Greetings! I’m writing today from Front Royal, Virginia, just outside the northern boundary of Shenandoah National Park. I’ve been in the park for the past five days, hiking the 102 mile section of the A.T. that stretches from north to south. Between the beautiful trails, access to real food, and abundance of wildlife, I found it hard not to love the Shenandoah.
The trail follows a ridge line throughout the entire park, which makes the climbs and descents much more manageable than what we’ve been seeing further south. There are still ups and downs, but they’re mostly minor. The trail itself is also really well maintained and easily traveled throughout the park. Think wide, level, dirt trails, mostly free of rocks and roots. It’s a walk in the park, so to speak, compared to some of the terrain further south. A lot of thru-hikers put in their highest mileage days on this section of the trail. Well made trails throughout the park make the hiking easy on the legs and lungs, and its many vistas make it easy on the eyes as well.
Since the trail stays relatively high on the ridge line throughout the park, you’re awarded with views pretty frequently. Getting great views without working too hard seemed a little too good to be true, but I was fine with it. The Shenandoah valley is a really beautiful part of the country, and I really enjoyed getting to see it from so many different vantage points. A couple of my favorite views were Mary’s Rock where I climbed up a fun little rock scramble, and Franklin Cliffs where I caught an awesome sunset after enjoying a blackberry milkshake at one of the park’s waysides.
WAYSIDES. These were one of my personal favorite parts about hiking through SNP. They definitely do have their drawbacks (Griswald-esque tourists, day hikers, and everything else that’s wrong with the world), but I think that the good far outweighs the bad. The waysides are restaurant/gift shops located off Skyline Drive throughout the park. They cater towards the masses of tourists who come to drive through the park every year. Nothing works up an appetite like a full day in the seat of a car! Anyway, they’re spaced out so that the average thru-hiker will pass one each day in the park. The restaurants have burgers, sandwiches, beers, and milkshakes. They are super pricey, but they were pretty much impossible for me to resist after hiking fifteen or twenty miles. Mmmm cheeseburgers and fries…
My favorite part about hiking the park was being surrounded by wildlife everyday. I saw several deer with tiny fawns, and A LOT of black bears. Sixteen black bears to be exact. They are everywhere in the park, and it’s really cool to run across them. They all seemed to be pretty well behaved too, unlike the one who tried to steal my food bag in southern VA. I even saw a few cubs, which was a little scary but super exciting. I had been hearing about how many bears there were in the park and was hopeful that I would see some, but I never expected to see so many!
All in all, the Shenandoah was a blast. If there’s one downside to hiking in the park, it’s the trail’s proximity to Skyline Drive. The trail stays pretty close to the road throughout the park, crossing it some 40 times. This means road noise and motorcycles can be heard pretty regularly, but it didn’t really spoil the experience for me.
I’ve decided to aqua blaze the next 40 miles of trail. Three friends and I have rented a couple of canoes, and tomorrow morning we will launch them into the Shenandoah River for a two day trip into Harper’s Ferry, where the trail intersects the river again. Some people will bash paddling a section of the trail and say that it’s not a true thru-hike since I’m not walking every mile. I don’t get hung up on that though. I’ve hiked every mile of the trail up until now, and I’ll hike every mile from Harper’s Ferry to Katahdin. You’ve gotta hike your own hike, right?
Our hitch into town today gave us a big cooler for free, and we’ve got it packed with cold beers and delicious chilled snacks. It’s going to be a nice break from ramen noodles and instant mashed potatoes. We’re staying at the Super 8 Motel in Front Royal, VA tonight, and we’ll head out early tomorrow morning. I’m pumped to be on the river for a couple of days!
I’m planning on taking a train into D.C. from Harper’s Ferry and spending a few days eating and relaxing there. Harper’s Ferry is the “unofficial halfway point” of the trail, and my body is more than ready for a few days off. I figure D.C. will be a fun place to hang out and be a tourist for a few days. I’ll post another update once I’m back on the trail and out of Virginia!