This is a continuation of some of my suggested weekend, one-week, and
two-week hikes or runs along the Appalachian Trail. Since one fourth of the AT
passes through Virginia, I'm devoting an entire entry to this state.
If you haven't already read the introduction and caveats in
#10, please go to that entry and read what I said about modifying the
distances, doing further research, obtaining adequate maps, etc.
Some folks combine their AT adventures with family vacations. Ideas for other
activities, both recreational and non-athletic, are in red.
OK, let's go explore Virginia! We'll start from the south and go north again
. . .
IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN VIRGINIA
DAMASCUS, VA AREA - this is a great base for several days. It's known
among hikers as the "friendliest town on the AT."
Damascus is my favorite trail town, with several good
restaurants, various types of places to stay (inns B&Bs, hostels, cabins,
campgrounds), two good outfitters, several other stores, and all the services
hikers need. It is also the site of a huge annual hiker gathering in May.
I never got to spend much time in any of the trail towns but Damascus won me
over as soon as I saw it. The Trail goes right through the middle of the small
town, which is more attractive than some others.
The photo below shows the
welcome sign at the south end of town on
30. As I
walked through Damascus with Jim and the dogs we stopped to get ice cream at a shop on the
east side across the highway from the Virginia Creeper Trail. That was nice on a
warm day! I continued on another few miles that day.
Although we rarely ate meals out, we had two delicious, inexpensive suppers at the
Baja Cafe, a great little Mexican restaurant. We browsed in both outfitters' stores
and I signed the hiker
register at one of them. We enjoyed several nights on Memorial weekend at
a national forest
campground (Bear Tree) east of town during our trek.
The main draw in this area is outdoor recreation. Damascus sits at the crossroads of
seven trails. The AT runs right through town, as does the 34-mile long Virginia
Creeper Trail, which is flat and easy to hike, run, or cycle. The
Trans-America National Bicycle Trail runs from Virginia to Oregon. The Iron Mountain Trail
runs into the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area. The Daniel Boone Trail is a
historical driving tour based on the frontiersman's journeys. The
Crooked Road Musical
Heritage Trail is another driving route; it celebrates Virginia's mountain music
heritage. And Virginia's Birding and Wildlife Trail links viewing sites around
Whew! That's a lot of "trails" and should keep all sorts of folks busy in the
For a one- or two-week hike, just add mileage north and south of town. The AT south of
Damascus is very runnable for at least twenty miles
through nice "green tunnels."
One of my very favorite AT sections is a bit
north, the Mt. Rogers National Recreational Area (photo above) and Grayson Highlands State
Park. A weekend camping trip here would be a lot of fun. The terrain is a bit rough, but the views, rock formations,
sub-alpine plant life, and feral horses make for a most interesting run or hike.
I think kids would love it, too. If you like horseback riding, there are over
eighty miles of dedicated horse trails in the Mt. Rogers area. The AT crosses
the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail but doesn't share it, which is nice for the
users of both trails.
Days 30 to 32 (also some info re: Damascus on
To stretch this out to a two-week run or fast hike, keep going north to the Dairy
Queen at Groseclose where the Trail crosses 1-81 - or even farther, past Burkes
Garden to Pearisburg. Some of those sections are runnable, some are rocky. See
33 to 38..
CATAWBA VALLEY, VA - this area west of Roanoke is known for the
interesting Dragon's Tooth rock formation, expansive views from McAfee Knob and
Tinker Cliffs, and the ridgeline overlooking Carvin's Cove. The longest section
without road access is from Rt. 311 to Rt. 220, a distance of 20 miles. Dragon's
Tooth is south of that section and can be accessed via several paved county
roads, depending on the distance you want. The Audie Murphy monument is in this
The footing is decent (except around Dragon's Tooth - see photo below) and the climbs are
moderate. To add more mileage, I think it's more interesting to continue north
on the AT than south. The Trail is quite runnable on up to the James River and
road access is good, giving lots of mileage options.
Be sure and stop at the Home Place Restaurant in Catawba for a delicious,
huge family-style dinner on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday evening or Sunday
afternoon. It's an AT hiker tradition and very popular with folks all over the
Since we live in this area we stayed at home for about a week while I ran
nearby sections of the AT. Nice campgrounds include Roanoke Mountain and
Peaks of Otter along the Blue Ridge Parkway and a private campground near Salem,
Dixie Caverns. Roanoke has numerous hotels, motels, and restaurants.
The Roanoke area also has plenty of activities for everyone. Recreation
includes running, hiking, or mountain biking the numerous
trails at Mill Mountain, Chestnut Ridge, Explore Park, and Carvin's Cove;
fishing and boating on Smith Mountain Lake and Carvin's Cove; and
exploring Jefferson National Forest.
