The final section, the final preview, the final leg, the final countdown. Call it what you will, this is the end of the Appalachian Trail road. It’s no cakewalk, and it has some well-known trail milestones to prepare for, the greatest being Baxter State Park and its ultimate summit of Mt. Katahdin. For the 20% that make this far, here’s what to expect!
- Start of Section: Stratton, ME (2002.7)
- End of Section: Mt. Katahdin (2190.9)
- Total Miles: 188.2
- Total Days: 13.5
- Avg Daily Miles: 14
- Planned Town Stops: 3
Highlights and Preview of Section 11
- 2008.2 – No surprise here, coming out of Stratton you are met with a sequence of peaks over the next 7 miles: North Horn, South Hern, Bigelow Mountain, and Avery Peak. But after that, hiking levels off more or less until Katahdin.
- 2039.3 – Here lie’s the infamous Kennebec River. You can not and should not ford this river, as it is 400 feet wide with a swift current powered by hydroelectric facilities upriver. The depth and current of the river can surge quickly and unpredictably, so hikers must use the
ferry manned canoe to cross to Caratunk, ME. But don’t worry, the canoe has a white blaze painted on the hull, marking it an official part of the Appalachian Trail.
- 2056.4 – Moxie Bald Mountain will be nothing to a hiker at this point, but on paper, it is a notable climb.
- 2073.1 – Monson, ME is your last town stop before entering the grueling 100-Mile Wilderness next. You’ll need to resupply, but unless you plan to carry 100 miles worth of food, should also consider purchasing a resupply to have dropped halfway on Mary Jo road.
- 2076.4 – Start of the 100-Mile Wilderness, the wildest and remotest part of the Appalachian Trail. It is challenging to traverse and offers little support if needed. No trail towns to resupply and no access to civilization (besides a few logging roads). Yes, it can be dangerous, but less so if you prepare.
- 2118.1 – From the summit of White Cap Mountain, you get the first view of Katahdin and your final destination.
- 2134.9 – Jo-Mary Rd, where hopefully a pre-arranged resupply is waiting on the side of the road for you.
- 2143.2 – Twitchell Brook offers a short side trail for another view of Katahdin
- 2145.2 – If you didn’t arrange a resupply, consider arranging a pickup from the Mahar Tote blue blaze trail here to the White House Landing Camps. They provide beds, showers, resupplies, etc. They also accept maildrops.
- 2154.6 – Nesuntabunt Mountain, with another view of Katahdin … now 16 miles away as the crow flies.
- 2169.8 – Rainbow Ledges and another view of Katahdin … I’m noticing a recurring theme in the guide-books at this point…
- 2176.3 – Entry to Baxter State Park and end of the 100-Mile Wilderness.
- 2185.7 – Katahdin Stream Campground offers the last place to stay before summitting Katahdin. Hikers will need to pick up a permit here, but can also leave their packs with the ranger station for the final summit hike. This is also a good place to arrange travel to Millinocket 25 miles away, which is the common place to conclude and stay after summitting Katahdin.
- 2190.9 – Katahdin, Baxter Peak, Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
And that’s it, folks! Sounds easy enough, right? Only 11 sections full of exciting sights to anticipate along the way will make this an easy trek, right? I can only hope the journey provides me as much excitement and joy as planning it has, but the reality is about to set in. For all those who followed along with these preparation posts, thank you. For those who ignored it but may come back for daily journal updates, thank you.
For everyone else, you aren’t going to see this anyways, so screw you! Just kidding, I love you all and can’t wait for this adventure to finally begin next week. I’ve spent my entire adult life romanticizing and dreaming about this hike with hopes to one day actually live it. On March 1st, that dream becomes real.
Thanks for reading and Hello Neiman!
Wow, can’t believe I’m just over 2 weeks from starting this journey. I recorded my first YouTube video last week, having stumbled a bit through the process, software learning curve, and upload quality restrictions. I want to focus the last few journal entries sharpening that skill before I’m trail bound, so am going to breeze through my remaining trail previews quickly. I’ll publish videos here as new posts as well as my YouTube channel, so follow along either place. Almost there, so close yet so far. Hello Neiman! Continue reading →
My approach to section 9 is a bit abby normal, since my preliminary Hike Plan has me hopping off-trail for a wedding in the middle of it (shout out to Sarah and Jack!). I’ve excluded that in the preview below and will instead focus on what a normal hike of this section will look like. Section 9 spans the White Mountains and Presidential Range of New Hampshire, which is the most technically and logistically difficult part of the AT. However, it is ALSO arguably the best this trail has to offer! These summits are no joke, but with some good preparation (and even better flexibility), this could easily be the highlight of the entire thru-hike. For this reason, I have both family and friends joining me throughout this section. Hello Neiman! Continue reading →
Section 8 of the Appalachian Trail is another long one, covering more than 300 miles of CT, MA, VT, and NH. There are plenty of town stops within a mile of the trail here though, so no need to worry about carrying too much food at a time. In addition, there are some nice treats along the way to look forward to, like the Cookie Lady, Cloudland Farm, and Dartmouth College. However, since my plan for this section calls for a lot of 20+ mile days, hopefully I won’t be too exhausted or ornery to enjoy them. Hello Neiman!
