel of mountain laurel. The trail hooks to the right and leads to the summit of Lewis Mountain – a small rocky spot with obstructed views to the east.
On this particular day, the weather was odd. Along the trail and to the west, skies were clear and sunny. But to the east, a dense bank of fog was lying against the side of the mountains. So, instead of an obstructed view, I got NO view. It was fine though, I think fog is pretty and I had some older photos of the view spot to share for this post. I gave Indy some water and rested for a few minutes before heading back. On the return hike, I chatted with a few section-hikers making their way to camp at Bearfence Hut. One of them was thrilled to see Indy on the trail. She also has a hiking pug named ‘Bronx’. She showed me a cute photo of Bronx hiking in Colorado. He wasn’t on this trip with her, but she was delighted to meet another pug that hikes.
I got back to the car pretty quickly – the return trip is mostly downhill or flat. When I got home, I had to remove THIRTEEN ticks from the dog. This is despite him being treated with Frontline regularly. I also spray his bed with permethrin. I think I got all the ticks off him, but if any were left hopefully the Frontline and permethrin will take care of killing them before they transmit any diseases. I know every year the media says ‘this is going to be a bad year for ticks’, but this year it’s the truth. In my four decades of hiking, I have never seen such issues with ticks. I want to remind everyone to take precautions. Tickborne diseases are nothing to mess with.
One final note – starting at Pocosin is also a great way to hike Bearfence Mountain. I always feel like the Bearfence hike is too short, so I like parking at Pocosin and hiking north for about 3.5 miles to the Bearfence summit.
Distance – 4.75 miles roundtrip
Elevation Change – 820 ft.
Difficulty – 2. This is an easy hike with gradual uphills.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail is smooth and well-maintained.
Views – 2. There is a view of the valley along the trail early in the hike. There is also a view at the summit of Lewis Mountain, but it is quite grown in by larger trees.
Streams/Waterfalls – 1. You’ll cross one small spring.
Wildlife – 5. I’ve seen all kinds of birds, a bobcat, deer, and bears along this stretch.
Ease to Navigate – 4. The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
Solitude – 4. I guess because there are no grand vistas, you really don’t see many people dayhiking in this area. I usually only see backpackers making their way to Bearfence Hut.
Directions to trailhead: Located in Shenandoah National Park (fees apply). Parking is located in several spots along the Pocosin Fire Road in the Central Section on Skyline Drive. The turn onto the road comes up quickly and is not marked, so pay attention. It’s near mile 59.5 on the Drive. GPS Coordinates for parking: 38.413585, -78.488959
This past year was not a good year for our backpacking hobby. The rain seemed endless and the amount of exceedingly heavy rain did a lot of damage to trails. We also got a new puppy in March. He needed a lot of training and we weren’t quite ready to trust him to someone else for long periods of time.
We did manage to get out for this one trip in August 2018. Halfmoon Mountain had been a trail we had looked at doing for many years. We heard there were great views and a sweet campsite with a view at the top. One thing that hurts this as a backpacking loop is the nearest water source to the top is about 1-1.5 miles away from the camp areas, so you have to haul what water you need to the top.
We started the trip by parking along Trout Run Road (see GPS coordinates below). We started off on the Bucktail Trail and shortly walked through a gate blocking off the fire road. After a short distance, we came to a junction where the Bucktail Connector Trail branched off to the right while the Bucktail Trail takes a left (this is your return trip for the loop). We took the right Bucktail Connector Trail which has pinkish-purple blazes to follow this loop counter-clockwise. The trail began to climb up through forested terrain. Overall, this trail was well-maintained as it is a visible, narrow footpath cutting through the forest. There isn’t a ton to say about this section since there wasn’t a lot to see other than forest around you. The trail climbs for about the first 1.25 miles before descending slightly for about .5 miles and then there is another up and down until you reach another junction at 2.5 miles. There is a very nice campsite along the stream near this junction.
At the junction take a left on to the Halfmoon Trail (going right would take you to the Halfmoon parking area – where many hikers originate on a shorter out-and-back route to the summit). From here, the trail gets steeper and at the 3.5 mile mark, you reach the junction with the Halfmoon Lookout Trail, which takes off from the left. Take that left on to the Halfmoon Lookout Trail to reach the summit after another .8 miles. On our way up to the Halfmoon Lookout, we noticed a small footpath that branched off to the left which led to a larger camp area where we ultimately camped for the night. The last tenth of a mile is a steep rock scramble to the top. With crumbling rock underfoot, you really have to watch your step. At the top, there are two great viewpoints. The first you come across on the lefthand side of the trail and there is room for a few people at the top. There are remains of an old firetower at this lookout spot.
To visit second viewpoint, you descend through a campsite in a saddle and then over another rock scramble to to the view. This view spot will typically only work for about two people. It’s tight quarters.
We initially were going to camp at the top – we heard it was a great campsite. Some jerks had chopped down some live trees to build the frame of a lean-to (so much for Leave No Trace principles) on the campsite. We deconstructed the lean-to and tried to clear out the area a bit, but felt the campsite would have been a bit tight and we would have had people walking through our campsite all day to get to the second viewpoint. We decided to enjoy the views up here and then make our way back down. Investigating that side trail, we found a great spot to set up camp. Even better, the campsite below the saddle had its own little viewpoint for us to enjoy. We found a nice grassy spot to set up our tent on some flat ground. The bugs were a little hard to deal with at camp, but we made the best of it. We were later joined by another couple that shared our camping area.
After we set up camp, we made our way back to the top to enjoy some late afternoon/sunset views. At the second view, another couple had set up a hammock somewhat precariously over the edge – a nice spot, but it did obstruct the views for anyone else. We had a nice dinner back at our campsite and settled down for the evening enjoying the sounds of the forest.
Christine Says: Day Two (5.3 miles)
I woke up early on the second day, so I could watch the sunrise. There were a couple decent places to catch the sun coming up – the small outcropping at our campsite and a spot about halfway up the scramble to the summit of Halfmoon. Both vistas were a bit obstructed, but I was still able to capture some pretty morning color in the sky. The day was already warming, so we ate breakfast and packed up quickly.
We made our way back down the Halfmoon Lookout Trail for several tenths of a mile to its junction with the German Wilson Trail. I don’t know what color I’d call the blazes on German Wilson Trail – purplish? fuchsia? magenta? Something like that, I suppose. The German Wilson Trail descended very steeply over loose, rocky terrain. It wasn’t fun and I was very glad we had decided to hike the loop counter-clockwise and didn’t have to ascend this tough section of trail with full packs. The trail drops steadily for about a mile before coming to a grassy area with a shallow stream.
Look for a forest service gate to the left. You should see the orange blazes of the Bucktail Trail. The trail that continues toward the right is the Old Mine Trail – do not take this trail. Follow the Bucktail Trail, crossing the stream multiple times over the next .8 mile. When we hiked in August 2018, this section of the trail was in terrible shape. Big sections were washed out and we had to navigate by following sparse orange blazes. Lots of sections of footbed were completely disappeared by debris and erosion. Hopefully some trail maintenance has been done over the last eight months.
At 2.2 miles, you’ll come to a junction with the Cacapon Trail. That trail follows a small footbridge over the stream on the right. Stay to the left and continue following the orange blazed Bucktail Trail. At this point, the trail becomes wide and grassy. It also begins to ascend again. This climb wasn’t difficult, but the grass was pretty overgrown and there was a lot of direct sun/heat. I also saw a ton of poison ivy mixing in with the grass. The climb felt worse than the numbers make it look.
The last three miles on the Bucktail Trail were pretty dull. It was basically a trudge along a grassy roadbed back to the parking area. All in all, this hike didn’t really live up to my expectations. It was nice to get out after such a long backpacking drought, but this trail definitely is not destined to become a favorite. If I were to hike it again, I think I’d park at the Halfmoon Mountain parking area and just do this as a seven mile, out-and-back dayhike.
We got back to the car by late morning, so we decided to get some lunch and a cold beer before heading home.
Distance – 10 miles
Elevation Change – Day One: 1545 feet, Day Two: 477 feet
Difficulty – 3. This was a fairly easy backpacking route. The first day has about a mile of serious climbing, but the rest is very gradual. The second day has a steep, rocky mile of downhill, followed by a bunch of stream crossings, and then a moderate climb along a forest road before gently descending back to the parking area.
Trail Conditions – 3. The trail was in decent condition for national forest. The first day along the Bucktail Cutoff and Halfmoon Mountain Trail was excellent. The second day had rougher trail conditions: the steep descent when you first turn onto the German Wilson trail had lots of loose softball to football sized rocks and was a bit challenging to walk on, there was a trail washout near the final stream crossing on the Bucktail Trail, and the road portion of the Bucktail Trail had loads of tall grass and poison ivy.
