The following morning we checked out of the Mountain Home hostel in Front Royal, Virginia and headed to the entrance of Shenandoah National Park, hoping to secure a campsite that we could use as a basecamp for the next few days and do some slack-packing. We were lucky enough to get a site at Loft Mountain campground about midway through the park, which would allow us to do an out and back in both directions over the two days we planned to stay.
After getting stern instructions about keeping a clean camp from our campground host, who warned us that the bears were waiting in the perimeter of the woods to pounce on the first morsel of food we left out, we arrived at our assigned campsite and pitched our tents. Every couple of sites there was a bear box, which made keeping our site less inviting to bears quite easy. We took off down the trail, our formerly heavy packs now only containing snacks and hydration bladders, which felt like heaven.
Our hike was a lot of green tunnel, with outcroppings of gorgeous mountain views, steam rising from the previous day’s rain. As the day progressed, it became clearer and hotter. We hiked by a trickle of a stream, hoping for a water fountain at the next parking area on the map to use to refill our hydration bladders, and it was quite the dirty trick to find that there was one there, but it did not work. When we passed back by the trickle of stream, we put my Sawyer mini filter to work. Along the way back to camp, we had our first and only black bear sighting from the trail, and it was perfect. The bear was far enough away that we felt safe, but close enough to see it pretty well. He was sitting back, eating leaves, and didn’t seem to even notice us.
When we returned to our campsite, the bath house showers, which cost about a dollar a minute, were a much needed treat, and then we set about cooking dinner. A beautiful white dog that looked something like a malamute or husky was tied out in the next camp site, and its owner came over to say hello when he saw us oohing and aahing over his dog. He offered to let us use the microwave in his camper to heat up water for our dehydrated meals, saving us a little work, which was nice. He showed us the creature comforts of his camper, and after dinner, we headed back to our site for bed.
During the night, every twig that cracked woke me, fearful that there were indeed bears in the campground. A screech owl that sounded as though it was roosting on top of my tent didn’t help matters. When I headed to the restroom in the night I took my trekking poles for self defense, fearful that I’d scare something up. It was a pretty restless “sleep”, but in the morning, there was absolutely no evidence that bears had been wandering the campsite, and I chalked the noises up to more harmless wildlife, like chipmunks, which allowed me to sleep better the following night.
The next day, we headed down the trail in the opposite direction, eventually reaching the famous “Black Rocks” look out. I didn’t really know what to expect, so when we finally made it to the top of what I expected to be just another big hill, and found an extraordinary view, it was quite a lovely surprise! We stopped at a wayside store and purchased a beer to drink with lunch, and took a break about halfway through our hike. We were so tuckered out that for the hike back to the campground, we decided to walk Skyline Drive, instead of picking our way along the trail. It was definitely cheating, but the views were so pretty that I was glad we did so.
The following morning, we packed up. We had 10 miles left to meet our goal of 100 AT miles, and we decided to drive to Gettysburg and be history nerds, as well as walk the trail in that area. I loved the time we spent at SNP, and would love to go back to explore it to a greater degree–such a beautiful place! As if to give us a perfect goodbye, we spotted another bear from the road on our way out.