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Overnight Loops on the Appalachian Trail (A Cincinnati Guide)

Overnight on the AT

Top 3 Hikes Less Than 8 hours from Cincinnati

By: Craig “Goatman” Buckley

 Interested in getting a taste of the iconic Appalachian Trail without the time commitment required for a long section hike? Behold! Three hikes that will get you out on the AT for an overnight backpacking trip that you can do on a long weekend. All three trails are less than an 8 hour drive from Cincinnati, are loop hikes that require only one car and no shuttles, and aim to highlight a beautiful portion of the AT. No excuses: Get out there and hike!


South and North Marshall Loopshenandoah


Where:                                 Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

From Cincy:        424 miles (about 7 hours driving)

Trail Mileage:     13.1 mile loop

Trailhead:            Jenkins Gap Parking Lot (mile marker 12.3 on Skyline Dr.)

Fee/Permit:       $15 (7 day) $30 (Annual) Permit required for overnight camping

Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia is a beautiful introduction to the Appalachian Trail. This 13.1 hike is easy when broken up over two days, gaining only 2100 feet of elevation throughout. You will follow the Mount Marshall Trail across three streams abundant with wildlife, from white-tail deer to black bear and up to the Bluff Trail which, as its name portends, leads along the bluffs below the summits of South and North Marshall. Along the way, take a side trail to Big Devil Stairs for an amazing vista of the rolling hills of Virginia. Camping is available around this junction (ask a ranger for details!) and, in the morning, climb up to the AT itself. Stop by Gravel Springs Hut on your way to chat with any thru-hikers taking a break and fill up your water at the spring. From there, climb up to the summits of both South (3,212 ft.) and North Marshall (3,368 ft.). Rock outcroppings and distinct cliffs afford a view of the vast Shenandoah Valley below. Continue on the AT as it weaves up and down the ridge until it pops you right back out at Jenkins Gap and your waiting car.



Mt. Cammerer Loopcammerer loop


Where:                 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC

From Cincy:        315 miles (about 5 hours driving)

Trail Mileage:     18 mile loop

Trailhead:            Big Creek Ranger Station, Cataloochee, NC

Fee/Permit:       $4 per night, per person for a backcountry permit


Talk about a hike with a little bit of everything! The Mt. Cammerer Loop is an amazing way to see the best of the Great Smoky Mountains in the vicinity of the AT. From the Big Creek Ranger Station, you’ll climb steadily up the Chestnut Branch Trail and meet up with the AT on top of the ridge after a couple of strenuous miles. Hiking southwest along the ridge will bring you to Mt. Cammerer Trail, a 0.6 blue blaze off the AT that leads to a rocky scramble to the summit where a beautiful stone fire tower lies nestled in huge boulders. From here, take in 360 degree views of the entire park, mountains as far as the eye can see. When you’re done drooling over the scenery, hike back to the AT and continue hiking. You’ll cross Rocky Face Mountain before coming to the Cosby Knob Shelter, a great halfway point at which to stay the night (don’t forget your permit!). The next morning will take you down off the ridge onto the Low Gap Trail. You’ll lose elevation here as you drop into gorgeous forest scenery. Keep an eye out for wildlife. After a few miles, you’ll begin following Big Creek, a wide, boulder-strewn stream that leads past such thing as Mouse Hole Falls and a great wooden bridge, and then back to the ranger station and your ride home.



Fairwood Valley and Mt. Rogers LoopFairwood Valley and Mt. Rogers Loop


Where:                 Troutdale, VA

From Cincy:        362 miles (about 6 hours driving)

Trail Mileage:     18.3 miles loop

Trailhead:            VA Rt. 603, 5.7 miles west of Troutdale

Fee/Permit:       None


The beauty of southern Virginia cannot be easily summarized in words and on this hike, you get not only that, but views into the ridges of North Carolina as well. The most strenuous of the three hikes, this hike begins with almost immediate elevation gain as you follow the Mt. Rogers Trail up to the ridgeline where it meets up with the AT. Keep trucking! It will be worth it, believe me. As you crest the ridge, the world below opens up and the rest of the hike is stunning view after stunning view of the sparsely populated, rolling landscape. Summit Mt. Rogers and you’ve reached Virginia’s highest point. Stay the night at the Thomas Knob Shelter about 8 miles in for an amazing sunset or keep hiking and camp at any of the great campsites off the trail further on. As you hike, your view will be the legendary Grayson Highlands before dropping down from the ridge, down through the Fairwood Valley, and finally looping back to your car.


