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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
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POST #12:  SUE'S VIEW:  RUNS & HIKES
 IN WEST VIRGINIA, MARYLAND,
    AND PENNSYLVANIA
    + OTHER ACTIVITIES NEARBY
 
OCTOBER 30  
 
". . . I raced you to Katahdin and managed to catch up with you with three days to go.  I enjoyed all that you wrote and also enjoyed reminiscing about areas you went through that I have done . . . congratulations on your epic adventure.  I can't wait to hear more about it when next we meet again." 

 - Jeff, an ultra running friend

 


Rafters enjoying the idyllic setting at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on June 27, 2005.

With the crewing help of his wife, Jeff plans to thru-hike and run the Appalachian Trail in a similar fashion to the way Jim and I did it when he retires in a few years.

He's a seasoned ultra runner, often finishing difficult 100-mile mountain trail races, so I have no doubt he can complete the whole AT. Hopefully, some of the information in this journal will be of use to Jeff and his wife when they are on the Trail - and to anyone else planning a day or more along the AT. It can be a great adventure no matter how long you're out there!

If you're the type of person who doesn't like surprises and who wants all their ducks in a row before beginning a hike or run in unfamiliar territory, then heed the advice I gave in Post #10 about researching the area in which you are interested for a weekend, week, or two-week trek.

Be sure to get updated maps from various sources for trails and roads so you have complete information. Some of our ATC  maps and guidebooks were published as long as eight years ago and were quite out-dated. If there's one thing you can count on with the AT, it's continual relocations ("relos"). The maps and data books become somewhat outdated by the time they are published.

But that's part of the adventure, eh?

OK, on to ideas for weekend to two-week runs and hikes along the Appalachian Trail in three more states. Since many hikers will combine family vacations with time on the Trail, I also have a few suggestions in red for other activities nearby. Do your own research for additional ideas specific to your situation.

Above all, have FUN!!!  Now let's continue northward . . .

IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN WEST VIRGINIA

HARPER'S FERRY, WV - with only seven miles of the AT in West Virginia, including the miles it zigzags over the Virginia state line, even the slowest hiker can knock out one state in a day! However, with all the other things to do in the area you can easily spend several days here.

To get more mileage, go south through Harper's Ferry National Historic Park with its ruined stone breastworks from the Civil War on down to Shenandoah National Park, or head north through Maryland and to Pennsylvania, also a section rich in history.

Some folks like to take the "40-mile challenge" (I think it's really more like 44 miles) and hike in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and into Pennsylvania so they can claim to have hiked the AT in four different states in one day. Knock yourself out! By that point in my trek I was more interested in spending some free time in Harper's Ferry than doing the "challenge." It's not that hard for an ultra runner or speed hiker who hasn't already just done a thousand miles leading up to it, however. In fact, it's one of those things on my AT "Wanna Do Again" list for the future.

Harper's Ferry is my second-favorite trail town (ones where the Trail actually goes through town). This is the site of the AT Conservancy's national office, which is open seven days a week during the height of the hiking season. Harper's Ferry is the "psychological half-way point" for thru-hikers going either direction, although it's not quite half way in miles (that's in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania).

It's traditional for thru-hikers to stop in the ATC office to get their photos taken and added to a huge binder. I was hiker #476 to register this year. It's great fun to see pictures and names of the other folks who are out on the Trail and to look through previous binders for photos and information about those who hiked in previous years. The office also has maps, dozens of books, and numerous other AT-related items to purchase and friendly, knowledgeable staff to assist hikers.

The Trail leading into Harper's Ferry from the south is fairly easy* to run, especially the nice long downhill to the Shenandoah River and the flat bridge across it. After climbing up the ridge in town, the next mile or so is flat and wooded; the AT doesn't follow streets much in town until you get to the historical area. Take some time there to read the information at Jefferson Rock and admire the beautiful buildings that have been restored to the 1859-1865 era. The industrial and political history of this town in very interesting.

[*Farther south, however, you'll run into the infamous "Roller Coaster, " which is definitely NOT runner-friendly unless you love rocky PUDS (pointless ups and downs) and aren't in a big hurry.]

The Trail is flat as you cross the Potomac River on a bridge (photo below) just north of the confluence of the two broad rivers, enter Maryland, and tread the old C & O Canal Towpath for about three miles.

If you want to continue on this nice, smooth surface after the AT hangs a left and starts climbing South Mountain, just keep going on the towpath as long as you desire - it'll take you all the way to Washington, DC! This would be a great place for kids or adults to cycle, run, or hike if they don't want to do the AT. We also saw folks rafting the rivers and playing in the water along the shore of the Shenandoah; it looks pretty shallow.

