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  1. #1
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    Default Inn-to-Inn through Shenandoah

    Hi Folks - First time poster, long time reader. My husband and I are planning a 4-day hike through Shenandoah for the end of September and since we're kind of new to backpacking we're aiming to go slow-ish and stay at hotels each night along the way to keep the weight down on our packs. We've figured most of what we'll be carrying is clothes, water, snacks, and toiletry things, but we keep adding weight with emergency items like a hammock tent with rain cover and rain gear. These emergency items take up a lot of space and weight, but I'm nervous not taking them, so I thought I'd ask some of you experienced backpackers what you think. I know if an emergency comes up and we can't make it to our next hotel we'll need to camp, but since we're pretty much hiking along Skyline drive, do you think its necessary to carry camping gear? Or is it easy enough to climb off trail and find civilization? We're starting at Skyland Resort and heading south to Swift Run Gap (stopping at Big Meadows and Lewis Mtn Cabins along the way) and then shuttling back up to Skyland. From reading posts on the forum about this area I'm fairly confident in our ability to manage the distance and terrain, but I want to be prepared if something unexpected comes up... but also I don't want to carry a 50 pound pack for what is essentially a day hike. Thanks for any help!

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    How fit are you? It's only 8-9 miles between each of those stops, which for me is about 4 hours of hiking, with a full pack. I don't think a reasonably fit person should have any trouble going from lodge to lodge. I would bring the 10 essentials, but would leave the camping gear at home. The trail either crosses or comes close to the Parkway a couple of times each day, so if you had serious trouble, you could always hitch to your lodge or cabin or vehicle. The AT follows the ridge of the mountains, more or less, as does Skyline Drive. "Civilization" such as it is, is down in the valleys, several miles away, and nowhere near the trail. The trail is extremely well marked, so getting lost wouldn't be at all likely.

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    Not sure how you will stay at a hotel each night as Skyland is the only hotel in the park. Big Meadows is a campground. There are cabins to rent at Lewis Mountain campground and Big Meadows.

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    Thanks, Spirit Walker. Yeah, we're reasonably fit, but haven't really been hiking for 5 years so we're being a bit cautious for our first time on the AT. I'm thinking the distance won't be a problem and will give us plenty of time to stop and enjoy being there along the way.

    jimmyjam - yeah, cabins is what I meant at the other places. Thanks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jimmyjam View Post
    Not sure how you will stay at a hotel each night as Skyland is the only hotel in the park. Big Meadows is a campground. There are cabins to rent at Lewis Mountain campground and Big Meadows.
    Correction: Big Meadows has a lodge with a full service lodging, restaurant, and bar. The "cabins" at Big Meadows have bed room, living room, fireplace, and full bathroom. Stayed there a few years ago. Quite nice. Our son was confused when I told him we were staying on the top of the mountain. How can you have a hotel on the top of a mountain? he asked. When we checked in he asked where the mountain was. I told him we were on top of it. He didn't believe me. Then we walked out on to the patio behind the lodge that is on the edge of the ridge looking down onto the Shenandoah River valley. The he said "oh, now I get it". It was very cute.

    During color season, lodging may be fully booked, especially on weekends.

    http://www.goshenandoah.com/lodging

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    Quote Originally Posted by jimmyjam View Post
    Not sure how you will stay at a hotel each night as Skyland is the only hotel in the park. Big Meadows is a campground. There are cabins to rent at Lewis Mountain campground and Big Meadows.
    funny, i definitely stayed in a hotel room at big meadows....

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    You shouldn't need too much extra gear.

    If you're worried about getting caught out in rain, take a couple of emergency ponchos. They'll get you to the next cabin.

    Toss in a bic lighter and an emergency blanket if you're feeling really worried, but don't load up with stuff. The road is never very far away and you can get where you're going easily.

