The Appalachian Trail’s route through Virginia is impressive by nearly all measures.
It’s the longest state stretch — encompassing more than one-quarter of the entire trail.
It also traverses a long stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains, much of it in the shadow of Skyline Drive, the famous scenic highway that stretches from the Great Smoky Mountains to Shenandoah National Park. It’s a beautiful walk indeed.
Shenandoah National Park – Because both routes place a premium on scenic beauty, the AT and Skyline Drive are seldom far apart (the AT crosses Skyline Drive 28 times). But it’s not as if the trail is crossing over a busy highway. The windy layout, a 35-mile-per-hour speed limit and an entrance fee help ensure that people in the park are there to enjoy the beauty.
Angel’s Rest If you’re heading southbound, the 1600′ climb out of Pearisburg, Virginia is steep (especially if you’ve restocked at the Food Lion and you’re toting a heavy pack), but the view makes it all worthwhile.
It’s a nice place to sit and look down on the daily beehive of activity in the town below.
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area – The southwest corner of Virginia is home to this 200,000 acre paradise that features the highest peak in the state. Less know about the area is that the National Park Service uses ponies and cattle (shown here) to help keep the open areas (known as “balds”) from being reclaimed by trees.
The wild pony herd (numbering about 150) spends the warm part of the year grazing on the high country undergrowth and, in turn, keeping the summit balds trimmed and open, while reducing the chance that a forest fire can get started or spread. In the winter, the herd heads down to lower elevations, where it is a bit warmer.
The herd is rounded up twice a year and checked by veterinarians to ensure the animals are in good health. But, other than that and perhaps supplemental grain feedings in harsh winters, the ponies can be considered wild. These mountains are their homes. And walking among them is one more of the unexpected privileges of hiking the AT.
* 2006-2011 data compiled by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
More about the AT
If you are interested in hiking the trail, you may find my book Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on the America’s trail a useful resource. I section-hiked the AT over nearly three decades with a good friend and we learned a lot!
If you are interested in the history of the Appalachian Trail — how the trail came into existence in the first place and the powerful personalities that got it built — you may enjoy my book, Blazing Ahead: Benton MacKaye, Myron Avery and the Rivalry that Built the Appalachian Trail.