Hiking the Appalachian Trail: Landmarks are reminders of the Civil War

Shenandoah National Park protects 79,600 acres along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains between the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the foothills of the Virginia Piedmont to the east. The Appalachian Trail follows in close proximity to Skyline Drive, the park’s popular tourist road.

Most weary thru-hikers, on the trail since Georgia, find the week-long, 105-mile traverse of the park to be rather luxurious, with mild terrain and easy access to hiker amenities like snack bars and restaurants, grocery stores, campgrounds with hot showers and laundry, and even a pub.

Grand views from Blackrock, Hightop, Stony Man Mountain, the Little Stony Man Cliffs and Mary’s Rock are scenic highlights, while occasional encounters with bears provide an uncommon measure of excitement.

The trail follows the Virginia-West Virginia state line before descending to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers at Harpers Ferry, the psychological midpoint for thru-hikers. Out of Harpers Ferry and into Maryland, you follow the towpath of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal before climbing to the heights of Weverton Cliffs for a last look over the Potomac.

History abounds on South Mountain. Many clashes between Union and Confederate armies occurred on its flanks, at Crampton Gap, Fox Gap, Turners Gap and others. The first monument to George Washington, a milk bottle-shaped stone tower, was erected by Boonsboro citizens in 1827.

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