- Start of Section: Kent / Connecticut Border (1468.4)
- End of Section: Glencliff (1792.2)
- Total Miles: 323.8
- Total Days: 19.0
- Avg Daily Miles: 17.3
- Planned Town Stops: 6
Highlights and Preview of Section 8
- Hiking into trail towns is almost always downhill, and climbing out again is almost always uphill. Kent is no different, seeing about 500 ft elevation gain in the first half mile. Start the day with a hearty breakfast and get a-climbing!
- 1479.5 – If you forgot to resupply anything in Kent, you are met with a town crossing just a few miles later at Cornwall Bridge, CT. This small town is 0.9 miles east of the trail and contains some small markets and an outfitter.
- 1493.4 – The next small town within a mile of the train is Falls Village. Here you can find an Inn, a cafe, and a free outdoor shower on the outer wall of the vine-covered Hydroelectric Plant. A trail journal from 2017 SOBO Hiker 12 Ounce called it “old but the shower, power outlet, and garbage can were everything a hiker could ask for.” (side note, as I read more of 12 Ounce’s blog, I was sad to see she departed a couple days later because of how lonely the AT felt).
- 1500.7 – One more town stop before departing Connecticut is Salisbury. I plan to stop here, where it is popular to stay with trail angels Maria McCabe or Vanessa Breton. If they have a bed available, I’ll gladly take it.
- 1506.9 – After a quick jaunt through Connecticut, the trail now crosses into Massachusetts.
- 1518.1 – At the crossing of MA 41 is South Egremont, home to the ATC New England Regional Office. The office is located in the Kellogg Conservation Center.
- 1541.2 – Jerusalem Rd will take you a short 0.6 miles west to Tyringham, MA for resupply or a bed for the night.
- 1549.2 – Check out Upper Good Pond Cabin here in the Berkshires, exclusive to AT thru-hikers and section hikers. The cabin is owned by the NPS but managed by AMC and offers six double bunks, four tent platforms, a covered porch, fireplace, and an outhouse.
- 1560.3 – The Cookie Lady lives less than 100 yards off the trail at the Washington Mountain Rd intersection, providing free baked cookies for hikers for decades. Nearly all the hiker biographies mention her warm welcome, free water, blueberry bushes and opportunity to buy a coke or an ice cream bar.
- 1569.8 – Another town the AT walks right through is Dalton, MA. There are a few reasons worth noting to take a break here, for me most notably being the Movie Theater and Ice Cream Parlor.
- 1578.6 – Welcome to Cheshire, MA. This walkthrough trail town has your typical finds (Dollar General Store, Travel Lodge, Shell Gas Station) … but also, a Dunkin Donuts! Yes, your jelly-filled delight is just a short 0.2 mile walk away. Given how
- 1587.0 – Mount Greylock is the highest peak in Massachusetts, and it is definitely going to be a hike to get up, climbing 3,000 ft steadily over 5 miles. At the top sits Veterans War Memorial Tower, which provides a great view to the Green, Catskill, and Taconic mountain ranges and surrounding towns.
- 1597.4 – Crossing the border to Vermont here brings us to our 12th state along the trail. This also marks the southern end of the Long Trail, a 273-mile trail that hikes the length of Vermont in these Green Mountains.
- 1638.1 – Stratton Mountain is another big climb, gaining 2000 ft over 5 miles and losing it in the same amount of time. The summit of Stratton is supposedly where Benton MacKaye was first inspired to propose creation of the AT in 1921.
- 1654.8 – If you are sick of shelters on the trail, try the Bromley Mountain ski warming hut on the mountain here. This is a nice cabin overlooking the mountain and ski slope.
- 1675.8 – A short blue blaze trail (0.2m) will take you to White Rocks Cliff, a stunning view and drop off for the brave.
- 1702.9 – The Long Trail and Appalachian Trail divide here at the Maine Junction. Stay right to continue on to Katahdin!
- 1705.0 – Just after the Maine Junction, the AT crosses through Gifford Woods State Park in Killington, VT. In hiker talk, State Park = Showers.
- 1731.8 – If you pass through Thur-Sat, check out the Cloudland Farm Market with local ice cream, cheese, beef jerky, sandwiches and other prepared foods. Yum.
- 1747.3 – The town of Norwich has an inn, bookstore, library, pub and general store. But if you go just a bit further …
- 1748.2 – The VT-NH border, state #13. Followed shortly after…
- 1748.8 – Hanover, NH home of Dartmouth College. There are tons of services and offerings in this popular college town. To make it easy for you though, have your first stop be at the DOC, PO, Library or Co-Op to pick up a free brochure of all the hiker services in town, produced by the Hanover Friends of the AT Club.
- 1754.6 – Another town stop here is Etna, NH with some resupply and housing options.
- 1772.1 – The previous 20 miles or so provide some pretty strenuous mountain climbing, as the trail gets close to the White Mountains. The peak of Smarts Mountain has an old Fire Wardens Cabin converted to AT Shelter, which is fully enclosed for a slightly more comfortable night’s stay.
- 1792.2 – After a couple more vigorous scaling of peaks (Mt. Cube, Mt. Mist) you finally hike down into Glencliff, NH. A post office and hostel meet you, though not much more unless you want to head off-trail (4 miles south) to Warren, NH for a bit more amenities.
For me, completing this section is a major milestone in my hike. The next section is the White Mountains and the AMC managed Huts. These are a beautiful reprieve from the normal canopy cover of the trail and dirty 3-walled shelters that hikers are accustomed to by now. The White Mountains are as close to the Rockies as I can imagine this trail gets, and hiking hut to hut for a warm bed and hot meal will surely be a treat. However, logistically, this gets a bit tough for me now, as one 1 of two things is going to happen:
- Assuming the timing lines up, I’ll be hopping off trail a couple days later at Franconia Notch, renting a car, and driving down to Pennsylvania for a wedding on June 23rd. After a few days celebrating, I’ll drive back up, drop the rental car off, and continue on to the Presidential Range of the White Mountains.
- If the timing doesn’t work out, and I’m still somewhere south of Franconia Notch, then I’ll unfortunately need to skip whatever part of the trail I have not done yet to this point (to be completed later this year). Immediately following the wedding, some family and friends will be joining me to hike parts of the White Mountains, where we have reservations at some of the huts.
I know it’s unlikely to match up perfectly with my timing, but I’m ok missing parts of the trail that I have to, in order to enjoy hiking with friends and family in the White Mountains of Section 9 coming next. Hello Neiman!
Section 7 of the Appalachian Trail takes hikers through the entirety of New Jersey and New York. This section is unique in that it’s very easy to do as a standalone section hike as well (one I’ve considered in the past). The start is a short bus ride from NYC to the New Jersey border and the end walks you right past a train station that takes you directly to Manhattan. Many hikers like to take side trips to the city during this section for that reason and get a vacation from the trail. I plan to visit family near Bear Mountain … which is the lowest elevation point of the trail … but other than that, it’s onward and upward to New England. Hello Neiman!
- Start of Section: Delaware Water Gap (1294.7)
- End of Section: Kent / Connecticut Border (1468.4)
- Total Miles: 173.7
- Total Days: 10
- Avg Daily Miles: 17.3
- Town Stops: 2
General Strategy for Section 7
- 1296.0 – Delaware Water Gap is a nice sized trail town along the Delaware River. Continuing along the river for a couple miles, you have very limited elevation change and a few landmarks to look out for. The Kittatinny Visitor Center is first at 1296.0, followed by a 0.3m trail to the Mohican Outdoor Center at 1305.5. Good place to stock up on a hot meal on the way out of town.
- 1326.0 – After some VERY small “mountains” that see 500 ft of elevation change at best, you come to the Stony Brook Trail with a 1-mile side trail to Stony Lake and some free showers. By this point in the hike, any excuse for a shower should be considered.
- 1346.2 – Unionville, NY has a small village office that allows hikers to set up a tent for the night while they enjoy this small trail town. Not too much, but does have a store for resupply, a deli or pizza place for lunch, and a tavern for dessert. I’ll need to stop here for the night and resupply for a few days. I wonder how many people ask to fill water bottles and camelbacks from the beer taps. I’m not saying I will, but I’m not saying I won’t.
- 1359.0 – Queue the music, because climbing up this south side of Wawayanda Mountain is called “Stairway to Heaven”. Boardwalks through marshlands, then stone steps and switchbacks to one of the best viewpoints in NJ called Pinwheel Vista. From here you can view the Kittatinny Mountains in the distance, farms in the valley below, and on a clear day, High Point Monument.
- 1367.1 – Cross the NJ/NY border to The Empire State, your 9th state of the trek.
- 1404.0 – Bear Mountain, Fort Montgomery, and the Hudson River. This part of NY is an important milestone, as it is technically the lowest point on the trail. Many people stay in Bear Mountain to enjoy the many hotels, restaurants, and sights, and did I mention there is a Museum and Zoo? I plan to meet family there for some time off-trail before crossing the Hudson River and continuing north.
