A.T. Guide Step-by-Step Part 1: GA-VA

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Note Before Reading

Welcome to our A.T. guide.  This was written to help people cut through the clutter and ambiguous descriptions encountered in the many guides and word-of-mouth experiences on a thru-hike.  Please take this information with a grain of salt.  It is our opinion, which may be different from yours.

We will not be going into depth about the terrain of each state.  There is plenty of that already out there.  Besides terrain does not really matter; you either hike through it or you quit.  This is mainly a description of towns in relation to resupply and lodging/camping.  Only the things we did are included.  We will not cover all the possibilities available in each town visited. We can only describe what we encountered, on whatever day, with whoever happened to be there.  Our intention is not to discredit or discourage you from going somewhere and giving somebody your business.  This guide is our opinion based on our hiking style, standards, and experience.  Keep in mind, we hiked NOBO in 2018.  Things can and do change. We will not be covering specific gear in this guide.  That will be a post on its own.  We will cover things like having the right gear in specific weather conditions but not what specific brand we used.

Trail Preparation

We used many books and guides to choose our resupply points and zeros.  It seems that none of them are complete but combined you can get all the information that you need.

The A.T. Guide “AWOL’s Guide”

This guide is pretty useful.  It is inexpensive and easy to use.  Don’t buy the guide in book form.  You can download the guide in PDF format and save it to your smartphone.  This guide will show you everything that you need to know, but it is a book and does have some outdated information.  The thing we used the most with this guide was honestly the little maps of the towns.  We did not end up using this guide much on the trail. We used it more for preparation to read about the towns, etc.  You can buy the PDF and the paper form from here.

The Appalachian Trail Thru-hikers’ Companion

This is another great resource and almost the exact same thing as AWOL’s.  I think that the elevation charts in this book are more useful than AWOL’s.  The reason is that in this guide the mileage per elevation chart is standardized at 10 miles, making it easy to interpret.  In AWOL’s guide, the number of miles varies per chart.  This can make the elevation profile a bit misleading to the untrained eye.  We used this one as a resource for prep work and did not use it on the trail.  You can also buy it in paper or PDF formats here.  The great part about this one is if you Joint the ALDHA ($10 year) you will get this one for free.  You can join here.

Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Planner

If this is your first thru or you like to be organized, this is the book for you.  This book is full of useful checklists and resupply help.  It is really geared towards a first thru-hike.  It touches on a little bit of everything in the book, such as health and fitness, water, hiking, bear bags, resupply, and food planning.  There is a very good sample resupply itinerary in the back.  Again, we only used this book for prep and did not take it with us.  Anything we needed out of the book was photographed by the phone.

On the Trail

Guthook’s A.T Guide

This is what we used almost exclusively on the trail.  It has up-to-date information.  The information in the App itself can be out-of-date but comments are updated as soon as you get service.  This really makes Guthook’s invaluable.  The comments will tell you if a water source is good or bad, or if a hostel is good or bad, or if hitchhiking is easy at a certain highway, or if food is priced fairly, etc.  This is what stands out about this App that none of the guidebooks can touch.  It is super easy to use and well worth the money.  As an extra benefit, it weighs absolutely nothing if you are already bringing a phone.

HikerBot

This is the secondary App that we used on the trail.  This has better real Topo maps that you can download if you like to have them.  It is only for Android users at this time.  It is also free.  This App works great.  We downloaded this while on the trail and used it sometimes.  The main downfall is that not many people are using it, so there are not as many comments on this App. Hikerbot shines in that it lists many more businesses in towns than Guthook’s does.  I don’t know why, but it seems Guthook’s limits what they show to certain hotels and restaurants.  HikerBot will show everything, and it will show towns that are farther off trail than GutHook’s does. Some people will try to convince you that you need to bring maps with you.  On our hike, we did not take any paper maps.  We used the phone if we needed them.  I did not see one person on the trail using a map to navigate the trail.  It is easy to just follow the blazes at this time of year.

The A.T. Guide “AWOL’s Guide”

We had a PDF version on our phone, and we did use it every once in a while.  Some people used this book exclusively.  I think the other options are better for on trail use.

Atlanta to Springer Mountain

Springer Mountain
We used Survivor Dave to shuttle us to Springer Mountain.  He has thru-hiked the A.T., and so he has some experience.  He is easy going with no bull.  You will need to take the MARTA train from the airport to Roswell, just North of Atlanta if you use Dave.  This is super easy.  The train leaves the airport, you take it to the last stop North in Roswell.  There are usually taxis at the stop, you can Uber, or arrange a pick up with Dave. When you call Dave to arrange your shuttle, have a computer sitting in front of you with his Web page pulled up.  He will want to walk you through some stuff.  You can buy some things that you can not carry with you on the plane from him, including fuel.  We did not do this. We sent our first supply box to the hotel that included our fuel, food, knife, and anything else the airlines would not let us take on board.  This also saved us the headache of checking any bags.  The airlines will let you take your trekking poles on board.  Dave will offer to do a water cache for you.  Check the water before you tell him you agree.  We did it and there was no need, so we had to pack out the empty gallon jugs.

