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  1. #1
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    Default Planning section from Fox Creek to Damascus

    Did our first ever section of the AT last year going from Iron Mountain Gap to Clyde Smith(day 1) to Roan High Knob(day 2) to Overmountain(day 3) to US 19E(day 4). Extremely challenging for us but we loved it. Not many places to prepare for it in the suburbs of Chicago!

    This year we are looking at doing a 5 day hike SOBO from Fox Creek to Damascus. Just started planning so if anyone has any input I would love to hear from you. A little worried about that first day up Pine Mountain but it seems less than what we had last year. Have heard going SOBO in this area is a bit easier.

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    I did this exact same hike in mid November. I did it in three days. I would have felt more comfortable doing it in 3.5 days. There are definitely some challenging climbs. Five days should give you plenty of time.


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  3. #3
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    This is our favorite section; been hiking that area repeatedly for 20+ years. You chose well It's ~42 trail miles to Damascus from Fox Creek, IIRC, making it a comfortable 3 or 4 night hike. There are some good climbs, but they are very well graded -- the climb up Pine Mountain will take a couple of hours, but it's never too steep. When are you planning to go?

    There's no easy resupply on this stretch, so you'll need to carry all your food. Ending in Damascus is great -- several good restaurants, and you can get a shower at one of the hostels for a few bucks. A few B&Bs and hostels in town, but regular hotels are all out by the interstate about 15 minutes away.

    You'll get to the open area of the "high country" when you get to the top of Pine Mountain, then be in and out of it until you start the steep descent from Buzzard Rocks. It's maybe 20 miles total, and it's the best stretch of trail in this section, so don't rush through it In fact you might plan to camp for two nights somewhere near Rhododendron Gap and explore the area. Lots of campsites in this very heavily used area, so probably best if you did this during the week rather than a weekend for somewhat less crowding.

    Have a great hike.
    Ken B
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    Our Long Trail journal

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    Thanks for the info. We definitely planned to carry what we need. Except hoping for enough water. Our plan is to arrive 04/26 and spend the night. Catch a shuttle up to Fox Creek and hike back. Spend the night 05/01 and head back to Chicago. Other than that...nothing else set et. Been looking at the map and trying to figure where to stop each day. Any recommendations would be appreciated! Have read there is no tent camping at Wise or Thomas Knob. We figure on averaging around 8 miles per day. We will have 5ish hiking days so we should be ok. Our hike last year we did not take much time to “smell the roses”. We found ourselves with quite of downtime in camp. Not a bad thing especially for our first hike.

  5. #5
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    Plenty of water along that section. The Companion or the AT Guide will tell you exactly where. Technically there is no camping at Wise and Thomas Knob shelters, but there are many legal campsites close by both of them. Early May can be crowded in this section, just FYI.

    I'm not sure I can tell you exactly how to break up the hike into days. We've done it as a 4-day hike and also as a really long overnight. But I can tell you where I have found nice campsites along the way. You can match these up to mileage in the guidebook.

    Old Orchard Shelter: some nice campsites, good spring.
    Top of Pine Mountain, near intersection of Pine Mountain Trail: a couple of good obvious sites out in the open in front of you, also to the right on the PMT in the woods.
    Scales: a large open meadow with a fence. Lots of people and groups camp here. Road access from a steep FS 4WD road.
    Stone Mountain ridge line, a long open ridge, several obvious campsites with good views.
    Near Wise Shelter: before you cross the creek and fence into the state park, look off to the right of the trail for many good sites. Working your way upstream of the creek is worthwhile in this search. Good water. (No camping between here and the other side of Massey Gap, inside the state park.)
    Crossing out of state park into USFS land at other end of park, there is a large, popular site right on the trail.
    Rhododendron Gap: tons of sites along the AT between here and Thomas Knob. Spring at the shelter.
    Elk Garden, a couple of sites in the woods as you leave the parking lot southbound.
    Top of Whitetop, after the long climb from Elk Garden, some obvious sites in the woods, and a couple of really nice sites in the open to the right of the trail, before you cross the road. There is an *amazing* spring on the AT 200 yards south of this, after you cross the gravel road. Worth the trip all by itself
    Lost Mountain Shelter, good tent sites near shelter, can be crowded, also good sites on the other side of the trail from the shelter. Decent spring.
    Along the Creeper Trail there are dozens of excellent camp sites. Especially look around the bridge abutments.
    Saunders Shelter has space for a tent, and a spring. Haven't been up there in a while to see it, though.

    Have fun!
    Ken B
    'Big Cranky'
    Our Long Trail journal

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    Thank You for such a detailed reply! I will look at the book with this in mind! Hope you don’t mind questions!

