This report was reposted on October 17, 2020 to include a video, new photos, and updated formatting.
McAfee Knob is among the most popular hikes in southwest Virginia and said to be the most photographed place on the Appalachian Trail with its own wikipedia page. The popular nature of the hike is a reason I avoid this hike typically and head over to Tinker’s Cliff unless I am doing a sunrise hike. When Keith visited last year, I had planned to write about our sunrise hike and even took a GPS track on it. However, that hike was completely in the fog.
About 1 year to the day, Keith visited us again so we gave sunrise another shot. As you can see, it was quite a nice success. Given we hiked mostly in the dark, I headed up there again to take some updated pictures of the trail for this report a month later during the peak foliage season. With Amtrak restarting train service to Roanoke from D.C the week I’m publishing this post, hopefully this will be just in time for you to plan a southwest VA getaway.
This was a hike we did about a year ago and I’m finally getting around to writing it up. It also breaks up my work on the larger trip reports that I’m still grinding through. We hiked a section on the Appalachian Trail for a view of the James River. It had been raining quite heavily that week and we eager to head outside during a break in the rain on a Sunday afternoon.
Getting started can be the most difficult part about anything. Whether it is me getting these entries out there or getting back on the trail after a long layoff due to injury or other circumstances. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the hardest or most perfect, you just have to get going. On a beautiful Saturday, Katherine joined me to get back on the trail as North Mountain & Pete’s Cave between Lexington and Covington, VA next to I-64 was the perfect combination of reward and ease.
After finishing the Hoop Hole loop, I still had some day light. And unlike Hoop Hole, Roaring Run was a hike I had wanted to do, but could never justify driving out there for such a short hike. So this was a good opportunity for me to take a look at the well liked falls of Roaring Run.
Spring had arrived when I headed up to hike Hoop Hole. Flowers were in full bloom at lower elevations around Roanoke, so I decided to go for a hike one Sunday afternoon to see the bloomage on the mountains. Since I was by myself that day, I also was looking to explore something new. Hoop Hole is a well known local hike, but it was one that never really sounded that interesting to me before. Having put it off all these years, it did serve my explore mentality.
The fall foliage hiking season seems to be getting shorter and shorter each of the last couple of years. This year it was nearly all green one week, peaked for one week, and gone the next. During the beautiful and fleeting peak weekend this year, Whitney and Matthew joined me for a hike and scramble up Devil’s Marbleyard. For future updated foliage report for in SW VA, check out Virginia Department of Forestry Report.
This report is supplemented by pictures of my past hikes.
It’s nearing that time of the year again, fall foliage season along the Appalachian Mountains. I was eager to head out to see how the colors were coming along. Based on this initial hike, it seems like 2018 is another year of delayed foliage (Virginia Department of Forestry Report).
Looking for some local hikes in the D.C. area, Catoctin Mountain Park seems to be one of the more popular areas. Looking on Hiking Upwards and Alltrails, there seemed to be a nice loop that covers the main viewpoints of on the east side of the park. Being a popular area, it was recommended that to get there early if you’d like to have solitude for the main viewpoints.
An advice I did not heed as we arrived at the park around 1pm. The parking lots were full around the visitor center and we parked on Foxville Road.
After a bathroom break, we started on our loop in a counterclockwise direction heading for Chimney rock first on the trail paralleling Foxville Road for about a mile before turning left and uphills at the next junction. There were additional parking lots found along the road and at the park headquarters in case you want to get a jump start in the morning for Chimney Rock. An interesting feature of the trail here is that there is a decent amount of rocks to hop over on the trail.
The steepest climb of the day starts at this point over the next half of mile. On the way up, you pass a few large boulders before turning left at the next junction as you reach the ridge.
The trail along the ridge is a wide and easy half mile walk. Through the trees, you can start to see a buildup of boulders making the base of Chimney Rock. The trail circles around the base before another incline to the spur for the viewpoint.
Chimney Rock consisted several outcrop of rocks separated by varying sized gaps.
Hopping over a sizable gap and climbing up,
you get a view of the last outcrop that I’d assume is where the Chimney name comes from. To get onto the rock, you have to go back, bushwack and loop around to the left (facing the outlook) to the base of the outcrop before scrambling up. An additional benefit of getting up here early may be a possible of nice sunrises, something I’ll have to see in the future. Be sure of yourselves if you do decide to scramble around these rocks as this can be dangerous.
We then continued along the ridge for less than half a mile toward Wolf rock. The trail declined for a short distance before curving around a rocky ridge protruding out of the ground on the right. At the spur for Wolf Rock, you’ll hike up onto the rocky ridge.
To continued along the Quartzite ridge with many deep crevices, minor scrambling is needed. This area is a place where you can climb around and it looks like there are possible caves that maybe possibly be explored. Again, be mindful of the dangers of the crevices.
Meg rocking her trailrunners in Catoctin Mountain Park.
At the end of the area, there is a wolf looking rock where the area gets its name from. I’d say it looks more like a dog. A couple vultures were hanging around waiting for food scraps dropped by those having lunch in the area.
We returned to the trail and continued on toward the next view point. Before the next viewpoint, there is a trail junction that you can take back toward the visitor center 0.3 miles from Wolf Rock should you want a shorter hike. From the junction, it is 1.5 miles back to the visitor center. It seems like this shorter loop is what majority of hikers were doing as the number of people we saw on the trail dropped as we continued straight on our large loop.
The next viewpoint is the Thurmont Vista and we reached it after 0.7 miles. The view is of the town of Thurmont with a bench to take a break on.
From the vista, the trail descended for 0.4 miles toward another 4 way junction. From the junction you can turn left to return to the visitor center, straight for a parking lot off the Park Central Road, or turn right toward the next viewpoint along the north side of the mountain. We took the last option. The trail starts to descend further among many fresh downfalls, possibly from a windstorm during the previous month, before climbing back up. There were also some more large boulders. It wasn’t the most interesting section, but we didn’t see any other hikers as we
reached the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook after 0.7 miles, which refers to the town of Blue Ridge Summit, PA and not the immediate summit of Piney Mountain.