Georgia

Georgia was cold when we started in late March.  You should bring your winter clothes and a sleep system that will keep you warm.  Due to the cold weather, there was no need for bug protection.  We did not have any DEET, and we left the bug net/bathtub of our tent at home. Georgia was not hard hiking unless you are out of shape and/or your pack is way heavier than it should be.  Depending on when you start your thru-hike you may want to buckle up because there can be a ton of hikers on the trail.  We tell you this, so you can be prepared.  Our first day we got to Gooch Gap Shelter, and I would estimate there were 40 people there.  The shelter was full, and there were limited tent sites.  Either plan to be early, or be able to potentially hike farther if need be.  Don’t show up at 8 p.m. completely exhausted. Towards the beginning of your hike, you will still have to feel out the bubble you may or may not be in and adjust accordingly.  We flew through Georgia and did not stop at many places. One reason is that our first resupply was not until Franklin, NC.

Mountain Crossings Outfitter at Neel Gap

This was right at about 30 miles, and the A.T. goes right through the outfitter.  There is no need to really stop here unless you want to spend money.  There are good camping spots up the hill behind the outfitter, if you don’t stay there.  I bought a Snickers bar here, got some water from the free spigot, and left.  If you really need some gear, they will probably have it.

North Carolina/Tennessee

I put both these states together because you will be border jumping between the two so often it makes little sense to divide them. You get welcomed to NC with Bly Gap.  This was the first climb that I thought was really a challenge.  NC and TN are more challenging than GA.  It was still cold at this point so no need to change any equipment.

Franklin, NC

Franklin was our first stop.  You will have to either hitchhike into town or catch a shuttle.  We got a free shuttle that just happened to show up when we were there.  Franklin has everything that you need in a town, full grocery stores, Dollar General, and tons of restaurant options.  Below are the places we visited.  One “scam” we had found out about while in town is that some of the locals will offer you a ride into/out of town, they drive you and then expect to be paid.  If someone offers you a ride, first clarify if the ride is free or for a fee. Gooder Grove Hostel was the first Hostel that we stayed at on the trail.  Zen owns and runs the hostel.  Zen is an interesting character, and he treated us well.  They have bunks and private rooms.  The Hostel was busy and pretty clean for being as busy as it was.  They had everything that a hiker would need, and I would stay here again.  Zen gave us a free shuttle back to the trail and would probably pick you up if you called beforehand. Outdoor 76  is the local outfitter in Franklin.  This place did seem better than most of the outfitters on the trail.  You should be able to get whatever you need here.  They give away free bandanas to customers. Martha’s Kitchen is a local mom-and-pop-style restaurant with an all you can eat buffet.  The food is homestyle cooked comfort food, such as mashed potatoes, meatloaf, green beans, etc.  For the amount of food that you can eat, the price of the buffet is affordable.  The staff was super friendly.  I would eat here again. The Bacon Bus comes from a local church that will prepare complimentary all-you-can-eat pancakes, bacon, and coffee.  It is operated by the First Baptist Church in Franklin.  You don’t need to call them or anything.  They stop at every hostel in town and will shuttle you to and from the church.  These were great, welcoming people, and they are not pushy, religious people.  They are there to help you on your thru-hike.  They will also take a picture of you, make a postcard of it, and send it home to your family.  This place was great.  Don’t miss out on this.  Just a side note, they serve homemade apple butter and jams with the pancakes, and it is amazing.
Motor Co. Grill is a 50’s themed diner.  They offer pretty good burgers, fries, and shakes.  Portions are large, and the price was decent.  I would eat here again.

The N.O.C. (Nantahala Outdoor Center)

The NOC has a restaurant and a gear store.  The restaurant opens really late for breakfast, at 11 a.m. when we were there.  They don’t care if there is a line of thru-hikers waiting outside every morning to eat.  That being said, the food is actually pretty good.  The gear store is laughable.  It is geared towards tourists and day hikers.  We did not stay at the Hostel because they were full.

