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Appalachian Trail – Shenandoah National Park – northern half – Backpacking Day 4
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 4 Start – Stony Man Mountain Summit (dispersed camping) –  38°35’50.76″N,  78°22’20.11″W
Day 4 End – Big Meadows Campground –  38°31’39.85″N,  78°26’36.77″ 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 4): More amazing Shenandoah views.  Nice rock cliffs.

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 – read below!

Day 4 – Stony Man Mountain to Big Meadows Campground

Starting point: Stony Man Mountain (dispersed camping) – Shenandoah National Park
Ending point: Big Meadows Visitors Center

Distance: 8.9 miles (plus over a mile to the Visitors Center)

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 #4!

Day 4, last day on the trail!  The final day of a trip always flies, and we had 8.9 trail miles to cover today that did just that.

It was up, pack up, breakfast, and then off down the trail.  A quick 0.4 miles brought us to the Stony Man parking lot.  You cross the road here and then work your way around the Skyland complex.  It was very early, so we didn’t stop in, but they have stores here, a restaurant, and a hotel.  We walked 0.8 of a mile around the complex, passing the many side trails into Skyland and then the horse stables.


Across the road.  10 miles by road to Big Meadows, our pick up spot!

 

Far side of Skyland at the stables.

Shortly after Skyland is a beautiful set of cliffs that you walk beneath.  This leads to mile 1.1 of the section (1.5 miles into the final day).  The next 3 1/2 miles are just little bits of up and down until reaching the turnoff for Rock Spring Hut at section mile 4.6 (mile 5 for the day).




There were peregrine falcons released here about ten years ago, and that totally might be one.





At section mile 3.3, you’ll reach Hawksbill Gap (mile 3.7 for the day).  Here, the trail for the summit of Hawksbill Mountain can be found, but we kept heading down the AT.

Soon after this, you’ll hit the first (and last) really bad rocky area on this stretch of the AT that we’d done.  It wasn’t long, so we knocked it out pretty quick.  Just be careful.



From here, it’s a 1.9 mile run to the end of the trail section, giving us 6.5 miles for the section and 6.9 miles for the day!

We now entered Section 5 of the trail guide, the last we’d need.  It was two miles, mostly uphill, from here to the campground.  We reached the outskirts of the camping area, but continued on the AT around it until we reached 2.0 miles into the section and the side trail for Blackrock Viewpoint.  It was uphill most of the way, but we barely noticed.











Here at the Blackrock Overlook trail, we left the AT for good, 45.8 miles or so trail miles from where we’d started.  It was a lovely overlook.

But our trip wasn’t done.  We headed a bit more than a mile through the campground to get to the visitors center and, of course, snack bar.  Here, we spent many hours hanging out and eating junk food while we waited for our rides.





Including the various side trails (of which there were a lot) and trips for water, we did just about 49 miles of backpacking through this lovely national park!  A short hike the day before we’d hit the trail gave us 50 miles for our week!

Oh, and I saw a bear on the ride back.

That night, back at our base camp at Elizabeth Furnace Campground with the rest of the Boy Scout troop, we planned for a tough next day of tubing down the Shenandoah River.  It was a great week!

Overnight: Off the trail!

Go back to Day 3

The Good

Lovely cliffs, stunning views, and falcons.

The Could Be Better

Backpacking is hard (but worth it).

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Bottom Line

Shenandoah was an A+ adventure, and I really hope to come back some day to do the remaining 55 miles of the Appalachian Trail through this amazing park.

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