The National Park Experience

trail sign

Appalachian Trail sign in the Shenandoahs, one of our favorite sections on the entire trail

We are now in the state of Maryland, which means we have officially left Virginia, a state that was our home for 3 weeks, which will most likely be the longest we spend in one state. When I look back at Virginia, I’ll most likely remember two things – the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, the latter which winds through the Shenandoah National Park. Both the parkway and the drive are about 100 mile long sections with a road that cuts through the ridge of the mountains, offering fabulous views of the valleys and mountains. We didn’t walk the road, but the trail stayed quite close to it, never wavering too far from its path and often crossing it several times a day.

Now that we’ve made our way through both sections and are in completely different terrain, I have to say that I miss the Shenandoahs, though I thought differently while we were walking through them along Skyline Drive. Looking back, I can see why they take the trail through such a section, as the views were in fact stunning, and the terrain and elevation were gentle and easy compared to so many other sections of the trail. We had great weather the entire time, and perhaps the best perk of all, visited two restaurants along the way that were just .1 miles from the trail, along Skyline Drive. When I can combine sunny skies, pretty views, easy trail and good town food, I am a happy hiker.

As we made our way through the Shenandoahs, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the National Park experience. While in the section, it was strongly encouraged to camp at the designated shelters, and camping in any other spots was frowned upon. We don’t mind staying in shelters, especially in bad weather, but hate forced sheltering. The shelters weren’t exactly plentiful in the park, as there was one day we had to hike either 21 or 34 miles. We only made it 29 that day and found the best campsite we could. Since it’s frowned upon, there aren’t many random campsites that exist in the first place. It was definitely our least favorite part of the park since it restricted how we hiked each day.

Looking back at the section, I realize that the restricted camping was a minor setback for an otherwise positive experience that I would gladly repeat and recommend to anyone else looking to hike a good section of the AT.

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