This drive was to Beartree Gap Day Use (Fisherman) Parking, and the drive from Charlottesville took 3 hours and 23 minutes, 237 miles, with no time stopped. Beartree Gap was the location where I ended my previous A.T. hike and their day use fisherman's lot is a great place to park - a small, free USFS lot that is off the highway and hidden from those drivers, yet only 10 minutes off of the trail. It even has a porta-potty and trash cans.
The plan was to park here, hike into Damascus, and then shuttle back to the car using the host of the hiker hostel my dog and I stayed at that night. This is really the best way to do it, as I'd rather be waiting for a shuttle in Damascus - where there is stuff to do and other ride options and cell service - than at a remote USFS parking lot that probably doesn't have any of those things. After the shuttle, I would park the car at the hostel until our entire hike was complete later the next day and we returned home.
Near the entrance to the parking lot is a paved trail that splits right almost right away, taking you along the south end of Beartree Lake. You can see the beach on the other side of the lake. Take a right at the end of the trail, and follow a purple blazed trail across U.S. 58 and reach the A.T. at the 0.6 mile mark. After reaching the A.T., I took a right to go southbound, and started climbing. Though not a big climb (300 feet), it had me stopping to strip a layer almost immediately. After a short ridge walk, I lost all that elevation, then climbed again to hit the high point of the both days' hikes at the 2.3 mile mark - 3438 feet.
|Beartree Lake, looking north, from Beartree Gap Trail on the way to the AT.
|Lots of graffitti!
|Beavers attack trees on the A.T. near Laurel Creek.
They told me that they were missionaries, out to tell hikers about Christ. When I asked how that was going, they told me that they haven't had a lot of luck, because "folks on the trail seem to be in such a hurry!"
They then asked me where I lived, and when they determined I lived over a three hour drive from our meeting spot, asked if I knew of anyone that would put them up for a few days because it was supposed to get cold soon and they wanted to wait until it warmed up again. This, from a couple of guys who had been on the trail for a total of 5 miles! I couldn't help them and moved on, but it wasn't 5 minutes before the trail crossed a small stream with clean water. Somehow, I don't think those guys will get very far.
At the 6.7 mile mark, the A.T. is detoured onto the Creeper Trail. The reason for this is a bridge wash out on the A.T. I think if I were to do this section again, I'd try the creek crossing, as later observations had me thinking this crossing would still be possible. According to the USFS:
A section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) near Straight Branch and US-58 east of Damascus, VA, has been rerouted indefinitely due to the complete washout of the Straight Branch A.T. Footbridge during a high water event in May 2013. The reroute (detour) follows portions of the Beech Grove Trail (#4552) and Virginia Creeper Trail (#4575). This detour is expected to be in place for the foreseeable future, as A.T. management partners plan for the construction of a replacement footbridge.
|Here, the detour is very prominently indicated.
|The detour direction is indicated clearly.
Back on the A.T., I had my last major ascent of the day. But to call this "major" is an overstatement, as it ascended only 640 feet over 1.75 miles before leveling out, and then dropping 900 feet over 1 2/3 miles. At the high point, the A.T. intersected with the Iron Mountain Trail, which was the original A.T. alignment, before the trail went through the Mt. Rogers Highlands. Today, hiking the Iron Mountain Trail makes for some nice multi-day loop hikes with the A.T. I would not trust the shelters on the IMT, though, as when I camped with the Boy Scouts at the Cherry Tree Shelter in 2012, it was falling apart. Link.
|Iron Mountain Trail connects with the Appalachian Trail.
|View on the Appalachian Trail, a little north of Damascus.
|Appalachian Trail descends to U.S. 58 before crossing and joining the Virginia Creeper Trail again.
|On the combined Creeper/Appalachian Trail, entering the Damascus town limits.
|In Damascus, you CAN get there from here!
|The A.T. is sometimes hard to follow in Damascus. Note the white blaze on the telephone pole,
though there isn't much room along the highway to walk.
|There are multiple hiker/cyclist hostels in Damascus. This is Crazy Larry's Hostel/Store, as seen from the trail.
|One of the many bike rental/shuttle places in downtown Damascus.
|Another hiker hostel - Hikers Inn.
|The A.T. heads down this multi-colored sidewalk past Mt. Rogers Outfitters.
|Around the corner from Mt. Rogers Outfitter was Hey Joe's Burritos,
my fine dining destination for the night.
|Entertainment at Woodchuck's Hostel, with Chuck tossing the beanbag.
The next morning I was up early, enjoyed Chuck's waffles, and then hit the trail again by 7:40. I was ready to finish this up! Heading back to the trail, I hiked through a town park before turning onto a street and taking the trail into the woods. When you leave the street, it feels like you are walking through someone's yard, but there is a prominent "Appalachian Trail" sign in the yard.
|Here is the morning view from the hostel.
|A park in town has the old Deep Gap Shelter, formerly just south of the Mt. Rogers Trail on the A.T.
No camping here!
|This sign is at the Tennessee/Virginia State Line. I turned around here, and have no idea where Spivey Gap is.
|Nice fall colors along the trail, which I enjoyed immensely
as I returned to Damascus after completing the entire A.T. in Virginia.
Here are topo maps of each day's hikes: