Appalachian Treks

World War II wasn’t fought on the Appalachian Trail. But Earl Shaffer, the first man to hike its length in 1948, drew inspiration from his combat experience in the Pacific theater. The more than 2,100-mile, Georgia-to-Maine pilgrimage overwhelms most hikers. Here are three easily conquered Northern Virginia treks that follow portions of Shaffer’s original 124-day journey.

Catch stunning views of
Shenandoah National Park’s fall foliage during a day’s hike up and around Old Rag Mountain. Here the Skyland Trail follows the Appalachian Trail with challenging rock scrambles and heavy foot traffic in the October peak season. An easier stretch, Big Devils Stairs canyon and waterfall near Front Royal explores the less-traveled Bluff Trail. Long-distance hikers rest at Gravel Springs Shelter (just off the Appalachian Trail near Gravel Springs Gap). They access the park by car from the Front Royal or Thornton Gap entrances and follow Skyline Drive to pick up these stretches. See for details.

The third adventure covers 54 miles along Northern Virginia’s Blue Ridge, a range named for the gentle sapphire hues visible from a distance. This segment of the Appalachian Trail ( extends from
Harper’s Ferry Park in West Virginia to Shenandoah National Park and offers a low-traffic, low-intensity hike. Access the starting point by car or MARC train. For this longer stint, Where recommends packing plenty of water and extra socks, despite Shaffer’s claim that while sockless his feet got fewer blisters!

Maddy Lincoln