Help me to decide where to hike on the AT

My son (21) and I (50) are planning to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail this summer. We’re looking for suggestions for a week long backpacking section. We could go in the late May to early August time frame. To give you an idea of our experience level, we’ve done some full day hikes out of the Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch in New Hampshire together, and he’s done some multi-day backbacking on the AT in Vermont.

We wanted to try a more southern area. We were originally going to go through the Great Smokey Mountain Park section (as part of a larger family vacation near Gatlinburg), but we’re not happy with the required shelter usage with reservations aspect of hiking there. We’re now looking more at some of the pieces of the AT in Virginia. We’re figuring on flying in and shuttling to/from the trailheads.

I know Shenandoah is supposed to be beautiful, but I think my son is more interested in a little more remote feeling area. I agree with him on this, BTW, (and this is his hike to make the decisions on - I’m trying hard not to horn in too much). A section with enough road crossings/town areas such that we’d have some planning flexibility and where we wouldn’t have to carry the full weeks food supply would be good.

Roanoke to Waynesboro maybe? Is there a good section that would include the Dragon’s Tooth - Tinker Cliffs area? Is there a particular time of summer where the bugs are much less or more of an issue?

I wanted to get some suggestions, if possible, before going out and buying all four of the ATC guides that cover Virginia.

And, if you’ve got some completely different suggestion, feel free. If you’ve got some questions about my son and I, ask away.

Thanks in advance

I hear Virginia is nice to hike. My Brother has hiked the long trail, which includes the AT in southern Vermont and said that section of trail is perfect. It’s up and over mountains, so you’re really hiking and not just walking on flat ground. But, it’s not as tough and steep as some places like nothern VT.

As to the need for using shelters on some sections of the trail: I’d advise you to look into hammock camping. They are very low impact. Even though it’s might be against the letter of the law, I’m certain nobody would object to you hanging a hammock instead of staying in a crowded lean to.

Google “hennesy hammocks” or “clark jungle hammock”. They’re great options for hikers. Lightweight and comfortable. Only downside is the cold, but you shouldn’t have a problem in mid-summer.

Have you read A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson? Reading the book is the closest I’ve come to the AT, but he makes suggestions that answer your question, plus it is a great book.

The Roanoke to Waynesboro section is probably a good choice. I’ve hiked the AT thru Shenandoah and a bit down the section you’re contemplating. While the Shenandoah can be somewhat more crowded and less remote, it’s not as bad as you might think, especially if you work in a side trail or two.

Thanks all for the replies -

Debaser - those hammock systems are very interesting. Even buying two, it wouldn’t be that much more than a good two man tent, and I wouldn’t be snoring in my son’s ear.
The Great Smokey Mountain Park rules are interesting - the rule is that all campers and hikers on the AT must have themselves and all their food inside a shelter at night, which has a chain link fence setup on the front of it. The idea is that if a bear gets use to getting food from humans, they have to relocate or kill the bear, so they are fencing in the humans.
I’m just hoping that the bears don’t get the idea that a human in a hammock system is just another low-hanging food bag. (Hey look Cubby, a pinata!)

vetbridge - A Walk in the Woods is great (both my son and I have read it multiple times). He and Katz take a rental car to Roanoke, and then they’re talking about how nice the next section is, then after about a week they see Waynesboro. That was the genesis for the idea of doing that stretch.
I just have to work on not emulating Stephen Katz.

An Arky - I think my son really wants to get away from people. I’m just feeling fortunate he’s letting me come along :slight_smile:

Any time you’re more than, oh, 100 yards from a scenic overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive, you’ll be pretty much people-free; you’ll only see a handful of people.

You may want to check into thru-hikers’ blogs for conditions and you might want to not try to do it when the bulk of the thru-hikers are coming through.

Keep in mind that “A Walk in the Woods”, while a fun read, has little to do with hiking the AT. I’ve done a lot of hiking on the AT, built many miles of the trail, and spend a lot of time with thru-hikers, and no one takes that book seriously. It’s cute, but treat it as fiction. There are much better books that describe hiking the AT, but they’re not as comical.

I like Southern VT or the Blue Ridge. For getting away from people there’s nothing like the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine.

I haven’t been on the AT in the area so I have no idea what it’s like, but for sheer splendor I’d recommend the NC/Tenn border area northeast of the smokies, if you don’t want to go through the smokies themselves. I just drove through there and was very impressed. The terrain through there is very dramatic. Tough hiking, I would imagine.

I’ve never been on the AT but have wanted to for years, so I’m just chiming in to wish you a wonderful time. What a great trip to do with family!

Also most thru-hikers are rightly pissed about Bryson and Katz tossing gear and trash into the woods. :mad:

Since most folks aren’t convinced that any of those events actually happened as written, it’s not a big deal. :slight_smile: