PATC’s 90th Anniversary Hike #3: Ashby Gap to Whiskey Hollow

Bridge in Whiskey Hollow, downhill from the AT between the north and south
sections of Thompson Wildlife Management Area
The Route is an 11.4-mile out-and-back on the current path of the Appalachian Trail south of Ashby Gap in Virginia. It follows a 1.9-mile segment of an earlier AT alignment on the return leg.

This is the third and last commemorative hike in the area where PATC’s earliest members proved that a few volunteers could build substantial sections of the AT in the region. After the trouble they encountered reaching the area and cutting trail between Harpers Ferry and Ashby Gap (Hikes #1 & 2), they were able to take advantage of better access via VA 50, skills gained during earlier work, and a growing though modest number of volunteers.
The AT here has been relocated several times. Unlike the reroute north of Ashby, the current trail stays close to the ridgeline. Passing through the Ovoka Tract and Sky Meadows State Park, it touches fine views from the ridge eastward over the Virginia piedmont. After crossing a section of G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area, it reaches its turnaround point in Whiskey Hollow, near PATC’s newest shelter.

 Though not entirely finished, backpackers were using Whiskey Hollow shelter,
the club's newest, in early June

Distance: 11.4 miles
Total ascents: 1500 feet

Getting there: From I-495 (the Capital Beltway), go west on Route 66 to exit 23, and head north on Route 17 to its junction with VA 50 at Paris. Go left (west) 1 mile on VA 50/17, then go right (north) onto VA601 in Ashby Gap. In 0.2 miles, park on left in the 10-car lot. Follow the blue-blazed access trail from the back of the lot 85 yards to the AT.

Fees: None; wandering off the AT within Thompson WMA, however, requires an access permit ($4/day; $23/annual) available by phone during business hours at 1-866-721-6911.

Useful References: PATC’s “Appalachian Trail Guide to Maryland and Northern Virginia” (2015 ed., pp. 158-167 and p. 249); PATC Map #8 (Snickers Gap to Chester Gap); “Breaking Trail in the Central Appalachians,” by David Bates (PATC, 1987); and “A Footpath in the Wilderness,” edited by Carol Niedzaliek (PATC, 2003)
The Trail

0.0     At the junction of the blue-blazed access trail with the AT, turn left and go south on the white-blazed AT. (North and south of Ashby Gap, builders cut the original path east or west of the current route. As private homes sprang up along the original route and some of the federal land was placed off limits during World War II, the trail had to be relocated. See accompanying map for details.)
0.2     Cross US 50/17 in Ashby Gap. (Here, the 1928 and current trail alignments nearly converge. To the south, they soon diverge again. The gap was named for Col. John Ashby, a leader in colonial battles with Indians. Historic Ashby Tavern was just west of the crest, according to “A Footpath in the Wilderness,” but it had disappeared by the time PATC’s volunteers scouted and cut trail here.) Bear slightly west, follow the white-blazed path into woods, cross a stone wall, and turn right onto an old roadbed to begin a long ascent.
1.3     Go straight at the junction with the purple-blazed “Old” AT, which loops west. (Wherever possible, the 1928 trail builders used old forest roads built much earlier by loggers and charcoal makers. In some cases, private landowners later blocked access on PATC-built trails, forcing relocations to active roads and other alternatives.) Ahead, cross the north boundary of the Ovoka Tract. (Acquired by the National Park Service in 1983, Ovoka includes 100 acres of open ground around the crest of the Blue Ridge, offering fine vistas. The current AT alignment here was opened in 2003, after some particularly harsh local resistance.)
2.0     Pass the junction with Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, which goes left (southeast) toward Sky Meadows State Park. (The trail is named for Charles Whitehouse, a native of nearby Paris, VA, who served as US ambassador in Southeast Asia during the 1970s and later helped relocate the AT to its current setting.)
2.7     Cross a gas pipeline clearing at the south boundary of the Ovoka Tract and the north boundary of Sky Meadows. (Acquisition of the Ovoka Tract and creation of Sky Meadows SP and Thompson WMA helped PATC overcome long-running problems with landowners who closed off sections of the trail in this area.) Just beyond the clearing, pass the south end of the “Old Trail” loop, which leads west (right). In another tenth of a mile, pass the junction with the blue-blazed North Ridge Trail, which leads east (left) to a campground and other trails in Sky Meadows.

Campsite marker on the Appalachian Trail in the north section of Thompson
Wildlife Management Area

3.1     Cross into the north section of Thompson WMA. 3.9 Pass a spur trail that leads 0.1 mile west to 10-car lot on Signal Knob. (The knob was used by Confederates as a signal station during the Civil War. Some old war trails in this area were likely still discernible in 1928.)
4.1     Pass a spring on the east side of the trail and follow an old roadbed into forest. 4.6 Leaving the north section of Thompson WMA, begin a steep descent into Whiskey Hollow.

The unusual design and materials of Dick's Dome have lured backpackers off the
Appalachian Trail into Whiskey Hollow for decades.

5.1     Turn around at the creek in Whiskey Hollow, or turn left for a short downhill on an old forest road to PATC’s newest shelter. (The south section of Thompson WMA begins beyond the old road. Dick’s Dome, the original PATC shelter in Whiskey Hollow, was built by Dick George in 1987 on his land and transferred to NPS ownership. Its dome architecture – unlike the usual lean-to design – makes it stand out from other stops along the AT. As Whiskey Hollow Shelter, now in the final stages of work, replaces Dick’s Dome, the latter will likely move to a distant site.) Retrace steps back north on the AT to the junction at the south end of the “Old Trail.”
8.2     Back at the 2.7-mile point, go left at the junction onto the purple-blazed “Old” AT. (Shortly, cross the Fire Road that hosted the AT from 1928 to 1941 and again from 1955 to 1986. The “Old” AT served from 1986 to 2003.)
10.1     At the junction, turn left onto the white-blazed AT and retrace the route to the start.
11.4     Turn right onto the blue-blazed connector trail to end the hike at VA 601.

After completing work on the AT from Harpers Ferry through Ashby Gap to Linden at what is now I-66, the founders invited hiking groups to try the new trail. A celebratory trek led to recruitment of more volunteers, and the work moved south into what is now Shenandoah National Park, where the next entry in this series takes up the story.
Download the Map
(Adobe PDF File)
About this series. . .
Between 1927 and today, PATC’s founders and their successors built a 240-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, created the Tuscarora Trail, made dozens of cabins and shelters available to hikers, and took on maintenance responsibility for over 1000 miles of paths in the club’s 4-state service area. The hikes described in this series pass landmarks in PATC’s history and celebrate nine decades of remarkable evolution in our national trail network. Larry Broadwell and William Needham co-write the series, and Brian Goudreau provides the maps. Tom Johnson and Jon Rindt contributed to this entry.