Views – 3. There are several vistas at and near the summit of Halfmoon Mountain, however they are all small and partially obstructed.
Streams/Waterfalls – 3. There are nice streams on both day one and two, but the closest water source to the summit campsites is about 1 – 1.5 miles downtrail. In drier times, I expect campers might have to walk up to 2.5 miles down from the summit for water.
Wildlife – 3. We saw several deer and had a whippoorwill at camp.
Ease to Navigate – 2.5. The trail has spotty blazing and intermittent trail signs. Blazes are not equally distributed for hikers headed in both directions, sometimes we had to look back to check for blazes to make sure we were on the same trail. There are some trail washouts on the Bucktail Trail that make navigating the stream crossings a little tricky. Also, many blazes are faded and painted in inconsistent colors (for example – the orange Bucktail Trail blazes were often closer to red).
Solitude – 2. There is one small campsite and one large campsite near the summit. We had to share the large campsite with another hiking party. There was also a steady stream of dayhikers visiting this peak.
Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are 39.01431, -78.66388. The parking area is at the top of a gravel loop right off Trout Run Rd. The sign along the road will be for the Bucktail Trail. Do not park at the lot labeled Halfmoon Trail – that is the 7-mile out-and-back route, rather than the loop outlined here.
This four mile hike is included among New Hampshires ‘52 with a View‘ – this list is composed of ‘view hikes’ with summits under 4,000 feet. They’re generally considered milder hikes compared to the above-treeline 4,000-footers. Mt. Israel is still a steep climb – ascending close to 2,000 feet in two miles. The view at the top wasn’t as nice as many other hikes we’ve done in the area, but it was still a good choice for a beautiful summer day.
Our last day of vacation was the only day we had low-humidity, cool breezes, and bluebird skies! We had packing to do, so we needed a final hike that was relatively short and located close to my parent’s home. Mt. Israel was another hike we had passed over in our hiking guide several times. The route outlined in the book was an 8-mile loop with quite a bit of road walking. Generally, I prefer to avoid road walks, so we had always opted for other hikes. Then, I happened to stumble across a four-mile, no-road-walking route on the ‘52 with a View‘ list, and decided that Mt. Israel might fit the bill after all.
Parking for this hike was at the Mead Base Conservation Center. The center has programming, concerts, community events, camping, and plenty of parking for day hikers. Our route to the top, the Wentworth Trail, starts just to the left of the building (as you’re facing it). The hike gets off to a quick ascent and is relentlessly uphill all the way up to the ridgeline. Like most New Hamsphire trails, there are lots of roots and rocks. There are a few places with slick slab granite, but they’re not terribly steep or extensive. The terrain is generally simple and non-technical.
The first view comes from a little rocky outcropping about a mile and a half up the mountain. It’s obstructed, but if you peek over the trees, you’ll get a nice look at Squam Lake. You can’t see the lake from the actual summit, so this is a good spot to get a different vista. Shortly after the lake view, the trail levels out and goes through a mossy, piney, boggy area. Right before the ledges, you’ll pass the junction with the Mead Trail. The Mead Trail and Guinea Pond Trails are part of the loop I mentioned earlier in the post.
After the junction, you walk a short distance out onto a series of rock ledges. From the first ledge, bear to the right and continue following the trail through the trees. There is a little bit of very mild rock scrambling through a little saddle before you come out on more ledges. These ledges are more open and provide a nice mountain view. The actual summit of Mt. Israel supposedly is marked by a large cairn – however, it appeared to be mostly toppled when we hiked. The rock pile had once clearly been a cairn, but it was reduced to a gathering of football sized rocks.
We sat on the summit for a while, enjoying the picture-perfect day. We always love the time we spend in New Hampshire and appreciate the endless options for trails the area provides. We eventually made our way down, following the Wentworth Trail again. On our way home, we stopped one more time for lobster rolls at our favorite little lakeside shack. Until next time, New Hampshire!
As Christine said, this was our last day before heading back to Virginia. We had trouble picking a hike for the last day. We love it when we can get an amazing hike to remember, but this wasn’t one of the best up here.
I would say that this is a great trail for trail runners. From my experience with trail runners, they tend to look more out for where their feet are stepping and less on the scenery around them. A trail like this one would give plenty of challenge with terrain and elevation gained, but the summit is less than ideal.
The hike started off in thick forest and had some areas of rocky areas and narrow trail. There wasn’t anything dynamic to talk about much during the hike until we reached the view for Squam Lake. The view of Squam Lake in the distance was nice, but was probably nicer 10-15 years ago before the trees obstructed the view. About half a mile past this viewpoint, you reach the summit. The summit is actually just a larger boulder that you can climb to take in the view. Again, the trees growing up here has obstructed a lot of the view. We spent a while walking around from the summit boulder to try and see if there was a nicer spot for a viewpoint, but after investigating for quite some time, we found things were obstructed in every direction around here. We enjoyed a snack at the top before heading back. It is always nice to take in some New Hampshire mountain views, I just wish it had been more dynamic for our last hike of our visit. This may be in the ’52 with a view’ list, but there isn’t much of a view keeping this on the list.
Distance – 4 miles
Elevation Change – 1808 feet
Difficulty – 4. The climbing is quite steady, but there is nothing tricky or technical.
Trail Conditions – 4. Trail clubs in the area have taken very nice care of this trail. There are some obvious improvements with stairs, waterbars, and grading along the route.
Views – 3.5. They weren’t as nice as we hoped for. Trees have grown taller, obscuring a lot of the view.
Waterfalls/streams – 0. None of noteworthiness.
Wildlife – 3. Normal squirrels, birds, and chipmunks.
Ease to Navigate – 4.5. The Wentworth Trail is a straight shot to the summit. There is one place that seems like it’s the top, but is actually a false summit. If you look out toward the view, the trail actually continues through the woods to the right. The actual summit is a few hundred yards past this point.
Solitude– 3. It’s a fairly popular trail with locals. We started early and saw a small handful of people, all on our way down the mountain.
One challenge we face often with hiking in New Hampshire is trying to pick a hike that will work for that day. Typically, weeks before traveling there we are stockpiling a bunch of hike ideas knowing that we will likely adjust to what the day gives us. The night before, we are consulting weather sources (what type of cloud coverage is in the high peaks, when showers may start, etc.), looking at how long a drive we have for the next day, and determining how the day will all fit together with meals and plans for other activities. When you’re on vacation you want to make the most of the time you have. The weather was telling us there would be some cloud coverage in the high peaks of the White Mountains, so we tried to look at some lower elevation plans. Knowing we were going out to eat for a long breakfast and showers that were likely coming in the afternoon, we felt we needed to pick something shorter. So, we decided to give this Boulder Loop a try. A few books we had read didn’t make us feel overly excited to try it, but once we were done with this one, we would highly recommend it.
We started off with a mostly empty parking lot. We are always early morning hikers to beat the crowds and we were glad that we did. We crossed the road and started on the trail. The beginning starts with a slight incline. At .2 miles, you come to a junction sign; either way leads to the ledges, but we headed to the left as our books had mostly done. The boulders on this lower elevation section are quite impressive, and you can just imagine the power of glaciers dropping off these large masses of rock before melting away. The yellow-blazed trail steepens through sections of rocks and roots, quite common for well-traveled trails in New Hampshire.
At the 1.2 mile marker, we came to a crest of the hill we had climbed. I noticed a rocky path off to the right leading up and decided to take it. Sure enough, this was the way we should have gone. There is a sign marked “View .2 miles”, but it is placed on a tree facing the other direction of the trail, so be sure not to miss this. We feel that many people could miss it if they weren’t paying attention and then miss all the glory of this hike. We climbed up and stayed on a yellow-blazed path that led first to a rock outcropping for some amazing views and then to a larger cliffside. Be careful up at the top of these cliffs. There is a large sharp dropoff from the viewpoint and something you don’t want to do with reckless children. While the views aren’t as high up as some of the 4000+ nearby White Mountains, they are quite impressive. We could look over to Mount Chocorua and Mount Passaconaway on clear days. We stayed up here a while until we could see clouds moving in. We then went back the way we came off the spur trail until we reached the junction again with the boulder loop.
From here, we went down to the right to continue the loop. We began to see more people coming up so we knew we beat the crowds for this hike. Based on the exhausted looks on the faces of those coming up the other side, we knew we picked the best route to ascend. The way down did seem to be steeper and rockier than the way we had come up. On the way down, you really can enjoy the openness of the forest and when you descend low enough walking through the large boulder field is impressive. The return trip from the junction was 1.2 miles back to the initial junction of the loop trail and we made it back very quickly with the descent.