  7. #7

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    If you are comfortable taking your time for as long as you can on the first half of the hike, and doing a little more rushing thru the second, I would definitely spend as much of this hike in the Pine Mountain - White Top Mountain. It is definitely the crown jewel of the southern AT IMO and during a pretty weekend will definitely give you thoughts of expanding your hiking past the green tunnel of the Appalachian Trail, on to more open alpine country.

    -IF your logistics allow for a short first day, there is a campsite on top of pine mountain that is one of my favorites
    -Just past the wise Shelter along a barb wire fence, but prior to the mount rogers spur trail there are some campsites which seem to be designated
    -Coming down Mount Rogers you come to my favorite camping spot period, Brier Ridge. A slumped saddle open on both ends, and mount rogers in the background.

    -Saunders shelter just north of Damascus was a nice stay, lots of tenting areas around the shelter.

    -Now when you get to the Virginia Creeper Trail, unless you are dead set on the AT all the way into town, I would suggest walking the Creeper Trail. It will eliminate some pointless up and down right at the end of the trip, save some time if you need that, and offers some great mountain stream vistas along the way.
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  8. #8
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    Thanks Gambit! And trust me we definitely have plans outside the AT. Being from the Chicago area we are looking at the UP and possibly Isle Royale.

    With having 5 days to hike we have a lot of flexibility. Last year we were all scared we might need to be rescued so we really hiked head down. This time we know we can do it. Although trying to talk my 30 yo son into enjoying it more leisurely will probably go on deaf ears. He beat us(my neighbor is my age and out of shapeness as I) by at least 2 hours. So this year he gets the tent so he can set it up before I get to camp!

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    Finalizing this hike and we have had to cut it to 4 days - coming down and spending the night at Hikers Inn Thursday April 26th. Hiking Friday 27th thru Monday 30th. Spending the night again at Hikers Inn and heading back to Chicago on the 1st.

    This is what I was thinking. We are looking to keep it right around 8ish miles/day. ANY/ALL input is welcome. I have been using the 2017 Northbound AT Guide to figure distances/places to camp. We are not necessarily driven to stay at shelter areas as we will be bringing our tents and plan on tenting even at shelters.
    Day 1 - Massie Gap to ???? - 8 miles would put us somewhere near Elk Garden. Not sure of the camping in/around that area.
    Day 2 - ???? to Lost Mountain Shelter. Of course depending on where we start that day.
    Day 3 - Lost Mountain Shelter to Saunders Shelter
    Day 4 - Saunders Shelter into Damascus - been reading about using the Creeper Trail versus the AT. But I am not a fan of hiking on the limestone.

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    Grayson is very popular.
    If you have to hike on the weekend well you have to do it.
    But you'll encounter far fewer people during the week.

    There are literally busloads of student groups that will hike and camp near Thomas knob some weekends. Think 50-100 people in the quarter mile stretch around the shelter.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rmeugene View Post
    Thanks for the info. We definitely planned to carry what we need. Except hoping for enough water. Our plan is to arrive 04/26 and spend the night. Catch a shuttle up to Fox Creek and hike back. Spend the night 05/01 and head back to Chicago. Other than that...nothing else set et. Been looking at the map and trying to figure where to stop each day. Any recommendations would be appreciated! Have read there is no tent camping at Wise or Thomas Knob. We figure on averaging around 8 miles per day. We will have 5ish hiking days so we should be ok. Our hike last year we did not take much time to “smell the roses”. We found ourselves with quite of downtime in camp. Not a bad thing especially for our first hike.
    There's tons of camping between rhododendron gap and Thomas knob, though no tenting at Thomas knob itself as I recall. I highly recommend the Creeper Trail to finish your hike.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rmeugene View Post
    Finalizing this hike and we have had to cut it to 4 days - coming down and spending the night at Hikers Inn Thursday April 26th. Hiking Friday 27th thru Monday 30th. Spending the night again at Hikers Inn and heading back to Chicago on the 1st.

    This is what I was thinking. We are looking to keep it right around 8ish miles/day. ANY/ALL input is welcome. I have been using the 2017 Northbound AT Guide to figure distances/places to camp. We are not necessarily driven to stay at shelter areas as we will be bringing our tents and plan on tenting even at shelters.
    Day 1 - Massie Gap to ???? - 8 miles would put us somewhere near Elk Garden. Not sure of the camping in/around that area.
    Day 2 - ???? to Lost Mountain Shelter. Of course depending on where we start that day.
    Day 3 - Lost Mountain Shelter to Saunders Shelter
    Day 4 - Saunders Shelter into Damascus - been reading about using the Creeper Trail versus the AT. But I am not a fan of hiking on the limestone.
    If you are worried about mileage, you can jump on the crest trail or pine mountain trail at the top of pine mountain. This will cut out the scales a day wise shelter. The crest trail is a lot of fun and you might have a better chance to see ponies.

