The Appalachian Trail between Snickers Gap and Ashby Gap (Linear hike that requires a car shuttle. See note at 0.6 mile, below, for a much shorter circuit.)
This hike parallels the second section of the AT to be scouted, cut, and blazed by the club’s earliest members in 1927-28. It is of special historical note as the area of the first pre-PATC scouting trip made by Myron Avery and several others who took a bus from Washington to Ashby Gap and explored north in October, 1927. By using old woods roads along the eastern ridge and slope, they found that a trail was feasible. Based in part on this assessment, PATC was officially established at the Metropolitan Bank Building in Washington, D. C. on 22 November, 1927. The successful opening of the AT from Harper’s Ferry to Bluemont in time for the annual Red Triangle Club hike in the spring of 1928 resulted in a fourfold increase in trail workers from the original eight. A new goal was set by newly elected PATC President Myron Avery: to reach Linden by November, 1928
The first challenge in this sector was road access. The only reliable road was US 50 from Washington to Winchester through Ashby Gap. The road to Snickers Gap was dirt and “rough as the devil” and the road from Snickers to Mount Weather (the first leg of this section) was characterized as “just about passable.” There were no bridges; all streams had to be forded. One of the PATC members had acquired a car, and volunteers piled into it every weekend through the summer and fall of 1928 to work on the AT. Their original route passed through Bluemont and proceeded south along the Blue Ridge to federal land at Mount Weather, which had been acquired by the National Weather Bureau in the 1890s as a site for launching kites to monitor wind speed and temperature. Used as a practice artillery range during World War I, it had been largely abandoned by 1928. The PATC crew blazed the route through private property and abandoned federal land along the ridge and its eastern slope. They weaved east and west as guided by terrain and old woods roads. Compared to sections where no logging and charcoal-making had occurred, they recorded that the work was relatively easy.
Today’s AT takes a different track along the western slope. After World War II, Route 601 (Blue Ridge Mountain Road) was established from Snickers Gap to Mount Weather and eventually extended to Ashby Gap. The Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad, which operated from Alexandria to Bluemont from 1900 to 1939, also contributed to residential development of the area. The new owners opposed a public access trail through their properties, and PATC was forced to relocate it, initially onto Route 601. The 1968 National Trails Act, passed largely due to the advocacy of PATC and the consortium of nonprofits now known as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), established the AT corridor under federal law. Private parcels were acquired, and the trail was shifted west to its current alignment. Crossing a series of deep, stream-cut ravines, some 10 miles of the AT here became known as the “Roller Coaster” for its ten major ascents of up to 500 feet. It is now a much more challenging hike than PATC’s founders intended, and deemed the most difficult section of the AT in the Mid-Atlantic region.
From I-495 (the Capital Beltway), go west on Route 66 and take exit 23 north on Route 17 to Route 50 at Paris. Go left 1 mile on Route 50 to right turn onto Route 601. In about 0.2 miles, turn left to the small parking lot (may be difficult to see from the road). After leaving a shuttle car, proceed 13 miles north on Route 601. Just before the intersection with Route 7, turn left into the trail access parking lot at Snickers Gap.
PATC’s “Appalachian Trail Guide to Maryland and Northern Virginia
” (2015 ed., pp. 146-157); PATC Map #8
(Snickers Gap to Chester Gap)