Fontana Village, NC

This is basically a tourist area.  The prices and quality of the services are reflected this.  None of the food is “great”, and you will pay more for it. Fontana Shuttle is a cheap shuttle that will get you up to any of the services that you need.  You can get the shuttle a couple of different ways.  First, you can call the shuttle at the first parking lot you come to at Fontana road.  There is a restroom and a phone there.  It is not a pay phone you just pick it up, and it will call the lodge, and they will send the shuttle.  Second, you can keep hiking to the Fontana Dam “Hilton” shelter and call from there.  Or walk out into the parking lot near the shelter, and the shuttle will likely stop by soon.  The shuttle will drop you at the general store/laundromat/post office or take you to the lodge. Fontana Lodge.  They do a hiker rate for rooms here.  There is nothing really special about it. It is a hotel.  It is clean and tidy and not a far walk from the general store area.  There are a couple of restaurants connected with the lodge.  They have different names and the same food.  Breakfast was pretty good.  The rest was blah.  It is hotel-priced mediocre food. The post office is located directly next to the general store and laundromat. The general store is located near the laundromat and post office.  The general store actually has a pretty good selection of hiker food, and you could do a resupply out of it.  They have Knorr pasta sides, tuna, dehydrated meals, and plenty of bars to choose from. The Fontana Pit Stop is a gas station.  It has what most gas stations do, and it also has a bar/restaurant in it.  The menu includes hot dogs and pizza.  It is not fresh pizza but just some frozen stuff they cook for you.  You can pull up a stool and loiter for a bit inside the store.

The Great Smoky Mountains

The permits go in a box as you enter the park and you place a tag on your backpack.  You should have already printed your permits before you left on your hike. The shelters in the park work a bit strangely.  You do not have priority in the shelter, only people who have reserved a spot have priority.  When we were in the park, it was really cold, snowing, and wet.  So if you get to a shelter and the other people show up and have a reservation, you may be asked to move outside and set up your tent or hike to the next shelter.  But you can’t set up your tent unless the shelter is full, and you are supposed to set up your tent in a designated spot.  So you can imagine, this is a point of frustration for thru-hikers. My advice is to have all the thru-hikers set up on one level in the shelter.  The lower one is better, it stays more dry and warm.  Smash as many of thru-hikers as you can on the one level and leave the other for the day hikers.  Then if no others come, you can spread out.  Be ready for some day hikers who think that they have reserved the entire shelter, which is not true. Chloe is a ridge runner in the park.  She is pure evil.  Do not be mistaken by her appearance.  She takes LNT to the next level and will initiate a conversation by asking “did you have any trouble getting your permit”?  She is just a ridge runner that thinks she is in charge.  We heard tons of stories from credible sources that she is a bully.  She makes people move their tents, despite being told by a ranger to camp in spot x.  She bullies people into drinking their grey water. Moreover, she put out a campfire in a shelter fireplace on a sub-freezing night with a fire marshal tending it because she thought the stone shelter would burn down.  The truth is that ridge runners do not have any authority.  Don’t take any crap from her.  If she starts talking to you, do as we did, politely ignore her, and go about your hike. This was the only ridge runner we had any issues with the entire trail.  We met a whole bunch of them and hiked with a few.  Generally, they are great people doing a fine job.  I asked every ridge runner I met about Chloe, and they all seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. Gatlinburg, TN, is a tourist hellhole.  We did not plan on going here on our hike.  We froze our water filter in the park and came to town to replace it.  There is a bus run by a local church that will take you down to Gatlinburg from Newfound Gap.  The first bus leaves at 7 a.m.  The bus will take you to the N.O.C. in Gatlinburg.  Again, the N.O.C. here is really expensive, and they are more oriented towards tourists but do carry gear. The shuttle will only give you 45 minutes to do what you need to do before leaving again.  If you need food, you can not get to a real grocery store and back in time.  I recommend going across the street to Old Dad’s General Store.  They have a Deli/grill with good food and have some resupply options.  I would not count on doing a full resupply this way. Everything else in close proximity to you is bad tourist food, bars, and expensive.  There are some hotel options if you wish to stay.  There is a real grocery store, but you will have to walk miles or get a hitch. Crockett’s Breakfast Camp has excellent food.  If you go into Gatlinburg and have to eat breakfast, go here.  This place can be super busy but worth the wait.  They have amazing griddle cakes. Standing Bear Farm is right outside the Northern border of the park.  This is another unplanned stop for us.  It is a full-service hostel.  It is pretty gross.  They do sell food.  I would not stay or buy food here again.  I bought a Slim Jim here.  It was so old; it was like chewing on a #2 pencil.  All the comments in Guthook’s say the food is expired.  Save your money unless you have to stop.  The people that ran it were nice.  You can have a mail drop delivered here.