We stayed in the KOA campground next to the entrance to the Harper's Ferry Historical Park. There are also modern motels, historic inns and B&Bs, and a hiker hostel. Although we didn't eat at any of the restaurants here, there is a good variety of food choices.

There are also plenty of shops in and out of the historic district and an outfitter. We encourage you to take some time to enjoy the historic reenactments, exhibits, and museums here, too. See Days 59 and 60 for more details of our journey through Harper's Ferry.

IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN MARYLAND

Well, this one's pretty easy, too. There are only forty miles of the AT in Maryland, and except for about three miles on the C & O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River, they generally follow the undulating ridgeline of South Mountain from Harper's Ferry to the Pennsylvania state line.

The Trail is all mostly protected, lying within four state parks that are full of history: Gathland SP, Washington Monument SP (monument to George Washington shown below), Greenbrier SP, and South Mountain SP. The whole Trail through Maryland is attractive and is probably even more beautiful in early June when the many laurels are blooming. It is mostly shaded in the summer with hardwood trees and is generally runnable except for the approach to the Pennsylvania state line. I kept stopping to take photos and read signs, however, as I "ran through history." See Days 61 and 62 for details about the Trail through Maryland and all the historical Civil War sites.

The elevation ranges between 250 feet at the WV/MD line and 1,880 feet on the ridge. The only major climb or descent is the south end of the mountain to or from the towpath. The rest of this section rolls up and down along the ridges. Although there are some viewpoints along the ridge in the summer, you'll see more when the leaves are down.

If you have only a weekend and/or want to do other activities in the area, it might be best to choose to hike or run in just a couple of the state parks. If you want to go farther than forty miles, keep going north or south from your base.

We stayed at the KOA at Harper's Ferry for the first day in Maryland,  then moved to another private campground near Gettysburg for the second day. There are probably some campgrounds in Maryland, too. The Old South Mountain Inn is located at Alt. US 40 at Turner Gap. I know it's open for meals, but I'm not sure if they have rooms available. If they do, it looks like a nice historical place to stay. Otherwise, the closest towns are Boonsboro and Hagerstown.

If you or your family want more to do than you can find in the four state parks listed above, Catoctin Mountain Park and Gambrill SP are also nearby. There are numerous activities to pursue on the "mountain side" of Maryland - hiking other trails, mountain biking, canoeing, rafting, rock climbing, fishing, hunting, camping, horseback riding, tennis, and golfing.

More sedentary activities include farm tours, driving through the mountains to see fall colors or spring flowers, taking a train ride, all manner of shopping (antiques, farmers markets, books, local crafts, etc.), enjoying performing arts and museums, attending auto races or a  minor league baseball game, seeing other historical sites, locating old stone bridges, and many other opportunities. As with each state travel guide we received, the "Destination Maryland" book is chock-full of activities and places to stay.

 IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN PENNSYLVANIA

You may remember that I didn't like the Trail surface (rocks!) through much of this state, but there are very interesting places along the 229 miles of the AT - and off of it - that make for good vacation destinations or multi-day runs and hikes.

Note that I ran and hiked the entire state in only eleven days on the Trail. However, it took me from Day 62 to Day 86 to get through Pennsylvania. Do the math and it doesn't compute, does it? Well, that's because I was OFF the Trail so much in July (to go home, to sightsee, to go to VT100, and for injury/rest). That made getting through this state seem more interminable than the rocks.

But it also means if you can average 21 miles a day for eleven days that you can do the whole state of Pennsylvania during a two-week vacation and still have time for three days of travel, rest, sight-seeing, or whatever. Or cover half the distance doing about ten miles a day of hiking or running, with a day or two off to do other things.

You can easily spend a few days in any of these areas:

SW PENNSYLVANIA/GETTYSBURG AREA: excellent base for one or more days on the AT as it enters the state from Maryland, on up to Pine Grove Furnace State Park (38 miles). We stayed in a campground farther north near Carlisle (Western Village RV Park) for several days while I ran in this area, but it was more because of July 4th crowds and our inability to get a space in Gettysburg than for convenience.

I ran this section on Days 62 and 63. The AT is still on the ridges of South Mountain. Although some parts of the Trail are very rocky, much of it is runnable through Michaux State Forest, Caledonia State Park, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and other areas. There were still some laurels and rhododendrons blooming around 2,000 feet even though it was early July. The Trail is very attractive in this area and north past Boiling Springs. It can be quite hot in the summer, however. I would have enjoyed it more in the spring or fall since the AT is at lower elevations in the mid-Atlantic states.

