Thanks, Brenda! That was one of my goals when I decided to write the journal.
Some folks want to do all or part of the Appalachian Trail, while others have
Hopefully, this journal will serve as a catalyst for all sorts
In this section I will highlight my favorite places along the AT for prolific spring
flowers, great campsites, and unusual rocks.
I'll also tell you where some of the most rugged rock sections are located so
you can either avoid them or seek them out for a real challenge.
GORGEOUS SPRING FLOWERS
You really can't go wrong anywhere along the Appalachian Trail in the spring!
There will be flowers nearly everywhere.
Since I began at the southern terminus
in late April, the floral show I enjoyed was primarily in the first few states
in May and June - through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
There were very few flowers blooming during the summer and fall in the
mid-Atlantic and New England states, but I bet they were just as spectacular
during their spring seasons.
The locations I've listed below are NOT in my order of preference, but simply
range from south to north. I listed flowers I saw and included photos in many of
the first fifty-nine days through Virginia, and a few after that (like in the Pochuck Swamp in New Jersey). I plan to put many of my AT flower (and other)
photos on the Picasa link above left when I finish with all my post-run
In my opinion the most spectacular floral displays were the rhododendrons, mountain
laurels, and wild azaleas. Timing the blooming season of these shrubs, as well
as all the other wildflowers, is tricky, since bloom time depends on elevation,
latitude, and weather. Check locally before driving a good distance to see these
blooms, just as you would for fall leaf color. There are numerous locations
along the AT through at least New Jersey where laurels, azaleas, and rhodos thrive.
1. Between Springer Mountain and Woody Gap, GA - numerous rhododendron
tunnels here, but not blooming on April 30 (Day 1).
2. North from Fontana Dam in the Smokies, NC - these brilliant flame
azaleas were blooming on
Day 12 (May 11):
3. Wayah Bald and Nantahala River Gorge area in NC - numerous wild
irises and other flowers and shrubs in bloom on
Day 10 (May 9).
4. Between Davenport Gap and Max Patch, NC - I waxed poetic on
(May 16) because I saw such a proliferation of flowers:
whole hillsides of trilliums, spiderworts, and violets, as well as fire pinks,
blue irises, flame azaleas, mountain laurels, and other gorgeous yellow, white,
and blue flowers.
5. Lover's Leap, north of Hot Springs, NC - on
Day 19 (May 18), lots
of pink Lady Slippers and laurels, which hadn't yet peaked.
6. Roan Mountain area in TN - numerous rhododendrons but the flowers
weren't in bloom yet at that elevation when I was there on
Day 27 (May 26).
7. Straight Mountain, VA -
a few miles north of Damascus on the Trail above Laurel Creek Gorge, I found
rhodo/laurel/azalea heaven on
Day 31 (May 30). It was the most beautiful display
I saw in the first month on the AT. There was a profusion of lavender
and fuschia-colored flowers, all gorgeous. This photo doesn't really do them
8. Shenandoah National Park, VA - rhododendrons usually bloom mid- to
late June here, laurels a bit earlier. See
Days 53 to 57.
9. Pochuck Swamp, Vernon Valley, NJ - lots of purple, white, and
yellow wildflowers blooming on
Day 92 (July 30) and would probably be even
better in the spring when it is wetter.
If you have a tent, van, or small camper you can find numerous wonderful
places to camp along the Appalachian Trail.
If you have a larger camper, your
options are more limited. But Jim did a terrific job finding some scenic,
spacious, and/or convenient camping sites during our trek. Some were even free
in national forest areas.
These were some of my
favorites, again listed from south to north instead of by preference:
1. Vogel State Park, north Georgia -
What a beautiful park! There are numerous trails
in the park and surrounding mountains, a lake for swimming and fishing, and huge
shaded campsites next to a clear, rocky creek with lush rhododendrons on the far
bank (not yet in bloom when we were there in late April). Kids would love it
2. Big Meadow Campground, Shenandoah Natl. Park, VA - Jim found a
terrific site here that was right next to the AT, so I could end one day's run
and begin the next morning right from our camper. All the details, including
bear sightings, are at
Day 55. This is another great spot for families.
3. Round Pond Family Campground at West Point Academy, NY - one of the few
locations to camp near the AT in the Harriman State Park area, this is a great
place if you have any military connections (veteran, active military, or family
of military personnel). Situated above the broad Hudson River, the scenery,
architecture, and history are interesting. See Days
4. Pine Valley RV Resort, Quechee, VT (near Woodstock) - see
and 111 for information about our favorite campground in Vermont. This one is
privately owned, but we've enjoyed the same spacious wooded site there three
times now (twice for VT100 and once for the AT) for several days each time. The
nearby town of Woodstock is one of our favorite trail towns, too.
5. Northern Outdoors campgrounds, Caratunk, Maine - the sites Jim
found for us in Maine just kept getting better and better! This one is right
next to the Kennebec River, a mile or so upriver from the AT crossing. It was
great to just look over and see the river from our camper. See photo from
and 138. In
September, we had the place nearly to ourselves.
6. Jo-Mary Lake Campground, Katahdin Ironworks-Jo-Mary Multiple Use Area
in Maine (Hundred-Mile Wilderness) - imagine our surprise when we camped in
the fog but got up the next morning to clear blue skies - and a perfect view of
Mt. Katahdin across the lake! We were right next to the water. Again, in
mid-September, we just about had the whole place to ourselves. See Days
Jim took this dramatic photo of the mountain from our campsite:
7. Abol Bridge Campground, Maine - we didn't think it would get any
better than the Jo-Mary Campground. We scoped out this campground on a cloudy
day, too, and were more than surprised the next day to find out that we were in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin. I was delighted to end two of my runs (Days
148) at this campground, located right next to Abol Bridge.
See the photo above from Day 147 of the view I saw when I walked across the bridge and saw
how close we were to Katahdin.
Jim just out-did himself here (once again).
MOST INTERESTING ROCKS
I had a love-hate relationship with rocks the entire journey.
never expected the AT to be so rocky. I encountered every imaginable kind of
rock along the way:
huge rock boulders, rock outcrops and ledges, vertical rock slabs, horizontal
rock slabs/bedrock I could run on, big and little rocks, pointed rocks, grooved and
fluted rocks, hollow rocks, rockwork done by the CCC in the 1930s, rock cairns, rock crevices, rock jumbles,
scree, rocks flowing down the
hillsides like lava, stacked rocks, balanced and cantilevered rocks, rocks in
beautiful colors, rocks with lovely designs, and rocks with moss, crusty
lichens, ferns, and even trees growing on them.
It took me a while to appreciate them, but most of the more
rocks I grew to like. Reading about their origins helped. Taking photos of
interesting formations and designs helped. And just realizing I couldn't run as
much as I wanted to helped. Once I slowed down a bit, I discovered these
interesting rocks, for example:
1. Virginia Rocks - some of the more fascinating
formations are in the Mt. Rogers NRA (see Days
re: Fat Man's
Squeeze), Dragon's Tooth (Day 44), The Guillotine (Day 47), and
Day 56 in the Shenenandoahs (fluted, balancing, hollow, etc.). Northern Virginia also has its
share of boulders to climb over.
2. New York Rocks - the Lemon Squeezer in Harrimon State
Park is fun (Day 94) if you take your time, and I just loved the multi-colored
"puddingstone" rock slabs on some of the ridges (Day 92). Of all the rock
samples I collected this is my favorite. I could run on those slabs but mostly
walked to enjoy them more (how's that for a one-eighty in my thinking??).
3. Massachusetts Rocks - I loved the white and pale orangey-colored rock formations at The Cobbles on Crystal Mountain (Day 104) and the
gorgeous white marble and multi-colored quartz rocks on East Mountain (Day 105)
in northern Massachusetts. Many of the buildings in this area are made from
these beautiful stones.
4. Vermont Rocks - I was simply mesmerized some days in
Vermont by the beautiful colors of the rocks. Some had unusual streaks and
designs in them. Some had shiny gold or silver flecks. There were also plenty of mossy rock boulders,
and even a rock cairn "city." This is one of the fun cairns from
5. New Hampshire Rocks - rocks galore here, from
colorful, fun rocks to nasty "suicide slabs" above enormous drops. Every
imaginable form of rock is present in this state, including rock walls to climb
and mountains that are nothing but boulders or bedrock above tree line.
I collected lots of pretty little rock samples from this state. (Don't worry;
there are plenty more if you go!)
This is one of the
more unusual patterns I found in a rock on
Day 115, a great section of
the AT for rock hounds:
6. Maine Rocks - home to many of the above-mentioned
types of rocks, Maine also has lots of dark blue-gray slate (especially around Monson)
and the notorious "slowest mile on the AT," Mahoosuc Notch, with its truck- and
house-sized boulders to climb over, around, and under. Mahoosuc Notch (Day
127) is a major
challenge, particularly if you have short legs and arms or you are in a hurry. If
you have more time, companions, and a dry day, it's a blast. As in the other
northern New England states, Maine has a lot of beautiful "velvet" rocks,
huge boulders that are covered with soft green moss.
MOST DIFFICULT ROCKS FOR RUNNING
Ha! They are everywhere on the AT, if you're as
rock-challenged as I am. For other people the difficulty would be a plus,
drawing them like a magnet.
These are just a few of the toughest spots to
negotiate if you're running or speed-hiking the Trail, going south to north again:
1. Blackstack Cliffs, NC - these were the first
challenging boulder ledges I encountered when I was still trying to run as much
as possible. Well, there's no running here for about a mile! The views are nice, though (see
photo below). There is
a blue-blazed bad-weather route, but you'll miss the views if you take it.
This is one of
many spots on the AT where a torn ligament or broken bone would spell Bad
News because it would be hard to get rescued. In retrospect,
these cliffs aren't nearly as difficult as those in northern New England, but at
the time they seemed formidable. See
2. The "Roller Coaster" in northern VA - this was my
first real encounter with ten miles of rock boulders to negotiate and
steep, nasty PUDs (pointless ups and downs in hiker-speak). Trail designers here
found the very worst terrain through these hills and are doggone proud of it, as
evidenced by the signs erected by the "Trail Boss." Again, after
negotiating much worse places in NH and ME, this section now seems relatively
tame. Perspective. See Days 58
59 for details
and a photo.
3. Pennsylvania - the AT is rocky in much of the state,
making running slow at best and impossible in many places. There aren't a lot
of rock slabs and verticals but many places have annoying sharp rocks that
frustrate the hikers as much as the runners. I pretty much hated the Trail in
most of Rocksylvania. No offense to residents there!
4. New Hampshire - every size and form of rock you could
ever imagine exists here. The Trail is often very rugged, such as in the Kinsman
Day 117). Mt. Moosilauke and the northern portions of the
Presidential Range that are above tree line are often boulder piles, especially
from Mt. Washington to Mt. Madison (see Days
This is a photo of Jim on
Day 116 in the fog on top of Moosilauke:
Some other summits in New Hampshire have smoother rock slabs
that are more runnable, like Franconia Ridge (Day
118) and the southern Presies
You'll get lots of rock climbing experience in New Hampshire. It will serve you
well in Maine . . .
5. Maine - Mt. Katahdin (Day
148) and the southern part
of Maine in the Mahoosuc Range have the worst boulders and rock climbs (slabs,
verticals) in the state. Mahoosuc Notch deserves its notoriety, especially if the rocks are
wet or you're in a hurry (Day 127). In the rest of
Maine, water and roots
are more of a problem than rocks.
COMING UP NEXT: tough stuff - the hardest climbs and
descents for you masochists, and some of the more dangerous places along the AT.
After that, I'll identify some of the most runnable and scenic
places I found, sections that are easy to crew, areas where other family members
can find fun things to do while you're out on the Trail, and a few interesting
weekend, weeklong, and two-week runs or hikes along the Trail.
I'll have a lot more "post" entries eventually. Don't cha
just hate it when real life interferes with your passions??