Hot Springs, NC

The Appalachian Trail runs directly through the middle of this town.  There is a dollar general where you can do a resupply.  The laundromat was closed when we went through.  There are a variety of small hotels and hostels in town and some restaurants to choose from.  If you don’t want to pay for camping, there are decent campsites right outside of town along the river.  I saw plenty of people camping there without an issue, and they were still within a short walking distance of town. The Smoky Mountain Diner is the most hiker-friendly restaurant in town.  If you want the most food for your money, this is the place to stop.  They have very generous portions of tasty food and budget-friendly prices.  We ate here several times while in town and would eat here again.  Plus there is an awesome mural of a guy with a buzz cut using a slingshot.
Bluff Mountain Outfitter is located in downtown Hot Springs right on the trail.  It’s a decent, little outfitter that should have just about everything that you could need.  They have a pretty big variety of hiker foods inside as well.  You could do a full resupply out of this store, but the prices are a bit high for food. The Hot Springs Resort and Campground is located on your way North out of town.  Just an FYI, the town was originally named Warm Springs, and that is a more accurate description of the springs.  The spring soak still feels good, but it is a bit disappointing.  Being that it is not hot but more lukewarm.  They offer cabins across the street with showers, A/C, power, and bunks.  They are pricey for just a person or two,  but if you throw in with a bunch of hikers, it is not so bad. The Spring Creek Tavern is located downtown.  It is a bar with a pretty good menu and nice deck.  The food was mediocre and nothing to write home about.  They are hiker friendly.  I would eat here again. The Hot Springs Library is downtown.  They have free WiFi, and you don’t even have to go inside to get it. The Post office is downtown, and it’s pretty much like any other post office you come across.

Erwin, TN

Erwin is another town that is located just on the trail.  It has the usual stuff that any small town would have, Post Office, etc.  This town is not as compact as smaller towns like Hot Springs, but you can find your way around via shuttles for a small fee. Uncle Johnny’s Hostel is 100 feet from the A.T.  We stopped here, but we did not stay here.  There is a small gear store in the front of the hostel that has a decent amount of gear.  We did not stay here because Stretch checked out the bunkhouse and came back saying it looks like an opium den.  It is really dirty, dark, and it looks like a good place to get Noro Virus. Cantarrosa Farm is a clean and well-run hostel.  The hostel is part of an active farm.  They mainly raise bees and sell honey.  There are chickens on the property.  This place is pretty nice.  They will pick you up from the church parking lot directly over the bridge as you come into town.  They have these little cabins that they rent on the property.  The cabins are really clean, come with private showers, AC, microwave, small fridge, toaster oven, and a small supply of any cooking utensils. They have clean loaner clothes and will do your laundry for you.  This is a good place to relax.  It is located on riverfront property, and there are hammocks and chairs for sitting.  This is not a party place.  The only downside is that you are not close to anything, so you will have to pay extra to get a shuttle to get to a grocery or restaurant.  The owner will shuttle for a fee.  I would stay here again. The Super 8 is out of the way a bit.  It is also hiker-friendly, and moreover, it also puts everything that you need within walking distance.  The owners were nice, and the place was what you would expect from a Super 8.  You can easily walk to the Food Lion, and all the fast food joints are just across the highway.  I would stay here again. Food Lion is a short walk from the Super 8 but is a full grocery store and the best place to resupply in town.  Take your backpack when you go, it lets people know you are a backpacker, and you will be more likely to get offered a ride from the grocery. Hawg-N-Dawg is a BBQ joint downtown.  The owner of Cantarroso Farm took us here to eat.  It was expensive for a hiker meal and portions were too small for the money.  The owner was super friendly.  But at the end of the day, we are from Central Texas, which is home of the best BBQ on the face of the planet.  This place did not even compare.

Roan Mountain, TN

Roan Mountain is not as much of a town but more of an “area”.  The stuff here is pretty sprawled out and not very walkable.   That being said, if you are staying at Doe River Hiker Rest, they will pick you up from the trail and shuttle you all over the area for free. Doe River Hiker Rest is a pretty good little hostel.  There are 2 places that you can stay at this hostel.  The station is located right on the highway, has a bar built into it, and is a bunkhouse.  You can also stay at Doe River, which has private rooms in a farmhouse but is farther off the trail. The farmhouse has a full kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, etc. We stayed here.  The farmhouse came complete with 3 dogs, 2 puppies, goats, and horses.  They had a living room with TV, DVD’s, and Netflix.  I would stay here again.  They will take you from the hostel to where ever you need to go.  Make sure you get someone’s phone number to call for your shuttle in the morning.  They tend to forget about you at the farmhouse, so call them or make arrangements the night before. Smoky Mountain Bakers and Wood-fired Pizza is the best place to eat around here hands down.  It is a real bakery with a wood-fired pizza oven.  The prices and food are good.  The owners are friendly.  I would eat here again. Bob’s Dairyland is like a Dairy Queen but locally owned and operated.  If you want a burger and/or ice cream while you are in town, this is the place to go.  They sell some massive burger of some kind that I could not even finish.  It was an OK but greasy burger.  I would not eat here again unless it was just for ice cream.

Hampton, TN 

There is really not much in Hampton.  The highlights include the Post Office, McDonald’s, Dollar General, and Subway.  Oh, and there is a gun store next to the McDonald’s with a huge gun carved out of wood. Boots off Hostel is a well-run fairly new hostel.  They will shuttle into town for errands.  They have a bunk room, small private cabins, laundry, showers, and a small snack store.  It includes a common area with a stove and utensils for cooking, free coffee, and cereal in the morning.  We stayed in one of the private cabins.  It was clean, comfortable, and affordable.  I would stay here again.

Virginia

Virginia is one of my top three favorite states on the Appalachian Trail.  You will be blessed with some favorable terrain, some really great views, good camping, and some great trail towns.  At this point on our hike, we had kept all the same gear save for our bug net and bathtub, which we acquired in Damascus.  It was still pretty cold on some of the mornings, and we were getting lots of rain as we entered the state. Don’t be fooled when some people say that Virginia is flat; that is a lie.  It is good hiking through this state.  Enjoy it!  At the very end of the state, you have the “Roller Coaster”.  Don’t be fooled; it was not bad at all.

Damascus, VA

I think Damascus was kind of a let down for us.  This is the iconic town everyone talks about where Trail Days are celebrated.  Blah blah blah.  If you get to this town a little in front of the herd, don’t be surprised that just about everything is closed.  We got in just as the town was beginning to open up again. The town is not bad by any measure, but just don’t get your expectations up any higher than any other town.  It fills all the basic needs of hikers, Post Office, grocery stores, gear stores, and lodging.  This town is very walkable.  The longest you will have to walk is to the Food City, or you can go to the closer Dollar General. Woodchuck Hostel is a great little hostel in town.  It includes a breakfast that Woodchuck cooks for you.  Woodchuck is the only one who does coffee right on the A.T.  He has about 5 pots going at the same time, so you don’t run out, and you don’t wait for coffee.  There is laundry on site and a couple of showers.  There are 3-4 small beds per room in the house, so you will have roommates.  It is somewhat clean and has a full kitchen for use. Woodchuck is very kind and helpful.  There is a private room available.  It is basically a tool shed with a bed in it and is the only room with a TV.  It is not horrible, but I don’t think that it is worth the money.  Woodchuck also has tenting and a giant Tee Pee you can stay in, but watch out it leaks.  I would stay here again. The Broken Fiddle Hostel is another opium den-ish hostel.  I did not stay here, so this is second hand.  I have heard from good sources, there is a lot of drugs and alcohol at this hostel.  They have a pretty regular crowd of non-hiker vagrant/homeless people.  This is not the type of place I would stay unless you want to get your pack stolen and get Noro Virus. Appalachian Trail Town Inn is a really clean and quiet place to stay while in Damascus.  This place is more like a hotel.  Prices are higher here.  It has a full kitchen and TV with cable.  There is no laundry and breakfast is on you.  The check-in process is lengthy.  I would stay here again. Damascus Diner has tasty fare and fast service.  It had just opened up for business the day we arrived.  Featuring home-cooked foods, like mashed potatoes and meatloaf, the portions are sized correctly and the prices are frugal.  This is a hiker-friendly place.  I would eat here again. Mojo’s Trailside Cafe and Coffee is a coffee house that comes with all the regular coffee- house stuff.  It was clean, and the food was decent but pricey (I would not call it “gourmet”).  I think I saw a bunch of hipsters here.  I am not a good judge of coffee, as I like coffee with my cream and sugar.  The caffeine seemed adequate. Mt. Rogers Outfitters is a pretty decent outfitter.  The staff seems pretty knowledgeable and kind.  They have a hostel, too, but I don’t know anything about it other than it is across the street.  There are some cool hiking memorabilia inside this store, like a pair of Grandma Gatewood’s shoes.

Grayson Highlands

The Highlands is where you will meet the “wild” ponies.  This is a really cool section of the trail.  You will have some nice views of the rolling hills in this part of the country.  There are wild ponies everywhere.  You do not need to feed the ponies to pet them.  Plenty of people before you have fed them, and they will come right up to you and let you pet them. Be careful.  They are not domesticated; they will bite and kick you.  Follow the park rules when in doubt.  Take your time through here to enjoy the hike.  You have fat man squeeze, and you will hit the northbound 500-mile marker.  Mt. Rogers is Virginia’s highest peak.  There is no view from the top of it.  I would bypass blue blaze to the top. Grayson Highlands General Store and Inn has a full restaurant inside the store.  You have to take a blue blaze to the parking lot within the highlands, then the general store will pick you up and drop you off.  This store was a pleasant surprise.  The burgers and fries were great and totally worth the side trip.  They have enough hiker-friendly foods on the inside that you could do a small resupply.  There is a full deli, too, so you can get a sandwich to go.  They do offer rooms.  We did not use them.  This is a good place to loiter/loaf for a bit. Partnership Shelter is a grade-A shelter.  I don’t mention too many shelters, but this is one stands out.  They have showers here and 2 levels.  It is really close to the visitor center, where you can get a shuttle into Marion.  You should camp here if you don’t want to spend any money on a hotel in Marion.  You can also get a pizza delivered to this shelter.  I think they only do one delivery, so don’t plan on rolling up at 9 p.m. and ordering a pizza.

