Hiking the Appalachian Trail: Meet on the ledges

The Appalachian Trail north of Damascus, Virginia, follows a portion of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a popular 35-mile rail trail, before climbing into the high country of grassy bald summits and spruce-fir forests of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which contains 5,000 acres of terrain over 4,000 feet in elevation. At 5,729 feet, heavily forested Mount Rogers is the highest peak in Virginia.

The highlight of this beautiful section of trail, which also includes Grayson Highlands State Park, is the herd of feral ponies, about the size of Shetlands, that roam free amid the amazing mountain scenery. At several points you are able to get close enough to these beautiful animals to get some great photos, and perhaps earn a few thrilling nibbles at your leg.

A short distance behind the Mount Rogers visitor center is one of the most remarkable campsites on the trail, the Partnership Shelter. Attached to the log structure is a shower stall with hot running water. A sink out back, and a clothesline and clean toilet complete this hikers dream. Bonus: Hikers can order pizza for delivery from nearby Marion.

Virginia is home to 550 miles or roughly one-quarter of the entire Appalachian Trail. In the southwest corner of the state the trail winds through Jefferson National Forest, while in central Virginia it passes through George Washington National Forest. Together these federal lands encompass 1.8 million acres, much of it wilderness.

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