- 1411.3 – Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. Hikers are invited to sleep for free at this monastery’s ball field picnic shelter, and leverage the privy and shower. I don’t know why, but this feels more like a homeless shelter than a hiker hostel, but if hosting hikers after 3 months of walking … is there really a difference?
- 14325.1 – If the spiritual life center isn’t for you, walk another dozen miles to Clarence Fahnestock State Park for a free night of camping along Canopus Lake.
- 1447.6 – Just a couple miles past Pawling, look to the north side of County Rd 20/West Dover Road to see Dover Oak, the largest oak tree on the Appalachian Trail. With a girth of 20′ 4″, this tree is estimated to be over 300 years old and is a good Kodak moment for the day.
- 1450.0 – The Appalachian Trail North Metro Railroad Station here will take you directly to the Big Apple.
- 1462,2 – Welcome to Connecticut!
And that’s it! At mile 1468.4, you can take a short 0.8m side trip to the east along Macedonia Rd (CT 341) to Kent, CT. Kent is the official end of this section and has a nice trail town for hikers to enjoy. The Kent Welcome Center provides restrooms and hot showers, phone charging, water fill-up, and recently erected a new sculpture to honor thru-hikers. Unfortunately, I don’t plan to stay in this town, as I have a deadline to finish Section 8 before June 21. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire are next! Hello Neiman!
The 6th section of the Appalachian Trail takes you quickly through 50 miles of Maryland and not-so-quickly through another 220 of Pennsylvania. It is common to take a few days of much-needed rest in Harper’s Ferry, as it symbolizes the mental accomplishment of being half-way done with one’s thru-hike. Also, to mentally prepare for the foot pain of the upcoming “Rocksylvania” portion of the trail. Following this break though, are some significant milestones of their own, such as crossing the Mason Dixon Line, reaching the true half-way point, the Allenberry Playhouse, and the historic Doyle Hotel.
For me, there’s a bit more nostalgia here as well, as it takes me Waynesboro, Pennsylvania where I spent 3 months working at a summer camp. The camp is just a couple miles from the Appalachian Trail, and though I thought about it constantly, never had a chance to hike it. I had every intention of hiking the trail the following spring, and if not for such a great time at that camp which led to a full-time job in September, I would have. To this day, working at this summer camp is the closest I’ve ever been to the Appalachian Trail, having yet to take a single step on the trail. In 63 days, that changes. Hello Neiman!
- Start of Section: Harpers Ferry, WV (1024.8)
- End of Section: Delaware Water Gap (1294.7)
- Total Miles: 269.9
- Total Days: 17
- Avg Daily Miles: 15.9
- Town Stops: 4
General Strategy for Section 6
- 1024.8 – Harpers Ferry is located in the Northeast corner of West Virginia, almost immediately upon exiting town, you cross the border into Maryland. This marks your cross into “the north”, in civil war terms, and there are some iconic monuments and memorials to the civil war located over the next few hundred miles to commemorate it.
- 1034.8 – First up is the National War Correspondents Arch, a 50-foot tall memorial built by Civil War correspondent George Alfred Townsend in 1896 dedicated to journalists killed in combat. This arch is located in Gathland State Park, built on the former estate of Townsend (whose pen name was “Gath”).
- 1043.6 – Next is the first monument dedicated to George Washington, located in Washington Monument State Park. The monument sits atop a steep 1/10 of a mile summit to South Mountain’s Monument Knob.
- 1065.4 – The Mason Dixon Line. I’m not going to say that I thought this demarcation line was the formal separation of the Union from the Confederacy, but I’m not going to say it I didn’t. This is also where to briefly go off-trail, if one wants to stop visit the aforementioned summer camp in Waynesboro 4.6 miles to the west. Assuming anyone is there this time of year, I hope to do just that.
- 1065.7 – So obviously, following the Mason Dixon Line, marks the entry to Pennsylvania.
- 1084.0 – A quick jaunt through Pennsylvania’s Caledonia State Park, which although nothing fancy, does have the Caledonia Furnace, an iron furnace that was owned by Thaddeus Stevens beginning in 1837. The park also hosts a nice recreational area and the Totem Pole Playhouse, a summer stock theatre.
- 1103.4 – Cue the Bon Jovi music! Harpers Ferry was symbolic, but now we are officially halfway there. Although the trail changes in length every year, Pine Grove Furnace State Park houses another AT Museum and Festival (May 6). To celebrate the midway accomplishment, it is tradition for thru-hikers to complete the Half Gallon Challenge, where one must finish a 1.5-quart tub of Hershey’s ice cream, plus a hand-scooped pint, in one sitting. Bring. It. On.
- 1115.9 – As this naked hiker describes it, think of hedge or cornfield maze, but make it out of rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Not to be dramatic, but I expect this to be a real-life simulation of the Maze Runner movie.