Published in the 2015 Tri-State guide to the Outdoors

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Silence in the Mind & Adventure in the Heart

Silence in the Mind & Adventure in the Heart
A UCMC Goosedown Gazette Original
Written by: Louie Knolle

John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” Before coming to college, I would not have given much thought to this statement. However, that was before I ever truly experienced all that nature had to offer. A few weeks after I graduated high school in 2010, some close friends and I went backpacking for 3 days in Shenandoah National Park, located in northern Virginia. We wanted to go on some sort of trip, and one friend (a former boy scout) suggested hiking. And we figured, why not? It would be a good challenge and most importantly, it would be cheap! Little did I know however, I would be coming back from that trip with a changed perspective. Growing up, I had never camped for more than one night, and that was only car camping. My family was never one to venture deep into the outdoors, just the occasional walk in the park or visit to Eastfork State Park to go to the free public beach located there. But after returning from Shenandoah and not seeing a road, car, or building for 3 days straight, I was thrilled by the prospect of going and doing it again. And that was even with 90+ degree days, too much in my pack, and pushing myself to new limits, but that’s all part of the fun! And in the years since, I have gone on numerous weekend backpacking trips (2-3 days) and more recently a 6 day/75 miles hike on the Appalachian Trail, climbed mountains, whitewater rafted, kayaked, rock climbed, and even gone caving.

The feeling and kind of person I am when I am doing these things is hard to explain. The best way I can think of describing is that it just feels natural (no pun intended, not even sure if that is a pun). There is a sense of calm and serenity, the likes of which I have never experienced before. When you wake up in the morning, peer over the edge of your hammock and see light refracted through dew covered spider webs, dawn breaking through a mist blanketed lake, nothing compares. It’s both the small sights and the large vistas alike that draw me back time and time again. You feel ever the accomplishment when you realize that the only way to see these sights is to walk away from any road or parking lot, and nothing can take that away from you. I always like to imagine that every sight or object that I’m seeing is being viewed in a completely original manner. Whether it be because I climbed a tree to get a better look, the stream was running especially high and fast that day, or even standing two feet to the left of a friend, what I am taking in is 100% original.

Enough about me though! You can be having these feelings and revelations too! First thing you have to do, is go outside of course. One of the most positive things I find I get out of hiking is a closeness to the earth that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. In this day and age, the average person spends eight hours in front of an electronicscreen, in some form or another, each day. Ironically, that is what I’m doing in writing this article… But despite this slight hypocrisy, I am an advocate of removing oneself from these screens. All this screen time really accomplishes is separating yourself from the world around you, numbing the wonderful machine your mind can be, and not making use of each and every person’s unique skills. I know when I spend too much time on my laptop whether it is on Facebook, Netflix, Reddit, Stumbleupon, etc. I sense an inner restlessness within me and am much less productive as aresult. Not only are these websites time wasters for me, but they are motivation killers too.

One of the most therapeutic benefits of hiking is the sense of peace it brings you. You totally forget about work deadlines, trivial personal matters, and anything else that may worry you on a day-to-day basis. I know the best sleep I ever get is in a tent or hammock after a day or days of hiking. And of course you can argue, sure you sleep soundly after hiking 15 miles with a 30 pound pack on your back, but I’m referring the silence in my mind as I am closing my eyes for the night. We all have those nights where we toss and turn because it doesn’t seem like our mind wants to turn off, but rarely will you find that as a problem when you simply let your mind exist. I’m not saying you need to strap on a pack and carry 3 days’ worth of gear off into the wilderness to achieve this, I can reach the same level of inner calm by simply walking my dog in the park for an hour (a black lab/border collie mix named Korra, she’s adorable). And once you have done this a few times, you can bring this state of mind into your daily routine, whether it is through meditation, yoga, counting to 10, or whatever it is you do to calm yourself after a stressful day. And as a side note, if you don’t do some sort of meditation, I highly recommend it!

Perhaps the most important part of all of this is to be happy. Look deep down and find what makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be hiking. It could be any sort of activity you truly love doing. Every single human being is born with an adventurous spirit, it is up to you the individual to utilize it. For me, going on adventures helped me find a purpose in my life. Not that my life was destitute and directionless before, but planning hikes and other adventures with both myself alone and friends helped remove me from a state of silent acquiescent acceptance. I did not think deeply about most things, just took them as they were and did not question them. I was not able to realize all the blessings I had in my life.

I learned what it truly meant to live in the present and fully enjoy what I was doing, instead of simply going through the emotions. Without adventure in our lives, life can get stale really quickly.

And what’s worse than not using our natural adventurous nature? My wish for you reading this right now is that if you have not already found something you truly love to do, that you keep trying new things until you do find it.

And even after you find it, keep trying even more new things. No one ever loses their childlike sense of curiosity; all they need is a kick in the rump by something that truly invigorates them to clear the film from over their eyes and see the world how it truly is again, a wonderful and spectacular place.

Louie 2