Marion, VA

Marion is a small strip-like town.  To get there from the A.T., go to the Mt. Rogers visitors center in the morning.  The shuttle will come at 9, 11, and 2:30.  It accepts exact change only and is a whopping 50 cents each way.  One of the bus drivers is pretty grumpy, and he doesn’t allow singing on the bus.  The bus will drop you in front of Wal-mart.  There is also an Ingles grocery store within walking distance. The Chinese Buffet is in the shopping center with Wal-mart.  Even for Chinese-buffet standards, it is pretty horrible.  Avoid it. My Puerto is a Mexican food place.  They should change the name to My God I need to Learn How to Cook Mexican Food.  This is the only place on the A.T. where I sent my food back to the kitchen.  As a Texan, I should have known better than to go to a Mexican restaurant in Virginia.  I really hate to say it, but I would have rather gone to Taco Bell down the street. Travel Inn is a chain motel in Marion.  It was priced at hiker friendly, meaning they were not the cleanest or fanciest hotel in the world, but it was not bad at all.  They have coin laundry but were out of detergent.  If they are out, check the hiker box before you go to the store.  It is within walking distance to everything you need in town.  I would stay here again.

Woods Hole Hostel

This hostel is located 10 miles South of Pearisburg on Sugar Run Gap Road.  I have mixed feelings about this Hostel, and I will attempt to explain.  It is a really cool property with an old log cabin, fresh gardens, freshly baked bread, home-cooked meals, and freshly-roasted coffee.  There is free yoga and paid massage, and there is no internet or TV.  Private rooms are available in the main house, or there are bunks in the hiker hut.  Both of them are comfortable and pretty clean.  Seems cool, right?  It is also expensive and bit too hippy-dippy for me.

Cons

Neville and Michael, the owners, had a fight, and there was a lot of tension while we were there.  Michael was stomping around the property all day, making everyone else uncomfortable. So before you get to eat a meal, which costs extra and is one of the reasons it is so expensive to stay here, you have to stand in a circle with everyone else holding hands.  Then, you have to share something you are thankful for.  It is awkward and uncomfortable.  I’m thankful I don’t have to do that anymore. So the home-cooked food fresh from the garden is OK.  When I was there, it was being cooked by a bunch of work-for-stay hikers who are not professional cooks.  There was freshly baked bread, too.  If we weren’t so hungry, it would not have been that good. What really threw me for a loop was the clean -up.  I watched them hand every plate to one of the dogs.  The dogs licked it clean, and then it went into the non-commercial grade I’m-not-sure-how-clean-it’s-going-to-get dishwasher.  It was very professional.  If you choose not to eat, then your closest food is either your food bag or a paid shuttle to town. Another issue is free labor.  The owners always ask people to do clean-up duty at the end of the meal.  OK, why am I paying for this again?  They say “it’s a way for you to take ownership”. What a crock.  I would not try doing work for stay.   It seems like they really put you to work, as in all day 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The math doesn’t add up for me.

Pros

All that said, the property is really nice and relaxing.  Neville is friendly.  It was good to have a fresh-made, healthy meal on the trail.  The community dinner with all the other guests is really cool, absent the hand-holding bullshit.  Private rooms and the bunks are comfortable. I apologize for the long rant.  I guess I was just really disappointed in this one.  It was talked up a lot and has the potential to be one of the best hostels, but it turns out it is one of my least favorite.  It is just not for me.  I want to relax and not be bothered with all the extra nonsense going on.  If you are into that stuff, go for it.  You won’t find me there again.

Pearisburg, VA

It is a compact stop on the A.T., having a full-size grocery, Post office, and lodging.  The locals at the Dairy Queen and the Food Lion seemed exceptionally nice towards hikers. Angel’s Rest Hiker Haven is a short distance from the grocery in Pearisburg.  They do run a shuttle in the morning to and from the trailheads.  To get to Angel’s Rest, you can go behind the Food Lion and follow the road/parking lot to a shortcut in the woods.  Angel’s Rest has everything you need, including laundry, showers, tenting, private rooms, and bunks.  There are two community kitchens and a common area with a TV, Netflix, and DVD collection.  I was pleased with how clean the place was for being as busy as it was.  The Food Lion, Post Office, and DQ are within walking distance.  The staff is super friendly.  I would stay here again.

