One hundred and one miles of the Appalachian Trail wind through Shenandoah
National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Front Royal and Waynesboro,
According to the AT guide the park is world-renowned for scenic views from
Skyline Drive and for the flora and fauna characteristic of the Appalachian
Much of the park is wild, with crystal clear streams, waterfalls, and various
types of forest environments. Elevations range from 600 feet beside the
Shenandoah River near Front Royal to 4,050 feet at the summit of Hawksbill
Mountain. There are more than fifty peaks over 3,000 feet and an extensive
network of side trails in addition to the AT.
Congress authorized the park in 1926, and soon after that the Potomac AT Club
(PATC) was organized to scout for trail routes. PATC built the Trail from 1928 to 1930.
The park officially opened in 1936. Skyline Drive was built on the original
Appalachian Trail, so the AT had to be re-routed between 1933 and 1937. Much of
the work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The same thing happened at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway - the
road was built where the Trail was originally routed, and the AT had to be
The AT intersects Skyline Drive numerous times but in the twenty-eight miles
I've seen it isn't a problem. Most of the time today I felt like I was in the
wilderness, not next to a road. I rarely saw the road or heard traffic on it. I
had to wait for a vehicle only one time in about ten when I crossed Skyline
Drive today. Weekends might be busier, as this park is a very popular weekend
destination for folks living in densely-populated areas like Washington, DC.
The advantage to runners and hikers
of having the Trail close to Skyline Drive
is access. If the rest of the AT in Shenandoah NP is as runnable
as the section I ran today (in less than a 19-minute pace, including stops),
it's a good place for training runs. It's a dream to crew, or folks could use
car relays. I think it would be a great place for a long adventure run with a
few friends or training over a long weekend for a 100-miler.
There are fewer views (so far, at least) on the AT than on Skyline Drive.
After Jim dropped me off at Rockfish Gap this morning, he drove on up the road
with the camper to the first campground at Loft Mountain. He loved all the great
views east and west, although there was plenty of haze. I only got a few good
views on the Trail, mainly from the bare summit on Bear Den Mountain and on
SIT AND ENJOY THE VIEW!
My main source of amusement today was about eight tractor seats, shown
above, firmly cemented into the ground on Bear Den Mountain. I'd been running
through the grassy area about 1/4 mile past several towers (some or all of it a
police radio installation). They weren't particularly attractive. In fact, they
were ugly and I was surprised to see them so close to a famous trail in a national park.
These seats were placed at the last installation. I think they were put there
to distract the hikers! Anyway, I'd read about them in hikers' journals so I
knew to expect them. They aren't mentioned in the AT guide.
One of the highlights of my day was getting to share the unusual rocks on
Blackrock Mountain with Jim. He surprised me by coming out about nine miles on
the Trail. I thought he was going to take a rest day from running! He saw me
walking up a hill and stood over to the side, silently. I don't have the best
peripheral vision with my glasses so it was a bit of a shock to suddenly see someone
standing there. Then I realized it was him, and started laughing.
We enjoyed the huge rock pile that is the summit of Blackrock Mountain. A
cliff fractured at some point many years ago and the rocks just tumbled down
the side of the mountain. It looks like a lava flow, except it's blocky and not
Fortunately, most of the rocks were removed from the Trail through this area.
I had to walk through some areas like that two days ago when I had the
slow day due to all the rocks.
There was another unusual rocky area before this called the Riprap Trail. I
had to walk carefully through those two spots, but most of the Trail today was
so runnable that it was a real treat. I even ran up some gradual hills today but by
the end it was hard to run even downhill.
On one of the more runnable descents around eight miles, I tripped on a rock
and fell against a log. My right side took the brunt of it again (why is
that??), re-opening old wounds on my arm, leg, and knee. I lost some skin,
blood, momentum, and time (about 15 minutes) to do damage control.
I talked with only two hikers today; most of the folks I saw were doing short
day hikes from parking lots along Skyline Drive. The only thru-hiker I met was
"Slap Happy," a young lady whose entries I've seen in Trail registers. I saw her
about a mile before I got to Jim.
Just in front of Slap Happy was a section-hiker named Mike, who has no trail
name (he doesn't like his old one, which he failed to disclose). He was so
interesting that I walked with him about a half mile before running on. Mike is an
elementary school teacher from West Chester, PA, who relieves the stress from
teaching first graders by hiking all summer. He's done all but 800 miles of the
AT and hopes to finish in another couple years.
Mike is a runner and said he envied me running the whole AT. The longest
he's run is a half marathon but he wants to increase the distance. I encouraged
him to start doing trail runs to enhance his enjoyment of the sport. He was
interested in hearing about my way of doing the AT and asked questions about
Mike and Slap Happy saw five bears just before I caught up to them. I was so
envious to hear this! First was a mama bear with three cubs (that's unusual),
who scurried up into a tree. Then they saw a large bear just walking north on
the Trail, not in any hurry to move. Mike and Slap Happy just quietly followed
until the bear moved off into the woods. Of all the days to be without his
camera, Mike lamented.
Soon after I told Jim about the bears, we saw a mother bear and her cub on
the trail ahead!! We were both excited! Jim's never seen one so close, and I
haven't seen a bear since the day after I got out of the Smokies. We had our
camera but the bears moved into the woods too soon. About a mile later we saw
the back end of a cub on the Trail but he, too, moved on before we could get
close enough to take a photo.
The bears seem more used to hikers and campers in Shenandoah than in the
Smokies. And the deer - my gosh, they'll come right up to you! I saw several
today that barely moved when I came up on them. When Jim was running out to meet
me, he heard something in the leaves, stopped to look, and a deer came within
ten feet of him on the Trail.
And in our campground we observed a woman walking past our camper with her
Beagle pup, a deer following them about ten feet away! Tater was going nuts. She
loves to chase deer and antelope. Fortunately, she was on her 20-foot cord
and couldn't reach the road. Cody was interested but didn't bark. He only
chases little critters. I'm not too worried about him on the Trail if he sees a
bear or moose. He obeys my "leave it" command.
We can highly recommend this campground (Loft Mountain). The sites are spaced
far apart, the cost is reasonable ($16 with no utilities), and it is cool here
at 3,300 feet. We even have a grassy "back yard" surrounded by shrubs that give
The AT makes a near-circle around this campground. We went to the far side,
which is nearest to our campsite and also makes for a little less trail mileage
for me tomorrow (very long day ahead - somewhere between 34 and 37 miles).
For the next three days Jim gets a big break: no driving me to and
from trail heads! I figured out my mileage so I leave from, and arrive at, three
campgrounds in the park. Jim has to move the camper every day but he doesn't
have to unhook the truck to come get me. This sure saves him time.
We lucked out again with the weather. Although it was hotter today and there
was no breeze on the Trail, it's cool at the campground and we didn't get any
rain. We could hear thunder in the distance.
We can't get on-line at the campground. Jim will try to upload this entry
tomorrow when we move up the road to Big Meadows Campground. Our entries from
within the park may all be delayed until we get to Front Royal.