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    Big Meadows Lodge
    Big Meadows (milepost 51) has 25 rooms in the main lodge, 72 additional rooms in rustic cabins, multi-unit lodges, and modern suites. American Express, MasterCard, VISA, and Discover cards are accepted. Limited number of pet-friendly rooms available. All rooms and public areas are smoke-free environments. No extra fee is charged for cribs or children under 16 years old. To make reservations at Big Meadows, or for additional information, visit: Delaware North at Shen National Park, or call (877) 247-9261

    Skyland Resort
    Skyland (mile 41.7) has 179 guest rooms, rustic cabins, multi-unit lodges, and modern suites. American Express, MasterCard, VISA, and Discover cards are accepted. All guest rooms are non-smoking. A limited number of pet-friendly rooms are available. No extra fee is charged for cribs or children under 16 years old. To make reservations at Skyland, or for more information, visit:
    Delaware North at Shenandoah National Park, or call (877) 247-9261.

    Lewis Mountain Cabins
    Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) has several rustic, furnished cabins with private baths and outdoor grill areas. American Express, MasterCard, VISA, and Discover cards are accepted. One designated pet-friendly cabin is available. All cabins are smoke-free environments. No extra fee is charged for cribs or children under 16 years old. To make reservations at Lewis Mountain, or for more information, visit:
    Delaware North at Shenandoah National Park, or call (877) 247-9261.

    PATC Cabins
    The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (an authorized park concessioner), maintains six locked, primitive cabins in the park. The cabins are equipped with mattresses, blankets, and cookware. A pit toilet and spring water are nearby. To get information or to make reservations, call PATC at (703) 242-0693 or (703) 242-0315; or write to PATC, 118 Park Street, SE, Vienna, VA 22180. Visit PATC online.
    Trail Miles: 3,715.9
    AT Trips: 67
    AT Map 1 Completion: 1818.9 Springer, GA - Franconia Notch, NH
    AT Map 2 Completion: 263.8 Gaps From GA - PA

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    On another note though, You say SNP in 4 days. That's about 25 miles a day yet someone said the lodges are about 8-9 miles apart sooo...?
    Trail Miles: 3,715.9
    AT Trips: 67
    AT Map 1 Completion: 1818.9 Springer, GA - Franconia Notch, NH
    AT Map 2 Completion: 263.8 Gaps From GA - PA

  10. #10

    Default Inn-to-inn resources from ATC

    Here's an article "Hiking in Comfort" about hiking inn-to-inn in Shenandoah National Park (the central section as noted above).

    And here's a write-up "Hiking Inn to Inn on the Appalachian Trail" with more specifics on the logistics of this hike, with information about other areas along the A.T. where you can plan multi-day hikes without carrying a full pack.

    The biggest challenge in most areas is getting shuttles from the trailhead to a B&B or motel that might be 2, 3 or 5 miles away if the B&B doesn't do shuttles (insurance can be expensive). Also, B&Bs offer breakfast, but you still have to plan for lunch and dinner. Sometimes there are restaurants or grocery stores near B&B, but not always. I do think over time this will get easier with the advent of ATC's A.T. Communities program, more development closer to the Trail, and a population that is less and less likely to have backpacking skills.

    Laurie P.

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    Thanks, Laurie P. - I found those on the forums and that's kind of how we planned the trip. Gambit - we're not doing the whole Shenandoah, just 4 days 8-9 miles a day. Thanks for the confirmation RE: Big Meadows. We've made reservations already

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    As noted above, you're talking about 8-9 miles per day on moderate terrain. Start hiking right after breakfast and you have 8 or 9 hours to walk to the next place. With a daypack it should take half that. If you get in trouble for some reason, walk to the next road crossing (which are frequent) or cut over to the parkway, and flag down a motorist for help. (For context, we did the 16 miles from Bearfence Hut to Skyland on our second day in SNP, and we're twenty years older than you and not in any sort of great hiking shape. Not trying to brag -- that's well below a thru-hiker's pace in SNP -- just giving you an idea of what's possible in that terrain.) Staying in the lodges is fun.

    I would carry my daypack with: food and water, water treatment, rain shell and pants, warm layer (fleece), hat and gloves, change of clothes for the evening at the hotel, the usual toiletries for hotel living, and the usual 10-essentials for hiking, like a first aid kit, headlamp, etc. I would not carry a full shelter, though I might add a lightweight tarp and a plastic sheet for a groundcloth for a real emergency, but even then one person can go for help and it's not far away.

    That should be an enjoyable hike. Hope you have fun. Then come back and do it with full packs
    Ken B
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    I've always thought that the central district of SNP would be great for an "inn to inn" type of hike. The itinerary discussed here is very leisurely but that's OK becuase there are tons of side trails to enjoy if time permits! I would argue that the side trails in SNP are often much more scenic than the AT. So it wouldn't be hard to put together a more ambitious itinerary with side trip loops added on to the AT. IMO, the AT is quite easy in this part of SNP. I hiked from Bearfence Hut to Bryds Nest #3 stopping at Big Meadows wayside for a second breakfast and at Skyland for a second lunch and still had plenty of time to spare when I got to Bryd's Nest #3. One thing that's great about SNP is that you can pack light even when backpacking due to the abundance of food along the way.

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    •Completed A.T. Section Hike GA to ME 1996 thru 2003 •Donating Member Skyline's Avatar
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    You can do a four-day hike carrying basically daypacks and cover the entire Central District. For the first day, pack a small iced disposable styrofoam cooler with food to cook that night, and breakfast plus lunch the next day while on the Trail. Food and water for lunch and snacks during today's hike should be included in your daypack.

    Definitely make advance reservations for lodging and a shuttle.

    DAY 1: Park at Thornton Gap in the morning. Meet shuttle of your choice there. Have driver use Skyline Drive to take you South. Stop off at Lewis Mt. cabins to drop off the cooler. Then continue via shuttle to Swift Run Gap (the dividing point between SNP's Central and South Districts). Hike from Swift Run Gap to Lewis Mt., and stay the night in a cabin. You can buy charcoal, drinks, etc. at the Lewis Mt. Campstore, and cook dinner at your cabin's outdoor grill.

    DAY 2: Hike from Lewis Mt. to Big Meadows Lodge. Breakfast from your cooler at the cabin, lunch on the trail, dinner at the dining room at the Lodge. There is also a bar with a less expensive food menu, and entertainment at night.

    DAY 3: Breakfast at Big Meadows. Buy boxed lunches, drinks, snacks for lunch at the Lodge before beginning your hike to Skyland. Repeat the Big Meadows experience at Skyland.

    DAY 4: Breakfast at Skyland, boxed lunches for the trail. Final leg of hike back to Thornton Gap where you've parked.

    If you have two vehicles, you can eliminate the shuttle by parking one at Swift Run Gap before driving the other vehicle to Thornton Gap on Day 1, and then retrieving it after completing the hike on Day 4. Depending upon where you live, it may or may not actually save you money to bring a second vehicle. Last time I looked you should expect to pay $50 to $80 for a shuttle as described, unless you find a trail angel to do it for less.

    In the shoulder seasons, like April and part of May, and after October, you'll need to verify operational dates for Lewis Mt. and Big Meadows Lodge (not to be confused with Big Meadows Wayside--a grill and store about a mile from the Lodge). Skyland traditionally opens late March and closes right after Thanksgiving. Lewis and BML have shorter seasons.
    Last edited by Skyline; 10-25-2015 at 00:44.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skyline View Post
    You can do a four-day hike carrying basically daypacks and cover the entire Central District. For the first day, pack a small iced disposable styrofoam cooler with food to cook that night, and breakfast plus lunch the next day while on the Trail. Food and water for lunch and snacks during today's hike should be included in your daypack.

    Definitely make advance reservations for lodging and a shuttle.

    DAY 1: Park at Thornton Gap in the morning. Meet shuttle of your choice there. Have driver use Skyline Drive to take you South. Stop off at Lewis Mt. cabins to drop off the cooler. Then continue via shuttle to Swift Run Gap (the dividing point between SNP's Central and South Districts). Hike from Swift Run Gap to Lewis Mt., and stay the night in a cabin. You can buy charcoal, drinks, etc. at the Lewis Mt. Campstore, and cook dinner at your cabin's outdoor grill.

    DAY 2: Hike from Lewis Mt. to Big Meadows Lodge. Breakfast from your cooler at the cabin, lunch on the trail, dinner at the dining room at the Lodge. There is also a bar with a less expensive food menu, and entertainment at night.

    DAY 3: Breakfast at Big Meadows. Buy boxed lunches, drinks, snacks for lunch at the Lodge before beginning your hike to Skyland. Repeat the Big Meadows experience at Skyland.

