No Car Needed Appalachian Trail Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park
As of November, 2017 Amtrak offers service to Roanoke, VA. This makes another stunning section of the AT accessible via public transportation to most of the East Coast. This hike is just south of Shenandoah National Park. It’s every bit as beautiful as “The Shen” but wilder and without the crowds! The guide that follows gives you all the information you need to do this Appalachian Trail Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park. Leave the car at home and hike green!
(lead photo: dawn over the Shenandoah Valley from Cedar Cliffs Overlook. One of the highlights of this AT section is the great ridge walking with superb views)
A Series of Guides to Low Carbon Section Hikes on the Appalachian Trail
This is the 3rd installment of our no car needed, Appalachian Trail (AT) Hiking Guides. We are big fans of leaving the car at home when hiking. Because the AT goes through or near urban areas, it’s not difficult to section hike portions of the AT using only public transportation. Many of these are among the nicer sections of the AT. This guide is for an AT section hike that you can undertake solely using public transportation from Washington, D.C. and/or much of the east coast. This 134 mile AT section could be done in one long’ish week (7-11 days). It would also be a great hike for fall color viewing as it has much less foot traffic than the adjacent Shenandoah Park.
Trip 1: Low Carbon Appalachian Trail Section Hike via Train – Harpers Ferry WV to Harrisburg PA, 124 miles
Trip 2: Low Carbon AT Section Hike – Shenandoah to Harpers Ferry, 54 miles
Trip 3: this post Low Carbon AT Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park, 134 miles
Top 5 Highlights of this Section of the AT
- Amazingly wild and remote for Central/Northern Virginia. This section goes through many Wilderness Areas with few road crossings and tons of wildlife and wildflowers!
- Far less crowded — but as good as or better than the adjacent Shenandoah National Park
- Great ridgetop walking with superb views
- Cole Mountain Bald and Three Ridges Mountain (both great mountain tops)
- Many scenic bridges: including the James River Bridge (longest foot traffic only bridge on the AT)
Overview map of the route – Roanoke VA to Rockfish Gap VA (Charlottesville)
Quick Trip Stats
- The trip takes between 7-11 days [We did it in 6.5 days]. You can also do it in parts.
- 0 mile – trip start, Daleville, VA near intersection of I-81 and US 11 (Lee Hwy). It’s about 20 min N of Roanoke, VA
- 134 mile – trip end, Rockfish Gap, the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and I-64. It’s about 25 min W of Charlottesville, VA, and marks the southern border of the Shenandoah National Park.
- 23,000 feet of elevation gain/loss
- It’s about 5 hours on the train from Washington Union Station* (Wash. DC) to Roanoke, VA. Train times are convenient, leaving Washington at 4:50pm (right after work) and arriving Roanoke at 10:00pm.
- It is another 20 minutes to trailhead via Uber or Lyft from the train station.
* NOTE: These trains actually originate in Boston so you can catch the same train anywhere along the Northeast Corridor and it will bring you directly to Roanoke.
THE DETAILED TRIP GUIDE
Appalachian Trail Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park
This guide is meant to supplement the many excellent general guides to the Appalachian Trail (AT). As such,
- Our guide gives more details for this specific section of the AT, and in particular how to access it by train and bus from much of Northeast US.
- Lighten your load: The GEAR (link) and FOOD (link) for the light packs we used to efficiently and comfortably hike the AT. A light pack will make the hike more pleasant for everyone!
- And finally, we discuss the places we most enjoyed on the hike in both text and photos.
What’s in this Trip Guide
- Logistics: link on how to use trains and other transportation to and from the start and end of the hike
- Some of our favorite places: link to Photo Essay & Trip Description
- Gear: a link to list of our LIGHT GEAR that made our trip more FUN (kept our packs around 15 pounds for the entire 134 mile trek without food resupply)
- Food: a link to list of the FOOD we took to save food weight but still eat healthy. Important since this AT section is lean on close-to-trail food resupply options.
