Appalachian Trail Day Hikes

The Appalachian Trail snakes from the Blue Ridge Mountains out into the valley and back, providing a variety of geology and landscapes for hikers to enjoy. In the south, the trail begins in the Blue Ridge where it summits Mount Rogers and passes briefly through a corner of Grayson Highlands State Park. The trail then crosses into the Valley and Ridge; near Blackhorse Gap the trail returns to the Blue Ridge province.

The state of Virginia contains the most Appalachian Trail-miles, the bulk of which are through Jefferson and George Washington National Forests; the trail crosses the Blue Ridge parkway twice while in the national forests. The trail then proceeds through the long axis of Shenandoah National Park, with extraordinary views.  The trail continues northeast, passing through G. R. Thompson State Wildlife Management Area and Sky Meadows State Park before exiting the state into Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

Appalachian Trail: Sinking Creek to Stony Creek

New Castle| Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
17.6 total miles | Skill Level – Strenuous| Duration – 10-12 hours
This is a strenuous trek and is not recommended for first-timers. Gaining over 1500 feet during the 3-mile ascent of Johns Creek Mountain and then 2000 feet over the 2.5-mile hike to Lone Pike Peak, this route will keep you huffing. However, long stretches of level trail through Mountain Lake Wilderness allow you to catch your breath and enjoy a variety of wildlife and some great views from Kelly Knob and Wind Rock: Don’t forget your camera. Pack extra water, too. This hike is sure to make you work up a seemingly insatiable thirst and watering holes are scarce. However, Sinking Creek intersects the AT at the northern end of this hike and Stony Creek flows approximately a quarter of a mile beyond the southern end, giving you an opportunity to wet your whistle at start and finish provided you have packed a water filter.


Appalachian Trail: McAfee Knob Loop

Roanoke| Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
7.2 total miles | Skill Level – Strenuous | Duration – 4-5 hours
One of the most famous points along the southern AT, especially among photography buffs, McAfee Knob deserves a day hike of its own. Approaching from the south, the 3.5-mile ascent of Catawba Mountain, gaining 1200 feet, is strenuous, but the views from the knob are worth the effort and are quite possibly the best Virginia has to offer. Natural history features: McAfee Knob; Devil’s Kitchen.


Appalachian Trail: Sinking Creek Mountain

Roanoke| Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
11.2 total miles | Skill Level – Strenuous | Duration – 7-9 hours
This section of the AT follows the often narrow, rocky crest of Sinking Creek Mountain. The scenery varies from deep woods to open fields as the trail crosses over steep ledges and rocky outcrops, offering passing views into Sinking Creek Valley and Craig Creek Valley. Early spring is a particularly good time for this hike because of the multitude of wildflowers budding throughout the area then. Aside from a steep climb at one end and a steep descent at the other, the trail follows a fairly level course. Natural history features: Sinking Creek Mt.; Keffer Oak. Social history feature: Cemetery near Sarver Cabin.


 Appalachian Trail: Cove Mountain to Trout Creek

Roanoke| Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
7  total miles | Skill Level – Strenuous | Duration – 4 hours
Hoisting you over towering Silurian sandstone formations and through ambushes their smaller but still treacherously off-spring, this section of the AT is not the place for a casual stroll. But for those in search of a rigorous workout, it will not disappoint. The trail rises over rocky ridges and dips into low wooded sags of pine, oak, and maple. The best views will be found in the fall, but sections are over the treeline, permitting a year-round view of North Mt. to the right (east) and Cove Mt. to the left (west). Due to the extremely rocky terrain, hiking in wet or icy conditions is not recommended. the strenuous rocky climbing that occupies much of the beginning of this hike is balanced out by the easy descent at the end, as this hike offers a little bit of something for everyone. Energetic hikers will enjoy the challenge of the foreboding boulders and will want to take advantage of the extra climbing opportunities afforded at Dragon’s Tooth. Less ambitious hikers will still enjoy the crossing over Cove Mountain’s crest and peering into the valleys of green pasture land below.


Appalachian Trail: Cove Mountain to Jennings Creek

Buchanan | Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
6.4 total miles | Skill Level – Strenuous | Duration – 4.5 hours
This rugged hike offers remarkable rock formations of Erwin quartzite and soft shale, along with a virtual botanical garden of the wildflowers of the southern Blue Ridge in spring and early summer. Rose azalea give the woods a kind of landscaped quality, interspersed with lily-of-the-valley, violets, and irises. There are also yellow and pink lady’s-slipper — probably more in one setting you would encounter anywhere else on the AT in Virginia. The trip is very strenuous and should be attempted only by hikers in good condition. If the prospect of 11 or 12 miles on flat ground seems manageable, then this up-and-down hike of half that distance will be tolerable. Natural history feature: Jennings Creek. Social history feature: Purgatory Creek.