    DAY 4: Breakfast at Skyland, boxed lunches for the trail. Final leg of hike back to Thornton Gap where you've parked.

    If you have two vehicles, you can eliminate the shuttle by parking one at Swift Run Gap before driving the other vehicle to Thornton Gap on Day 1, and then retrieving it after completing the hike on Day 4. Depending upon where you live, it may or may not actually save you money to bring a second vehicle. Last time I looked you should expect to pay $50 to $80 for a shuttle as described, unless you find a trail angel to do it for less.

    In the shoulder seasons, like April and part of May, and after October, you'll need to verify operational dates for Lewis Mt. and Big Meadows Lodge (not to be confused with Big Meadows Wayside--a grill and store about a mile from the Lodge). Skyland traditionally opens late March and closes right after Thanksgiving. Lewis and BML have shorter seasons.
    the only "problem" with this idea is the hike from big meadows to skyland isnt a day's hike. not even close. same is true, to a slightly less extent, of lewis mtn to big meadows. i think for even a person of average hiking capability you can really only do this for two nights- hike to lewis mtn, stay the night, hike to skyland (skipping big meadows) and stay the night. big meadows to skyland is what, 7 miles? and 7 very easy miles at that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdoczi View Post
    the only "problem" with this idea is the hike from big meadows to skyland isnt a day's hike. not even close. same is true, to a slightly less extent, of lewis mtn to big meadows. i think for even a person of average hiking capability you can really only do this for two nights- hike to lewis mtn, stay the night, hike to skyland (skipping big meadows) and stay the night. big meadows to skyland is what, 7 miles? and 7 very easy miles at that.
    For an experienced hiker, you are exactly right (unless you take some side trails to historical sites, rock scrambles, or waterfalls to pad the day).

    But Inn-to-Inn (which we used to call Lodge-to-Lodge when we had a special website just for that, associated with a commercial shuttle service we operated in conjunction with the lodge/restaurant operator at the time) is designed for the novice hiker, or families including younger children, or people with some kind of physical limitation that would preclude big mile days or carrying heavy packs. It was perfect for that audience, and became very popular. I believe the new lodge operator still promotes it somewhat, though I don't think a specific shuttle operator is a designated partner.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdoczi View Post
    the only "problem" with this idea is the hike from big meadows to skyland isnt a day's hike.
    For a lot of people, it is a day's hike. Eight miles can take a long time for an inexperienced hiker. And it's inn-to-inn, so most folks will get a late start after breakfast, and getting to the next place early is not a problem. Check in, get into your room, get a shower, head down to the restaurant.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigcranky View Post
    For a lot of people, it is a day's hike. Eight miles can take a long time for an inexperienced hiker. And it's inn-to-inn, so most folks will get a late start after breakfast, and getting to the next place early is not a problem. Check in, get into your room, get a shower, head down to the restaurant.
    for some people walking to the end of the block is tough they probably arent going hiking at all.

    it isnt just about the distance, that 8 miles in particular is just incredibly easy. have you ever tried to walk a 1 or even 1.25 mph pace consistently over easy terrain? you cant walk that slowly. its literally harder than walking at a normal pace. i suppose you can take a lot of big breaks, but i still wouldnt call it a days hike, id call it a day picnicking or a day sightseeing or a day napping outside with a little bit of hiking thrown in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tdoczi View Post
    for some people walking to the end of the block is tough they probably arent going hiking at all.

    it isnt just about the distance, that 8 miles in particular is just incredibly easy. have you ever tried to walk a 1 or even 1.25 mph pace consistently over easy terrain? you cant walk that slowly. its literally harder than walking at a normal pace. i suppose you can take a lot of big breaks, but i still wouldnt call it a days hike, id call it a day picnicking or a day sightseeing or a day napping outside with a little bit of hiking thrown in.

    Most of the people who have done this hike, when it was co-promoted by the shuttle service with which I was formerly associated, enjoyed the leisurely pace, whether they "needed" to or not. I think it's safe to say most White Blazers are a bit more hardcore, but even they would like this itinerary if they added in the available sidetrips each day. Those were described in detail in the guide we prepared back then for this hike for the benefit of more ambitious hikers.

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    Would be interesting if the OP reads this and posts an update on how the trip went.

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