Distance: There are 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. We did the northern 50 of them.
Difficulty: 6 of 10.
Total score: 10 of 10 (Northern Shenandoah National Park AT score)
Resource – Appalachian Trail Guide to Maryland and Northern Virginia – 2008 Edition – Appalachian Trail Conservancyor the Appalachian Trail Guide to Shenandoah National Park (2012 – 14th edition) I can’t over-recommend carrying a trail map and guide while backpacking, it will help keep you on track and point out important things… like water sources.
Terrain – forests, ridges, fields, and overlooks
Northern Trailhead – Just outside Shenandoah National Park – Rt 522, Front Royale, VA – 38°52’40.80″N, 78° 9’2.75″W
Southern Trailhead – Big Meadows – 38°31’39.85″N, 78°26’36.77″ W
Day 2 Start – Gravel Springs Hut – 38°45’49.92″N, 78°14’1.07″W
Day 2 End – Pass Mountain Hut – 38°40’35.97″N, 78°19’8.29″W
Parking – Got dropped off and picked up on this one, so can’t help there! I’d suggest calling the ranger station at Shenandoah.
Standouts (Day 2): Overlooks and beautiful woods
Markings – Those famous white blazes. Well marked in National Park
Description: The AT in the northern section of Shenandoah is a weird mix of wilderness and non-wilderness. Once on the ridge, you’re never more than a mile from Skyline Drive (which follows the original route of the AT), and will cross it several times each day. You can practically plan your meals around stops at stores and grills in the park. Yet, at the same time, the animals aren’t used to being hunted and don’t really fear people.
Did this one in 2013 with a crew of Boy Scouts. We walked into the park from the nearest road crossing north of Shenandoah, and spent four days working our way down to Big Meadows for about 46 trail miles of backpacking, or about half of the AT’s length in the park. We stayed in shelters for two nights, and camped out on a mountaintop the other night.
Day 1 – Rt 522 to Gravel Springs Hut – 13.4 miles
Day 2 – Gravel Springs Hut to Pass Mountain Hut – 13.1 miles
Day 3 – Pass Mountain Hut to Stony Man Mountain – 10.3 miles
Day 4 – Stony Man Mountain to Big Meadows Ranger Station – 8.3 miles
Day 2 – Gravel Springs Hut to Pass Mountain Hut
Starting point: Gravel Springs Hut – Shenandoah National Park
Ending point: Pass Mountain Hut – Shenandoah National Park
Distance: 13.1 miles (plus 0.4 miles total into and out of camping area)
In August 2013, myself and my crack team of Boy Scouts set off from just outside Shenandoah National Park for a four day, 50 mile backpacking adventure. This is Day #2!
Up early, breakfast, and then off from Gravel Springs Hut. We’re looking at 13.1 trail miles for the day (13.5 total), which will put us more than halfway to our goal of 50 miles! You’re up on the ridge now, so you’ll have some ups and downs, but nothing even half as bad as what you started with
It’s a 0.2 of a mile journey back to the AT, where we turned and headed South. You’ll start the day with a healthy 800 foot climb from the hut up to the summit of Hogback Mountain, a stretch of 3 miles. Two miles up from your wake up point is a little side trail to a view at Little Hogback Overlook that’s worth taking in.
There is a parking area here that the trail runs just under.
After this overlook, you’ll finish your climb to peak #1 of Hogback Mountain. The mountain has three peaks spread out over about 3/4 of a mile. There’s a beautiful view at mile 3.1 of the section (2.9 miles for the day). You’ll hit the third peak at trail mile 3.8 (3.6 miles into your day), which is where the junction of the AT with the Tuscarora-Overall Run Trail can be found. Don’t turn here, it’s 220 miles until this trail rejoins the AT, and that isn’t until Pennsylvania!
From this third peak, it’s your first real downhill of the trip, a 1200 foot drop from Hogback Mountain to Elk Wallow Picnic Area/Wayside (Mile 6.3 of the section, 6.1 for the day). This stretch is 2 1/2 miles. At the end is a picnic area and store where you can use a real bathroom, buy hot food, dodge cars, and pick up things you forgot to pack in the store. This is a great benefit of hiking in Shenandoah… stores to buy things just steps off the trail!
The Scouts, having been out of civilization and on the trail for about 30 hours, ate all the junk food they could get their hands on. We opted for an early lunch here, because why not?
After lunch, it’s only 7 miles left in our day! I must have been pretty full, because I didn’t take a ton of pictures the last seven miles.
From the rest stop, it’s another 1/4 mile down hill, at which point your next big climb starts – about 500 feet of elevation from Jeremy’s Run over a bit under a mile.
At trail mile 7.5 (7.3 miles for the day so far!), you’ll top on on the ridge and meander generally and slowly downhill for the next two miles to about section mile 9.5 (9.3 miles for the day!).
The trail will then go for a short climb (right around 400 feet) part way up Neighbor Mountain over about a half mile. Part way up will be side trail that leads to the parking area for Neighbor Mountain.
You’ll top out at section mile 10.1 (9.9 miles for us so far today) and the trail will follow generally downhill on the ridge for a 1/4 mile before leaving the ridge to the left. The next stretch continues generally downhill until it reaches the turnoff for the Beam’s Gap Parking Area at section mile 11.1 (10.9 miles for the day). Just a bit further on, the trail crosses Skyline Drive.
From here, you’ll have your fourth and final climb of the day (from section mile 11.4 to 12.5, or from mile 11.2 to mile 12.3 of your day!), a 500-600 foot climb up Pass Mountain.
Once you crest Pass Mountain at section mile 12.5 (12.3 trail miles for the day!), it’s the home stretch. A final 0.8 of a mile downhill brings you to the turnoff for the Pass Mountain Hut at section mile 13.3, giving you your 13.1 trail miles for the day! Spotting a deer on this stretch certainly helped keep us happy!
Once turning off to the shelter, it’s 0.2 of a mile to the shelter and home for the night.
Overnight: Pass Mountain Hut!
Dehydrated meals and bear bagging, then off to sleep!
For those that haven’t been on the Appalachian Trail before, stop and read the trail logs at the shelters and along the way. They are informative and usually very entertaining.
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Beautiful views and woods. I mean, it's a national park!
Backpacking can be hard, but worth it!