Backpacking in Shenandoah National Park: It’s Better in the Mountains
Guest Blogger: Lisa Bradley
After many a trip to REI and online research, the Bradleys’ were ready to make the leap from day hikes and car camping to true grit backpacking. But where would we go? My husband, Jeff and I keep very busy schedules in our day to day life, often crossing paths in our driveway. However for the past few years we have managed to schedule ourselves spring and fall getaway weeks. We have been on a National Parks kick, wowed by their magnitude and amazing views. 2016 took us to Yosemite, Sequoia, and Acadia NP. In planning our spring 2017 trip, we were open to explore really anywhere (seasonally appropriate for the end of March) that would take us into nature. After conducting online research, many recommendations were given for Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It follows the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains for 105 miles. Most visitors experience the park via Skyline Drive, a winding paved road that will take you to all of the major attractions in the park. However, you can traverse the entire length of the park via the Appalachian Trail, which was recommended online as an excellent trip for beginner backpackers, like ourselves.
Other than our gear and food (see separate post for full detail), entry and coordinating the trip was fairly easy. Credit to Jeff for conducting most of the research, he found a hiker hostel, Stanimal’s 328 Hostel & Shuttle Service. We would highly recommend Stanimal’s! It was run by an avid hiker, Adam Stanley, who helped us in numerous ways along our journey. On Saturday we drove to Waynesboro, VA (south end of the park) and stayed at Stanimal’s 328 Hostel for the night. The next morning we were up with our bags and in his shuttle service to Front Royal, VA (97 miles north) to drop us off for the beginning of our 8 day journey. In order to stay overnight in the park, you need a free backcountry camping permit. You can either obtain a copy at a self-registration station or request a copy to be mailed to you beforehand (this is what we did to save time).
Our goal was to do 100 miles, but instead we did about 82. The beauty of the trip was that we set out for a destination, but more was to be learned along the journey. Along the entire way, we had the privilege of meeting “nobos” (northern bound thru-hikers) who had started their journey in Georgia and were heading to Maine to complete the full 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail. They were by far the friendliest, most welcoming individuals despite their challenged mental and physical state. Shout out to Early Riser, Kansas, Young Blood, Choke Slam, Gucci Girl, Grumpy, Silver Girl, Cinnamon, Rocket, and Rockette!
Overall takeaways from this trip:
1) Be prepared to change your plans and respect Mother Nature and your health.
2) Although corny, it really is all about the journey and not the destination.
3) Virginia is surprisingly rocky and mountainous, but mostly beautiful.
Backpacking in Shenandoah National Park: Pack Run-Down
These packs were done with the plan of backpacking for 8 days in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, with no re-supply.
Pack #1 (His):
Starting Weight: 36 lbs.
Osprey Atmos 65 Men’s Pack
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
- Pair of Black Diamond “Trail Back” Trekking Poles
- 3 pairs of boxers, 3 pairs of wool socks, 2 pair of hiking pants, 3 synthetic t-shirts, 1 lightweight long-sleeve base layer, 1 midweight long sleeve, 1 heavy fleece, 1 lightweight base layer pants
- Breakfast: 32 packs of Oatmeal (2 packs each for a filling breakfast), various dried fruit for oatmeal, hot chocolate packs, and Jiva coffee cubes.
- Lunch: Snacks for days – trail mix, homemade beef jerky, Clif bars, individual nut butter packets
- Dinner: 8 different rehydrated meals from Backpacker’s Pantry, AlpineAire, and Good To-Go) and Idahoan instant potatoes
- Kelty Cosmic Down 20 Sleeping Bag
- Platypus GravityWorks 4 Liter Water Filtration System
- Extra Nalgene for water filtration
- Backpacker First Aid Kit and Knife
- Go Pro
- Maps, extra batteries, matches, lighter, duct tape
Pack #2 (Hers):
Starting Weight: 34 lbs.
Osprey Aura 65 Women’s Pack
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
- Pair of Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking Poles
- Osprey Ultralight Pack Raincover – Large
- REI Joule 21 Sleeping Bag
- MSR Windburner Stove System
- Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent
- 2 pairs of hiking pants, 3 sports bras, 3 long-sleeve shirts, 2 short-sleeve shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of underwear (ladies, get ExOfficio underwear, trust me!), two ponchos, a hat, leggings, rain outerlayer, and Patagonia Fleece.
- Some of the aforementioned food, 2 GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mugs, and 2 Light My Fire Sporks
- Bottle of wine in a 750 ml GSI Outdoors Soft Sided Wine Carafe (yes, bottle of wine)
- One roll of toilet paper
- Scott Naturals Wipes (dried out in the oven for future rehydration)
What did we learn? Well, we forgot gloves for those cold mornings and had to steal more TP from the campground bathroom, but other than that we were really satisfied with the quality and adequacy of our gear. Research is key along with the following tips: 1) Your bag needs to fit well, it will go with you everywhere and discomfort becomes major bruises and pains, 2) Get in the habit of placing things back where you found them, and 3) Organize your bag with minimal packaging and proper weight distribution. There is online guides to help with bag organization, but the people at REI were helpful for us. Remember – leave no trace!