This is a photo of Antietam Creek near the shelter of the same name on Day 62:

Off-trail, the main attraction nearby is Gettysburg. I saw only a little bit as we drove to and from our campground to the AT but Jim was able to see some of the historical sites and re-enactors that were present for the holiday weekend. Because the famous Civil War battle was fought here at the beginning of July, there is a huge re-enactment every Fourth of July weekend - hence the crowds. Keep that in mind if you want to make reservations then.

The Gettysburg National Historic Park is open year-round and is a great place for kids (and adults) to learn more about our country's history. History is much more interesting to me when I can be in the place where something significant happened than when I just read about it. Here you can see where the fighting took place, what the soldiers wore, where the war dead are buried, where President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.

Take your kids there. Do the guided or self-tours, and they aren't gonna forget the history lesson any time soon!

BOILING SPRINGS, PA - this is another popular Trail Town because of its hospitality, hiker services, and attractive setting. The Mid-Atlantic Regional ATC office is located at the end of a pretty park and lake, an inviting place for visitors to "sit a spell." See photo on Day 64.

The 19+ miles from Pine Grove Furnace SP north to Boiling Springs alternate from smooth to boulder fields - not real great for running, but mostly attractive woods and interesting rock formations if you aren't in a big hurry.

North of Boiling Springs was my favorite section of the AT in Pennsylvania - the relatively flat farmland of the Cumberland Valley, about sixteen very runnable miles between the northern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the start of another very long ridge (Blue Mountain). This photo is from that section. See another photo of a beautiful farm near Boiling Springs in Post #9.

See Day 64 for more photos and information about this charming town and the Trail south of it, and Day 65 for the Cumberland Valley section.

If you go farther north and east on the AT, past the Susquehanna River and Swatara State Park, you or your family might enjoy spending some time in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The city of Lancaster is about dead center in this rich farming area. We took two days off to drive around the countryside when my brother and his wife visited us on the Trail. The farms and little towns are beautiful, the people are endearing, and there are charming shops (like the small Shaker furniture manufacturer we visited), delicious home-grown fruits and vegetables at roadside stands, horse-and-buggy rides, museums, and many other interesting things to do in this area where descendants of the original settlers try to live as simple a lifestyle as possible.

We also toured the Harley-Davidson motorcycle plant in York, enjoyed watching chocolate being made (and eating some) at the Wilbur Chocolate Factory  in Lititz, and visited Hershey World (more chocolate) in the city of Hershey. Kids of all ages will enjoy at least two out of three of those tours! See Day 70-71 for details about our "play days."

For information about other days on the Trail in Pennsylvania, see Days 69, 72, 73, 82, 83, 84, and 85, when I finished at Delaware Water Gap, below. On the other days, I was off the Trail.

DELAWARE WATER GAP, PA - this is both a town and a gap where the Delaware River flows through the valley between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There are beautiful views of the river going north on the AT before you drop down to the river. Despite the rocks, I really enjoyed the 15.8 miles along Kittatinny Ridge from Wind Gap (PA 33) to the river on Day 85. Wolf Rocks are fun to maneuver if you aren't going after a speed record, the woods are very pretty, and there are lots of rhododendrons and laurels here that had just finished blooming when I went through on July 23.

This is a photo from Kittatinny Ridge overlooking the fertile farming land below on Day 85:

Twenty-five miles of the AT wind through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on either side of the river. If you want to run or hike more than a couple days, I'd recommend heading north rather than any farther south than mentioned above  The AT section before this one (Day 84) has more rocks and includes both the difficult, exposed climb out of Lehigh Gap and the decidedly unattractive EPA Superfund Site on Blue Mountain that looks like a nuke hit it. Going north, you'll find prettier woods and my favorite lake on the whole AT,  Sunfish Pond (see Day 89 in the New Jersey section below).

We stayed at a private campground, Mountain Vista, near East Stroudsburg for several days while we were in this area (I had two rest/injury days here), There are several other campgrounds in the general vicinity, and loads of motels.

This is a great area to spend some time off the Trail, too. Just north of the Trail is the very popular Pocono Mountains area, 2,400 square miles of woodlands with numerous lakes, ponds, streams, gorges, and waterfalls. There are museums, historic sites and wildlife sanctuaries,  resorts and golf courses. You can camp, swim, hike, boat, water ski, ride horses, hunt, and fish. Winter sports are also popular - downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, ice skating. I think it would be fun to explore some of the interesting old  buildings and shops in little towns like Jim Thorpe and Stroudsburg on another trip to this area.

If you want to use the Delaware Water Gap area as your base for a week on the Trail, you could start at PA 33 (Wind Gap) and head north past the Gap into New Jersey and cover all or most of the 72 miles of the AT in that state. If you have two weeks and run/hike as many miles a day as I did, you could make a big dent in New York as well.

I'll cover those states next . . . as well as Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil