Appalachian Trail: Shenandoah National Park and West Virginia

Appalachian Trail to High top

Appalachian Trail to High top

Just got back from my second ridgerunner weekend, and can’t wait to share it but first — the family went for a vacation in Virginia and West Virginia over the holiday. We visited places like Monticello, some great vineyards, and some great BBQ joints! But since this is a hiking blog I will stick to the hiking bits!

On High top

On High top

We did two hikes in Shenandoah National park, a favorite place of ours for sure. The first one we took the kids to was High top mountain, in the southern district close to where we were staying the first few days. It was a 1,000 foot climb from either side of Skyline drive. (at least the road did the other 2,500 feet!).

No bears!

No bears!

We set off late afternoon to avoid the scorching heat and catch the dusk. It was not easy, and since we started out from the wrong side we headed the wrong way into the woods which added 1 mile round trip before i realized when we weren’t climbing up the whole way!). But when we reached the top, everyone thought it was worth it. We took lots of pictures and enjoyed the views before returning the way we came. This is one of the less popular hikes but certainly a great one. It’s not really steep just consistently uphill the whole 1.7 miles. We all sang songs the whole way down which was a lot of fun and a little embarrassing when a thru hiker appeared just after us at Skyline drive!

the other black rock, Big Meadows

the other black rock, Big Meadows

A few days later as we were heading northwest to the town of Luray where we would stay for the next night and enjoy the fireworks, we passed through Thornton Gap in the central district and stopped at Skyland to have lunch and visit the gift shop before hitting Stony Man summit so my daughter could see one of the best views in the park. That’s a short easy hike from the wayside.

Jiffy Pop

Jiffy Pop

But then I heard from some of my hiker friends who were also down in SNP doing another section and they had already left Skyland for Big Meadows, 10 miles or so south. The restaurant at Skyland still wasn’t open for lunch for another 30 minutes so we decided to head down there so I could meet up with them for a bit and we’d be just in time for lunch there.

Rain dancer

Rain dancer

We got to the lodge and sat down for lunch including their famous blackberry ice cream. Only problem was the wayside restaurant was a mile down the road from the lodge restaurant. I waited 45 minutes before I realized they might not have a signal so I drove over to the wayside and caught them just as they were heading out. We talked for a bit, took some photos and I headed back to the lodge to finish lunch. But where to hike here? Do we go back to Stony man? I wanted a nice view and no one wanted a long hike today. Turns out there’s a .2 mile trail to a fantastic view right behind the lodge! They also call it black rock but it’s not the famous one farther south in the park. The view WAS fantastic and we really enjoyed the minimal effort and rewarding views today. Jiffy Pop really helped me push my fear limit a little and be a little more daring about where I’d stand on the ledge!

We had a great stay in Luray and Fielden Stream and I visited a local outfitter where I got some speed laces for my trail runners (the laces always come untied when hiking!) and we chatted with the friendly staff there.

Nature's bounty!

Nature’s bounty!

The next day we drove up to Harper’s Ferry and while we were going to hike the next day before we left, weather was moving in and I was worried no one would want to hike in a downpour. So we drove right to the trail head at Key’s Gap, for this easy 4.5 mile hike along .the ridge saddling the Virginia/West Virginia line and down so we could finish our West Virginia section. I arranged our shuttle with the awesome HalfApp shuttle, my friend and awesome artist Rhonda Adams.

Fielden stream at 4 mile campground

Fielden stream at 4 mile campground

There was an abundance of blackberries though most weren’t fully ripe we did pick out a few and it lifted energy levels and spirits right away. About half way, the possible light drizzle turned into a full downpour with thunder ! I was waiting for the complaints but everyone wanted it to cool things off, and my daughter even did a rain dance and wanted a new trail name so we dubbed her rain dancer! The trail became a river but the hiking while a a bit rocky was easy and we all had fun. We got picked up by Rhonda and she gave us some of her special A.T. art pieces she makes from wood and leather including a very special yo-yo she had 30 years and recently also painted and give to Jiffy Pop. We then went to the hotel to unwind before dinner at a fun hibachi place.

A happy soggy hiking family

A happy soggy hiking family

The next day it was still pouring so either way we would have been hiking in the rain. I was really pleased by their great attitude about it. We walked around Harper’s Ferry and visited the ATC headquarters, spoke with some of the great people that run the organization and bought a lot of merchandise which helps support the trail. Including a West Virginia patch which is now done and Massachusetts which will be soon!

It was a lot of great hikes and I am so glad we all got to do them all together. Jiffy Pop had been to both parks before and loved them and Rain Dancer also fell in love with them so I was a happy dad. I am going to take both kids out individually with me on an overnight later this summer up here in Connecticut, and Jiffy Pop will join us when we do a New Jersey hike in the fall.

— Linus

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