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I hiked the entire length of Shenandoah National Park on the Appalachian Trail and then some (107.9 miles) in 7 days via backpacking, day hiking, being supported, hiking NOBO and SOBO.
Honestly, one of the main reasons for hiking the park this way was its ease of access to the road and the fear of bears. Prior to this trip, I had never run into a bear solo hiking before.
With the help of my dad, we set up a base camp at Big Meadows. No other campground was open at the time except for Lewis Mountain, which would have made the drives easier if we had moved campground to campground.
The sections I chose to hike in the particular order were based on location, ease of access, mileage, ascents/descents, and road access.
Day 1 (Friday, April 21st): 12.5 miles
Drove down to the park (4.5 hours) and my dad dropped me off at South Pinnacle Picnic Grounds, so I could hike SOBO to the campsite at Big Meadows, while he set up in the rain. Lots of great views this stretch but the weather wasn’t the best to see them.
Day 2 (Saturday, April 22nd): 15.6 miles
SOBO Rattlesnake Overlook to South Pinnacle Picnic Grounds. Great views that included Mary’s Rock (one of my favorites). The summit was crowded with day hikers but after getting back on the AT and walking a little further I got a view all to myself.
Day 3 ( Sunday, April 23rd): 17 miles
SOBO Big Meadows- Swift Run Overpass. This was an earlier start since I left from the campground and I saw my first and only bear! It heard and saw me way before I saw it. Right pass the Lewis Falls trail junction down the hill to the left of me was a yearling, who ran so fast and hid behind a big rock that I couldn’t even snap a picture.
Day 4-5 (Monday/Tuesday, April 24-25th) 32.7 miles
NOBO Rockfish Gap – Ivy Creek Overlook. I backpacked this section due to Skyline Drive being closed from tree damage and powerline work. I hiked 20+ to Blackrock Hut making it a new hiking PR. Not sure on the exact mileage because I had to do the detour, which the exact mileage was not available but it was definitely longer than the 1-mile re-route. This day I hurt my knee around mile 12. I thought I re-tore my meniscus but kept on hiking. It only hurt on the downs but I was still able to walk. Still nursing the knee back to health.
I had only seen one person that day hiking. I met a couple thru-hikers and section hikers at the shelter. One of them commented we are probably the select few who got to hike a portion of Skyline Drive without any traffic. That’s pretty cool. I rolled into camp pretty late enough to meet the other guys, Woody (who I ran into at a water source), Reader, Ron, a father and daughter, and a few others. Around midnight some type of bird started calling for the next 5 hours… The only other interesting thing that happened was walking up to the privy in the morning with the door wide open and someone was going to the bathroom… I felt mortified. Sorry, Woody!
Oh, and passing near Loft Mountain I got a warning someone had seen a bear walking around, so I constantly hit my trekking poles and didn’t see one. Then, I kept asking SOBO hikers if the Loft Mountain Wayside was open because I wanted a milkshake. Sadly when I was passing, I heard they lost power and the kitchen wasn’t open. It wasn’t worth the steep climb for a cold drink especially with my knee and I kept pushing on. The ivy creek climb was rough and I was happy to have reached my dad and call it quits for the day with a cold Powerade in hand.
My dad also ended up doing a bit of trail magic and was handing out Powerades to hikers. If he would have known about being a trail angel sooner, he might have supported more people!