How to Section Hike Virginia III: Daleville to Waynesboro
Section Hike Virginia: Daleville to Waynesboro At-a-Glance
Distance: 134 miles
Terrain type: A mix of ridge walking and woodlands with some higher elevation sections and several long descents and climbs.
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
Best seasons: Spring or fall
Start: Daleville at Route 220
Finish: Rockfish Gap (38.0311 tob 78.8591)
Approximate time frame: Eight to 12 days
How to Section Hike Virginia on the Appalachian Trail
Our section-hiking odyssey through Virginia continues north as we climb the Blue Ridge and tackle the 134 miles between the trail towns of Daleville and Waynesboro. This is a remote section that features the highest elevations between the Grayson Highlands and New England, plus a number of long climbs and descents as the trail drops into valleys created by the intersection of several rivers.
Want to section hike Virginia to the south? We’ve got you covered.
The Lay of the Land
Heading north from Daleville, the trail crosses under I-81 and climbs up to the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains. After climbing gently into the hills, the trail roughly parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway, which you’ll cross over or intersect with several times during the journey.
After about 30 miles of relatively easy terrain, the trail begins a section of elevated ridges in the 3,000- to 3,500-foot range, with occasional peaks reaching over 4,000 feet. Punctuated throughout are descents to low-lying river crossings, followed by stiff climbs back up to the ridgeline. These climbs and descents can amount to well over 3,000 feet each, putting to rest the perception that Virginia is “flat.”
The bulk of this section is in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and crosses several wilderness areas, so the hike can feel very remote—more so than the AT farther north in Shenandoah, and to the south around Roanoke and the Grayson Highlands. Significant road crossings are few, and resupply options are several miles from the trail.
This is a fun and challenging hike for the experienced backpacker. Plan on budgeting eight to ten days to complete the section or a bit longer if you’re less experienced. Keep in mind that you can easily split this hike into two by using the James River at Rt. 501 as your beginning or end. My first backpacking trip was a five-day, four-night hike from the James River heading NOBO to Waynesboro.
Which Way and When
This is an excellent three-season hike. Even during the hotter months of summer you can expect some relief in the higher-elevation sections. The usual caveats of hiking the AT in VA apply for the spring and fall. You can expect thru-hiker traffic during April, May, and June, and more solitude in the fall. My favorite time for this hike is mid-September through mid-October—I appreciate the solitude of some of the more remote sections, not to mention the fall colors. Whatever time you choose, take the higher elevations into account in your gear and clothing selections. I’ve encountered freezing rain and snow at higher elevations when the weather down below is perfectly moderate.
Which direction? Count me as a NOBO fan. There are several shuttle options out of Waynesboro, along with plenty of food and lodging options for when you finish the section. In addition, the easier terrain at the southern end out of Daleville will ease you into the hike. Check our shuttle list or your guidebook of choice for more options.
This section doesn’t have some of the showstopper attractions you’ll find farther south, but there are many points of interest along the way. Some of the overlooks and peaks on the northern end of the section are popular weekend destinations for day hikers and overnighters from the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia, so you can expect company on popular weekends.
Mile 40: Apple Orchard Mountain / The Guillotine
At over 4,200 feet, this is the highest spot on the AT northbound until you reach the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There’s an FAA radar and navigation facility on the summit, once the site of a Cold War- era Strategic Air Command early-warning facility. Heading north, you’ll pass under the Guillotine, a rock suspended over the trail.
Mile 56: James River Footbridge
Built on the piers of a former railroad trestle, this is the longest foot-traffic-only bridge on the AT. The view north across the river gives you a good chance to size up the 2,000-foot climb to the summit of Big Rocky Row.
Mile 65: Bluff Mountain / Ottie Cline Powell monument
Bluff Mountain’s 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains is highlight enough, but you’ll also find a simple monument with a plaque marking the spot where the body of Ottie Cline Powell was discovered in 1891, after wandering from his one-room schoolhouse seven miles away. You can read more about little Ottie’s fate here.
Mile 83: Cole Mountain
Sometimes referred to as Cold Mountain, this is one of the last balds you find on the AT until you reach the bare peaks of the Whites. Fine views and a great place for stargazing, although camping is restricted on the bald. You’ll find excellent campsites about 1.25 miles to the north at Hog Camp Gap.
Mile 95: Spy Rock
If you enjoy rock scrambling, be sure to check out Spy Rock. You’ll be rewarded with excellent views from the top of this large rock outcropping. You’ll find plenty of campsites around the rock as well—it’s a popular destination for weekenders and day hikers.
Mile 123: Humpback Rocks
It’s tempting to pass by side trails that lead to views, but don’t miss the short jaunt to Humpback Rocks. The large outcropping is reminiscent of McAfee Knob and offers amazing views. People have been hiking to The Rocks for a long time—look for the names and dates carved into the rocks. I’ve seen examples going back as far as the 1850s. Remember LNT and don’t do any carving yourself!
The logical resupply option for this section will be found 60 miles into the hike at the small town of Glasgow, five miles to the west of where the trail intersects US 501 at the James River. Stanimal’s 328 Hostel is a full-service establishment and offers a shuttle into Glasgow from the trail. Glasgow also offers a grocery store, laundromat, and a free town-provided pavilion for camping.
Other resupply and lodging options are limited in this section and require a lengthy walk or hitch from the trailhead. Two pretty reasonable options include the Middle Creek Campground, 30 miles north of Daleville, which offers tent site and cabins plus a camp store with snack bar, and the Montebello Campground and General Store, about 100 miles into the section, with camping and some resupply options. Both are somewhat off the trail—check your guidebook for specific information and directions.
This section is primarily on national forest land, with few restrictions on camping. Over the years I’ve scoped out a few nice spots to spend the night at if you want a break from the shelter scene.
Mile 85: Hog Camp Gap
This large, grassy meadow offers plenty of campsites and a water supply close by. It’s located by a Forest Service road, so it can get very busy on the weekends.
Mile 100: The Priest
Hike past the side trail to the Priest Shelter about 1/2 mile to the summit of The Priest. You’ll find some nice spots near the overlooks along the narrow ridge at the top. Pack in your water.
Mile 122: Humpback Mountain
Hike a little more than a mile past Dripping Rock, where the trail crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway. After a cliff that overlooks the Wintergreen Ski Area, you’ll find a nice level spot with room for several tents. Pack in your water.
On Our Next Journey
Our series on section hiking Virginia will continue as we traverse Shenandoah National Park. We’ll find well-graded trails, plenty of services, and maybe even some bears as we follow the 100+ miles of the AT through this popular national park.
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