Shortly after the overlook, the trail crosses the Park Central Road and continues toward Hog Rock. There are again some cool boulders in this section. Hog Rock is part of a small nature walk loop with labels of the trees in the area. The loop itself was only half a mile, but wasn’t very interesting other than chipmunks scrambling around.
Do not leave your trash like whomever did here. I ended up packing out several plastic bottles left behind.
A little over a half a mile from the road cross, there is one more overlook at Hog Rock looking east.
The trail then started to descend over the next mile while crossing a stream and passing more rock features toward Foxville Road with the last portion the steepest and covered in leaves. There is a junction right before the busy road with a left turn back toward the visitor center and our car. However, we crossed over the road with great care and into Cunningham Falls State Park. As you can tell by the name, the Boardwalk Trail on the other side of the road continues along a creek
toward the Cunningham Falls. It’s always cool to see the icicles among the falls in the winter.
The boardwalk ends with warning signs about climbing up on the rocks around the falls and no swimming signs. A gate use to be part of the railing, but now has been boarded up. From all the signage and a bit more trash I picked up around the falls, I imagine this is a pretty popular area in the summer and someone might been stupid and got hurt. The maps are very clear that the Boardwalk trail does not connect with the Lower Trail on the other side of the creek even though it would have been only a few rock skips to cross.
After the falls, we backtracked to the junction crossing over Foxville Road again and hiking the last mile or so back on the Falls nature Trail amongst hauntingly beautiful trees still with their wilted leaves in the golden hour sun
views: 3. The loop we took through the eastern portion of Catoctin Mountain Park took us to several overviews, but it was the rock formations as part of the vistas and along the trail that makes for the best views in the park. My favorites in the park was Wolf Rock and the Chimney Rock. If you don’t want to do the 9 mile loop, a short loop to see those two are worth it. The edge mountain ridges doesn’t have the elevation profile and layering seen in the Virginia so vista are just ok. What pushes it just into a 3 rating for me is the addition of Cunningham Falls. The negative of this hike is the crowds of being near D.C., but we didn’t find it overwhelming at all on this 40-50 degree fahrenheit Saturday in March. You won’t find solitude on this hike, but you can definitely enjoy yourself in the wild if you plan accordingly.
difficulty: 2. The loop had a good amount of elevation change, but that’s spread out across a long distance mostly undulating on the ridges. There are 2 main elevation changes going up to Chimney Rock and down from Hogs Rock.
technical: 1. The trail itself was well marked and easy to follow. There are also plenty of people to ask. Be mindful of your own abilities and the conditions if you plan to scramble and climb around the rocks.
One aspect of my hike and trip reports is that I keep my personal ratings of the hikes, mostly for myself as part of the reflection process. Well, my whole purpose of this blog serves as an outlet for reflection, but the need to quantify the experience serves as a nice short cut for me to sum up the experiences and compare them for future planning. So my rating system developed meticulously with the rating representing an exact meaning. Of Course, just reading a definition of a rating can be hard to nail down the exact meaning and examples are always nice. So I present to you the perfect example of a 2 rating in views category, the little known Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop.
Note to self, I really should change “views” to “experience”.
name: Wilson Mountain Trail & Sprout Run Trail Loop
While I hiked this in the winter, there are many reports of ticks and even possible bear sighting in this area. This is a very lightly used trail from what I can tell, so those are to be expected. Check yourselves and pets after hiking here.
The means I found this hike was through alltrails.com as I was looking for local hikes I hadn’t completely in the area. I was looking for something novel as this week is a week we’d usually be traveling since Virginia Tech goes on spring break and facebook has not failed to remind me. But trying to finish my dissertation has put all travel plans on hold. As an aside, I understand working on my blog isn’t helping, but I have to have some escape.
The trail starts right past the outlet of Sprout Run is it enters the James River and the first portion is through private property. So please be respectful through their lands. There also isn’t any direct parking area around the trailhead, so I just squeezed by the side of the road. There was a little bit more open space before you cross the bridge over Sprout Run, but I didn’t see it until I left.
I was the only one at the trailhead as far as I could tell as I hopped over the stile. The path trail immediately crosses Sprout Run and is marked by yellow blazed pylons. You’ll cross it once more before a private trail branches off to the left as marked by “no trespassing” signs. After crossing Sprout Run again (you seeing the theme here yet?)
You’ll come to the junction for the Wilson Mountain Trail and the Sprout Run Trail. Most of the other reviews on alltrails and the one other trip report I ran into while writing this started with the Sprout Run Trail and returned on the Wilson Mountain Trail.
direction to start on Mt Wilson Trail
direction to start Sprout Run Trail
I decided to turn left and head up the Wilson Mountain Trail first, after crossing Sprout Run again, because I started late and decided to get my elevation gain out of the way first and not risk coming down in the dark. I’ll leave my discussion of the direction to do this hike later.
The Wilson Mountain Trail began to gain elevation right away with a few switchbacks that were composed of rocks, I think.
The reason I add the qualifier I think was because I was hiking through pretty thick leaf covering all the way up to the ridge. Even on the first couple of ridges, the leaves really piled up. At certain points, the drift piles of leaves on the trail was up to my shins and I felt like I was hiking up soft snow as I tried to not to slip on the leaves and not to “post hole” or twist my ankle as I couldn’t see the rocks on the trail. I also had worn my hiking sandals for the stream crossing and were beginning to regret it with all the leaves and branches getting stuck in them. I also could have used a hiking stick.
Clearly, this was a not oft used trail. I continued trudging onward as the trail reached the ridge with trees all around.
Since I was here during the winter season, I was actually able to see past the trees a bit at the mountains ridges surrounding the fields and the James River winding through them.
The ridge continued onward and undulated up and down past 3 peaks toward Wilson Mountain. Deer and squirrels can be seen running away from me with all the sound of leaves crunching I was making. The trail cuts to the right just before the peak of Wilson Mountain. I wasn’t having any of that and bushwhacked up to the top. It was similar to most Virginia peaks it was covered in trees.
I bushwhacked back to the trail and started on the much gentaler descent with much less piles of leaves drifts on the trail. In the distance to the southeast, I could see Devil’s Marble Yard in the distance, which was pretty cool having scrambled it many times.
While the many trees damped any vista views, I can imagine this being pretty section in peak foliage season with the tunnel of yellow leaves of if you want to see the tunnel of green that Virginia is known for in the spring. It, along with the isolation, allowed me to be reflective and have some me time, which was much needed and one of the things I love about hiking.
The trail slow down through more forest and after a open meadow, came to the next junction of the loop, a dirt road (FR-907). The trails are connected by a dirty road (FR-907). At the junction, there was another gated trail to the right that leads to a small peak over the Sprouts Run drainage based on my gps in 0.2 miles. I assumed it was just in the trees since there was no indication of an actual overlook.
To continue on the loop, I headed down the dirt road (FR-907) to the right just past the other gated trail from where the Wilson Mountain Trail ended.
The road will come to a 3 way junction that you take the right to come to one more junction after about 0.7 miles. The road junction is with another dirt road FR-812. Directly to your right heading down the drainage is the Sprouts Run drainage.
After getting down to Sprouts Run, the crossing start again. The creek is pretty small when I was there at the head of the drainage, but the first few crossing was a bit annoying as the leaves hid the muddy areas a little bit, at least I had sandals. In addition, there were several downfalls you’ll have to climb over or go around. I wasn’t too impressed at that point, but at least you are actually next to the stream running unlike the Bear Church hike. The running water sounds are always so soothing for me.
So at this point, I was ready to give it a 2 — a lower ranking 2 since hiking next to the stream was nice though all vistas from the ridge were blocked by trees with really no outlook. The trail was enjoyable enough that I didn’t regret coming out but that I wouldn’t really care to come back for. It was going to be on the lower end because there really wasn’t anything interesting.
After a few crossings, the rock formations that created really unique pour overs and cascades started to catch my eye. At the largest of the cascades, the rangers put in a bench there. Perfect for some contemplation time. Too bad I have no yoga skills or Meg with me to make a viral instagram picture.
I guess this highlight will have to do. I really like how the layers of the rocks formed pool steps that the water cascaded over. The golden hour soft sunlight and green moss really created a picturesque scene.
These cascading elements really completed the solid 2 rating for me. It was an enjoyable hike with some good views, but I probably wouldn’t come back here without others that would want to do it.
As I continued out the drainage, the stream crossings and cascades also continued.
Just before the junction, there were some cool layered rock formations outside of the water.
From the junction, it was an easy backtrack to the car across a few more water crossing and a nice view of the field with the sun going down to conclude the hike.
If I was to do this hike again, I would recommend to hike going up Sprouts Run Trail first. Hiking upstream allows you to take in the interesting elements of the creek without turn around every few second. The ascent is also spread over a longer distance making it easier. However, extra care is needed to account for drifts of leaves on the trail coming down.
views: 2. This hike was the definition of a 2 rating for me. To reiterate, this hike was enjoyable with the rock formations and cascades in Sprouts Run that provided for some good aesthetics. However, there wasn’t enough for me to say I’d do this again unless motivated by others. Part of my enjoyment was that I had the trail all to myself with nobody on the trail. It was easy to get lost in my thoughts among the views, trees, and creek.
difficulty: 2. In the 2000 feet elevation change and 8.3 miles, the really only tiring part is the initial uphill to Wilson Mountain. Much of the difficulty there after the initial switchbacks was because the massive drifts of leaves that blanketed the trail.
technical: 1. This wasn’t overly technical as it required no scrambling or route finding. However due to the lack of use, you have to pay attention to the trail of downfalls and the blazes may be a little further spread out that you are use to.
Dragon’s Tooth is one of the 3 peaks of the Roanoke triple crown along with McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. It is characterized by the outcrop “tooth” like rock just off the peak of Cove Mountain that can be scrambled upon for a 360 view. It is also known as the most technical of the 3 with a short section of scrambling on the Appalachian Trail near the peak.
There are actually 4 ways from 3 different trailhead that you can used to access Dragon’s Tooth. The most popular and easiest is an in and out from the Dragon’s Tooth Parking Lot on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail that turns southbound on the Appalachian Trail (AT) at Lost Spectacles Gap. This is also my recommend return route for all other starts. Out of the same Dragon’s Tooth parking lot, the spur Boy Scout Trail splits shortly after the trailhead and connects with the AT quickly before continuing southbound. The other ways are starting on the AT at main trailhead parking lots (Trout Creek trailhead on Miller Cove Road VA-620 to head northbound or McAfee Knob Parking lot on Catawba Valley Drive VA-311 to head southbound).
While I hiked this on an overly warm, 78 degree Fahrenheit, February weekday recently for sunset, this is one of those local hikes that I’ve done multiple times in the past since it’s so close. My preferred route and what I hiked last time is to head up the Boy Scout Trail and returning on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail after summiting. However, I hiked down in the dark on my last trip since I was catching sunset. Rather than describing the exact hike of my most recent hike exclusively, I’ll cover the most popular and easiest way up first and then I’ll follow up with the alternatives using pictures taken across the years.
Even though the parking lot is large, it will overflow onto the road on a nice weekend day. There is a trash can and restroom at the trailhead as well.
Near the trailhead there are several campsites around the first stream crossing.
Right after the first creek crossing, you’ll reach the junction for the Boy Scout Trail, which I’ll cover below. The Dragon’s Tooth Trail turns right.
The trail will cross the stream a couple more times
before the Dragon’s Tooth Trail starts to slope upwards through the forest and up the drainage. I like the view of this section coming down as you’ll get a few nice sweeping views of the forest in the valley.
After a last set of switchbacks and 1.5 miles from the trailhead,
the Dragon’s Tooth Trail connects with the AT at Lost Spectacles Gap. There are some that make their camp here at night. Turn right onto the AT to continue the last 0.7 miles to the top of Cove Mountain and as the warning sign says, there is some scrambling upcoming.
The immediate section of the trail consists of a mix of trail, rock steps, and with a few boulders to skip on top of or around.
Iris & Marije joins us on the cold Janurary day in 2015
Cool icicles in Janurary of 2015
When you reach a section of the trail where you’ll have to scrambling on a few vertical slabs, you’ve reached the final section to reach the top and the most difficult scrambling section.
Before continuing on, you’ll also get a nice view point here.
