Shenandoah National Park – and Hurricane Joaquin

We are now relaxing at Adam Stanley’s hostel in Waynesboro. We have spent the last five days hiking through the Shenandoah National Park (SNP). If it wasn’t for the weather, this would have been one of the best sections of the trail we’ve done so far. Even with the rain and fog, it was still a great section. 


Passing a rainy afternoon at Stanimal’s

We left Front Royal and filled out our backpacking permit at the kiosk located where the AT enters the park. The weather was decent on our first day.  We had some very pretty views from the mountains and then arrived at the Gravel Springs Hut, the first Hut in the SNP at about 4:30. In the park, they call day-use sites “shelters” and ones that allow camping “huts”. They all look like lean-tos. In SNP, they are made out of stone and can hold about 10 campers. 

Our first day in SNP…..

… before the weather got nasty

It rained that first night, and from then on, the weather was kind of miserable. It was always cloudy and foggy, and often wet.  The views were few and far between. 


You had to rely on your ears more than your eyes to cross Skyline Druve

On our second day, we hit another really nice feature of SNP, one of the “Waysides”. This gave us an opportunity to get some hot food for lunch. We also could have resupplied, but were in good shape food-wise. That night, we slept in Byrd’s Nest Shelter #3. While Shelters were normally for day use only, this one had been converted for camping by adding a sleeping platform and a bear pole. 

Foggy viewpoints……


…. with a few brief moments of clarity

 The next day we awoke to rain.  Our target shelter was about 22 miles ahead and that seemed like a stretch in the rain, so we decided to go for comfort at booked a room at the Big Meadows Lodge. This was a 15 mile walk in the wet, but it ended with a shower, a hot meal, and a soft bed.

Outside of the lodge we ran into some of the tamest deer we’ve seen so far. One actually approached us as if begging for food. We’ve seen that the animals in SNP are definitely used to humans being around, but mostly they kind stroll away from you rather than run. These deer didn’t bother to stroll away and instead came closer to check us out. 


Deer checking us out

The next day was short. There was a hut about 8 miles away with the next one about 12 miles past that. With heavy rain forecast for the afternoon, we hustled to the closer one and got there before the skies opened up. From about 3:00 on thru the evening our hut was an island surrounded by a river of runoff.  Needless to say, we didn’t try to go any farther. 


Surrounded by rivers of runoff

We then got some respite from the rain and put in a long day, 20 miles, to Pinefield Hut the next day.  The shelter log warned us that there was a family of copperheads living under the shelter and to be careful walking around the left side. Sure enough, Butterbar, one of our fellow hikers, saw a large copperhead leave the shelter just after dark and head into the brush to go hunting. On the plus side, the snakes meant no mice.


All in all, not the best weather

We had been hearing reports about terrible weather coming up on Friday and Saturday due to Hurricane Joaquin. We decided to stop at the Loft Mountain Wayside the next morning for a hot breakfast and for a weather update. When we got there, we found the Wayside open but without power, so no food. Plus the weather report according to the staff was alarming – heavy rains and winds. 


Waiting for our shuttle at Loft Mountain Wayside

Our original plan was to take two more days to hike to Rockfish Gap and then resupply in Waynesboro. Instead we decided to shuttle in to Waynesboro and wait out Joaquin. We called Adam Stanley at Stanimal’s 328 Hostel, and he came to pick us up. Now we are resupplied, Joaquin has veered out to sea, and we are hoping to pick up at Loft Mountain tomorrow. Hopefully our last day in SNP will be with better weather!

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