Backcountry camping in Virginia
Backcountry camping is an enjoyable experience, especially when you're miles from civilization in the solitude of nature. It can be a great way to bond with your family or simply get away for a while. However, it is very different from car camping in that you hike deep into the backcountry away from places where humans live and visit. Because it is more primitive than most other types of camping, there are some careful points to keep in mind during your trip.
It's important that beginners have an experienced guide before setting out on their first trip. An insightful person who has spent time hiking and exploring unfamiliar areas knows how to make the most of every minute spent outside while keeping himself (and others) as safe as possible. He will also know which areas are worth visiting and which areas to avoid. Virginia has some of the best natural beauty anywhere in the country. It is a wonderful place to experience, but it does come with some risk for those who aren't prepared for what Mother Nature can throw at them. For this reason, many people turn to an experienced guide when they are looking to begin hiking in Virginia's backcountry.
Backpackers should always be sure that they carry enough food and water with them throughout their trip so that they don't have to leave the safety of the woods and venture out into unfamiliar territory just to satisfy their hunger. They should also never assume that they will find water wherever they go. While there is plenty of water in most areas, there are some heavily visited parks where fountains and spigots have been added for public convenience.Here are some locations you can go backcountry camping in Virginia:
MOUNT ROGERS HIGH COUNTRY
The Mount Rogers High Country is located on the southwestern end of Virginia's Appalachian Mountain Range. The heart of this 678,000 acre park can be found in Grayson and Smythe counties near the village of Troutdale, where Rosser Hollow Campground is situated. The campground has 22 campsites, each with a fire ring and a picnic table for you to make your own during your stay there. This area gets very few visitors as it does not have many facilities at all.
A perfect time to go backpacking in this region would be October through March when the chances of heavy rain and snowfall are slim to none. However, expect lower temperatures that may dip below freezing at night in winter months even though daytime temperatures average around 50 degrees.
There are a total of five backcountry campsites in the Troutdale area. These are situated along the Appalachian Trail, which makes for an easy day hike of about 4 miles from one site to another. Be aware that this particular section of trail is not well marked and you may end up hiking on a very narrow path through brushy, overgrown terrain.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail through Rosser Hollow will lead you through Virginia's highlands region, where there are fewer trees and more rocks than lower elevations in nearby Shenandoah National Park. Views from ridges can be quite good late spring to early fall when leaves have fallen away; however, expect to see lots of clouds as this area gets frequent precipitation throughout much of the year in small amounts.
RAMSEYS DRAFT WILDERNESS
The Ramseys Draft Wilderness is a remote and seldom-visited place. Though it comprises over 1,000 acres of land, there are only two trailheads leading into this vast tract which straddles the Blue Ridge Mountains in Highland County, Virginia. Here you'll find old growth forests that include many large chestnut oak trees, the largest existing stand of these trees anywhere east of the Mississippi River. You also can experience true solitude here as wilderness regulations mandate no groups larger than ten campers and no use of motor vehicles for access or camping purposes.
Rosser Hollow Trail System
The Ramsey's Draft Wilderness borders Rosser Mountain which lies just north of Skyline Drive near milepost 53. The area offers some impressive views though they are often obscured by heavy fog and haze on the ridge. Rosser Hollow Trail System is a good starting point for backcountry camping in the wilderness, with access to three trails that lead into the wilderness from Skyline Drive.
The Appalachian Mountains run up against deep rivers, lush valleys, and soaring cliffs in Virginia's northern corner. One such cliff face lies at Sperryville which sits just off of US 211 about 20 miles west of Front Royal. You can find many places to camp along this cliff including Allegheny Camp Ground . This area has 212 campsites, all cleared and open year round - making this one of the best places to go backcountry camping.
The 16 mile Appalachian Trail extends from Sperryville to just outside of Front Royal, and that's where you'll find the Blackrock Hut . These huts are built and maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) - a service organization dedicated to maintaining this amazing trail. The PATC heads up projects such as trail maintenance, educational programs and hut care.
Bathrooms may be put out for use in certain locations along the AT at night during peak backcountry camping seasons. Each campsite should be registered with either the hut caretaker or park rangers before anyone sets up their tents for a long stay in one place. This helps them gather information on how many people are out there using different areas so they can plan accommodations during busy periods. It could be as simple as squawking up with a hiker who has been out in the woods for a week to let them know how many people are on the trail, or it might include setting up an emergency shelter or extra bathroom facility in low-lying areas where they're needed most. The nice thing about organized backcountry camping groups is that it gives you a chance to make friends and get advice from other experienced hikers who have already set up camp in these areas before you do.
To put out your own tent, make sure there's at least 10 feet of space away from any water sources to keep sediment from contaminating the water, don't use nails or other metal objects when setting up your tent and always remember to clean up before you leave.
HAZEL COUNTRY LOOP
The Hazel Country Loop offers a wonderful trek through the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests that includes a trip to Grayson Highlands State Park. This is one of several backcountry camping groups in the area, which feature overnight hikes to remote locations along with gear rentals for those who are new or need replacement equipment.
The company has been operating since the mid 1980s and has become well known throughout much of Virginia as being among the best places camp out for those looking for a unique hiking experience away from home. The Hazel Country Loop requires about 10 days to complete, most of which will be spent at campsites located throughout Grayson Highlands State Park in Giles County. This location offers some wonderful views as it sits atop Signal Mountain at an elevation of 4,014 feet.
Powhatan State Park
Powhatan State Park is located in Chesterfield County and contains about 600 acres of forest, much of which is open to backcountry camping. Camping here can be done year round and reservations are suggested. There are a couple trails within the park that are considered easy hikes, one being ¼-mile long and the other being ½-mile long. However, there is also a longer trail in Powhatan State Park that leads into the James River Face Wilderness Area. This trail ends at the James River after covering over 7 miles in length.
This location offers some great fishing opportunities for those who bring along poles while its interesting rock formations make it popular among climbers as well. An annual wildflower festival takes place here during the spring months where visitors have the chance to take part in a variety of activities while learning more about the native flora and fauna.
Some popular events that take place here at Powhatan State Park include a series of Civil War reenactments held over Memorial Day weekend, summer camps and outdoor education programs for children, and an annual Fall Color Festival that takes place during peak fall foliage season. The latter is held annually every Saturday following Labor Day each year until mid-October. This family-friendly event includes craft vendors selling local handmade goods, face painting, music by a live bluegrass band, storytellers and various wildlife exhibits to view. Last but certainly not least visitors can enjoy free horse-drawn hayrides around the park's historic grounds on Saturdays & Sundays throughout the festival.
Duncan and Strickler Knob
The Duncan Knob and Strickler Knob area consists of two peaks, each with a fire tower on the summit. The trail to Duncan can be difficult to follow but they are surrounded by magnificent views and have nearly 360 degree vistas in all directions.
Horseback riding is permitted on certain trails near or within park boundaries that are also open for hiking during the same time frame. Horses must be under control at all times while on park property. Riders must yield to hikers and not leave gates open unless they can close them behind them without letting their horse escape.
This area is also somewhat unique in that it has an experimental forestry management program. The intent of the project is to determine if commercial timber harvesting and reforestation could be conducted while still providing a quality backcountry experience for visitors. Some areas have dense stands of trees, while others are open with more natural regeneration (i.e., no clear-cutting).
The experimental forestry management program also has certain guidelines for those who wish to harvest firewood along the trail. The cut wood is technically owned by the U.S. government, and all cutting must be done in an approved area with a chainsaw registered with the park (i.e., non-residents cannot just gather downed branches).
Backcountry camping in Virginia is heavily dependent on weather and timing—a rainstorm or extreme cold can make for a miserable time. As mentioned, backcountry camping is not for everyone: it requires proper planning and patience, but also rewards those who venture forth with a real taste of what the Old Dominion state has to offer.