Catawba, VA

This is a very small area.  I actually did not go into the town proper, but one of our tramily members did go to the Post Office.  Going Northbound on the A.T., you can turn left at the road and walk a half-mile or so to a highway intersection.  Take another left, and it is a short walk to a gas station.  This gas station is pretty good.  You could supplement your resupply and get ice cream, burgers, and sandwiches. Four Pines Hostel is not a place I recommend.  I am not putting in a link.  I had the misfortune of meeting Joe, the owner of the hostel, at the gas station.  He is a complete asshat.  I would not give this man any “donations”.  I witnessed him yelling at some other hikers.  When I asked the woman at the register if he acted like that all the time, she simply said: “he is a hateful person”.  Enough said I am moving on.

McAfee Knob

You will want to stop here and get your picture for sure.  The views are pretty cool.  Don’t be deceived by all the pictures showing a peaceful spot to view nature.  This place is a zoo.  Your best plan is to get there really early or late.  We got up there for the sunrise, by the time the sun was up, there were easily another 30 people there.  I would try to be there late next time. There is camping just past the knob, and you could come back in the morning for a second look.

Daleville, VA

This is another town that is more like an area than a town.  There is a very busy Interstate that you have to cross, so be careful.  The intersection at Interstate 81 and Highway 220 is no fun to go through either.  It was under construction and had no sidewalks or crosswalks.  Everything you need is pretty compact though in the shopping center near Kroger’s.  There is a Goodwill, UPS, gear store, barber, and fast-food restaurants all in this shopping center. Super 8 was nice.  They gave us a hiker rate for a room and late check-out.  They have laundry and sell detergent at the front desk.  Pizza Hut is about 100 yards out the front door.  The shopping center is a short walk.  I would stay here again. Outdoor Trails is an outfitter in the same shopping center as Kroger’s.  It is a pretty well-stocked store.

Glasgow, VA

This was a hard place to get a hitch into town.  This is not a road I would want to walk on either.  It has no shoulder and lots of curves.  I think there are lots of people driving between places here, but they are not from there and don’t know about thru-hikers, so they don’t stop.  If you luck out, there will be some day hikers at the parking lot. Once in town, it is very walkable.  There is a Grocery Express there.  It is not a real grocery, but it has enough for a resupply.  There is a Dollar General.  There are a giant fiberglass dinosaur and a fairly clean laundromat. The town “maintains” a hiker shelter.  The description in most of the guidebooks oversells this place a bit.  It is basically an A.T. shelter with bunks, electricity, a shower, and tons of trash.  It was very dirty, and there were no towels there.  The shower was ok.  The water was hot, but the stall was filthy.  We were grateful for the hot shower. Scotto’s Pizza and Subs is the only place in town to eat.  Bosses is closed.  They had pretty good pizza, and the prices were ok.  I would eat here again because I have no other options.

Devil’s Backbone Brewery

This was one of the places we got epic trail magic.  You can read about it here.  To get to the brewery, go to the parking area at mile 842 on VA 664.  From here either hitch in or call the brewery, and they will pick you up.  On the way, you will pass a gas station.  They will stop there, if you ask them to, on the way back to the trail.  You can do a small gas-station resupply. The base camp has a restaurant.  It is a brewery and, of course, they have a bar.  They have a complimentary camping area with port-a-potties for thru-hikers.  Currently, the bathhouse is under construction. The people here were some of the best people we met on the trail.  The owner is a thru-hiker and takes very good care of fellow trash.  We don’t drink, and this place was still awesome.

Waynesboro, VA

This is a friendly, affordable, walkable, and varied town.  It is a perfect place to zero.  Hitching from Rockfish Gap was a breeze.  Everything is nearby if you are downtown near Broadway St. Quality Inn was a super hiker-friendly hotel.  They gave a hiker rate.  The rooms were clean.  Mr. Ducky will let you borrow his car to go resupply, go to the movies, etc.  This hotel is also within close proximity to everything that you would want, so you don’t have to drive.  The hotel doesn’t have laundry.  I would stay here again. Grace Hiker Hostel is run by the Grace Lutheran Church.  We did not stay here, but we went there for the free hiker feed.  If they have the feed going on, you should go.  It was a bunch of home-cooked food for free.  The people there were generous and helpful.  Our friends did stay here and said the cots were uncomfortable. They would end up just sleeping on the floor on their mats instead.  Also, they lock you in when they leave for the night. Kline’s Dairy Bar was delicious ice cream.  I would eat here again.  As a matter of fact, I think I ate ice cream here three times. Weasie’s Kitchen was a fantastic place to eat breakfast.  It’s not fancy but just a local greasy-spoon type.  The prices were good, and the food was good.  I would eat here again.  I did not get to eat there, but the local that dropped us off told us that behind Weasie’s there is a taco truck that is pretty legit.  We saw it, but it was not open when we were there. G2K games is next to the Little Ceasar’s and the laundromat.  If you feel like dork-ing it up a bit, go inside.  The employees are awesome and will let you bring food and drinks.  They have a bunch of free board games to play while you do laundry. Rockfish Gap Outfitters is a sufficient gear store.  They have a wide-ish selection of items.  It is a bit far away from everything, so you may want to call before you go to see if they have what you need.  The staff is helpful, and they do take mail drops. The Second-hand stores are across the street from Weasie’s if you need to change your hiker-trash outfit.