We took a left at the junction and had a short .2miles back to our car. We were impressed with how the combination of the boulder field with the expansive views from the top make this a wonderful hike when you are trying to fit in a short hike into your day.
We’ve flipped past the Boulder Loop in our New Hampshire hiking guide, year after year, for many years now. The hike just didn’t look fun or pretty. The only photo the book included was one of a middle-schooled aged boy looking at a shelf fungus growing on the side of a tree. Sorry, but I don’t hike for fungus! However, this year – upon closer inspection – I noticed that the long text description of the hike mentioned ‘views from a ledge’. After that, I Googled ‘views Boulder Loop hike’ and found some amazing photos in the results.
We knew bad storms were on deck for the afternoon, so we decided the short Boulder Loop would be a great choice for a quick hike. We started the morning with a big breakfast with my parents at Polly’s Pancake Parlor. The restaurant is a family tradition and we always try to eat there at least once on every visit. After breakfast, we made our way back to Lincoln and hopped on the Kancamagus Highway. The highway is a scenic drive through White Mountains National Forest. There are sweeping vistas and pull-off viewpoints along the road – it’s kind of like Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park (but free.) We found our trailhead right along the highway, next to the Albany Covered Bridge.
We found the lot nearly empty, and paid the day-use fee for parking. I took a few photos of the bridge and the river before hitting the trail. The Boulder Loop is an interpretive trail with numbered stops and descriptions. It would probably be fun for a family who wanted to take lots of breaks along the route. We skipped that aspect of the hike and just focused on reaching the views.
We hiked the loop clockwise, passing enormous lichen-covered boulders. The trail climbed steadily uphill over lots of roots and rocks. Eventually, we reached the ridgeline and came to our first viewpoint. We could see the road and the river below, a plunging cliffside lower in the valley, and mountains as far as the eye could see. It was GORGEOUS!
After the first view, we continued along until we found the sign for the spur. The sign says ‘viewpoint’ on a small wooden plaque. It’s kind of small and blends in to the forest, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled. To follow the spur, look for faint blazes on the rocks. The spur goes for about .15 mile over rocks and ledges with several places to stop and take in the views. We could see lots of mountains in every direction, but Chocorua was especially recognizable with it’s stone dome. We both remarked to each other that the ‘kid with the fungus’ was such a disservice to this beautiful hike.
After soaking in the scenery and watching clouds roll in from the distance, we followed the spur back to the main junction. We continued clockwise on the loop. At first, the trail dropped quite steeply over loose dirt and rocks. Eventually it leveled back out, passed through another cool boulder field, and returned us to the parking lot near the covered bridge. The hike was such a pleasant surprise – relatively easy terrain with excellent views at the top.
After packing up, we made our way into North Conway to get lunch at Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. It’s one of our favorite lunch stops – they make great nachos.
Distance – 3 miles
Elevation Change – 1161 feet
Difficulty – 3. Some of the sections are quite steep, but the shortness of the overall trail makes this one a popular family hike.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail was in good shape, but the rocks and roots can make this a challenge in some parts.
Views – 4. Nice 180 degree views from the cliff summit.
Waterfalls/streams – .5 We passed a small stream through the mountains on the way back, but nothing impressive.
Wildlife – 2. Evidently, bears can be spotted here in the fall. May be a good place for birdwatching at the low and high elevations.
Ease to Navigate – 4. It is a self-contained loop. It loses a point since the trail to the view isn’t clearly marked on both sides. Be watching when you crest the high point on the trail.
Solitude– 2.5. As mentioned above, this is popular with families, so you will likely see people along the way. Time this for early morning or late in the afternoon to maximize your solitude.
Directions to trailhead: Parking coordinates are 44.005395, -71.239270. There is a day fee for parking in this area. You will cross the Albany Covered Bridge and park in the lot labeled Boulder Loop Parking.
The summary above doesn’t make this hike sound very exciting – it wasn’t. You might ask, “Why bother to hike this piece of trail when there are so many other amazing hikes in the area?” Well – it was convenient, we had a shuttle ride from my parents, and it let us add to our mileage toward one day completing the entire trail. Not every mile of AT is sweeping vistas and babbling brooks. A lot of it (ok… most of it) is a long green tunnel. It’s not always thrilling to walk the trail, but it’s rewarding to take little steps toward completing a goal.
We hoped to get out on a three-day backpacking trip like we did in Vermont last year, but with a new puppy (Indy) to care for and a long run of unusually hot, stormy weather; we settled on just day hikes for our 2018 NH trip. Adam found this stretch of trail in our AWOL AT Guide and figured it would be easy to knock out on the same day my mom had an all-day baking class in Hanover. We left our car parked in a small lot along Three Mile Rd. near Etna, NH. From there, we walked south toward Hanover.
This section of trail was much easier than what you imagine when you think of typical Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire (granite slabs, boulder scrambles, 4,500 foot climbs, exposed cliffsides, and violent storms that blow up out of the blue). This piece of trail had soft footing, gentle hills, and barely more than 1,200 feet of climbing over the entire 8.7 miles. It was extremely muddy in places and there was one extremely steep but brief climb and descent near the midpoint, but the challenges were few and mild.
There’s really nowhere to get lost on this section, either. There are some road crossings, junctions with other trails, and parts of the trail have two names. The Dartmouth Outing Club maintains the trail and shelters in this area, so they’ve given club names to parts of the AT. You’ll see bright orange signs with the DOC logo and names like the Hanover Center Trail and the Velvet Rocks Trail. They’re both still the Appalachian Trail, and as long as you keep following the white blazes, you’re going the right way.
We stopped for lunch at the top of the only steep uphill climb of the hike. It was along part of the trail known as ‘velvet rocks’. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the name was given due to the abundance of huge, moss-covered boulders all along the trail. They really do look like rocks covered with plush green velvet. There was no view at the high point, so we settled for eating lunch on a big flat rock right along the trail. I had a poorly-chosen lunch of crackers, cheese, and pepperoni for lunch. I know sealed pepperoni stays fresh and safe even in hot weather, but there’s something so unappealing about sun-warmed meat. I ate it, but I also gagged a bit. I should have known better – I can’t even look at beef jerky without being nauseated, so pepperoni isn’t all that different. We also brought a HUGE lemon-blueberry whoopie pie from a local bakery to share. That was much more palatable than the slimy meat.
The descent from our lunch spot was really steep and muddy. There was even a rope tied between a few of the trees to act as an assist, but I was able to manage it by crab-walking downhill. About a three quarters of a mile past the lunch stop, we reached the blue-blazed northern access spur to Velvet Rocks Shelter. The spur trail to this particular shelter has both northern and southern arms. Hikers that use both arms of the spur miss a .6 miles the AT (missing any of the AT is a big deal to ‘purists’.) The sign at the northern spur said the shelter was .4 miles away. The northern spur also went straight up a very steep, rocky hillside, so we decided to continue south on the AT and access the shelter at the southern arm instead. The shelter was an easy .2 mile walk via the southern arm of the spur.
Velvet Rocks shelter was very old and dingy-looking. There was an old tarp slung over the wall and lots of dumb graffiti. There was no sign of a shelter log, either. I think if I were thru-hiking or on a long section hike, I’d skip this shelter and just stay in Hanover. When we visited, there were a couple south-bound thru-hikers already stopped for the day around 1:00 p.m. They both said they were hot and fatigued and didn’t feel like hiking anymore. It really was a sweltering day, and we knew we only had about a mile and a half to go before we were in downtown Hanover.
The next .75 miles was all downhill through shady forest. The trail exited the woods in Hanover right behind Dartmouth College athletic fields. We walked along the fenceline and turned right onto NH 120. There was a Co-op Grocery store right on the corner, so we got a couple cold drinks and sat in the shade. The last three quarters of a mile of ‘hiking’ were just a stroll through town. We had to pay close attention to find white blazes marked on lightposts along the road. There was no shade and the mid-day sun was beating down on us. Despite being completely flat, this was probably the hardest part of the hike because it was just so hot! We finally got to our meet-up spot. I had time to wash my face and wipe the mud off my legs in the Dartmouth bookstore. No one even looked at me funny – a sure sign that a town is used to hikers and backpackers.
My dad picked us up and took us to Morano Gelato – so good! After that, we went to the Cabot factory store and ate free cheese. Then we went to King Arthur Flour company and ate cookies while we waited for my mom’s baking class to end. And then we went out for a proper dinner. It’s a lot of eating, but I think we earned it. After dinner, my parents drove us back to where we had parked our car earlier in the day. Then it was home for showers and relaxing!