The scrambles continues upwards with the help of a couple steel rebar steps (a few steps up from the picture below)
before switching back on the final push to the up the rock face. Without the leaves, you can actually see the rocks that make up Dragon’s Tooth at the switchback point.
At the top of the climb, you reach the summit of Cove Mountain. The AT will continue southbound along the spine of Cove mountain to the right, but you’ll want to turn left on the short spur
to reach a couple large outcrop of rocks
known as Dragon’s Tooth.
However, the climax of the hike still lies ahead at the top of the tooth. Work your way around the far side (south) of the rocks and turn left toward the backside of the rock where it opens up. Here you’ll see a couple of gaps between the rocks. One sets up an awesome framing for the Catawba Valley.
sunrise on October 27, 2017
sunset on February 21, 2018
peak foilage on October 29, 2011
The other gap is where you’ll scramble up.
first time at Dragons Tooth during a 17 miles AT hike on September 25, 2011
Dongil & Lusha joined me for the peak foilage day on October 29, 2011
There is a nice ledge here to take in the views, though it can get very crowded on a nice weekend.
Nina’s last hike before her post doc.
traffice jam on the tooth
If you are good with some exposure, there is the top of the tooth you can climb for a 360 degrees view.
For me on this February evening, it was to catch the sunset,
though the pink sky over North Mountain, Tinker Mountain, McAfee Knob, Catawba Mountain, Bushy Mountain, and Fort Lewis Mountain (from left to right) is the preferred view from the top.
Over the years, I’ve been up here many times. The following are some of my favorites reflecting my favorite times to hike up there such as sunrise and peak foliage season.
Other than the tooth, there is a second spire you can scramble up as Drew does here. It’s a little more difficult scramble up to that spires,
but it does provide for a better point of view to take a picture of the tooth itself.
Do be vigilant while returning as scrambling downwards is usually more difficult than upwards. For the return to the Dragon’s Tooth parking lot, you just have to back track on the well signed trail including that of Lost Spectacles Gap, where you turn left off the AT and onto the Dragon’s Tooth Trail.
Dragon’s Tooth via Boy Scout Trail & Appalachian Trail (AT) with return on Dragon’s Tooth Trail
distances: 4.9 miles
elevation change: 1558 ft ascent and descent
time: 2:15 hours moving (2:45 hours with breaks)
This is my favorite variation to hike up to Dragon’s Tooth as it is less crowded and this section of AT is pretty interesting with more rock formations and rock to hop over. Other reports suggest to take the Dragon’s Tooth Trail up and the Boy Scout Trail down, but I personally like to do the opposite. The reason being I like seeing the rock formations on the AT that the Boy Scout Trail connects to and you get more of an open forest view on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail coming down. Plus, the more gradual decline on the Dragon’s Tooth Trail is easier on the knees.
The first time I hiked up to Dragon’s Tooth was actually using this route known as the “Back way to Dragon’s Tooth.” It was with the Roanoke outdoor meetup group, but rather than ending at Dragon’s Tooth Parking lot, we did a 17 hike all the way to McAfee Parking lot on the AT. I wouldn’t recommend the AT section from the Boy Scout junction to McAfee to anyone since it is just through a tunnel of trees.
The last time I hiked this was 6 years ago, so I don’t have a tracking of the hike. But the trail is indicated with the blue line below and you can find the trail information from the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The hike starts at the location where the AT crosses Miller Cove Rd. (VA-620) with Trout Creek running along the road.
Take the AT north bound and the trail will start to slowly climb. After passing an area of burned trees and the Pickle Branch Shelter, the trail starts to ascend more rapidly and will switchback to gain the ridge of the Cove Mountain Chain. Once the ridge is gained, there is a nice outcrop looking at the backside of North Mountain.
The AT continues along the ridge rocky ridge of Cove Mountain.
Some of the rocks were in particularly interesting formation standing up.
It definitely wasn’t an easy portion of the AT, but reached another vista
views: 3. Dragon’s Tooth provides a nice 360 degree view from the top of the tooth of Catawba valley and the mountain ridges that is a signature of Virginia. Even if you aren’t comfortable with the exposure that comes with climbing onto the tooth, there is plenty that can be seen around the tooth. While the sunrise isn’t as spectacular as McAfee and the sunset doesn’t compare to Tinker Cliff, the rock formation all along Cove Mountain provides enjoyable aesthetics on the hike. Of course, the scramble is added fun. A big negative, although not as bad as McAfee, is the possibility of large crowds on a nice weekend day. However, I’ve had the place to myself aplenty for sunrise, sunset, or weekdays. The shortness of the hike makes it easy for a before or after work micro adventure.
difficulty: 2. Neither the Dragon’s Tooth Trail or Boy Scout Trail to AT are very long, but there is some scrambling that can be demanding with around 1500 ft total elevation gain. So this isn’t the easiest of trails. Even though the AT northbound from Trout Creek is a little more challenging with rocks, it gains the elevation over a more gradual ascend so it is similar in difficulty.
technical: 2. The trails here are very well signed with blazes and markers. The technical aspect is the scrambling that is required after Lost Spectacles Gap going southbound on the AT to the summit of Cove Mountain.
Over the past few year, we’ve had our delays and plans go awry. But it always seemed we were able to figure out new plans and were able to achieve what we wanted to do. So we were due to run out of luck at some point and the norse gods were happy to be the ones to bring all my plans crashing down and then some.
Our decision to visit Norway came about with a one-way Oslo to Boston fare sale on TAP business class for $417 (see frequent miler’s breakdown of the deal here). This is more than we would typically paid for a one-way across the Atlantic, but it was an incredible deal for business class. It is still available for a couple hundred more at the time I’m publishing this a half year later.
TAP Air Portugal Business Class Fares From Europe To The Miami, Boston, JFK, or Toronto for ~$700 one way. We took advantage of this last year. https://t.co/l9ptJlbJ8R#deals
From a financial standpoint, the comparative costs for our 2 options, including extra flights up to the Lofoten Islands or car rental for the Fjordlands, were pretty similar at estimated around USD$800 since I left this decision to the last minute. Norway is a very expensive country relatively speaking (Big Mac Index) and the cheapest way to counter that was to camp and be out on the trails, which made our decision for the Lofoten Islands final.
A major reason for our decision to head to the Lofoten Islands was simply because I found a 5 day trek that fit our schedules pretty well from Alexandre de Brébisson covering the southern island of Moskenesøya. Moskenesøya island, as part of the Lofoten Islands, is said to be the best aesthetically with the highest peaks, mountain lakes, and beach camping. That sounded good to me.
If you are planning to do this trail, a key connection aspect is catching a ferry between Vindstad and Kirkefjord. The schedule of the boat can be inconsistent and they might not always stop in the same order listed on their webpage. It is a good idea to call them ahead of time to confirm your pickup and dropoff. As far as cell phone reception, there was signal at Vindstad with our phone service.
general and trail information
For the best online guides and trail listing for the Lofoten Islands, there are 2 awesome websites listed below and I will cite throughout my report.
Norway is expensive, however everything is very modern and there are plenty of grocery stores to stock up food in Bødo. Utilizing the markets was the inexpensive way to go, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t good food. When not on the trail, we ate both fresh and smoked fish with fresh baked bread, veggies, and tubed cheese. The fish was so fresh, no cooking was needed. For planning purposes, grocery stores in Bødo open early in the morning while the sporting good store are open around 9:30-10am, and the pharmacies open around 8:30am. Across the Lofoten Islands, you can also resupply most villages (list compiled by Hiking Lofoten).
Credit cards are accepted everywhere in Norway we were at, even on the Vinstad ferry while in the middle of the lake. Meg was very happy about this since it meant she had a good amount of left over cash to go shopping with, even more so regarding the quality of the shoes she bought there and it was similar in cost compared to the US.
Lastly for communication purposes, google fi worked without a problem in Norway and even had intermittent reception as we were in the backcountry trekking. There was reception even at Vindstad, where we could call the ferry to confirm our extraction.
With our one-way business class flight from Oslo (OSL) to Boston (BOS) booked, we’d have to get ourselves to Norway and have reposition flights on both ends. Fortunately, getting across the pond is very cheap with so many budget airlines. Norwegian airlines made this specifically easy as they offered many cheap flights from the US to Norway. The lowest fare we found was a direct flight from Providence, Rhode Island (PVD) to Bergen, Norway (BGO) for USD$140.8 each ticket (USD$281.6 total). Since this was before our decision of where to go in Norway, BGO worked as it was the cheapest and a good starting point if we decided on the fjords.
Repositioning to PVD from the DC area (Baltimore, BWI) and back from BOS was easy for use through Southwest points and our companion pass (guide from FrequentMiler). Direct flights to PVD for the 2 of us was 2330 SW points and USD$11.2 in fees and direct flights, again for the both of us, back from BOS was 3603 SW points and USD$11.2.
For our flights to get to Bødo (BOO), a gateway to the Lofoten Islands and the best place for our intended trek, our booking was pretty much last minute and the prices reflected such at USD$427.50 each ticket. The flight would connect us from BEG to BOO and back to OSL to connect with our return flight. To dampen the out of pocket cost, I used 57k US Bank Altitude points earned through the signup bonus to cover the entire USD$855 cost. There are a few options to fly directly to different sections in the Lofoten Islands in Harstad/Narvik (EVE), Svolvær (SVJ), or Leknes (LKN) airports.
Our total flight itinerary covered 5 different bookings and we would earn 5712 United miles each from our TAP business class booking. There were other earning option if we attributed TAP flights to other frequent flyer programs, but the United miles are much easier for us to utilize since we already have balances with them.
The equipment we brought was our typical loadout. The weather in the Lofoten Islands can be pretty punishing (as we witnessed first hand) so a good tent and good layering is recommended. The locals say that it will most likely rain everyday, but in patches. They also told us just to simply look outside to determine what to do.
For our traveling gear, we were able to store a backpack in Bødo at our hotel.
Our flights to Bødo would be spread across 2 days accounting for the time zone change. We left the house around 5:30am for the Baltimore Airport (BWI) on Saturday and walked into our hotel in Bødo around 11:30pm on Sunday. Across the 4 flights, the main portion of our Saturday and Sunday was spent on the ground, allowing utilize the time to get some work done. The airports at Bergen and Providence were both small airports and Oslo did not have a lounge we could access with our Priority Pass, so we packed a few sandwiches to eat along the way as a means to minimize paying for overpriced airport food.
Our flight from BWI to Providence (PVD) was uneventful was asleep the entire time. PVD wasn’t the smallest of airports, but there wasn’t much in term of real food landside. We walked the 20 minutes to a local diner for breakfast. Afterwards, we spend the rest of the afternoon working at the Starbucks back at the airport until check-in for our flight. Since this was an international flight, we had to manually check-in to have our passports validated.
Our experience on Norwegian’s budget cross Atlantic experience wasn’t bad at all. We did not pay to pick seats so we were assign ones at the back of the plane. Luckily as I expected based on the seatmap, the flight was nowhere near full and both Meg and I were able to stretch across our entire row. The seat themselves were not the most comfortable, but there was a good amount of legroom for a budget flight. Our plan was to go to sleep right away since the red-eye flight would only be around 6 hours. Having had our dinner before boarding and sleeping through the entire flight, we didn’t need to purchase any additional services. One thing to remember is to bring your jacket or your own blanket on these flights there aren’t any provided and it gets pretty cold. I’d take these flights again in the future with these prices.
Immigration and customs were very quick at Bergen (BGO) as we arrived early Sunday morning. We didn’t plan to drink while during our time in Norway since it is very expensive to drink there. If you do plan on buy alcohol, duty free is your cheapest option before entering the country.
While we could have taken the trip into the City, we opted to stay at the airport rather than lugging our backpacks around the town since was no storage at the airport. Airside, there were several areas that was in the process of renovation, but there were also plenty tables, seats, and power outlets where I could do some work and some last minute research on our trek. Interestingly, we had great internet access as all the Norwegian airports were equipped with the same educational network “eduroam” that our university utilizes. Lastly, there were plenty of places for napping as well helping us to adjust to the time difference.
Our last flights from BGO to Oslo (OSL) and connecting onto Bødo (BOO) were uneventful.
The walk from BOO to our hotel in downtown Bødo took about half an hour, but it was nice to stretch our legs before turning in for the night. We used a few Hotel.com gift cards that we bought for 80% value and earned back an additional 10% at the Scandic Bødo Hotel. The hotel ran for $146.53 and was pretty basic with a good bed and a very nice full breakfast. We were fine with the higher spend after the traveling and wanted to have a good rest before heading out on the trail. The Scandic Bødo is part of the Scandic hotel group, but since it’s not a group we would have much opportunity for frequent stays, going though Hotels.com provided better value for us. For travel hacking purposes, Choice hotels provides excellent redemption values for Norway and Europe in general.
The Scandic Bødo is central in downtown Bødo and about a 10 minute walk to the ferry station and train station. The next morning, we went around stopping at grocery stores for supplies, sporting good store for butane/propane gas, and the pharmacy for sea sickness medicine. The sporting good store was the latest to open around 9:30am.
Unfortunately for us, the ferry schedule switch over to the winter schedule on the day we arrived so instead of having a morning ferry option, we had to wait for for the afternoon ferry. Even the locals and the hotel managers were caught off guard of the change, so make sure you check for yourselves.
We paid for the ferry while in line for it to pull up. The seating on the ferry was first come first serve and we headed up to the top deck where there was a pretty cool forward cabin view.
I don’t get sea sick very often, but the slow rock of the the ferry did start to get to me half way through the decently long ride and I had to take a nap.
While on the ferry, we met Julien, who guides trips from France to the Lofoten Islands. The company he works for sets up tour groups with different lodging up the Lofoten Island chain and he would guide the group on day hikes and does the cooking for everyone in his group. We would see him through the few days we spent on trail and if you are interested in join his trips, contact me and I can get you his contact information.
As we neared the end of our of ferry ride, the islands starts to appear out of the rainy clouds.
It was quite the mystical sight as we pulled up and I had a feeling like we were pulling up to Jurassic park, though a bit colder.
We filled off the boat to the dock area at Moskenes port.
A short ways from the dock, there is a campgrounds called Moskenes Camping that provides showers, but reviews aren’t great there. Several people we’ve talked to have said they just walked further along the road and found a remote place to wild camp. Other trip reports suggest the best place to spend the night is actually at the waiting room for the harbor to the right after exiting the boat behind the bus stop.
Since we had lost half a day due to the ferry schedule change, we decided to start at the southern end of the trek closer to Moskenes rather than waiting for a bus to start at the northern end at Fredvang. Our trailhead would be a mile or so south of Moskenes at he town of Sørvågen. Our new friend Julien offered to drop us off in Sørvågen with their rented shuttle since they were heading that way as well, which we accepted gratefully.
name: Sørvågen to Vindstad
type: point to point
distance: 11.8 miles
elevation change: 5077 ft ascend & 5094 ft descend
time: 2 days (14 hours)
location: Lofoten Islands – Moskenesøya
There were several alternative side hikes/scrambles up to different peaks. We didn’t attempt any of them due to the weather. Our original plan also included the section from Kjerkfjorden to either Fredvang or Ramberg to cover the majority of the Moskenesøya Island.
day 1: Sørvågen to wild camping
After we were dropped off in Sørvågen, we still had some daylight so we decided to get as far along the trail as we could before setting up camp. There were a couple of alternatives we could do through the first section of the trail including the rarely summited Støvla, the popular Munken, and the tallest in Hermannsdalstinden, so we wanted to knock off a couple miles to plan for our possible climbs.
Turning from the main M10 road, we passed a parking lot and there are a few signs for Munkenbu we followed initially.
We were under a light drizzle as we passed a structure and the trail narrows.
It also starts to rise moderately over the first lake of Sørvågvatnet wit ha Star of David over looking the lake. Around this area, there are a few trails that turn to the right and looping around the lake. From the openstreetmaps and the overhead satellite photos, there seem to be a shelter toward this area. It wouldn’t haven been a bad idea for us to head there, but we didn’t know of it then.
A little further along the trail we come to Lofoten Falls. There are a few more trails branching to the right that you can reach the shelter after the falls.
We continued up the muddy slope to the next lake, Stuvdalsvatnet. The trail rounded the shores of the lake without any good place to camp, so we continued on. The only plausible areas were close to a couple houses.
After the houses, the trail splits with the right trail heading toward Munkebu while the left trail seem to head toward the route to summit Støvla. We decided to head to the left as the gps showed a possible flat where we may be able to set up camp. Shortly after the split, we came to a cascade.
We crossed the cascading stream over a footbridge and started looking for any dry and flat area to set up camp.
Unfortuately, most of the grassy areas around were marshy and water soak. We ended up finding a mix area of flat rock and moss to set up our tent.
It was dark by the time we got our tent up, but the view we had next morning was pretty stunning.
Our first day was only about 1 hour covering 1.5 miles with 775 ft ascent and 217 ft descent as it was late in the day by the time we arrive on the Lofoten Islands.
Even though our camping spot was very beautiful, we were in a position where the wind swirled around us the entire night and it wasn’t a big area to set up our tent. Had we known, it would probably have been better to set up at the shelter area right after Lofoten Falls.
The wind was still whipping when we woke the next morning. After packing up, we thought we’d take a look at what the route would be like for peaking Støvla. We continued to follow the trail up including a couple sections with chains.
The clouds were moving fast over head as we continued up.
The follows the cascading stream upwards until
we reached reached another marshy flat with the wind on full blast. The trail ended at the flat. Looking ahead to bushwacking climb and the questionable weather,
we decided to continue back to the Munken trail.
We hiked off trail toward the outlet of the lake Fjerddalsvatnet.
We cross the rushing stream that was about knee deep, but our shoes provided good grip as we waded across.
A slip down the stream wouldn’t have been fun. The more challenging part was climbing up the rockface on the other side. We threw our bags up and climbed up.
Looking back toward Støvla, we were happy we didn’t attempt it with the exposure and heavy winds.
We hooked up with the Munkebu trail just as Julien’s tour group was at the junction.
The well marked trail follows a scramble alongside another cascade before curving around a couple muddy flats.
At the final flat, there is a nice outcrop where the lakes of Tennesvatnet and Krokvatnet are seen sitting under the tallest peak of Hermannsdalstinden.
The views continue as the trail starts downwards.