Shenandoah National Park

It was raining or very cloudy the entire time we were in Shenandoah, so I can not speak to the views.  This park has a ton of bears.  If you did not see any in the Smoky Mountains, you will see them here. The trail basically follows the skyline drive, so you will be crossing the road often.  Be careful.  The cars seem to follow the speed limit just fine.  Cyclists we encountered seemed to be unaware that they are silent and go way above the speed limit.  Shelters in the park do get full, so you may want to adjust your hiking routine. Waysides are really just convenience stores with fast-food restaurants inside them.  They serve small-portioned, bad-tasting, and expensive food.  But it is better than eating Ramen again.  They also have sodas and your typical gas- station type stuff. There is only one wayside that is memorable and that is the Big Meadows Wayside.  This place had a full restaurant with a dining room.  Eating here was ok, but they have this massive ice-cream-blackberry-pie thing that is 900 calories a slice and is great.  This store also has the most selection for resupply, such as trail mix, bars, Ramen, and other backpacker-friendly foods. Lewis Campground is a cool little campground right off the trail.  They have a small bunkhouse with 4 beds, which is great for splitting with your buds. There is a camp store here that has a decent amount of backpacker foods.  You could do a small resupply here.  The camp store has coin showers and laundry. Big Meadows Lodge was an unplanned stop for us because it decided to rain ten inches in one day.  They did not really work with us on the price of any rooms and was really expensive.  The rooms were complete garbage for the money with no TV, internet, or A/C.  You basically got a stinky, old room with a bed and cramped bathroom.  I would not stay here again.

Luray, VA

We did not spend much time in Luray proper.  It seems like a clean, quaint place.  We spent all of our time at the hostel and only ventured out to the Wal-mart for a resupply. Open Arms at the Edge of Town Hostel was a pretty well-run hostel.  The owner, Alison, came to pick us up from the road.  The Hostel was pretty clean and had everything you need in a hostel like food, laundry, TV room, loaner clothes, and shuttle to Wal-mart for resupply.  She actually cooked us all dinner for a minimal fee.  The prices were budget-friendly.  I would stay here again.

Front Royal, VA

We did not spend much time in the city proper but just went into town to eat. Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast was great.  They have a historic home that is the bed and breakfast and the carriage house that has been turned into a hiker hostel.  Scot and Lisa were some of the most considerate hosts we had on the trail.  They drove us down a forest service road, while it was basically flooding, to get us back to the trail.  The hiker hostel is very clean.  They cook you breakfast in the morning and will do laundry.  Great place to stay and would stay here again.

Bears Den Hostel

Bears Den
The Bears Den Hostel is basically on the trail as you leave the state of VA.  This was a really well run and outstanding hostel.  It is operated by the ATC.  This is one of the best deals on the entire trail for a hostel. You will get a bunk, soda, showers, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, Pizza, and laundry all included in the price at $30 per person.  We did not stay in the bunkhouse, but because there were five of us we got a private room and bath.  It also has AYCE make-your-own pancakes and coffee.  The hostel is in a cool, historic stone building.  It is clean and efficient.  This is one of the best hostels we visited on the entire trail.  I would for sure stay here again. In the Spring of 2018, we set out to thru-hike the A.T.  To hear our full story, click here.

2 Responses

  1. suzanne tattan
    | Reply

    Troutdale Virginia! Come back, you missed a great stop between the Highlands and Marion. There is a donation only shelter called the Baptist Hostel that provides a bunk (no mattress) shower, toilets and I think laundry (better check). There is also Sufi Lodge http://www.SufiLodge.org that does mail drops, shuttle service (free from Dickey Gap and Fox Creek if staying with them), Massage and Cupping Therapy services, foot care and free Epson Salt Foot Baths, Natural remedies, natural perfume and body care products, small restock, private hiker rooms that include a mostly organic hot breakfast, three B&B style rooms.

    • RamboJuice
      | Reply

      Sounds like a great place, maybe on our next thru we will stop and check it out.

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