Appalachian Trail: Apple orchard Falls Trail to Jennings Creek

Buchanan | Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
11.1 total miles | Skill Level – Moderate | Duration – 8 hours
This hike travels mostly forested ridge lines and stream valleys, emerging only briefly at Black Rock for views to the north and west. But what it lacks in plentiful vistas, it makes up for in abundant flowers and flowering shrubs in season – Canada mayflowers, orchids, pined lady’s-slippers, rhododendrons, and azaleas to delight every hiker – lush hemlock, sugar maple, and a trout steam not far from the trail. From Apple Orchard Falls Trailhead parking at the Blue Ridge Parkway, descend Apple Orchard Falls Trail 0.2 miles to its junction with the AT. Hikers who enjoy cascading falls – and who doesn’t? – might consider a 2.8-mile round-trip detour down to Apple Orchard Falls. Hemlocks dripping with moss lean toward the creek over wading pools, as the trail drops as quickly as the cascading water. Natural history features: Apple Orchard Falls; Black Rock; Cornelius Creek. Social history features: Panther Ford; Button Hill.


Appalachian Trail: Catawba Mountain

Roanoke| Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
5.9 total miles | Skill Level – Easy to Moderate | Duration – 3-4 hours
Set between two extremely strenuous sections of the trail, this easy-to-moderate hike crosses the western end of Catawba Mountain and offers variegated landscapes, from rocky knobs to open fields. One of the this section’s most unusual features is its unexpected trek through cow pasture. If you begin to feel that someone is watching, don’t be surprised to look up and meet the gaze of a large brown or black and white bovine. This hike will give you a moderate workout without forcing you into overdrive. Although its views are more subtle than those experienced from Dragon’s Tooth and Cove Mountain or McAfee Knob, it still offers plenty of photo opportunities. The transition from rocky ridges to open pastures to thick pine groves give this stretch its own identity. If you plan to spend several days in the Catawba Valley, this is a nice hike for the last day of the trip. Natural history features: Sawtooth Ridge; views of Dragon’s Tooth.


 Appalachian Trail: Black Horse Gap to VA 652

Troutville| Appalachian Mountain Club | (617) 523-0636
11.5 total miles | Skill Level – Moderate | Duration – 5-7 hours
This section of the AT swings far enough away from the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) to escape most traffic sounds. A steep climb to Fullhardt Knob in the middle of the hike, gaining 1000 feet over 1 mile, is tempered by two long descents, one falling over the first 3 miles of the hike, and the other covering the final 2 miles, to VA 652. The views of the surrounding peaks from the 2700-foot knob are worth the effort. As a result, the distance seems shorter than it actually is . Nonetheless, we recommend three early exit options for those who want to shorten the miles in fact.


Sarver Hollow Shelter

Appalachian Trail | Haunted Hike

The Sarver Hollow Shelter is relatively new, built in 2002 by the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club to fill in a 22-mile gap between resting spots for thru-hikers trekking between Roanoke and Blacksburg. But, like all good horror stories surrounding new construction, this shelter was built near the site of an old homestead that, according to legend, has been haunted for decades. Henry Sarver built his family a two-story cabin in the 1850s and his family scratched out a life from the rocky terrain for more than 70 years, living in the cabin from the Civil War to the Great Depression. A family cemetery near the home site shows that many of the Sarver children died young. One of the only gravestones that you can read belongs to Mary Sarver, who died in 1909 at the age of 9. It seems that after the Great Depression, the Sarvers abandoned their home in the mountains, leaving it essentially intact. For years before the shelter was built, thru-hikers would camp inside the dilapidated Sarver home. Some time during the 90s, the roof collapsed on the home. Today, the cabin is completely in ruins, but you can still find the stone chimney and the family cemetery.

Hikers tell of a ghost that walks the woods after dark and often shakes campers awake in the middle of the night. Some say the ghost even shows up in photos they’ve taken of the home. Other hikers claim they’ve heard footsteps in the woods around the shelter. For whatever reason, hikers have named the ghost “George,” even though the Sarver patriarch’s name was Henry.

The Hike

It’s a 2.5-mile hike heading north from Va. 630 to the blue trail leading to the Sarver Cabin. Along the way, you’ll pass the Keffer Oak, a 300-year old live oak, the biggest on the Southern portion of the A.T. Along the ridge of Sinking Creek Mountain, you’ll also get to take in views of Sinking Creek Valley and Craig Creek Valley. It’s a steep drop from the ridge down to the homestead and shelter. The Sarver home site is downslope from the shelter. From there, scope the woods and small fields for the cemetery. If you’ve got the guts, spend the night at the shelter and wait for George to visit.

AT Through Virginia

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AT Through SWVA

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AT Through Giles County, VA

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