- 1122.7 – If you are anything like me, you should look forward to spending the night here in Boiling Springs, PA. Besides the fact the AT cuts directly through this trail tow (e.g. no need for side-trails or hitchhiking), it’s a big town with lots to do. One of the accommodations I’m most looking forward to resides here – the Allenberry Resort, an inn & playhouse that hosts Gypsy on stage this May.
- 1148.3 – Although not planning to stay in here, the next big town the AT bisects is Duncannon, PA. Here you can meet Trail Angel Mary, well known for her hospitality to hikers and general kindness. Or drop in to view the legendary Doyle Hotel, where Pat and Vickey Kelly house, feed and share stories with more than 1,200 hikers each year. I’d like to spend some time admiring the Doyle for sure.
- 1203.8 – Fort Dietrich Snyder Monument, dedicated to the lookout post used to warn of approaching enemies during the French and Indian War.
- 1226.2 – The Pinnacle and the Pulpit, considered to be the two premier vistas in the PA portion of the AT, offering endless views of Lehigh Valley and its surrounding ridges Tri-County Corner.
- 1248.1 – It’s no joke why Pennsylvania is nicknamed Rocksylvania, and the Knife Edge and Bear Rocks sections here will leave no doubt why. That’s a trail??
- 1259.9 – If the rocks haven’t beaten you down yet, another great 360-degree view awaits you at the Superfund Detour. With a name like that, it’s sure to be something interesting.
- 1286.6 – More rock scrambling along Wolf Rocks. Honestly, this one makes me severely rethink the plan to hike 15+ miles a day in Pennsylvania.
- 1294.7 – The final destination of Section 6, Delaware Water Gap!
Upon reaching Delaware Water Gap, there are not too many accommodations to choose from, but one common hiker destination is the Church of the Mountain Hiker Center. This hostel provides an outdoor shelter, indoor bunk room, shower, lave, and sitting room for visitors. Many of the biographies and journals I’ve read from thru-hikers include a stay at this church, for good reason, as it provides one complimentary stay to any hiker for the night.
Up next is Section 7 where we take on the entirety of New Jersey and New York sections of the trail. Hello Neiman!
It may not be another big 300-mile monster like the last 2, but I’m pretty excited about this section. Not only for the beautiful scenery to expect in the Shenandoah Valley, but also for reaching a major mental milestone: Halfway to Katahdin! Halfway done with the Appalachian Trail! Well, sort of…
At milepost 1023.4, Harpers Ferry is recognized within the community as the unofficial mid-point of the AT, even though technically it is 36 miles further at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. One can hike through the majesty of Shenandoah National Park (SNP), or take to canoe and oar to “aqua blaze” up the Shenandoah River. Both the trail and the river end pass through this small town of 300 people nestled in the NW corner of West Virginia, our 5th state of the tour. Country Roads, take me home, to the place I belong…
- Start of Section: Waynesboro, VA (861.7)
- End of Section: Harpers Ferry, WV (1023.4)
- Total Miles: 161.7
- Total Days: 9
- Avg Daily Miles: 17.9
- Town Stops: 3
General Strategy for Section 5
- Coming out from Waynesboro (VA not PA), the trail is relatively moderate terrain the first 50 miles. Almost immediately, you enter SNP which requires a camping permit. This was needed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well, but could be purchased online before starting the trail. This time, you’ll need to pick one up (for free) at the south entrance to the park. It allows you 14 days in the park, so get moving.
- In SNP, the AT shelters are called “huts” and can be packed on the weekends. Backcountry “stealth” camping is allowed, but make sure to follow the LNT rules.
- Perched at the top of Big Flat Mountain at mile 888, the trail skirts the Loft Mountain Campground, where there is resupply options, laundry, showers, campsites, etc.
- After 30 more miles of mini-mountain scaling on the trail, you come to another national park, Big Meadows. SNP is known for its blackberries, my favorite fruit. And Big Meadows Lodge is known for their blackberry shake, my favorite shake flavor. It is a thru-hiker tradition to partake in this shake, and I can taste it now. I’ll probably have to get 2 … or 3 … Hello Neiman!
- As you continue through these blue ridge mountains, you eventually pass close to Front Royal, VA and then Manassas Gap. Both give you road access for a short hitchhike into town for any needs,
- At mile 986.6, you pass into Sky Meadows State Park Visitors Center, with a chance to use real restrooms, the soda machine, and a real campsite … but arrive before dusk or you are out of luck.
- The trail is now hovering at only 1000 ft elevation, with many stream crossings and footbridges to anticipate … but don’t be deceived into thinking this is easier because of its proximity to sea level. The next 13.5 miles between Ashby Gap and Bears Den is infamously known as The Roller Coaster. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what this means, just a non-stop up and down as you make your way to the coveted 1000-mile mark of the trail. It doesn’t look to be as bad as people say, but then again, it’s the only one with a warning sign…
- When you reach Bears Den Rocks at mile 1002, you can (and I plan to) stay at the Bears Den Hostel, a castle-like stone lodge owned and operated by the ATC.
