Appalachian Trail: Rip Rap Trail Parking Area to Jarmans Gap

It is day three of hiking, and Birch and I have hit our stride. This hike was very easy and – to be perfectly honest – a bit boring. The trail is lined with mountain laurel, rhododendrons, and ferns. The train itself is wonderfully smooth. After a short ascent we were fortunate to have a 3-mile descent. That was very unusual and very much appreciated. The only challenge was that, being the first on the trail, I was ensnared in quite a few spider webs.

Along the way we came across another area where a fire had occurred, long ago. It is so neat to see how resilient a forest can be. While there were not many tall trees, there was plenty of new growth.

My favorite part of the trail was at mile seven, when we came across a section of the trail blanketed in wild flowers. The butterflies were numerous and too busy tapping the flowers to worry about a couple of hikers.DSCN0576

Appalachian Trail: Simmons Gap to Loft Mountain Camp Store

Birch and I have not been on the AT in a while so I was excited to be going on an 8 mile hike, and even more excited about the prospect of hiking four days in a row. Loft Mountain Campground is a perfect place to hang out for the week while we indulge in some time on the AT.DSCN0543

The hike from Simmons Gap begins with a 500 ft./ 1 mile ascent. About 15 minutes into the hike, Birch shouted, “Bear, left!” Where? I didn’t see it. “No, the trail bears left,” he said with a grin. Yeah, very funny. Unfortunately, his sense of humor was in fine form the entire hike.

The trail goes up, down, up, then down. We stopped at an overlook to have a snack and met a father/son duo hiking from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry. I think it is so cool to see families doing the trail together.

I was fascinated when we went through a section of the trail that had experienced a major forest fire this past spring. The area is really bouncing back. The birds seemed to be very happy here. DSCN0550

After hiking a while once more, we were startled by a commotion in a tree about 10 yards ahead of us. A bear half leaped, half stumbled out of the tree! I’m very glad he saw us before we saw him because “Bear, left” was much better than having the bear land on top of us.

We ate lunch at a viewpoint and were ready to be done. The heat was getting to us! How awesome was it to end the hike at the camp store, where Gatorade and a cool shower awaited!?!.

Appalachian Trail: Jenkins Gap to Elkwallow Picnic Area, Shenandoah NP

With only one day for hiking this weekend, Karen and I opted for our less rocky southward trip, which brought us back to Jenkins Gap in Shenandoah National Park. As we drove in, we could see right away that the autumn colors were going to be amazing.


We got started on our 11.8 mile hike at 10:00, and—as would prove to be the case—it was a good thing that we didn’t start any later. We were able to get parking at both points of our trip without any trouble, for the traffic was still relatively light. The weather was cloudy and in the low 50s, but the persistent wind must have dropped the temperature by 10 degrees, at least. Karen and I were both wearing only a long-sleeved shirt, and despite the heat we generated, we remained cold.


But what beautiful scenery! The peak of autumn had, apparently, already passed, but the tree tops were still in different shades, from yellow to red. The trail itself was covered in a thick blanket of freshly fallen leaves, which crunched and shuffled beneath our feet. They didn’t make hiking any easier, and sometimes they covered rocks and the gaps between rocks, thereby demanding that we remain attentive to our steps.


We saw a number of other hikers, mostly close to lookout points. We also came across a mother black bear and her yearling cubs. The cubs weren’t at all interested in us, but the mother put herself between them and us and wouldn’t take her eyes off of us. I decided not to pause and take a photo, as I didn’t want to cause her any unnecessary stress.

When we were climbing Hogback Mountain, Karen assured me that we had hiked the trail before. I sincerely thought she was delusional, but when we got home, she found her blog of August 10, 2014, and proved that I was forgetful. Good thing we have this record!

We reached our destination at about 3:30, and found that, while we were hiking, the park had become crowded with visitors, so that not only were all the parking places taken, but people were parking on the grass. We joined the long line of cars that were exiting the park and were amazed to see the even longer line of cars still entering. We’ve never seen the park anywhere close to being this busy.

Shenandoah National Park: Doyles River Falls and Jones Run

It has been too long since we’ve hiked the Shenandoah. Tod and I took the opportunity to camp in Big Meadows for a few days and enjoy getting out in the woods. I’m a big fan of water falls, so choosing the Doyles River Falls hike was perfect.

At the trailhead to Doyles River Falls

At the trailhead to Doyles River Falls

What immediately hit me as we descended down the trail was just how beautiful the trails are here in the Shenandoah. After recent hikes  on the AT in Pennsylvania, it was so refreshing to have wide, relatively smooth paths. The trail descends very quickly, from just under 3000 feet to close to 1400 feet in elevation. As we went, the trail soon “hugged” a river. I was so excited to see the first waterfall! I took a picture but the truth is that there were many more spectacular falls to come.

My favorite was one of the first falls (see the photo of Tod). It isn’t as big as some of the others, but the setting is so tranquil! The sound of the rushing water is mesmerizing. I sometimes wonder how folks can some to this park and only go to the overlooks. Boy, are they missing some thing!



