Distance: 13 miles
Hike Time: ~7.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 4,400 feet (Net gain of 1,640 feet)
This section is moderately challenging for the simple reason that there is a steep incline after crossing I-66 and US-522 with lots of switchbacks. The trail is fairly flat otherwise, with some gradual, hardly noticeable grades. The terrain is not too rocky either.
Hiking Southbound, this section will lead you into Shenandoah National Park after about 10 miles. After entering the National Park, the trail is flat and smooth leading to Skyline Drive.
I hiked the first half of this section (stopping at US-522) in the Summer, and finally finished the section at Compton Gap the following Winter. The entire section can be easily completed in a day, but due to personal time constraints, I broke it into two days (5 months apart).
We parked on the North side of the interstate off of Tuckers Lane. There is more parking at the Tuckers Lane lot than on the South side of the interstate. We therefore picked up exactly where we left off over a year ago.
We then road-walked for about 1/4 mile before heading into the forest.
There are also small parking lots at many of the road crossings in this section. We also parked at US-522 (about midway) when we hiked the second half.
Starting late and hiking in the dark
Early in this section you walk over a few roads and a railroad. I enjoy the railroad crossings along the trail. Maybe it is reminiscent of The Walking Dead.
We initially hit the trail late on Friday and tried to make it 3 miles to Denton Shelter before dark. We planned to stay in the shelter overnight and continue in the morning.
The first few miles include steep climbs with some switchbacks in addition to a few clearings at higher elevations. The switchbacks and grade slowed us down a little bit.
We were unable to make it to camp before dark and wound up hiking for about 30 minutes in the darkness. Luckily we had our headlamps handy. We arrived at the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter around 9pm just before a heavy rain shower.
2 shelters in this section:
Jim and Molly Denton Shelter: This is a really nice, well-maintained area with a big shelter, covered patio/fire pit, horse-shoe pits, toilet, and shower. We camped here for two nights
Tom Floyd Shelter: This is a much smaller shelter along the switchbacks. It’s the last shelter before you enter Shenandoah heading Southbound.
Additionally, the Mosby Campground is about 2 miles South of the Denton Shelter with established tent sites.
There are a few clearings in the Northern areas between I-66 and the Denton Shelter. These were nice to hike through around sunset, but not much of a view despite their higher elevations. It is nice to get out of the woods and see for a distance.
There is one decent viewpoint right at the boundary of Shenandoah National Park. The view is partially blocked by trees, but in the Winter it’s the best view that I saw in this section.
There is a tree with a branch that looks like a rhinoceros near the Denton Shelter. I am not sure of the story behind this tree. It is signed as Ray’s Rhino.
Flora and Fauna
We all saw a bobcat for the first time in the wild. Well 2 bobcats to be specific. We were awakened at 6am the first morning to the screams and screeches of 2 bobcats that were either fighting or mating. They were visible in a tree across the clearing, however they were too far away to get a good picture.
There were plenty of foraging opportunities right along the trail, especially with the many clearings in the Northern portion. Blackberries and raspberries were ripe for the picking. We could see that we were not the first to forage along the trail. There were plenty of paths in the meadows indicating that the animals were fat and happy with the summer fruit abundance.
We saw quite a variety of mushrooms along the switchbacks in the Northern section. I could use a mycologist that can help identify these. I took guess at the white coral below.
My 2 Cents on this section
Hiking Southbound is a overall net gain of roughly 1,600 feet. There is not much downhill. That being said; I didn’t think it was too strenuous of a hike. The trail is well-maintained and not rocky like The Roller Coaster. It’s easy to complete in a day for the average hiker.
However if you have a weekend to spend, I recommend backpacking for a couple of days and staying at the Denton Shelter.
Hiking Companions: Dave & Lenny (Northern Half), and Josiah (Southern Half)