- A couple miles later you officially exit The Roller Coaster and cross the VA-WV border, where you can get a view of the Devil’s Race Course Boulder Field, which has a cool name and history. Not sure if you’ll be able to hear the “devil run through the depths of hell” from here … but I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.
- Just 20 more miles and you finally reach your destination … Harper’s Ferry!
Harper’s Ferry is an iconic and historic town, with tons of culture. For thru-hikers, it is the center point of the trail, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is headquartered. Here you can log yourself in the official registry, take your official hiker photo, and much more. Harper’s Ferry is a short drive or rail to Washington DC, so this is also where I’ll take a short break to visit with friends and family. Hello Neiman!
Damascus. Not even 25% done with the trail, but so much will have been already experienced on the way North to Maine. Most people take a few days off in Damascus, usually to enjoy the popular Trail Days festival. My start date has me passing through this trail town about 6 weeks too early, so I’m sad to say I won’t get to experience the hiker parade, cottage vendor booths, nor food smorgasbord that makes it so famous. Maybe I’ll check it out next year to honor my 2018 hike experience, but when you are on a strict schedule to finish by August, you have to make some sacrifices!
So, after a day to recover from the 300-mile section to Damascus … it’s onward and upward to the grueling 400-mile section leading to the feet of Shenandoah National Park. No pain no gain, right? If it was easy, everyone would do it, right? Hello Neiman!
- Start of Section: Damascus, VA (mile 468.8)
- End of Section: Waynesboro, VA (861.7)
- Total Miles: 392.9
- Total Days: 22
- Avg Daily Miles: 17.9
- Town Stops: 6
General Strategy for Section 4
- Coming out of Damascus, the uphill battle starts slowly with only a few 1000-foot elevation climbs and drops over the next 20 miles. But then the trail reminds you what is all about with a 3000-foot climb to Whitetop Mountain (mile 489.9).
- Just before you hit a big milestone of the 500-mile mark, is the rock tunnel known as Fatman’s Squeeze. This narrow path between boulders makes for some good Kodak moments and goofy hijinks.
- Not sure how often, but much of the trail seems to coincide with Horse Trails in Virginia. I’ve never loved sharing a footpath with stock, as they don’t seem to respect it quite as much as we 2-legged folk do. Fingers crossed this doesn’t ruin a good time.
- Around mile 515 is Dickey Gap, with highway access to Troutville for resupply needs. At 2.7 miles south, Troutville fails to meet my “resupplying within 1 mile of the trail” rule, so I’ll just wave hello as I pass on.
- After 4 days on the trail, food should be just about dried up, so now is time to leverage the ‘within 1 mile” rule with a stop at the Shell Convenience Store in Atkins/Groseclose. While there, many hikers enjoy The Barn’s 16 oz Hiker Burger to ease their hiker hunger. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sick of granola bars by mile 542, so … yeah. No time to stop for a bed though, there are 2 more shelters to hit before our next planned overnight town stay.
- 7 shelters in a row since Damascus and it’s time for a much-needed break. Hello Woods Hole Hostel! At mile 623 this “slice of heaven not to be missed” is nestled in at Sugar Run Gap. To steal a page from AWOL, this 1880’s chestnut-log cabin emphasizes a sustainable living through beekeeping, farming, organic gardening, yoga, massage therapy and communal eating. Sounds like a nice place to lay one’s head, rest one’s feet, and sooth one’s mind. All for $15.
- After picking up a resupply box at Woods Hole, it’s back on the trail for 10 miles of tough (and steep) downward hiking to Pearlsburg, VA. If needed, Pearlsburg is another good resupply point (though also possible to do from yesterday’s hostel).
- The next few dozen miles repeat what looks to be some bluff hiking. Up flat flat flat down … repeat. However, this section will pass through some famous noteworthy sights like:
- Stony Creek Valley – trail town
- Wind Rock – where you can take your first Backpacker Magazine stereotypical cover page photo.
- Keffer Oak – a 300 year old oak tree that is 18′ around. This is the 2nd largest oak tree on the trail for those who were keeping track. Can you name the largest?
- Sinking Creek Mountain – the Eastern Continental Divide, where rainfall chooses to head west to the Mississippi River or east to the Atlantic Ocean.
- Audie Murphy Monument – dedicated to the most decorated US Soldier of WWII, just off the AT on a short blue blaze side trail.
- Note to hikers, I’ve read “footbridge” or “water crossing” more times than I can count during prep for this section. Better have water shoes handy!