Hiking is often about changing plans for us. As Christine mentioned, we had initially came up with some plans for doing a multiple day backpack of the Appalachian Trail. But, with a new puppy, we didn’t want to subject the babysitting grandparents to the attention he needed (he has been an extremely high-energy puppy). So, I looked up some possible day hikes we could do to still cover a tiny bit of New Hampshire AT miles. It is a goal of ours (we will see how attainable, ultimately) to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail in sections. Working full-time with limited time off, we have to do what we can for now. We will hopefully finish what we have left when we retire, so this hike was a way to knock off a very tiny percentage of the trail and connect to our trip last year with a few more contiguous miles. We coaxed Christine’s dad to pick us up in Hanover and drive us back to our car, so the change in plans worked well for us.
It took us a little while to find our start point for the trail on Three Mile Road with questionable GPS service that made it difficult to navigate some of these backroads. But, we ultimately got to the correct road and found the AT crossing and a place to park our car on the side of the road. We started off at the road crossing and headed south on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. The initial trail marker showed we had 8.6 miles to reach Hanover, NH. The trail started off through the fern-covered woods heading slightly downhill through a muddy area. Green was all around us in this lush forest setting. At 2.5 miles, we crossed over the paved Etna-Hanover Center Road (heading east under a mile would lead you to Etna, NH), where there was a cemetery on the opposite side of the road. We crossed the road and continued on with this trail marked by the DOC signs Christine mentioned above.
Shortly after crossing the road, you walk over a couple of footbridges carrying you over a stream. The trail opens up a bit after this where you cross over a field before entering back into the woods. You cross over the paved Trescott Road at 3.9 miles and then pass over a boardwalk over a marshy pond at 4.6 miles. From here, the trail begins to climb up and does reach a very steep section that will reach its peak at 5.4 miles. At the peak, we took a break and ate some lunch before pushing on. The trail descended and then we reached the junction with the north shelter loop trail at 6.2 miles. At this point, we did start seeing some people that were hiking about on this loop trail to check out the Velvet Rocks area. We saw the many mossy boulders that give the area the name ‘Velvet Rocks’. We passed the northern spur to the shelter and decided to stay on the AT. At 6.8 miles, we reached the southern shelter sidetrail and took a break to go check it out. While the sign said it was only .2 miles away, that was the longest .2 miles we have ever seen (it felt more like .35 miles). When we got to the Velvet Rocks Shelter, we were able to talk with a few people that were staying there and doing some larger sections of the AT. We went back the way we came to rejoin the AT (I didn’t include this side trip in the mileage totals).
From the junction with the shelter sidetrail, it was a steep downhill climb until we came out of the woods near a Dartmouth sports field. The trail continues along the back wall of the field and comes out by a convenience store onto NH 120. We took a right at the road and walked by a Food Coop and got a fresh drink. It was just a short walk from here into town to meet up with Christine’s dad, but the exposure into the sun made for a hot walk back into town. We did cool off a bit with some nice gelato. This was a great hike to do if you can have two cars or a pickup plan like we did. The terrain was relatively easy and it is always good to end a hike at a town with lots of amenities.
Distance – 8.7 miles
Elevation Change – 1204 feet
Difficulty – 2. This is a really easy stretch of Appalachian Trail – especially for New Hampshire. Our only real challenge was the heat.
Trail Conditions – 3. The trail is in nice shape, but was quite muddy when we hiked.
Views – 1. There are a few minor views in small meadows, but nothing grand.
Waterfalls/streams – 2. There are lots of small streams that provide adequate water sources.
Wildlife – 2. Squirrels, birds, and chipmunks!
Ease to Navigate – 4. Just follow the white blazes. The only misdirection might come from the dual-named DOC trails.
Solitude– 2. Expect to see a good number of people when you’re close to a large college town.
Directions to trailhead:
Parking coordinates are 43.718 -72.176. There are two parking areas along Three Mile Road near the Appalachian Trail Crossing. This is a gravel road.
Mt. Kearsarge is located in state park land in Central New Hampshire with 360-degree spectacular views from the summit. On a clear day you can see Mount Washington, the White Mountain range, Merrimac Valley, and Vermont’s Green Mountains.
Mt. Kearsarge kept popping up on lists of hikes we had not done in New Hampshire that had amazing views, so we decided to tackle it on a day where we could capitalize on the views. The hike starts off in Winslow State Park, reached by driving up Kearsarge Mountain Road and then taking a right on Winslow House Road to the top. The area at the top of the road is a large picnic area, with shelters and outdoor grills that would be perfect for a family gathering before or after the hike. The trail starts through an opening in the trees, near the southern back corner of the parking lot.
You quickly reach a large kiosk that shows the split of the loop trail. We took the Winslow Trail up and returned via the Barlow Trail. The Winslow Trail was quite steep and led through a lot of trail that was filled with lots of roots and rocks. If you do this hike after a lot of rain, expect it to be quite slick in some spots. The trail had us going a bit slow since it was a steep trail that required you to watch your foot placement in order to not twist your ankle.
The trail then passed a large split boulder on the left around .8 miles. We were able to climb up to the top of this rock and then look behind us which opened up some views that were getting near the top of the tree line. At .9 miles, we reached the top junction with the Barlow Trail and we pushed on from here to reach the top shortly after at the one mile mark. The tower was in the middle of the huge rock expanse, but there were views all around. We took some time to enjoy the views all around. Fairly soon, we were joined by a few other hikers that had approached the summit via Rollins State Park – this is a shorter hike to the top of Mt. Kearsarge. We first talked to a woman with her great niece. The niece was probably about 11 years old and was not a fan of the hike or views. She didn’t want to even look at the views. She just wanted to know if she could touch the rock and leave immediately. I could tell the great aunt was disappointed that her niece didn’t enjoy nature like she did, which was disappointing to witness. The next person was a young woman from New Jersey that came here to do a quick day hike. She had also approached from the Rollins State Park side, but she was hoping to make a larger loop and ended up adding the Winslow and Barlow trails to her day.
We then went to the fire tower. Christine decided to climb to the top, but when I felt the rickety nature of the structure and was nearly hit by squirrel droppings from a squirrel that Christine had upset, I decided to just wait at the bottom. Some men soon arrived to do some maintenance work on the dishes and they were talking about some of the mountain ranges around us. While I am sure they are doing some hard work, I was envious wishing I had an office view like this one.
We made our way back to the junction at the edge of the treeline with the Barlow Trail and followed the yellow blazes for this way back down. We continued along the top as we walked by an alpine bog and then to some other views. Dragonflies were everywhere at the top and it was neat to see so many of them at this high elevation. We were glad we did the loop the way we did since we had views ahead of us on the way down. The trail had some steep sections going down but weren’t nearly as treacherous as the way up. Most of the trail was deep in the woods, but it was pretty scenery all around us. We eventually made our way back to the lower junction between the Winslow and Barlow trails at 2.6 miles and then took a quick turn to the parking lot and we were done. While the trail was a shorter one at 2.7 miles, the hike up took longer than we would have normally taken and the views at the top will make you want to take a large break to take it all in.
The books we had read and internet research we had done in advance probably didn’t give this hike enough credit. This is definitely one to hit while in New Hampshire. The length of the hike may also make it suitable for a lot of families and there is a wonderful picnic spot where you park to make this a memorable experience for the entire family.
Mt. Kearsarge was our first new hike in New Hampshire during our summer 2018 trip. The small, but prominent, mountain is located in the Dartmouth-Sunapee region. Geologically, the mountain is what is known as a monadnock – a mountain that rises steeply and abruptly from relatively flat land. This type of mountain always looks taller and more imposing than it is in reality. It was a fantastic choice for an easy morning hike – great views, fun terrain, and not too lengthy. We chose to ascend on the Winslow Trail and then come back down on the Barlow Trail, making a 2.7 mile loop.
The Winslow Trail is shorter and quite a bit steeper than the Barlow Trail. I always think it’s nice to tackle the tougher terrain when my legs are fresh. I also appreciate the challenge of a tough climb. Upon entering the woods, the trail is soft and covered with pine needles. However, the trail footing soon becomes rooty and rocky. Red blazes will help you navigate across jumbles of boulders and granite slabs.
Your first views from the mountain come from atop a huge split boulder right before you break the treeline. This is also where the junction with the Barlow trail is located. You’ll pass the junction at this point and make your way toward the summit. In the bald, open area, cairns are used to guide hikers to the top. The park has posted several signs imploring hikers NOT to build new cairns. Moving rocks disrupts nature and building new cairns can make wayfinding confusing for hikers.
The summit of Kearsarge is marked by a big rockpile. From the top, the view rolls out in every direction. It’s GORGEOUS! When sky conditions are clear you can see the imposing White Mountains and Mt. Cardigan to the north, the Merrimack valley to the south, and to the west are Vermont’s Green Mountains. Just below the summit, the vista is interrupted by an old fire lookout and a communications tower. There is also a picnic area and a sandwich-board sign noting Kearsarge’s elevation (2,937’).
