Monday, November 26, 2012

Trail Recap 11 of 27: Waynesboro VA to Skyland

The best example of the 'Long Green Tunnel' anywhere on the AT

Rockfish Gap to Skyland Resort, Shenandoah National Park: 83.4 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Shenandoah National Park is a unique hiker experience.  Nowhere else on the trail is there so much easy access to facilities, amenities, and resupply.  For me as a day hiker, I was able to break up each day's hiking into very short legs, as many as seven little out-and-back pieces in a single day.

People:  'Three Day', age 57, who has been hiking the AT by three day (long weekend) chunks since she turned 50.  She has about 1000 miles finished.  'Mailman', NoBo section hiker, out for a week or two.  'Chuck-e-Phish', SoBo thru hiker.  Two hard working maintainers improving water bars on the north side of Hightop Mountain, and the father-son combo of day hikers who agreed to pose in the green tunnel shot above.

Supply/Overnight:  Waynesboro Wal-Mart and Golden Corral restaurant; Elkton 24hr Food Lion, Luray Wal-Mart.

Worst Memory:  The worst experience I can point to in this section is a bee sting - third of three I suffered.  This one produced the smallest allergic reaction of the three.

Best Day Hike:  I'm giving the nod to the very new (2012) trail reroute that takes the hiker up over Little Calf Mountain from Beagle Gap (big parking area in a meadow off Skyline Drive).  This open grassy summit with excellent views was formerly reached via an unmarked side trail while the AT had hikers trudging through nothing but woods.

A close second choice:  To have the best 'Green Tunnel' experience anywhere on the trail (shown in the photos up top), head south toward Hazeltop from Milam Gap (big trailhead parking lot on Skyline Drive) and keep your eyes open.  The views west from a rock outcrop near the summit of Hazeltop (via a short unmarked side trail) make this a very rewarding hike.

Third and last, there is the hugely popular rocky experience atop Bearfence Mountain.  The rocky spine of this mountain offers hikers several loop hikes, a significant rock scramble and plenty of views.  Unfortunately the AT skirts the 'good stuff', preferring to stay in the woods to the west of the 'fence'.   There's a trailhead parking area on Skyline Drive (which fills up quickly), making for a short hike for the whole family.  Super popular spot.

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