- I’m not staying there, but mile 695 has something called Pickle Branch shelter. I’ve always thought “pickle” to be one of the most fun words in the English language, so I’m glad to see it making its mark on our long-distance trails. 🙂
- Hopefully, these 5 days of hiking live up to the prep because I’m eager to see all those sights! But at mile 702, it’s time for another break and resupply. The Four Pines Hostel is our destination this time, just outside of Catawba, VA. I’ll be honest, this garage-turned-hostel doesn’t sound too exciting, but at least it has a hot shower.
- But fear not, the best photo opportunity of the trail is next! McAfee Knob is well-known for being the iconic trip photo for every thru-hiker’s experience. If you don’t believe me, just do a google image search and be amazed for yourself. It would reeeeeeally suck to reach that summit on a cloudy day. It is honestly worth waiting for it to clear, even if that means losing a day of hiking.
- Are we done yet? Not quite, but getting close. Hopefully, those Knob photos fueled your excitement to keep reading…
- At mile 727.8 we finally reach our next resupply. For those keeping track, this is the 4th since Damascus. Daleville/Troutville is a decent sized trail town, and even has its own festival called Troutville Trail Days. Unfortunately, again, I’m about 6 weeks early so no fun for me. Many people camp for free at the Fire Station, but I feel like it’s been far too long since a real hostel so my plan is to stay at the Howard Johnson’s Express or similar.
- The next 100 miles are another flurry of knobs, overlooks, and views. But also, a swimming hole at Jennings Creek … curious to see what this is. And The Guillotine, a weird rock tunnel formation awaiting that looks like it sounds.
- This post is getting long, so let’s get it over with. The last resupply breaks my 1-mile rule, so I may have to rethink this. But as of now, I will need to hitchhike 9 miles from US 60 (806.4) to the town of Buena Vista. With places like the Amish Cupboard, the experience should be worth the frustration, but I may be better off just carrying 7 days of food to avoid a lost day waiting on cars. I think I planned this just so I can say I hitched one time (you know, to say I got the full joke experience), but I’ll have to look closer at this once there.
- And finally, we make our way to Rockfish Gap, just outside of Waynesboro and home to a popular night’s rest at Stanimals 328 Hostel. With a resupply box and warm bed, this will end my hike of Section 4.
The Appalachian Trail actually goes through two towns of Waynesboro, this one in Virginia and another in Pennsylvania. Virginia is one of the most picturesque parts of this trail, and if you made it through this whole blog post you can understand why. The section is long, the details are aplenty, but the trail does not look to disappoint. Nor does what comes next in Section 5 – namely the beautiful Shenandoah National Park. The adventure continues there, Hello Neiman!
Well friends, the cake walk is officially over. Section 3 of the AT is the place where mountain boys and girls become mountain men and women. This section is not for the weak, traversing a hefty 300+ miles throughout NC and TN, encompassing the entirety of the Great Smoky Mountains … including all 6,625 feet of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point of the whole trail … and ending at the Virginia border town of Damascus. Home to the infamous Trail Days, the Appalachian Trail’s largest community festival, Damascus is a major milestone for any hiker Unfortunately, I’ll be there too early to enjoy the event, but such is the trade-off for a tranquil early start. Hello Neiman!
- Start of Section: Fontana Dam (mile 164.7)
- End of Section: Damascus, VA (mile 468.8)
- Total Miles: 304.1
- Total Days: 19
- Avg Daily Miles: 16.0
- Town Stops: 5
General Strategy for Section 3
- After a refreshing stay in a warm bed at Fontana Dam, it’s back up the trail … literally. Straight up. Within 1 mile of the Dam is the start of the Great Smoky Mountains, the highest range along the Appalachian Mountains.
- Some key Smoky Mountain along the way are (in order): Devil’s Tater Patch, Thunderhead Mountain, the aforementioned Clingman’s Dome, Sugarland Mountain, Mt. Kephart, Mt. Chapman, and Mt. Guyot. All of which are far above 5,000′ elevation. Being primarily a mountain backpacker prior to this trip, I’m eager to see how these peaks hold up to the majesty of Glacier, Yosemite, Denali, and other mountain ranges of my past.
- Most people go through the Smokies in 7 days, I plan to skip through in 5. If I choose to linger an extra day for the (hopefully) gorgeous vistas and views, so be it. Otherwise, the plan is 15.1 miles to Russel Field Shelter, 15.0 to Silers Bald Shelter, 15.5 to Icewater Shelter, 20.3 to Cosby Knob Shelter, and finally 17.6 to Groundhog Creek Shelter.
- Around mile 225, the trail finally starts it’s downward descent again, exiting the Great Smokey Mountain National Park 13 miles later at Davenport Gap. I’ll stop near here for an expensive resupply at Standing Bear Farm, en route to Groundhog Creek Shelter.
- After the Smokies, I’ll stay on the trail one more night at Walnut Mountain Shelter, then wander into Hot Springs, NC for a warm bed at Laughing Heart Lodge, an old Jesuit Retreat Center. Nearby Hot Springs also has a big event I’ll miss by a month called Trailfest, but I’ll still take a Nero day to enjoy the town and nurse my wounds of the Smokies.
