Weekend Backpacker: Washington, D.C.
The Blue Ridge Parkway takes up where Skyline Drive ends, continuing south toward North Carolina for another 217 miles as it winds its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hiking opportunities abound along the parkway, from short dayhikes to longer loop hikes, many of which hook up with the Appalachian Trail.
Recommended trip: Bluff Mountain Circuit
This is hike is only 4.8 miles, but it's a perfect ending to a day spent touring the Blue Ridge Parkway. This short loop begins along a section of the old Appalachian Trail built in the 1930s and continues to Bluff Mountain, where it meets up with the current AT. Here, you can take the new AT to Punchbowl Mountain, home to an Appalachian Trail shelter and a good camping area. The highlight of this trip is Bluff Mountain (3,372 feet in elevation). At the summit, you'll find an old Norway spruce and an intriguing memorial to four-year-old Ottie Cline Powell, who died here in 1891.
Getting there: From Washington, D.C., take Interstate 66 to U.S. 15/29 and follow that south to Charlottesville. In Charlottesville, pick up Interstate 64 and take it north to Rockfish Gap, where the Blue Ridge Parkway heads south and Skyline Drive north. Follow the Blue Ridge Parkway south to mile 51.5 and an unmarked parking area where the Appalachian Trail crosses the parkway. Alternately, you can take U.S. 29 south from Charlottesville to Amherst, where you pick up U.S. 60. Take this west to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take the parkway south to milepost 51.5. Once there, follow the parkway north 0.4 mile to a gated road on the left. Follow this road for 0.2 mile to USFS 164 on the left. Take this to Bluff Mountain.
Permit information: No permit is required to camp along the Appalachian Trail.
Maps: Maps are available at outdoors stores and through the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC Pedlar District Map or PATC Map #13). USGS quadrangles will also suffice: Buena Vista, Snowden, and Glasgow.
Practical information: This hike is moderate in intensity.
Recommended guides: Appalachian Trail Guide to Central Virginia by the ATC. For a general guide to the parkway, try Guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway by Victoria Logue, Frank Logue, and Nicole Blouin.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication