For a second weekend in a row, Birch and I stayed at Loft Mountain Campground so that we could hike the AT in Shenandoah. This weekend was much cooler. For me, that makes a BIG difference. Cooler weather cuts down my fatigue as well as my need for fluiids.
After dropping one car off at the turn off for the Ranger Station (Simmons Gap) we pulled over to the side of the road with the other car just south of the Swift Run Gap park entrance. The first part of the hike is straight up, about 800ft in about 1 1/2 miles. Since its the beginning of the hike, I felt pretty fresh and it was very manageable. As you can see from the photo below, the view was well worth it. This is High Top Mountain. It isn’t as crowded as some of the more popular areas of the park, and this makes it a nice destination in itself.
After admiring the view, down we went! The trail descends about three miles, passing the Smith Roach Gap Fire Road. I couldn’t help take some photos of the ferns near here. So beautiful!
After crossing the parkway at Powell Gap we ascended less than a mile before we got to a beautiful overlook. There was a sign there (made of sticks) marking this as the 900 mile mark of the AT (from the south, of course.) Tod and I used this as an opportunity to take a nice long break. After eating our sandwiches we put on our fleece jackets and made coffee. It is times like this on the trail that make all the hard work worth it. We really enjoyed the opportunity to relax and enjoy our surroundings. We could see the parkway way below us, houses in a town far away, and an incredible blanket of trees that seemed to go on forever.
Coffee + hiking + view = bliss!
It was a quick hike back to the car, which was less than two miles away. When we exited the trail we realized that there was a small parking lot across the road from the Ranger Station entrance that we could have used. This is good info for next time, when we continue our southward adventures.
After enjoying a relaxing Sunday in camp with perfect weather, Maple and I decided to hike the short distance of 4.3 miles from the camp store at Loft Mountain Campground south to Browns Gap. Oddly, there is no signpost for the AT at the camp store, but the AT is accessible by going down a short distance on a connecting trail that runs behind the adjoining restrooms into the forest. The AT southbound, then, makes about three quarters of a loop around the campground.
The trail to Brown Gap is well marked and easy to follow, but the directional posts that the NPS has placed along the way wherever trails merge appear to provide distances that are incongruent with each other, and at least one post suggested that the distance between our two points was a full mile shorter than that which is indicated on the PATC map. I pointed this out to a northbound thru-hiker, and he pointed out to me that it made no practical difference.
Anyway, Shenandoah was absolutely gorgeous in green on this windy day in June.
A beautiful day and an eight mile hike is a great combination for a June day. We began our hike at Lewis Mountain Campground. There is limited parking by the camp store but there is plenty of parking near the picnic area. The AT is a gentle, downhill trail for about a mile before leveling off. The easy trail is a nice break before the gentle slope UP that brought us to the top of Bald Face Mountain. There really aren’t any switchbacks (it isn’t steep enough for that) but there were several spots where they had these really cool set of stairs. (It feels a bit magical to ascend up stone steps in the middle of a forest!) I was hoping that there would be a great view but no such luck. There is a nice slab of rock and boulders at the peak. It is a perfect place to stop for lunch but the foliage prevents one from seeing the countryside.
Birch and I pressed on until we reached the bottom of the mountain near the South River Falls Trail. We knew there was a picnic area about a mile away but we decided to have lunch here. I’m glad we did. This spot has a number of nice boulders for sitting. The picnic area turned out to be about 1/10 of a mile off the trail. Along the way, there is a variety of vegetation. My favorite is always the mountain laurel. However, there were giant (I mean GIANT!) ferns that I liked as well.
The last part of the hike was about 1 1/2 miles up (perhaps 500 ft change in elevation) and 1 1/2 miles down. Along the way we met a really nice family from New Zealand, taking a 5 month vacation on the trail. Their son was probably 5 or 6 years old. He was having a great time. After all, he had just seen a snake! I’m always amazed at how the AT brings so many people from different walks of life together.
We reached our other car, parked at Swift Run Gap, in no time. Afterwards, we visited the Loft Mountain visiting area for some blackberry ice cream. Hiking + ice cream! Perfect!
Shenandoah is known for Blackberries. Blackberry ice cream? Yum!