Shortly after, there was a small hill of Djupfjordheia that provides a pretty cool view of the fjord and E10 bridge.
The wind did not relant during lunch, so we decided not to try for any of the peaks. Our plan at the time was possibly camping around Krokvatnet lake or the hill directly above that. After the stream a few couple times, the trail downward was muddy, a precursor to the trail that waited for us after the hut and lunch.
Once we slip and slided our way down to the bottom of Tennesvatnet Lake before another scramble up a boulder section.
At the top of the climb, the sun broke through briefly.
We headed down to the lake to refill out water supply. Fishing is a big attraction here in the Lofoten Island lakes, so bring a rod if that’s your thing.
We headed up to the top of the hill for a possible camping spot, but the wind was relentless and the sun was gone. Since we still had plenty of day light, we made the call just to keep on trucking. The view from this hill was among my favorites on this section and the peak in the distance reminds me of a half dome clone.
The next section was one of the steepest downhill we’ve encounters on this trek. With the wind howling, we made our way down the muddy trail with wires and roads aiding our descent at times.
At the outlet of Tennesvatnet Lake, there is a power station and a cement platform where we thought of stopping, but at this point we thought the idea of camping on the beach would be better. We saw the afternoon ferry from Reine drop someone off at the power station below us.
From the powerstation, the trail around the inlet to Vindstad was some of the worst trails we encountered the entire day. There were no markers the entire way with was the most difficult in the initial section where we were scrambling up and down on mossy boulders. The best markers we had were crushed blueberries on the ground that those before us left. The trail eventually was more pronounced as a muddy trail. It was much slower going then the distance and elevation profile suggested. If you have the option, take the ferry and skip this section all together.
We were happy to enter Vindstad, but there really isn’t any places near the village to camp.
The weather looked like it was going to be ok as we made our way through the village of Vindstad toward Buneset beach.
However the rain came down on us as we rounded the top of the hill toward Buneset Beach.
There was an out house at the beach and there are a couple piles of garbage that campers have brought in, but it was a quiet nice view. We were eager to setup our tent and turning in for the night. We tried to find a place behind some rocks to help shield the swirling wind got even stronger.
It was so strong, that our tent pole snapped as we were holding on trying to prevent the tent from blowing away (our tent has since been repaired by the awesome staff at Sierra Design for free, thanks Nate for handling my inquire and Kathy for doing the repair). This day was the worst wind we ever experienced in our trekking careers, even more than Patagonia.
So being dejected, we packed up and headed back toward the Vindstad. We had passed a community center/cafe that had a hallway open and a couple of bathrooms in Vindstad and squatting there for the night was our plan with our shelter broken. After cooking dinner we fell asleep to the pouring rain and wind gusts continuing overnight.
For the day we hiked a total of 10.2 miles with 4302 ft ascent and 4878 ft descent over 12.5 hours.
It was a challenging day with the weather, but still provided great views along the way. The weather prevent us from attempting to bag and of the peaks, it will be something we’ll have to come back to next time. The big bummer was that our trekking trip was over with our tent snapping, it’s fortunate we found a place to squat at and right where we can take the boat to the town of Reine the next day.
The rain and wind continued to pound the area as we woke up the next morning. As we were cooking breakfast, another camper, Daniel, came in from the rain. He had spend the previous night at Buneset beach braving the weather, holding his tent up, repairing the tears from the wind, and not sleeping at all. It sounded like we got the better end of the deal.
My phone had both reception and internet at Vindstad so I was able to make a Airbnb reservation for the night in Reine and call the ferry company for a pickup.
We found that the hut by the pier was open and offered another option to crash at should others be stranded.
Luckily for us, rain stopped briefly as we headed out toward the pier.
We were able to pay on the boat with a credit card and we had plenty of seats.
The boat had stopped at Vindstad first and headed over to Kjerkfjorden before returning to Reine. This would have been convenient for us had we still had a working tent, but it was opposite of their schedule. It would be advised to contact them with your plans the day of your trip.
There were several of us getting out of the weather in Reine.
While walking to town, our airbnb host Toming saw us and waved us in. The airbnb was 1 of 2 rooms on the top floor of his house. It was a comfortable house and a good place to spend the rest of the day sheltered from the storm that continued throughout the day and night. We supplemented some of the food we already had with some fresh fish and cheese from the market and spend the rainy day reading and napping.
The word was that the ferry between Bødo and Moskenes was canceled a couple times while we were on our trek due to the weather so we made the decision to head back to Bødo the next morning since the weather outlook was poor. Toming offered to take us to the ferry since his family was heading for Bødo as well, we were grateful for him saving us the walk along the road.
If the weather would have been better, we could have stayed in town and hiked Reinebrigen.
views: 4. Even though the weather prevented us from summitting any of the peaks, the aesthetics of the many lakes and waterfalls among the granite peaks made for the trip. Adding on the remote beaches, the Moskenesøya Island of the Lofoten Islands are quite stunning. I am giving it a bit leeway here as well since other’s experiences may be much better in terms of the weather. Not only that, there is also the prospect of the midnight sun or auroras to possibly enhance the experience here. These are motivations for me to come back.
difficulty: 3 (4 – summits). The weather obviously played a big factor for our trek. We didn’t attempt the summits because of how harsh the winds were blowing. I would only imagine the wind being worth further up making the steeper climbs worse. There is also a good amount elevation change among this route, making it a decently high endurance route.
technical: 3 (4 – summits). In terms of navigation, the popular areas are well marked, but not so much the areas in between. There are no markers and you are following trails the best you can without much cairns in those less travelled areas. The trail has some decent scrambling and some very steep and muddy sections. The summits I expect are more technical in the steepness and scrambling needed, but we didn’t attempt them this time around.
A big limitation to our trip was that was we had only a week in Norway and we needed much more time to truly flush out and enjoy the Lofoten Islands. For our planned trip, we only had planned 5 days to hike. It was cut short first by the ferry schedule changing leaving us with about 4 days to trek the route that we wanted. Then the terrible weather and our tent breaking, left us with 2 nights of camping and a day of hiking. But if we were there exactly a week later, we would have gotten very lucky with clear days and a solar flare leading to the northern lights showing up early in the aurora season. So next time.