While the towers aren’t pretty, they barely detract from the magnificent views in every direction. I climbed the tower while Adam hung out below. On my way up the stairs, I encountered a very angry red squirrel. I thought he was going to dive-bomb my face, but he settled for loud chattering. The view from the tower wasn’t really any better than the view from the summit, so I made my way back down and found a nice rock to sit on.
After taking in summit views, we made our way downhill to where the Winslow and Barlow trails meet. The yellow blazed Barlow Trail passes across open areas with more stunning vistas. We saw blueberry bushes and a small alpine bog on our way down. When we visited, dragonflies were swarming the mountain. If you look closely at our photos, you’ll see loads of them!
Eventually, the trail will traverse some slab granite and dip back into an evergreen forest. The trail continues downhill over roots and pine needles. There is one small footbridge over a swampy area near the end. The trail ends at the initial Winslow-Barlow junction near the picnic area at Winslow State Park.
Distance – 2.7 miles
Elevation Change – 1224 feet
Difficulty – 3. The trail was steeper than we would have expected, but take your time.
Trail Conditions – 3. Due to the steepness and the abundance of roots and rocks, this could make for a more difficult hike after heavy rainfall.
Views – 5. 360-degree views all around from the summit. There is a fire tower that obstructs some of the view but you can rotate around it to take it all in.
Waterfalls/streams – 0. Non-existent.
Wildlife – 2.5 A decent spot for bird-watching and squirrels.
Ease to Navigate – 4. The trail was fairly well-blazed. The junctions may make things a bit tricky, but follow our map.
Solitude– 2. This is a popular spot and with two approaches to the summit, you may not realize how many people you may see at the top. You should be able to carve out your own solitude at the top since there are views all around.
Directions to trailhead:
Coordinates for this hike are 43.390281, -71.868260. The trailhead is located in New Hampshire’s Winslow State Park in Wilmot, NH. There is a fee to enter the park.
This 4.5 mile hike in North Carolina’s Plott Balsams had some great views, but the trail was in such poor shape that the hike was not that enjoyable. There were parts that were unpleasant (tall grass, blowdowns, and thick overgrowth), confusing (relatively few blazes), and even dangerous (slippery erosion and steep dropoffs).
This hike started off along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center at BRP mile 451. There is parking right along the shoulder of the road (as pictured above). The entrance to the trail is unmarked, so you’ll need to search along the forest line to find where the trail begins. When you see this old, broken-down kiosk just inside the woods, you’ll know you’re on the right path. The trail has occasional purple/yellow blazes, but don’t count on seeing many along the way to guide you! This area is tricky – even for experienced hikers. Meanderthals hiking blog did a good write-up where they describe getting a bit lost along this stretch of trail.
The trail begins a gradual, easy, uphill climb through evergreen forest. There are ferns and mosses draping the ground everywhere. When we hiked in June, there was a ton of blooming Clintonia borealis – a lily found frequently in woodlands around the world. The initial climb goes on for just a couple tenths of a mile before opening up to a nice view to the southeast, including a look at Yellow Face mountain. After the view, the trail descends into a brief saddle. Fog from the unsettled weather seemed to sit in every dip in the trail along the way.
At just under three quarters of a mile, we reached the summit of Yellow Face. This mountain stands at just over 6,000 feet and was donated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to the National Park Service around 2001 or 2002. In fact, the entire trail is cobbled together across land owned the the Nature Conservancy, the NPS, and the town of Sylva, NC. Some sources say the trail itself has existed (in varying forms) for hundreds of years and was used historically by the Cherokee people. It’s currently maintained completely by volunteers – the NPS and the forest service are not involved.
When we hiked, the ‘bald’ at the summit of Yellow Face was really overgrown with tall grasses and bramble bushes. The view was nice, but definitely closing in. Near the summit, there’s a memorial plaque to Stephen Andrew Canada. I tried finding more information about him, but came up empty. Maybe he died on this peak or maybe he just loved this peak.
After the summit of Yellow Face, the trail descends again into another saddle. You’ll encounter some blowdowns, a pretty spruce forest, and some more open terrain. Near the low point of the saddle, at 1.3 miles, there are campsites on the right side of the trail. The open grassy area is littered with remnant mechanical parts from old logging equipment. We didn’t see a water source near the campsites, so if you were to overnight at this spot, you would need to carry enough water to cook and drink.
After passing the campsites, the trail climbed again for a few tenths of a mile. We passed over and through a couple more blowdowns. At 1.7 miles, things got tricky. We began walking along a very narrow ridgeline decorated with enormous boulders. The trail was so slippery and eroded that I put my camera away to fully focus on footing and safety. There are more photos of this section included on the return hike below. I don’t think any of the photos truly do justice to the trail conditions along this stretch. It was far sketchier than it appears. The tough terrain went on for about half a mile, where we reached an opening in a dense rhododendron tunnel at 2.2 miles.
I chose this point to stop. The climb after this point was described by another website as ‘a steep climb up roots and rocks requiring hands and feet‘. On a dry day, I would probably have no problem tackling that climb, but on this particular day I’d been slipping, stumbling, and sliding so much that I decided to stop 100 yards short of the summit. It’s always a tough decision to miss the final destination of a hike, but I think the phrase ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ exists for a reason. Adam went on without me to take photos of the final vista. When he eventually came back he told me that I made the right decision and that the final climb was really slippery and precipitous. I was relieved he made it back safely!
We slowly made our way back across all the terrain we had covered on our hike out. Very rarely do I feel this way, but the whole way back I kept thinking, “I can’t wait to get off this STUPID TRAIL!” We trekked through the overgrowth, slithered back through blowdowns, and slid down rocks and mud. It was a slog. It was a death march. It was not fun at all. We chatted with a couple other hikers who were hiking just to Yellow Face and back (good call!) We crossed paths with a naturalist group looking at plant life along the trail. But, generally, we had the hike entirely to ourselves for most of the day.
I was very grateful to get back to the car! Afterwards, we paid a quick visit to the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center and then made our way back toward Bryson City for lunch at Nantahala Outdoor Center’s River’s End Restaurant. I had fun counting all my new bruises and scrapes on the drive back to the valley. Maybe this hike would have been more fun on a clear day after a stretch of dry weather. But overall, it’s not a hike I enjoyed. If you’re picking a hike in this area, I recommend The Pinnacle instead. It had much more vertical gain, but the trail was in vastly better shape, and I thought the vista was much more accessible (and just as beautiful!)
We had attempted to do this Blackrock hike last year. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway but the fog was so heavy, we couldn’t even find the trailhead. We hunted around, but with so little visibility, we decided to try this another time. This year, we had a much clearer morning and we were able to find the trailhead somewhat easily.The Blue Ridge Parkway has actually taken down the parking trailhead marker and it isn’t very well blazed (my guess is because of the danger). But, we were able to see an opening in the trees and once we were about 25 yards into the woods, we soon came to a sign that we knew we were on the right path.
Christine described the overall hike well. While the elevation gain wasn’t crazy for much of the hike, the footing was fairly horrendous. The overall hike to Yellow Face was not too bad, but the view isn’t that impressive since it is getting sucked away from overgrown flora. Once you arrive at the saddle, the footing gets very treacherous.
At one point, you climb in a three or four-point stance to go up a very steep terrain on the ridgeline. While we were expecting a nice view from here, it was only a bit of an overgrown one. The trail then takes a precipitous drop down a sheer rock area. Christine decided to stop before descending. I knew the view had to be just ahead, so I pushed forward but it was not something I felt very safe doing. I had to climb down the side of a rock, hanging on to handholds on the rock on the left of me while the width of my foot wasn’t able to fully fit on a step down the rock. A wrong step here, means that you could easily fall about a hundred feet down to the right. We didn’t get pictures of this area because it wasn’t safe. Once I got to the bottom, there was another treacherous climb back up where I had to hang onto roots and pull myself up. Once I got to the summit rock, there is also no easy way to get up. I had to ultimately launch my body up like a wounded sea lion on to the rock and then pull the rest of my weight up with my upper body. Christine was very worried about me making it, so I texted her to let her know that I made it and took some photos, which reduced my heart rate a bit. The views from the summit were impressive, but I could see clouds moving in and it looked like rain was coming. I texted Christine again to let her know I was leaving again, but that text never went through so my goal of easing her mind didn’t really help.
The hike back down and up was equally treacherous, but I was very glad to get reunited. On our way back, we came across an older couple, who we warned to just turn back (they were planning on it). We also came across a large group of naturalists (one was even walking the trail barefoot – crazy). We warned them also, but they said they would likely not make it all the way there since, as one told us, they “get easily distracted by every plant they walk by”. We were very glad when we got back to our car. While we thought this would have been a beautiful, fun hike, the danger really didn’t provide much enjoyment. So, if you attempt this hike, be very careful and feel free to turn around. I won’t be offended if you steal my pictures of the summit and say they were yours to show your family the summit.
Distance – 4.5 miles
Elevation Change – 1800 ft
Difficulty – 4.5 While the climbing is never terribly strenuous, this hike is a series of constant ups and downs (some steep), punctuated by flat stretches. The trail isn’t in great shape, so this adds to the challenge factor you’ll experience on this hike.
Trail Conditions – 1.5. The trail was quite overgrown and eroded. The grass and bramble bushes were tall in sunny places. The steeper parts of the trail were eroded with loose soil. There were also many blows to negotiate along the route.
Views – 5 – We visited on a day with lots of fog and moving clouds, but on clear days the views would be magnificent. There are views to enjoy along the trail and at the vista.
Streams/Waterfalls – 0. None
Wildlife – 1. The trail was oddly devoid of animals – we heard a few birds, but we didn’t even see pedestrian wildlife like squirrels and chipmunks.
Ease to Navigate – 2.5. There is only one trail to follow, but it is overgrown in many places. Blowdowns may also take you off course. There are relatively few blazes along the route.
Solitude – 2. We saw a few people along the way (most turning around at Yellow Face), but generally this trail seems lightly traveled.
This hike has an incredibly generic name. I can’t recall how many hikes we have been on with the name “Pinnacle” in the title. The same can be said about “bald” (“bald knob”, “bald rock”, etc.), “buzzard” (“buzzard rock”, “buzzard roost”, etc.), “black rock”, and “devil” (“devil’s marbleyard”, “devil’s stairs”, “devil’s bathtub”, etc.). While the hike name lacks originality, by using the word, “pinnacle”, hikers should expect great views and this one doesn’t disappoint.
Getting there caused us a bit of confusion because the directions we had seemed to want us to drive on private property. However, we stayed on the main road and it soon came to a dead end at Pinnacle Park. We parked and completed the permit form at the kiosk, which were quite damp since they were exposed to the elements. Just past the kiosk was the trailhead that led through a gate. As we were starting our hike, there was also a couple of women that were getting started as well. They had backpacks to help carry their toddlers and they were taking the trail all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where they had dropped off another car. They said they were quite familiar with the trail. After we saw the steepness of the terrain, we were impressed with these young moms.
The day started off foggy and incredibly humid from the recent rains, which made the footing a bit tricky for parts of the hike with either slippery rocks or muddy areas. After going a short distance, you pass by a meadow and then reach a trail junction. There are some shorter trails that break off to the right of the trail that some families take to get a short walk through the woods next to the stream. We waited to confirm with the young moms, but our path led us steeply uphill to continue the hike. As we hiked up, we passed Split Rock and we had several opportunities to get good views of the cascading stream on the left. The hike had us breathing heavily due to the steepness of the terrain and the humidity made us work extra hard.
Around two miles, we reached the junction with the Pinnacle Trail taking off to the left. The good news is that the hardest part of the climbing is done. There is still more climbing to do on this spur trail, but it isn’t nearly as steep and some areas are quite flat. This section had some places where the trail was under water or extremely muddy due to all the rain, but I’m guessing is damp during lots of the year. After another 1.3 miles, the trail reaches the summit area. As we were hiking, we didn’t see any hope of the sun coming out, but we at least thought we could have a nice hike in the woods. Right before the summit, I decided to step off the trail a bit to urinate and as soon as I started, the sun came out. Christine got a big laugh since she thought this act had summoned the sun to appear (if you run into the same situation, it is worth a shot). So, we made a quick dash to the final summit area. The clouds were still preventing us from getting remarkable views, but we could see some views as the clouds were rolling over the summit path. We stopped here to eat a snack and take in the limited views. As soon as we packed up to leave, the clouds completely covered in everything so we lucked out. On our way back down, we ran into more hikers that were going up to the point. We almost felt like we were running on the way back down and it amazed us how steep the terrain was in parts.
This hike was quite an adventure and a good cardio-challenge! The trailhead is located in Pinnacle Park, which is an 1,100 acre plot of land owed by the town of Sylva, NC and maintained by the Pinnacle Park Foundation. It used to provide the town’s watersource, but in the early 1990s it was put into conservation and opened for hiker access. The park has several backcountry campsites for backpackers. They ask that both dayhikers and backpackers complete a free permit form before beginning their hike. Blank forms are available at the trailhead’s informational kiosk.
When we arrived at the park (which is essentially just the dead end of the road), we had humid, foggy, drizzly conditions. The whole area was under the unsettled outer arms of Tropical Storm Alberto, so the weather was extremely changeable during our visit. We knew we had a big climb ahead of us, and really hoped the fog would clear off and let us have at least some views. It always stinks to climb and climb and climb, and then not even get a view. But, that’s the thing about these mountains – even when the valley is sunny, peaks over 4500′ often stay in the clouds and mist. You just never know what your summit weather is going to be until you get there.
After passing a gate, the hike starts off immediately and relentlessly uphill. The first two miles of the hike follow what seems to be an old forest service or logging road. It’s wide and covered with loose, round stones – a bit of an ankle-turner. In the first couple tenths of a mile, you’ll pass a stream with remnants of its history as a municipal water source. There are gauges and concrete channels that are now being reclaimed by nature. After that, you’ll make a wide switchback in a meadow. There will be a trail that comes in from the left. Stay to the right, climbing uphill, before eventually reaching a sign with trail mileage for the Pinnacle, Blackrock, and Waterrock Knob (on the Blue Ridge Parkway). Follow the trail toward Pinnacle. At a half mile into the hike you’ll pass Split Rock – an enormous cracked boulder right along the trail. The crack is big enough for an adult to climb in.
Shortly after the Split Rock, we had our first stream crossing. Even with the high water flow, all the stream crossings were safe and easy. I think I remember there being three crossings in the first two miles of hiking. The beauty of the stream along this trail is definitely something I’ll remember. I’m sure the water is not normally as impressive, but when we visited it was gorgeous – rapids and little waterfalls everywhere! Another thing I’ll remember from this hike is the CLIMBING! The first two miles ascend nearly 2,000 feet before moderating on the Pinnacle spur trail. It was definitely some of the steepest climbing we’ve done outside of New Hampshire. I guess the third memory from the hike is crossing paths with a Great Horned Owl! It swooped across the trail. That was an enormous bird – for a minute, we thought it was an eagle because it was so much bigger than any owl or hawk we’d seen before.
After climbing steeply for two miles, we were relieved to reach the junction with the Pinnacle Trail. It was a traditional trail instead of a wide road. It was very wet and muddy in a few places, but generally in good condition. It follows gentle rolling terrain for about a mile before a steep (but brief) descent into dense rhododendron. On the other side of the rhododendron, the trail exits out onto a large rocky outcropping at just over 5,000′. There are views (and precipitous drops) in every direction. We felt so lucky to have the clouds partially clear when we were at the viewpoint. What a gorgeous spot!
We spent some time enjoying the vista and a snack of trail mix before hiking back the way we came up. Shortly after we left the view, the clouds rolled back around us and we were hiking in the fog again. The hike back went really quickly because it was all downhill! By the time we got to the bottom, it was full sun and blazing hot. After packing up, we headed into Sylva for some barbecue at the Haywood Smokehouse (so amazing) and beers at Innovation Brewing. These two places are both on my ‘must list’ for this area.
Distance – 6.6 miles
Elevation Change – 2,441 ft
Difficulty – 4. The first two miles of climbing is relentless and steep. You’ll gain 1000 feet for each mile. Once you reach the junction with the Pinnacle Trail, the climb becomes moderate to flat.
Trail Conditions – 4. The trail follows an old road grade for most of the way. The footing is a bit challenging with lots of football-sized rocks, but overall the trail is in great shape!
Views – 5 – We visited on a day with lots of fog and moving clouds, but still had excellent views at the top.
Streams/Waterfalls – 4. We visited after a time of extremely heavy rain, so the stream along the trail was simply spectacular. There were many small waterfalls and cascades to enjoy. The stream rating is probably not this high most of the time.
Wildlife – 4. We saw a great horned owl swoop across the trail. There were also salamanders, a snake, and many small mammals.
Ease to Navigate – 3. The first couple tenths of a mile of this trail are a little confusing, but if you keep climbing uphill, you’ll eventually come to a directional sign. After the directional sign, the trail is very clear and easy to follow.
Solitude – 3. We saw just a few people out for the day.
This four mile hike offers lots of hiker solitude and some nice obstructed views. The area is popular for dirt-bikes and ATV use, and while they have their own trail system, you may find engine noise distracting at times on this hike.