- The next 5 days cover 100 miles through Tennessee, going continuously up and down over Allen Gap, Hemlock Hollow, Devil Fork Gap, and Sam’s Gap. Staying in mostly shelters until finally meandering to Greasy Creek Friendly Shelter. Most books I’ve read talk lovingly of this Hostel and it’s infamous feud with their hiker hating neighbors, so I’m looking forward to checking it out for myself.
- This section is long, as is this post, so hopefully I haven’t lost you yet.
- After crossing the border between NC and TN for the umpteenth time, staying in a few more shelters, resupplying in the city of Hampton, and soaking my soar toes in the supposedly nice sandy peach of Shook Branch Recreation Area, Virginia will finally be within grasp.
- Mile 468.8 marks the end of Section 3 and the entrance to Damascus, Virginia. A hiker town this big and popular is bound to be overflowing with smelly hikers like myself, but hey … Virginia is for lovers, right? With a name like Crazy Larry’s Hiker Hostel, I can’t help but try to grab a bed at this hostel, whose proprietor has been a fan favorite since 2012.
Damascus marks approximately 1/4 of the trail done, and a major milestone in the thru-hiker’s journey. It’s where I’ll take my first official (planned) Zero Day to resupply, reorganize, rejuvenate, and restrategize the next challenge. A welcome challenge of course, as Section 4 brings on the entire state of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park, Harper’s Ferry and some of the nicest groomed trails on the AT. Hello Neiman!
Where the goal of Section 1 was to ease-in-and-find-my-bearings, the focus of Section 2 is to fine-tune-and-find-my-trail-legs. This portion of the trail knocks out most of North Carolina and gives thru-hikers a chance to get comfortable and confident with their hiking style before things get really tough. After all, Section 3 brings on the hugely majestic yet highly elevated Great Smoky Mountains. So before we hit the highest peaks of the trail, first let’s enjoy what NC has to offer:
- Start of Section: GA/NC Border (mile 78.5)
- End of Section: Fontana Dam (mile 164.7)
- Total Miles: 86.2
- Total Days: 6
- Avg daily miles: 14.5
- Town Stops: 2
General Strategy for Section 2
- Prior to Section 2, and coming fully refreshed from my first resupply at Dick’s Creek Gap, a scheduled Nero Day takes me only 4.5 miles to Plumochard Shelter. This half-day is scheduled to take care of any gear issues (repair, replace, etc.) and re-align on expectations. The Nero day will be welcome, but starting tomorrow the mileage really ramps up.
- Crossing the GA-NC border, the trail continues uphill consistently for 12.2 miles to the day’s break at Standing Indian Shelter. Then over Standing Indian Mountain’s 5,500 elevation before finishing the next day’s 16.2 miles at Long Branch Shelter. Finally 18.3 miles of up-and-down (may as well get used to it now) through Rock Gap, Winding Stair Gap, and Wayah Gap before climbing up again to Wayah Bald and Wayah Bald Shelter. Note to future self, “gap” is code for steep-down-and-up.
- Whew! I really hope my trail legs have kicked in by now because those 3 days are going to surely test my endurance and stamina for long grueling days!
- The next 16.5 miles are supposed to be a beautiful trek along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains between 4,000 and 5,000 feet high, before heading down to the next gap. And along this downward trek is The Jumpoff, a notable 1,000-foot cliff face on the side of Mount Kephart with spectacular views of Charlie’s Bunion and Mount Guyot from atop a very steep precipice. I’m eager to see this.
- That majestic day ends down below 2,000 feet at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, or the NOC. The NOC is a popular trail stop with food, gear, lodging, showers and more. There is a trail festival here in late April that I’ll miss, but a warm bed is still planned at the Base Camp hostel. The next morning I’ll resupply and move along.
- As is the case with most town stops, we exit the NOC with a 5-mile uphill climb to the top of Swim and Cheoah Balds. The rest of the day looks relatively calm before ending at Brown Fork Gap Shelter … except for the infamous Jacob’s Ladder. A 0.6-mile hike ascending 600 feet straight up without switchbacks.
- Section 2 ends with a descent to Fontana Dam. Fontana Dam is the highest dam East of the Rocky Mountains, and a definite stop for another nice warm bed, a maildrop resupply box, and a chance for some very expensive hot food. I plan to stay at the nicer Fontana Village Resort, but there are many lodging options here as it is a major destination for all kinds of Appalachian adventurers.
Section 2 looks to continue the excitement from Section 1, which is hopefully enough motivation for this 2nd week in the woods. But if the scenery alone doesn’t do it, a good plan and a determined spirit will keep those legs moving regardless. Hello Neiman!