    Also, staying on the creeper into Damascus will save a lot of time.

  13. #13

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    IMG_20170926_192038944_HDR.jpgIMG_20170926_192038944_HDR.jpgIMG_20170926_192038944_HDR.jpg
    Here is our campsite last fall, about a quarter mile North of Thomas knob shelter.

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    Any camping closer to the Elk Garden area? I see something at White Mountain Rd but that would be closer to a 10 mile day.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rmeugene View Post
    Any camping closer to the Elk Garden area? I see something at White Mountain Rd but that would be closer to a 10 mile day.
    The open grassy area on hillside above elk garden trailhead north side, is popular spot to camp, from what I recall. At least several tents were there.

    Screenshot_20180413-222109.jpg
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 04-13-2018 at 23:22.

  16. #16
    Registered User Siestita's Avatar
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    From post #7: "-Just past the wise Shelter along a barb wire fence, but prior to the mount rogers spur trail there are some campsites which seem to be designated."


    Perhaps Gambit M. actually meant to say, "Just past the Thomas Knob Shelter...". The Wise Shelter is no where near the side trail/spur trail that goes up to Mt. Rogers' forest covered summit.

    I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned the possibility of legally camping very close to Deep Gap. The AT and Virginia Highlands Horse Trail come together at Deep Gap's clearing, from which a marked side trail goes downhill to a good spring. There was overuse of Deep Gap as a camping area. So the shelter was removed from Deep Gap and a no camping zone has been established in that clearing, a "recovering" area thatis becoming filled with tall weeds. But excellent camping is available nearby. Going southbound on the AT, pass through the Deep Gap clearing and then, within perhaps 50 to 100 yards, look on your left for an unmarked side trail . That short side trail that goes up through the trees to large flat open area where camping is permitted.

    If you want to maximize how much of your four days of hiking is spent in the most scenic areas, consider not walking all the way to Damascus this time. Instead do a loop+ hike that starts and ends at Massie Gap in the State Park. One potential route would be to start northbound from Massie Gap and take the AT to the Wise Shelter and then Scales. Subsequently go up to Rhododendron Gap via either the Crest Trail (an old road used by horses and hikers, very open with great views) OR paralleling the Crest Trail, but in the trees, take 'foot traffic only' Pine Mountain Trail. From Rhododendron Gap proceed southbound on the AT to Thomas Knob, Deep Gap, Elk Garden, and Whitetop Mountain. Return to Massie Gap from Whitetop by taking the AT northbound.

    Last edited by Siestita; 04-14-2018 at 01:11.

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    My sincere apologies for obviously not reading the responses in detail as there were/are quite a few suggestions for areas near Elk Garden!

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    It REALLY seems like the suggestion is to take the Creeper Trail into Damascus. We definitely are not AT purest so it is an option. If we choose to do that where would we start on the Creeper Trail? From looking at the AT Guide it would appear it we would start on it heading SOBO just south of leaving Lost Mountain Shelter. That being the case since we will not be on the AT we would not be camping at Saunders Shelter. Will there be any issues setting up somewhere on the Creeper 6-8 miles south of Lost Mountain? I am assuming there wouldn't be any issues with water sources on the Creeper.

    Thanks again for all the help that everyone has so kindly provided. Just now hoping for decent weather in a couple of weeks!

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    As far as the hike up Pine mountain; the first "half" up to Orchard shelter is pretty easy hiking, good treadway; from there on it is a little rougher with rocky footing as you climb, but it is not steep.
    The trail from the south entrance or exit of the Park(Grayson Highlands) is somewhat rocky for the most part until you pass Rhododendron Gap. Plan on taking your time while you enjoy the incredible views. Good campsites on top of Whitetop Mtn close to the spring but not if the weather is bad.
    If you decide to take the Creeper trail back instead of the AT, you aren't really missing much (I have hiked it both ways). You will first cross it about a mile and a half past Lost Mtn shelter.
    Enjoy! It is a great hike!

  20. #20
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    Re: Creeper Trail. The AT joins the Creeper Trail for half a mile or so as it crosses a long wooden railroad bridge, just south of Lost Mountain Shelter. Then the AT breaks off to go to the top of Straight Mountain where the Saunders Shelter is located. The two trails come very close together after the AT comes back down -- close enough that you can see the Creeper and walk over to it. So you could spend the night at Saunders, then get on the Creeper and walk into Damascus.

    There are some good campsites along the Creeper Trail near the creek. Look especially near the bridge abutments for side trails down to the water. I don't know whether the Whitetop Laurel Creek water is considered drinkable or if there is agricultural runoff or old mine tailings or whatever (anyone else know?)
    Ken B
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