Search This Blog

Friday, September 15, 2017

Virginia Appalachian Trail: Backpack Reeds Gap to Rockfish Gap

If you have someone who is willing to drop you off and pick you up, the Appalachian Trail in Virginia between Reeds Gap and Rockfish Gap is a great three day, no-rush hike. Reeds Gap and Rockfish Gap trailheads are right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, so they are easy to find and this section of the AT has great views, but it is no easy stroll - pack lite and get ready for some serious hills!

Note: We usually get a chance to take this trip in the summer, so please pay attention to the weather and pack accordingly. This description is for a July/August hike and the temperatures were in the 80s during the day and 60s at night. During this time of year, rain showers are always a possibility and during our most recent trip it rained off and on every day, so this will also affect your packing list. But remember, embrace the weather and love the rain - you're on the AT, everyone smells. 

Reeds Gap trail head is located where HWY 664 intersects the Blue Ridge Parkway and that area of Virginia is in Nelson County. Nelson County has some fantastic craft breweries and wineries - there is a cider house and a meadery down there too, so before you start hiking, you might want to think about spending some time on Route 151, or Nelson 151. My husband and I always meander our way down to the trail head and get a solid meal and a local beer in preparation for three days of trail food, extra carbs, right?!

This section of the AT is less than 20-miles, so we totally realize that thru-hikers knock it out in a day, but for us, this hike is about getting outside, so we do not rush it and we take every side trail. On day #1 we usually get on the trail late afternoon and put in about 4 miles of hiking. This trek has almost NO flat section, so we're going about 2 miles an hour. The ups are pretty brutal and you take the downs slow. During these first 4 miles you'll get to experience the Three Ridges Overlook and Cedar Cliffs where you get some of the best views of the Virginia hills (and the exposed rock outcroppings in this section are a stark contrast to all the green). Note: if you cannot get someone to pick you up/drop you off, there is a Three Ridges Loop that might interest you because you can leave your car.

Camp day #1 is just off the trail because that's the only option. We prefer hammocks on the AT vs. a tent because:
  1. they are light,
  2. they are quick to put up/pack up, 
  3. they are more comfy, and 
  4. they dry faster. 
Plus, you are not lacking in trees and there are plenty of areas right off the trail to stop for the night. Remember you are in bear country (black bears), so we always pack rope to hang our packs. Here is is a great site for some extra AT safety tips.
Day #2 is when we put in the most hiking and our goal is the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter, about 10 more miles. On this section you get a fantastic side trail to Humpback Rocks that overlooks the whole valley and you can even see the Wintergreen Ski Resort. Bear Spring is a nice spot for a breather and a water refill. Note: this section of the trail does not have much water, so we usually bring 3 liters each in CamelBaks. And don't forget your water filter + purification system (we have a Katadyn Hiker microfilter, but there are many to choose from). The Paul C. Wolfe Shelter is located on a beautiful, rushing (and cold!) stream and has plenty of room to spread out and relax. The Shelter is also at a lower elevation, so you're going relatively downhill and it is a nice spot to meet and talk to other hikers - it just says "stop here and rest a while." Because we sleep in hammocks we do not set up camp in the shelter, but if you have a tent or a sleeping pad there are top and bottom bunking sections.

** Warning about shelters: there are mice! You would be amazed how much a little mouse can destroy your pack or clothes. **

Day #3 is a five mile trek to Rockfish Gap where we finish up our trip. You gain back some elevation on this section and this is where we usually see (or hear) bears. You are in pretty thick forest and past the rock outcrops by this point. On one trip, my husband counted NINE bears between the Shelter and Rockfish Gap, but we have never had any issues.

North or southbound, this section of the AT is definitely worth checking out - have fun!

Pack List

  • hiking shoes/boots (my hubby is a minimalist and wears Vibrams and I prefer trail running shoes to boots, but it's your choice)
  • sandals for camp (I just strap my Tevas to my pack)
  • 1 set breathable clothes for the day (we usually hike in athletic shorts and synthetic shirts and wear the same stuff every day, NO cotton)
  • extra pair of clothes for camp/night 
  • pack (I LOVE my Deuter) + rain cover
  • water (we each set up 3 liter CamelBaks in our packs)
  • purification system + filter
  • food (for three days we do not bring anything hot, so no stove = less weight)
  • rain jacket/gear (we usually do not even bother, but this is a personal preference as well)
  • hammock + fly/rope (because it will rain and you want to stay dry while sleeping)
  • extra rope to hang our packs
  • first aid kit
  • pocket knife/tool
  • flint/matches
  • sewing repair kit
  • minimal toiletries + trowel
  • head lamp

Trail Type:

20 Miles (+ as many side trails as you want to take)

 You really cannot beat the views on this part of the AT!

Follow the white markings...