Blue Blazing to Some Magical Spots off the Trail
Some of the best spots and campsites on my thru-hike have been down a blue blaze. A blue blaze is a side trail off the main trail, and the AT has several. Some are marked on Guthook’s app and the AWOL guide, and some are not. They lead to some of the most beautiful spots I’ve seen on my thru-hike. Here are some of the best blue blazes I’ve found on the Appalachian Trail.
Dismal Falls (north of Bland, VA, mile marker 611.4 NOBO)
Dismal Falls is a large, rocky waterfall with a great swimming hole at the bottom. It is located along a side trail off of the AT in Southern Virginia. Upon reaching mile marker 611.4, follow the blue blaze on your left 0.3 mile down to the falls. There are several stealth campsites scattered along the side trail and right near the waterfall. More campsites are located across the falls; you just have to balance-beam-walk across the fallen log.
The swimming hole at the bottom of the waterfall is deep enough for cannonballs and backflips, too. There are two heights that you can jump from depending on how brave you are. However, it is swim at your own risk so always be sure to check the bottom of a swimming hole for sharp sticks and rocks before jumping.
The Shenandoah River (Northern Virginia, north of mile marker 863.0 to mile marker 970.8 NOBO)
The Shenandoah River is one of the rivers that flow north in the United States. This gives northbound hikers the opportunity to aquablaze the Shenandoahs. Aquablazing is canoeing a section of the trail rather than hiking. Hands down, this has been the best part of my entire thru-hike.
There are a few canoe/kayak rental companies that offer different options for aquablazing the Shenandoah River. You can start your canoe trip as far south as Port Republic, VA, and go as far north as Front Royal, VA. My group canoed from Port Republic to Luray, VA, an approximately 50-mile canoe trip. We spent four days on the Shenandoah River, camping along the riverbank.
The outdoor adventure company we rented the canoes from had a few official campsites for aquablazers, however, most of the camping is on private property so be sure to plan accordingly. On our third night, we ran into a bad storm and had to stop before reaching the official campsite. We thought we had found a good spot, however, we found the “Private property. No trespassing” sign after pulling the canoes out of the river. We asked the owners’ for permission to camp, who kindly let us use their property as our home for that night.
Hertline Campsite and Creek (north of Pine Grove, PA, mile marker 1,200.4 NOBO)
At mile marker 1,200.4, the trail crosses a rocky brook at the site of the former Hertline Shelter. The water source is directly on the Appalachian Trail, however, there is a blue blaze that leads down to a hidden spring-fed pond, waterfall, and rope swing. Going northbound, cross the brook and turn right at the two tent pads to find the pond.
There are a few campsites near the pond, and several trees for some hammocking spots. The sound of the waterfall makes the campsite very peaceful for a good night’s rest, and the rope swing into the spring-fed-cold water definitely wakes you up for the next day of hiking.
Blue Blaze to trail angel John Stempa’s and Kunkletown, PA (Wind Gap, PA, mile marker 1,271.1 NOBO)
A blue blaze trail that is not listed in the Guthook’s app is the side trail to John Stempa’s house. It is located off Smith Gap Road at mile marker 1,271.1 just south of Wind Gap, PA. John, better known by his trail name the Mechanical Man, is a trail angel who opens his home as a low-cost camping option to hikers. For $10 a night, hikers can sleep under a roof with access to a shower and a bathroom.
The stay at John’s also includes a ride to Kunkletown, PA, a small town west of the Appalachian Trail. It is not listed in Guthook’s nor the AWOL guide so many hikers miss out on getting “kunked” at the Kunkletown Pub. The staff is extremely hiker friendly, the food is delicious, and they have the cheapest beer on the trail.
Blue Blaze at mile marker 1,934 (Andover, ME, mile marker 1,934.0 NOBO)
Another blue blaze not marked on the maps is the side trail just past mile marker 1,934.0. Pass the brook going northbound, and take a right on the side trail. If you’ve reached the road, you’ve gone too far.
Follow the blue blaze 0.1 mile down to a beautiful brook, which flows into a ten-foot waterfall with a great swimming hole. There are several campsites scattered throughout the area, many with a view and the relaxing sounds of the brook and waterfall. The water is perfectly clear and crisp. After a long day of hiking, it is a great spot to put your feet up and relax. This spot could rival some of the best hostels and hotels on the AT.
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