For a while we were lucky to have a very easy go of it. However, it wasn’t long before the trail joined at Jones Run Trail. We crossed Jones Run (a pretty small stream, really) then began a long, steep ascent. This was, by far, the toughest part of the hike. According to our guidebook, we knew we would soon reach Jones Run Falls. This was our motivation.

Jones Run Falls was the perfect end to a mile-long trek up the trail. We were not disappointed! Large, smooth boulders afforded the perfect spot for lunch. This area is pretty secluded. We only saw one other couple there.

From here, we enjoyed a more gentle ascent. The woods were so beautiful! It wasn’t long before we were back up to Skyline Drive and we turned right onto the AT. As is typical of the AT, the trail narrowed. In fact, there was one spot where it was completely blocked by a downed bush and tree. For the most part, the AT follows Skyline Drive. However, it is far enough way from the road to give one the feel of being far removed from traffic.

Hiking can be a perfect way to clear one’s head, forget everyday life, and zone out. Why not just relax?!? This hike was another reminder that attentiveness is always important in

A very BIG rattle snake!

A very BIG rattle snake!

the wild. All of a sudden I came across a very lively rattle snake poised on the trail! I stopped, backed away, and ran right into Tod (who always follows behind me). As you can see by the picture, this guy was strategically located. No way we could stay on the trail! We carefully went up into the thicket far above the snake and bypassed the danger. From here, I was much more vigilant.

There are quite a few options to leave the trail at this point. One can go to Dundo Picnic area or Browns Gap, for example. We continued on and were soon back at the Doyles River Falls trailhead. Another wonderful hike that we can check off our list!

President Hoover’s Rapidan Camp

On Thursday, August 7, Karen and I took on the 7.4 mile trek identified in Hiking Shenandoah National Park as “Rapidan Camp–Laurel Prong–Hazeltop Loop.” The 2.1 jaunt down the gentle descent of the Mill Prong Trail to Rapidan Camp, Herbert Hoover’s old retreat, was really quite easy. Several times the path crossed a creek, the Mill Prong, but even these crossings occasioned no anxiety.

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At the bottom of the trail lay Rapidan Camp, the three buildings that remain of the old presidential establishment. Evan, a student from American University who was finishing his internship at Shenandoah, gave Karen and me the tour of the Brown House and then cheerfully agreed to take our photo.

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The hike along the Laurel Prong Trail up to the Appalachian Trail, and then the short distance along the A.T. up to the peak of Hazeltop was more challenging, but I certainly wouldn’t say, as the Falcon Guide book says, that the difficulty level was “strenuous.” At least, it wasn’t in the same category as the Cedar Run and Whiteoak Canyon loop.

Hazeltop offered a panoramic view, and Karen and I took a short break there, on the rocks, before proceeding down the easy incline of the A.T. All-in-all, the hike was very pleasant and serene. We met no one on the trail until we got upon the A.T. As Karen observed, even the birds seemed unusually quiet.

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Hawksbill Summit and Bearfence Mountain

This past Tuesday, August 5, Karen and I hiked two paths, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Our first was a jaunt up to Hawksbill Summit, part of a loop comprised of the Salamander Trail and doubling-back upon the Appalachian Trail. All-in-all, the hike was three miles long.


I noted before that I would let you know if I ever went “the wrong way” or in a direction contrary to my intent. Well, I sort of did that. Falcon Guides’ Hiking Shenandoah National Park says that “the trail begins at the north end of the Hawksbill Gap parking lot” and that “a level spur trail about 100 yards long leads to the Appalachian Trail.” Well, there was such an obvious trail leading from the middle of the parking lot that it never occurred to either Karen or myself to look north or south for another trail. The 100-yards-long spur just seemed to have no end to it. On and on we climbed till eventually we had ascended 600 feet. One would think that that would have more than covered the length of the spur, but still we did not reach the A.T. Instead, we found ourselves at the three-walled shelter of the Bird’s Nest, near to the summit of Hawksbill. Here, a look at the map told us what we had done—that we had ascended the section of trail that was supposed to be our final descent and that we were walking in the direction opposite to that suggested in the book. In other words, we went “the wrong way.” Now that I’ve made a full confession, I hope that it is helpful.

Hawksbill Summit offers a nice view of the Shenandoan valley and, in the other direction, of Rag Top.


Surprisingly, the A.T. was the narrowest of the three trails comprising this loop. It was also the rockiest, with sections being only rock. I kept expecting a descent as we approached the spur trail, but there was no descent at all resembling the ascent by which we began our hike:— a good reason, I should say, to follow the suggested directions in the guide book.


After a restful lunch, we hiked the 1.2 mile loop of Bearfence Mountain. In doing this, we were especially careful to follow the directions in our guidebook. Even so, we were hardly prepared for the amount of scrambling over rocks that this jaunt called for. In fact, it was more of a rock climbing venture than a hike and demanded some dexterity and a little courage. What wasn’t needed was our trekking poles, particularly since our two hands—not to mention our knees and our rear ends—were needed in maneuvering ourselves up and down piles of jagged boulders. Well, as they say, Shenandoah rocks!