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Appalachian Trail – Shenandoah National Park – northern half – Backpacking Day 3
Type: One way
Hours: Open 24 hours

Distance: There are 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park.  We did the northern 46 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 Conservancy or 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, and overlooks

Trailheads –
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 3 Start – Pass Mountain Hut –  38°40’35.97″N,  78°19’8.29″W
Day 3 End – Stony Man Mountain Summit (dispersed camping) –  38°35’50.76″N,  78°22’20.11″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 3): Rain?  Fog?  Overlooks

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.

The Plan:

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 Visitors Center – 8.9 miles

Day 3 – Pass Mountain Hut to Stony Man Mountain

Starting point: Pass Mountain Hut – Shenandoah National Park
Ending point: Stony Man Mountain (dispersed camping) – Shenandoah National Park

Distance: 10.3 miles (plus 0.2 miles from the Pass Mountain Hut and 0.4 round trip to Stony Man summit!, plus a few more short side trail trips)

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 #3!

Day 3, we wake up and it’s… rain.  Rain is inevitable on the trail.  But it still is not the best of backpacking.  Still up, packed our (wet) gear and headed off for Day 3 on the trail!

We head the 1/4 mile back to the AT and turn ever South.

The first 1.2 miles of the day bring us to a service road, then to Skyline Drive (which we cross), and then to US 211, which we also cross.  This brought us into Section 3 in the guidebook (Thorton Gap to Skyland), where we’d spend the rest of the day.  0.2 of a mile into this next stretch (and 1.4 miles into our day), we head to the spur trail down to the Panorama Parking Area.




Here, one of our four adults had to get off the trail.  The rest of us enjoyed real bathrooms and refilling all of our water without having to filter it first.  Yay!




We stalled for a while, hiding out under the roof, hoping in vain that the rain would stop.  But of course, it didn’t.  So out we went in the rain.  Ahead of us was a 1300 foot climb over just under two miles, heading from the parking area to Mary’s Rock.


 

Hiding from the rain?

 

The fog was kind of magical, and kept us cool on a summer day, so we enjoyed it.  We topped out at Mary’s Rock, famous for its views “unsurpassed in the park.”

Just look at those… clouds?



The rocks there were cool anyway, even if the views were only about 10 feet from our nose.  Oh, and the rock here is a BILLION years old.  Crazy.

From there, the camera went away for a while due to the wet.  We pushed on another 1.3 miles (all slightly downhill to Byrds Nest #3 Hut, where we ate a snack 2 1/2 miles into our day, hiding under the hut roof.

Then, back to hiking in the rain when… the sun came out!  We be chased by clouds all day, but we had our happiest stretch of hiking enjoying NOT being rained on.  We climbed 500 feet or so to “The Pinnacles”, then dropped down to the Pinnacles Picnic Area, 5.4 miles into the section and 6.6 trail miles into our day.  Beautiful views before we hit the picnic area!









4.1 miles into this section, and 5.3 miles into our day, the ridge follows an open area for a while that is just stunning.




At the picnic area, we refilled our water and took a chance to use the bathrooms again.

A sign there invited us to take a short hike along the famous Appalachian Trail.  We decided to take this offer (for another day or so).


Some small ups and downs carried us the next 2.1 miles until we reached the 7.5 mile part of the section (8.7 miles for the day) at the base of the climb for Stony Man Mountain.






We were now on the home stretch for the day!  All we had to do was climb 800 feet over a mile and a half to near the top of Stony Man Mountain, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park.  Up top, we hoped to find some spots for dispersed camping.  So up we went.

At mile 8.4 of the section (Mile 9.6 for the day), we reached the top of the Stony Man cliffs.  No climbing today, and only peaks of views between the clouds.

From here, it was only 0.7 of a mile to the junction of the AT with the trail for Stony Man Summit.  Here, we celebrated a successful day (10.3 trail miles, plus about a mile of side trails) on the trail by cooking dinner.  We then looked around for dispersed camping, of which there were plenty of spots.

After dinner, a crew of us climbed the quarter mile (one way) to the summit of Stony Man Mountain.  It was clouded in, but the clouds broke just briefly to show a beautiful view of valley and setting sun.  Worth it!


Overnight: Stony Man Mountain (dispersed camping)



Click here to go back to Day 2!

Onward to Day 4!

The Good

Beautiful views, some of the best in the park!

The Could Be Better

Backpacking can be hard!

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Bottom Line

Appalachian Trail + Shenandoah National Park = winning combination. If you are looking to backpack, this is a great spot to go!

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