Near the end of May, we met up with our friends, Tony and Linda, to do a little hiking near Edinburg along the Massanutten Trail. Our original plan was to hike out to Opechee Peak, but the forecast had some pretty fierce thunderstorms, so we cut it short and did a four-mile out and back to Waonaze Peak. I think both of those peaks have really interesting names for our area. I did a little research into the name origins (probably Algonquian), but didn’t find anything. I also wonder if Waonaze rhymes with mayonnaise. Hmmm…
Overall, the hike was pretty basic. We started at the big ATV parking area at Edinburg Gap. ATV trail users must pay a fee to ride the trails, but hiking is free. There’s a informational kiosk at the parking lot that outlines the different trails in the area. From the parking lot, we crossed the road and picked up the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail. The trailhead is a little hidden in the trees, so look for blazes and a mileage sign to make sure you start in the right direction.
For the first mile, the trail meanders gradually uphill through dense stands of mountain laurel. We were lucky enough to hike during the peak bloom, so it was especially beautiful. At one mile in, we came to marked spring. Shortly after the spring, we passed a second trail mileage marker. Funnily, it was identical to the marker at the Edinburg Gap crossing. The Bear Trap Trail was 2 miles away at Edinburg Gap and still two miles away at a little over a mile into the hike. I guess sometimes trail signs should just be regarded as estimates!
After the mileage sign, the trail gets quite a bit rockier and steeper. We saw a big timber rattlesnake basking in the sun. This terrain is ideal for them, so be sure you’re on the lookout. Timber rattlers are typically non-aggressive and reclusive. Basically, if you ignore them, they’ll ignore you. Someone once told me this quote about timber rattlers — “Timber rattlers are first cowards, then bluffers, and last of all warriors.” I’ve found this to be true with my encounters.
The steeper, rockier section of the hike makes several big switchbacks and passes several big boulder jumbles. As you climb toward the high point of Waonaze Peak, the view toward Fort Valley and Kennedy Peak opens up. The overlook itself is nice, but partly obstructed. It would be much prettier in the winter when leaves are down. After we reached the high point, the trail quickly begins to descend into a saddle between Waonaze and Opechee peaks. We turned around at that point, but will tackle Opechee another day.
After the hike, we headed into Woodstock for beers and lunch at Woodstock Brewhouse — always a favorite!
As Christine mentioned, this is a hike that we plan to do again and get all the way to Opechee. Seeing that the summit views were a bit overgrown, our plan is to try this one again when it is cooler and leaves are mostly down. We were the only hikers from this parking lot as this area is primarily used by ATVs on the trail systems nearby. There were a few times that we could see the ATV riders through the trees (and more occasions that we could hear their engines). When we started the hike, we had heard there were storms coming in the early afternoon. With the violent storms we have been getting over the summer, we didn’t want to risk doing too long of a hike on this day.
The first mile of the hike was uphill but not terribly tough in terms of elevation or footing. The mountain laurel in full bloom made this a gorgeous early stretch of trail. The second mile was a bit more windy and rocky with lots of loose stones, so watch your footing especially on the downhill. Eventually, we came to an area of trail that gave us some obstructed views of Kennedy Peak. We thought about calling this hike Kennedy “Peek”, since you get obstructed views but we thought that would be just too confusing. Tony and Linda stopped at the overview here, but we decided to press on. We were first trying to see if there were better views at the top of the hill, but then the trail took off away from the view and was leading us through the saddle towards Opechee. Not wanting to leave our friends too long (and worried about clouds rolling in), we decided to turn back and make our descent.
We caught up with our friends and then continued downhill. I’m not a fan of any snakes, so I was especially cautious when we neared the area where the timber rattler had been spotted earlier. He had moved on (making me a tad nervous looking around for other spots he could be hiding) and we didn’t see any other snakes on the way back. When we got back to the cars, we then headed over to one of our favorite post-hike spots – Woodstock Brewhouse. We always enjoy talking about our hikes over great food and beverages here. While this peak didn’t lead to an amazing viewpoint, it was a good leg-stretcher that we had not explored before.
Distance – 4 miles (Check out the stats from Map My Hike)*
Elevation Change – 1280 feet
Difficulty – 2. It does have just a bit of uphill, but fairly easy if you take your time.
Trail Conditions – 3. The trail isn’t well traveled, which makes it a little tougher on conditions. There are some rocky, steep sections with loose rock on the trail.
Views – 2. During the winter, it would probably rate higher. The views of mountains and farms below is nice, but obstructed.
Waterfalls/streams –0. Non-existent.
Wildlife – 3. We did see lots of small toads and saw the timber rattler. My guess is that a lot of the bigger animals like bears and deer are scared away by the noise of nearby ATVs. There were lots of pretty bird calls in the air.
Ease to Navigate – 3.5. Once you find the trail, it is fairly easy to stay on course. The signs showing that Bear Trap Trail is always two miles away was quite funny, so I don’t know how much you can trust these.
Solitude– 4.5. The trail you should mostly have to yourself, but you will hear some ATVs early on in the hike on nice weekend days.
Directions to trailhead: GPS Coordinates for this hike are 38.789125, -78.519384. Look for the ATV/OHV parking area at Edinburg Gap. Cross Rt. 675 and look for the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail across the road from the parking lot.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.
We did this 27-mile Appalachian Trail section over three days at the tail end of summer 2017. The trail was beautiful and quiet with lots of interesting things to see along the way. We camped one night and spent the other luxuriating at Woods Hole Hostel. This may have been one of Christine’s favorite sections yet!
We decided to celebrate Christine’s birthday by completing a section of the Appalachian Trail over a few days. I had a couple of surprises for her along the way which hopefully made it an even better trip for her. I arranged a shuttle driver to meet us at a parking lot off Narrows Road near Pearisburg, VA. We loaded up and he drove us on some beautiful back roads until we got to our dropoff point at Kimberling Creek. There was a small parking lot here and a suspension bridge that spanned the creek. We took a few pictures, crossed the road, and then started our trip north on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail on a two day trip back to our car. The trail started off with a bit of a steep climb, which is always a quick reminder of the weight you decided to pack in your backpack.
The climb was short-lived and after about a mile, the trail started to slope back downhill. At 1.8 miles, we reached a side trail that showed that Dismal Falls was just .3 miles away. Since it was early in the day, we decided to check it out and we were so glad we did. Dismal Falls was one of the more picturesque waterfalls I have seen and the setting just invites you to waste some time there. Even with low amounts of water falling, it is a great swimming hole area with great places to perch above and watch the water. We ate some snacks, explored the nearby area, and took many pictures before deciding to head on. While we were there, we only had a few other people that came by and they all approached it from the roadside that we could see in the distance behind the waterfall. We were glad we put the effort to see such a beautiful place. We grabbed our stuff and then headed back to rejoin the AT, bringing our mileage to 2.4 miles.
Continuing on, most of the hiking for this day was rather pleasant – there was a slight uphill climb but overall was not too tough. There were lots of footbridges and water crossings along the way, so this was not a day where we felt like we needed to carry much water since we weren’t terribly far from a water source. Eventually, we hiked next to a large, scenic pond that joined up to a dirt road at about 8.4 miles. From here, it was just a couple of tenths of a mile to our first stop on our trip, Wapiti Shelter.
Wapiti Shelter has some dark history to it. Christine had already heard the story before, but she waited to tell me about it until we got there. The old Wapiti shelter was the place where a couple of murders had taken place in 1981. A man named Randall Lee Smith befriended a couple of hikers and then murdered them in their sleeping bags that night. Smith was captured and imprisoned, and then met parole to be released in 1996. In 2008, Smith returned just a few miles away and tried to kill two fisherman but wrecked his truck in the getaway and died from the injuries he sustained when he was taken to prison. If you want to read more about this story, check it out here. Keep in mind, that the shelter today is located a couple miles away from where the murder happened, so ghost stories that the trail journals would like you to believe are simply not true.
As we were setting up camp, I surprised Christine with an additional camp pillow for a birthday present. She had been complaining recently about how she wish she had multiple pillows when backpacking, because one inflatable pillow just wasn’t enough. She was thrilled when I brought the extra one out of my pack. We set up our tent not far from the shelter and a bit later, we were eventually joined by other hikers, including two from Australia and one from Germany. The best water source at this campsite was back the way we came at the bottom of the hill. We told the other campers about the murder story but only after they asked specifically about it after reading logbook entries. I think everyone slept well that night despite the ghost tale.
Christine Says: Day Two – Wapiti Shelter to Woods Hole Hostel (7.8 miles)
Brrr – that was a cold night! I was glad to have spent it bundled up in my warmer sleeping bag with two pillows. Eventually we got moving, packed up, ate breakfast, and started our hiking for the day. We had all day to go eight miles, so we set out at a leisurely pace. We had about three straight miles of moderate uphill to our first view of the day. The trail was all green tunnel. We passed through thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron and traversed lush beds of ferns.
