Distance: 13.5 miles
Hike Time: 6.5 hours
Elevation gain: 2,600 feet
Picking up where we left off
Last time we hiked on the AT, we did an out-and-back route from Harpers Ferry to Keys Gap. Now starting from Keys Gap, Dave and I continued section hiking South to Snickers Gap (Virginia Route 7). We parked a car at each end so that we could tackle all 13 miles in one day (and not have to do it twice).
There is a decent-sized parking lot located on VA/WV Route 9 right along the state line. The AT runs along the VA/WV border throughout most of the short section “in” West Virginia. We wanted to start early to avoid any competition for parking. We were on the trail just after 8am; not bad after a 70 minute drive and taking time to park a car at the opposite end of the trail section.
David Lesser Shelter
After 3 miles of Southbound hiking, we took a detour to check out the only shelter on this section: the David Lesser Shelter. Personally, this was the most impressive shelter I have seen on the AT. The shelter is in good shape, but the other big attractions include a side shelter with a swing and multiple flat campsites just down the hill. It only took us about an hour to get to the shelter from Keys Gap. There were dozens of people set up to camp so it’s definitely a popular spot.
About another mile South is the Buzzard Rock Overlook. It’s to the right hiking Southbound (and there is a sign). It was a little confusing to get to and you have to hurdle over a few rocks. It’s…a view. At Buzzard Rock you look West into the Great Appalachian Valley, obstructed by some trees. Charles Town is visible to the right (Northwest). You will most likely have some vultures (buzzards) come into view as they glide along the cliffs.
The next signed overlook is Eagle’s Nest approximately 2 miles South from Buzzard Rock. The sign simply said “view” which was enough to pique our interest. The view from Eagle’s Nest was certainly better than Buzzard Rock with minimal obstructions.
South of Eagle’s Nest is Wilson Gap, a shallow gap without a road crossing. There is a side trail that appears to lead to either side of the ridge. There is a sign identifying Wilson Gap, but otherwise it doesn’t stand out from any other creek crossing.
The start of the Roller Coaster
The Northern section of the AT in Virginia is nick-named The Roller Coaster due to the up and down nature of the terrain. The climbs are not too steep (for this section) but as soon as you get to the top of one hill, you immediately proceed downhill and repeat the process…over and over.
According to my research the Roller Coaster is the section immediately South (from Snickers Gap to Ashby Gap), but we saw a sign indicating otherwise. Dave and I both liked the title of the trail manager (the picture is a little blurry – click to zoom in):
The third, final, and best view on this section is Raven Rocks (not to be confused with Raven Rock, singular, located about 50 miles North). It’s also the most crowded. Many people park at Snickers Gap and take a 3.5 mile hike to Raven Rocks for the view. The trail started getting crowded shortly before we reached the overlook, which faces South. Raven Rocks is also the last stop before crossing (for the final time) into Virginia.
Snickers Gap is about 3.5 miles South of Raven Rocks. The trail started to seem more and more like a roller coaster as the ascents and descents grew longer.
The parking at Snickers Gap is just as bad as Keys Gap. There are actually two lots, one of which can hold about 40 cars. We parked on the Eastbound side of Route 7 (the larger lot) which is slightly off of the trail. It was an anti-climactic finish to our day as the trail is actually routed along the highway for a stretch before just before the parking lot.
At one point on this section we said hello to a thru-hiker to which he responded somewhat apathetically “only 1,200 miles to go”. That got me thinking: the last two sections combine for about 20 miles (that’s 1% of the trail). We agreed that we will continuously section hike Southbound as long as we are willing to make the drive.
With that said, the next AT hike will be from Snickers Gap to Ashby Gap in order to “complete the roller coaster”. The next section is supposed to be more challenging with bigger hills and a river crossing. On the bright side, it is a mile shorter. Any takers?