- Waypoint and Mileage Table: link to Waypoint and Mileage Table
- Maps: link to our recommendations for maps and guidebooks
Logistics – Getting to and from the Hike
To Trip Start
This hike begins at Daleville, VA, just north of Roanoke, VA on US 220. We recommend taking the train, spending the nite in Roanoke or Daleville, and starting your trek first thing the next morning.
- As noted, there is a NEW train from Washington Union Station to Roanoke, VA that begins on Oct 31, 2017. The times are well-suited for a week or weekend trek. The train leaves Washington at 4:50 pm Monday-Friday and arrives Roanoke, VA 9:55 pm — about 5 hours. The saver fares are around $37, one way. Slightly different times Saturday and Sunday. See schedules on www.amtrak.com
- From the train station, you have several options. The train drops you right in downtown historic Roanoke. If you want to get a good nite’s sleep, and treat yourself, stay in the grand Hotel Roanoke (www.hotelroanoke.com), literally across the street from the train station. If you want to get closer to the trail (and stay somewhere a bit cheaper), you can stay steps away from the AT at the Howard Johnson Express, Daleville (a favorite of AT thru-hikers).
- Either way, you can catch an Uber or Lyft to the HoJo’s or the trail-head (about $25) from the train station.
NOTE: The combination of Uber/Lyft with the train (or bus) is a game changer for low carbon hikers. The ability to hook into a scheduled train or Greyhound route makes what used to be a “close-but-no-cigar” hike, into something quite doable.
At Trip End
The trip ends at Rockfish Gap, just before the Appalachian Trail enters the Shenandoah National Park. We found it surprisingly easy to get an Uber or Lyft from there to Charlottesville (we waited 10 minutes). Cost was about $35-45. Once in Charlottesville, take either the Amtrak train or the Greyhound Bus to get back up north.
By Train-cheapest train tickets are $25-30, one way
- 7:09am, Train 20, The Crescent -comes thru from New Orleans heading north early (goes all the way to New York Penn). But this train is often times late so watch the times on the Amtrak.com app, time is 2 hr 44 min to Washington.
- 8:52am, Train 176, Northeast Regional ONLY MON thru FRI — this is your quickest option if weekdays work for your hike at 2 hr 22 min. This train ends in Boston.
- 11:13am, Train 156 Northeast Regional ONLY ON SAT, SUN –this is your quickest option if the weekend works for your hike at 2 hr, 22 min to Washington. This train ends at NY Penn.
- 3:19pm, Train 50, The Cardinal, ONLY SUN, WED, FRI –comes thru from Chicago heading north (goes all the way to NY Penn) but can also be late so watch the Amtrak app for times. Time is 3 hours to Washington.
By Bus- cost around $20, one way 7 days a week
- 8:45am, 3 hours, (direct service to Washington D.C.)
- 4:50pm, 3 hours, (direct service to Washington D.C.)
Maps and Guidebooks
The Appalachian Trail is possibly the most documented trail in the world. There are many excellent guides. Our favorite guide is David Miller’s (AT trail-name, AWOL) “The A.T. Guide Northbound.”
We supplement it with the following AT Pocket Profile Map(s):
“Appalachian Trail Map AT-9 – Buchanan VA – Rockfish Gap VA AT Pocket Profile”
Waypoint and Mileage Table
The table below is in scrollable window or you can see the table full page here, as a Google Sheet
Tips for Hiking This Section
- Shelters are not consistently placed at even distances. You may end up with a longer or shorter day than you wished so carefully plan each day.
- There are a few steep and rocky climbs. Make sure you pay attention to elevation profiles.
- Late season water can be scarce high on the ridges. It’s good to know where your next water sources are (and if it’s dry have a backup(s) as well).
- This section has no on trail or close-to-trail food resupply options. To resupply for food, you’ll need to go significantly out of your way. As such, we did the entire 134 section without resupply for food. This made the hike significantly faster and more efficient. But our packs were less than 15 pounds including the food we carried. Please see our food list, “Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious” to get the best nutrition for the lowest weight while still being tasty. It matters!
Trip Highlights – a brief Photo Essay
Trip End – Rock Fish Gap
There is a great kettle corn truck here. It’s even Trip Advisor rated! Get some while you wait for your Uber.