At 2.7 miles in we reached a pretty outcropping of rocks with a great view of the valley below. We stopped briefly to enjoy the vista, but weren’t ready for a snack or a long break. The next 2.3 miles covered rolling terrain with lots of small ups and downs. The trail was pretty, but not remarkable. At five miles into our day, we reached the radio tower on Flat Top mountain. The tower viewpoint is about .1 miles off the trail and worth making the small detour. Behind the tower, there is a series of small cliffs with a commanding view. It’s the perfect place to take a lunch break.
The day had warmed up a bit and we were both running really low on water. Thankfully, we had enough to make Pack-It Gourmet cheese spread for lunch. We had cheese and crackers with candy and dried fruit for our mid-day meal. We also took a good long break and rested atop the rocks. It was peaceful to watch hawks and buzzards soaring on the breeze.
After a full hour of resting, we packed back up and set out to cover our final 2.8 miles of the day. The rest of the route was mostly downhill with only a few brief bumps to climb. In about .7 miles, we crossed the Ribble Trail. The sign indicated that supplies (like propane) were available somewhere down the Ribble Trail, but I would think most people would just continue on to Woods Hole or even Pearisburg if they needed something. Apparently, there is also a nice AT-Ribble Trail loop that is popular with locals. If we were to have followed the Ribble Trail, it would have rejoined the AT near Waipiti shelter, where we spent the prior night. Maybe one day, we’ll go back and explore the area more.
After crossing the junction with the Ribble Trail, we continued downhill; crossing Big Horse Gap/USFS 103 just a tenth of a mile later. In another 1.2 mile, we crossed another forest road. From this point, the last .5 miles of hiking went steeply downhill. The trail was a bit rocky and overgrown. At this point, I was starting to hit a wall. I was out of water and feeling really parched. We hadn’t passed a spring since first thing in the morning and the sun had been beating down on us all day. I told Adam I wanted to rest at the road crossing before we hiked down to Woods Hole Hostel – our destination for the evening. He said to me ‘But wouldn’t a massage be way more relaxing?’ It turned out he booked an hour long massage for me at the hostel. Say no more – I was up and ready to cover that last .5 miles of road walking to get to Woods Hole.
Normally, we wouldn’t stay at a hostel on a two-night backpacking trip, but Woods Hole is special. Family-run for decades, the quaint, old farmhouse is an Appalachian Trail legend and a beloved tradition for many hikers. The old farmhouse opened its doors to hikers in the 1980s. The hostel was originally run by Tillie and Roy Wood, but was taken over by their granddaughter Neville in 2007. Since then, she and her husband Michael have expanded on the hostel’s offerings, creating a mountain oasis that is simultaneously rugged and luxurious. There’s no television or cell phone signal, but there is beautiful organic food (that you get to help prepare!), massage services, and group yoga.
We arrived at the hostel around 2:00 p.m. Neville was still working on cleaning the house, so we bought a couple soda’s from the bunkhouse fridge, and settled into the swing on the front porch. We played with the dogs, said hello to the roaming duck, and peeked into the goat and pig sheds. The garden was still beautiful and abundant in late summer – tons of peppers, tomatoes, and squash. If you stay at the hostel, you can camp, stay in the bunkhouse, or stay in a private room inside the farmhouse. We chose to stay in ‘Tillie’s Room.’ It had a comfortable queen bed, private sink/vanity, and shared full bath. It was quite luxurious for trail accommodations. Even if you choose the more humble bunkhouse, it is still comfortable and neat as a pin. There are beds with fresh linens provided, a big common area with a couch, and a nice offering of snacks and supplies available for purchase. There are also shower and laundry facilities available for those staying in the bunkhouse.
We visited during a really quiet time of year. There was a smattering of SoBo thru-hikers on the trail, but in mid-September we had the entire house to ourselves. Once we got checked in, I decided to shower and spend some time in the farmhouse’s library. It was full of all kinds of books and mementos. I especially enjoyed looking through scrapbooks chronicling the hostel’s history over the years. Around 5:00, Neville said she was ready to do my massage. It was a wonderful treat and felt fantastic on my tired shoulders and calves.
After the massage, we started to think about dinner! In the meantime, one southbound thruhiker arrived and booked a bed in the bunkhouse. Neville’s husband had errands to run, so it was just four of us for dinner. Neville and Michael typically prepare community meals with the help of hikers staying for the night. Everyone has a task and chips in to prepare and clean up after the meal. We had an amazing tomato-pepper-cucumber salad, homemade bread with aioli, locally raised pork, and a flavorful yellow Thai vegetarian curry for dinner. Everything was delicious, but the salad was a favorite and is something I’ve made at home ever since. Dessert was Neville’s homemade vanilla ice cream.
After dinner, Adam and I relaxed in the library and read until it was time for bed. It was lovely being lulled to sleep by the sound of a breeze in the trees outside. We both slept great!
Adam Says: Day Three – Woods Hole Hostel to Narrows (11.8 miles)
We had our longest day on the trail ahead of us with the third day. We got up, packed up our gear, and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast prepared by Neville. We had asked if we could leave most of our gear there during the day to be able to “slackpack” without the weight. We carried water, some lunch, and a few layers of clothes but we were able to dump out so much of the weight. With this extra added comfort, we started on our hike for the day. We climbed up the steep gravel road and we quickly were so thankful we had dropped off our weight. We rejoined the AT at .5 miles and began our hike.
The morning started off foggy and cold and the section of AT started off uphill. At 1.9 miles, we reached a viewpoint, but it was completely socked in the fog so there was no point staying. The trail then took a descent and at 2.8 miles, we came upon Docs Knob Shelter. It was a nice shelter, but we were glad we had luxurious accommodations at Woods Hole Hostel the night before. The trail was up and down for a bit, before rising a bit to a nice viewpoint at 6.5 miles. The fog had lifted so we enjoyed nice views of the river cutting through a scenic mountain view. We stopped and ate some lunch here, but had to eat a bit away from the viewpoint since there were strong, cold winds. We pushed on as the trail became to climb very slowly and at 8.6 miles we reached another viewpoint. This was probably the nicest one in our opinion of the trip, since you had panoramic views of farmlands and mountains around you.
We continued the pleasant ridge walking and eventually the trail began to descend through an area that cut a path between very large rock boulders. We reached a sign that pointed to Angels Rest (a short .1 mile sidetrail) at 9.2 miles. Angels Rest is a large boulder that requires you to scale up it to get the view. We climbed up and the view is being combated by growing trees. The view in the distance is nice, but in my opinion the eyesore of looking down on a town (and correctional facility to boot) isn’t one that I particularly enjoy. I know lots of people hike up to this point from Pearisburg and return, but the better view would be if people would just continue a bit further. We climbed down disappointed this was the last view and then rejoined the trail.
The hike down from Angels Rest was extremely steep. We made the downward trip the rest of the way fairly quickly. At 11 miles we crossed over Cross Avenue, VA 634. We then crossed over Lane Street at 11.4 miles and then made it to Narrows Road and our car at 11.8 miles. When we got back to our car, we drove back to pick up our gear at Woods Hole Hostel (and also bought a nice soup bowl crafted by the owner) and then made our way to Ballast Point for some post-hike dinner and flight of beers. It was such a great birthday celebration and we had a wonderful experience!
Distance – 27 miles (plus a couple extra miles to access views, shelters, and Woods Hole Hostel) (Check out the stats from Map My Hike* [Day One] [Day Two][Day Three])
Elevation Change – 4,885 feet
Difficulty – 3.5. The second day was the toughest climbing. Overall, it wasn’t very tough, but it was 27 miles.
Trail Conditions – 3.5. Some of the trail was overgrown in parts, but overall was fairly maintained and footing was reliable through most of the hike.
Views – 4. The view leading up to Angels Rest was the best.
Streams/Waterfalls – 4. Lots of stream crossings, but the highlight was early in the hike with Dismal Falls.
Wildlife – 2. We didn’t run into many signs of wildlife on the trail, but did see an occasional deer.
Ease to Navigate – 4. Sticking to the AT, you just look for white blazes. The side trails we took were well marked.
Solitude – 4. We had most of the trail to ourselves. Expect people at Dismal Falls and Angels Rest and not much in between.
* 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: Coordinates to drop off car and meet shuttle: 37.3341, -80.7553 (Narrows AT Parking Lot Off road, room for quite a few cars.) Shuttle drop-off/hike start coordinates: 37.1757, -80.9083 (Kimberling Creek Suspension Bridge has a a small parking area along VA606)