With spending money for housing rather than wild camping and a rental car, it’s possible to still have a great experience driving around and doing the day hikes. The major viewpoints and peaks mostly can be done as day hikes and the trails connecting them are pretty poor since they aren’t used much. Most that come and camp in the Lofoten Islands do so at the beaches (Buneset, Horseid, or Kvalvika) rather than a trek, so walk your own walk.
The next morning, we rode with Toming and his family to catch the morning ferry back to Bødo. It was a stormy and rocky ride, so I spent most of the time with my eyes closed napping. We stayed in Bødo for a couple of nights at the cheapest airbnb we can find while relaxing, doing a hike, walking around town, and shopping. Danielle and Alex rent out both of their bedrooms at the airbnb, so it was small but adequate for us.
Bødo is known as the gateway to the Lofoten Islands and is the most southern city where you can see the midnight sun, during the top summer month. Again, there are plenty of groceries (open early), outfitters (open around 10 am), and pharmacies (open around 8:30 am) should you need supplies. Additionally, there is a Sunday farmer’s market.
During our couple of days in Bødo, we mainly bought fresh and smoked fish, cheese, fruits, and veggies for our meals. However we did have a hardy traditional Norwegian meal from the Kafeteria, which was one of the cheapest restaurant around outside of fast food.
There is a tourist center downtown and there are free city walk tours offered by a local. The walk involves heading up to the free observation floor of the Scandic Havet – the tallest building in Bødo, the church, and seeing several of the street around the city.
An attraction about 30 minutes south of the city in Saltstraumen and can be reached by public transportation is the Saltsatraumen Maelstrom (youtube video captured by Gheorghe Falcaru). It is the place of the world’s strongest current that takes place every 6 hours when the tidal change has water rushing from the Skjerstadfjorden to the Saltfjorden.
There are several hiking trails leading away from Bødo as well, the most popular is Keiservarden. It’s what we opted for during our day in Bødo instead.
type: in and out
distance: 3.3 miles
elevation change: 1214 ft ascend & descend
time: 2 hours (1.5 hours moving)
The trailhead is on the northern side of town. There are couple of trailhead the one we took was at the bottom of the uphill. However there is another one with a carpark further up the hill.
There are 2 ways around the first small lake of Øvre Vollvatnet, both are pretty much the same. We took the left route up.
Following the left route, there is a T intersection. To continued straight at the intersection is a less hiked and more aggressive uphill. The standard Keiservarden route takes the right path at the intersection, which we did.
The first section is among the trees and then continues onto a section of boulders and flat rocks. The final approach to the top are a few sets of stairs, which we climbed into the clouds.
At the summit of Kieserverden is a big flat area with a shelter. From there we can see Bødo in its entirety.
With less cloud cover, the island of Landegode could be seen out at sea. The clouds lifted a little as we started to head down revealing a nice rainbow.
After eating a snack we headed down to get out of the wind.
view: 3. The views from the high point is a nice 180 view of the city of Bødo, bay, the mountains opposite the bay, and Landegode Island. If you have some time to in Bødo waiting for the ferry or plane, it’s worth a quick 3 mile hike.
difficulty: 1. The trail is mildly sloped and not very long. Many locals run up the mountain as their exercise.
technical: 1. The trail is clear and no difficulties.
After 2 nights in Bødo, we had an early 8 am flight to connect to Oslo. We walked the 30 minutes to the airport and our time in Norway came to an end.
Our flight from OSL to Lisbon (LIS) was in coach, but it was a short uneventful flight.
We landed in Lisbon in a completely different weather. At the airport, we bought a 24 hour metropass that took us to our hotel and allowed us to head downtown during our 18 hour layover. We stayed at the Lisbon Marriott using our free night certificate as part of the Chase Marriott card.
After checking in, we headed downtown for dinner and to walk around. Our first option was to head to the well known Vervejaria Ramiro shown on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, but they were closed for renovations. So we settled for the next door Cervejaria Barcabela. Their service was a bit lacking as specified by some tripadvisor reviews, but we enjoyed seafood meal.
We spent the rest of the evening walking around the pretty cool city. The castle at the top of the city just closed when we reached it, so we will have save it for the next time. We enjoyed Lisbon during our layover and really felt the similarities between Lisbon and Rio, though Lisbon felt more relaxed. We’ll have to return for longer next time.
We left for the airport early next morning and had breakfast at the TAP’s new flagship lounge as part of our business class tickets. It was fortunate we left for the plane a little bit earlier as immigration took longer than expected. There were automatic kiosks, but they only worked if Portugal is your port of entry into the EU.
TAP’s business class flight were on Airbus A330-200 planes with a 1-2-1 business class lay flat configuration. It would have been more useful if this was an overnight flight, but we enjoyed getting pampered watching movies and napping.
We landed in rainy Boston (BOS) and spend a fun evening with our friends, thanks Tashuana and Roger for hosting us! Our flights early morning on Southwest back to BWI was uneventful and our quick trip came to an end.
It was a hard decision on where to spend our time in Norway and the Lofoten was much more appealing than the crowded fjords around Bergen. Even though we did experience some wonderful views in the Lofoten Islands, I’d recommend just renting a car and doing day hikes in the fjords around Bergen.
This is because the amount of additional travels to position to the lofoten Islands via flights and ferry really only left us with 4-5 days compared to 6-7 if we just has our Bergen flight. Secondly, the extra flexibility to prepare for the weather is much needed for the temperamental weather above the arctic. Should you have longer than a week, I would highly recommend the Lofoten Islands.
Consider the costly nature of Norway, I was pretty happy with our budget even though we had extra housing and food costs from having to spend 2 more days off the trail. We save money by not drinking and eating out once during our time in Norway. Our flights were more than we could have spent, but it was Business class for about US$300 more.
We spent a total of US$2334.93 out of pocket. We redeemed 57000 US Bank Altitude Points, 5933 southwest points, and 1 Marriott category 1-5 free night from the Chase Marriott credit card worth a total of US$1039 based on thepointsguy’s August 2017 valuations. The total value of the trip is worth US$3373.33 for 2 people. The detailed spreadsheet is listed below.
Lastly, we were able to earn 5712 United Airline miles for both of us with TAP business class flight and 67 Norwegian Reward points.