More sedentary pursuits include
stores for antiques, books, or about
anything else you could possibly want; farmers markets;
history, art, science, and transportation museums; theaters; art galleries;
festivals; historical sites; the Valhalla Winery (within city limits -
great wine and one of the best views in the area); parks;
sporting events and concerts; driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway;
viewing the beautiful lobby of the
the elegant Tudor-style
Hotel Roanoke, and more.
I did these sections out of sequence.
44 covers VA 621 to Catawba Pass/VA 311 (21.9 miles).
42 describes the next section north, the 20 miles from VA 311 to VA
220 at Daleville.
Day 43 is from Daleville to Bearwallow Gap
(21.7 miles). If you want to do more mileage keep going north into the next
section, described below.
NATURAL BRIDGE AREA, VA - north of Bearwallow Gap, the AT continues to
be mostly runnable for at least another 58 miles north to Hwy.
60. I did this in three segments on
Days 47 to 49. For a weekend, choose the
part that sounds most interesting to you or has the elevation profile you're
looking for (some is more mountainous, some less). For two weeks, keep going farther
north or south of here.
There are some interesting side trails to other natural features along the
AT, such as the mile down to Apple Orchard Falls and back up or the 1.2-mile
hike to the Devil's Marbleyard (Day 48) near the James River.
There are also some really cool features right on this section of Trail, like
the long foot bridge across the broad James River (photos on
Day 48). The
Guillotine, one of the most unusual rocks on the entire AT, is on Apple Orchard
Mountain (see photo on
Day 47). And the remains of the Brown Mountain Creek
Community are near Hwy. 60 (Day 49).
I took this photo from or near Apple Orchard Mountain:
If you have the time and energy, check out The Priest,
Day 50, which is over
4,000 feet high and has great views from rock outcrops. The laurels and
rhododendrons are beautiful there in June. It's a popular place for folks to
hike on the weekend. The easiest way to get there is from the AT parking lot on
Rt. 56 at the Tye River - just climb it going south if you don't have time to do
the 25-mile hike from Rt. 60.
There are plenty of places to camp in this area: Peaks of Otter and
Otter Creek campgrounds along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Cave Mountain Lake below
Natural Bridge, and private campgrounds. The largest towns for rooms are
Lexington and Buena Vista.
As in previous sections, many recreational activities
abound in this area full of mountains, streams, and lakes. Less athletic
activities include driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway,
looking for wildlife, checking out the Natural Bridge and caverns, visiting the
Virginia Horse Center, and touring local wineries.
In or near Lexington you can indulge in your chocolate fantasies at the
Cocoa Mill Chocolate Factory, see a play or concert at the famous
Theater at Lime Kiln, or see an authentic Nobel Peace Prize at the
George Marshall Museum.
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK - 101 miles of mostly runnable trail on the
AT, nice views from rock outcrops, the best access to trailheads of any section
this length along the entire AT, beautiful woods and flowers, lots of
people-acclimated deer and bears, great campgrounds, and miles and miles of
other hiking trails.
This is a photo from Blackrock Mountain (most of the park is greener than
The AT often crosses Skyline Drive. During the week in the summer, this isn't
much of a problem. Road noise and traffic volume were light. There is more
traffic during the weekends and holidays and when the autumn leaves are
colorful, so keep that in mind if it's solitude you're seeking.
Trail runners from eastern cities love to come here on weekends. Not only are
the trails fun, but it's also crewing heaven, whether you have someone to drop
you off and pick you up or run with someone else and have two vehicles. If
you're staying overnight choose one of the campgrounds along Skyline Drive and
do runs to and from it. Or find a room down in one of the towns like Waynesboro,
Luray, or Front Royal.
Cyclists love to ride Skyline Drive (bikes are prohibited on the trails).
There are more than 500 miles of trails in the park, giving lots of options for
long or short hikes. Guided nature hikes and interpretive
programs are offered. Camping, picnicking, and
fishing are popular with families here. Outside the park you can
canoe, kayak, and raft the north and south forks of
the Shenandoah River, mountain bike at Wintergreen
Resort and other areas, or hike to Crabree Falls
with its vertical drop (over three miles) of 1,200 feet..
Less athletic activities include
driving along Skyline Drive (which has many more
impressive vistas than the AT through the Shennies when the leaves are out),
going to several caverns
in the area, visiting the Frontier Culture Museum
near Staunton, enjoying some Shenandoah Shakespeare at the
Blackfriar Playhouse, taking a self-guided tour of a
working mill at grain mill at Wade's Mill, or indulging in some wine at local
Days 53 to 57 for lots of details of our
passage through Shenandoah NP. We loved it even though we didn't take time to
pursue these other activities.
If you want to mostly run or hike fast and have at least a week, you could start
at Rockfish Gap at the southern end of the park and go all the way north to
Harper's Ferry, WV, a distance of 161 miles (Days
57 to 59). I did this in seven days, including one day off. For two
weeks, start farther south, run through the Shennies, and keep going until you
run out of time or energy!
The next entry will highlight interesting sections of the AT in West Virginia,
Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.