Virginia hikes: Chimney Rock, Riprap Hollow, & Wildcat Ridge, April 17 2021

Shenandoah National Park is one of the parks thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail will cross during their journey between Georgia and Maine. However, I don’t know if the thru hiker ever really get the full Shenandoah experience if they only stick to the white blazes on the ridge following Skyline Drive and never try Blue-Blazing down on of the many hollows. While this could serve as the start of a spicy discussion of why I will probably never be a thru-hiker (JMT doesn’t count), I will save that clickbait post for another time. Instead, this post will highlight they typical Shenandoah experience with rushing cascades, crystal clear swimming holes, and rocky vistas out with views of the wide Virginian valleys. Maybe you’ll even see a black bear. All of which you’ll find on the Riprap Hollow loop.


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virginia hikes: Sherando Lake, Torry Ridge, & White Rock Falls loop, June 27 2020

Being opportunistic is a good way to avoid the crowds when it comes to popular trails. It may mean getting up before sunrise, starting out late in the day, or still heading out when it’s rainy. With many of the frontcountry campgrounds still closed, certain trails are a little less crowded than normal. This included the Sherando Lake area, which is known as the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains and typically sees hundreds of campers a day.


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virginia hikes: Fridley Gap loop, May 23 2020

If you’ve read enough of these hike reports, a common theme you’ll find is that I love hiking next to running creeks, streams, and rivers. As we get into the summer in Virginia, they can also provide a perfect respite to the hot and humid weather in the form of swimming holes. So after a week of none stop rain, I was excited to go check out a hike featuring some swollen creeks and wide swimming holes.


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virginia hikes: Grayson Highlands loop, July 27 2019

My friends, Chris and Tori, had long talked about heading out to Grayson Highlands State Park to camp out and doing some bouldering. While my lackluster climbing skills and commitment to get better at climbing would steer me away from their bouldering activities, I said I would join them camping. One of my favorite hikes in Virginia is located in Grayson Highlands and I looked forward returning since my last trip out there was five years ago. I would go for a hike while they climbed. A sunny, but abnormally cool summer weekend at the end July finally motivated them to do the trip, so I couldn’t say no.


New lab member Natalie also joined us at the last minute, she had also been looking to hike in Grayson Highlands as well since arriving in Virginia.


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virginia hikes: Overall Run & Beecher Ridge loop, July 5 2019

We had to change our original plans for July 4th weekend due to injuries preventing us from doing any backpacking or too much hiking. Though we did still want to get outdoors, so we got out to Shenandoah for a Friday hike. Have to get rid of that steak, hotdogs, and beer somehow. #merica

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trip report: John Muir Trail, July 2018 – part 2, getting in & Yosemite National Park warmup

Do you remember your first backpacking trip? For me, it was with Jared, Matt, Will, and Arnold in Yosemite National Park during my last Memorial Day weekend in California before graduate school. Of course, we didn’t have permits beforehand or even thought of how busy it would be that weekend nor really knew much about what was really necessary for backpacking. Through that weekend of floods, rain, infinite hot dogs, and plenty of Gentleman Jack, we emerged as Poopanauts, which is a story that will have to wait for another time. The main point is that it is hard to recall the feeling and mindset of getting into the wilderness for the first time. It was something I had to try my best to relate to as I lead my California friends Arnold, Joey, and Miguel and new friends Becky and Doris back to Yosemite National Park. For Becky and Doris, it was their first time into the backcountry. Since these guys were willing to take the time off work to drive me up to Yosemite – where I would start my John Muir Trail (JMT) hike – and spend several days in the backcountry with me, I hoped that I was able to share my enthusiasm of the outdoors with my friends again and for the first time.


This is part 2 of my John Muir Trail (JMT) trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted. Read More

sw virginia hikes: Dismal Creek and Sugar Mountain Loop, June 25 2017

Recently, the focus of my effort on travel2walk have been on getting the many backlogged large trip reports out. I still have the two trips from this year that I’m working on. A side effect of my focus on trip reports is that other sections of my page has been neglected, such as my local Virginia hike reports. A poor fall 2016 foliage season due to the warm weather wasn’t very motivating for me to work on the section either. A second side effect of the long trip reports is that I don’t get as much content out as quickly.

With that in mind, I’ve revamped the sw virginia hiking page and you’ll see more quick hiking reports like this. The thesis length trip reports will still come, but at a slower rate. I’m hoping I can get those out in time for you to reference while planning for the following season.


  • Dismal Creek and Sugar Mountain Loop via the AT and Ribble Trail
  • type: loop
  • distance: 10.8 mi
  • elevation change: 2001 ft ascend and descend
  • time: 4 hours moving (5 hours and 41 minutes with breaks)
  • location: Jefferson National Forest near Pearisburg, VA (directions to trailhead)



You can find this loop listed under Hike #12 on the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club (RATC) webpage. A good swimming hole to visit after the hike and on the way out is Dismal Falls. The AT continues southbound to Dismal Falls from this loop as specified by Hike #13 here so you can make it a 19ish mile loop if you start at the Dismal Falls lot. There are plenty of camping spots along the way as discussed below, so not hard to make a weekend out of this loop.



With majority of the lab gone for conferences and workshops, the rest of us decided to hike a section of the AT near Virginia Tech’s campus I’ve yet to do. This was also the first hike for our new research coordinator Doug.

To reach the trailhead, follow RATC’s instructions: “(From Roanoke) Take I-81 south to exit 98. Go right onto Route 100 and go 11.7 miles to Route 42. Go left and drive 10.3 miles to Route 606. Make right on to Route 606 and go 1.3 miles. Make right on Route 201. This will become a Forest Service road. Continue for 5 miles on FS 201 to Ribble Trail parking area on right. (Note: parking area is located where road makes sharp left turn and begins to climb Sugar Run Mountain)”


As mentioned above, this hike can be made longer if you start or end at the Dismal Falls parking area on FS201.

The beginning heads right (both in the timing and direction sense of the word) into the forest on the muddle Ribble Trail.


At the intersection with the AT, turn left and head northbound. The trail is much less muddier and it’s a nice stroll crossing Dismal Creek a few times.


Before the uphill begins, you come to a large pond with several camp spots around and where we saw a deer across the way.


The AT then starts to ascend first through a tunnel of small trees before the steepest uphill section of the hike.


Once the AT reaches the ridge, the trail flattens out again with only slight inclines and declines. Zhouya and Shengchuang was happy about that.


Along the spine of the mountain, there were a couple of nice camping spots.


Around the 4 mile mark, there is an rock outcrop where you get a view of the valley and the ridge that the AT continues on over to Angel’s Rest over Pearisburg. It was a good place to stop for lunch.


Continuing on, you come to an intersection with a spur to the right for the top of Sugar Run Mountain while the AT bypasses to the left. This is for a good reason as there are several cell phone towers out here. Just past the first tower is a nice camping spot


and another opening.


Continuing along a dirt service road, you’ll reach the peak of Sugar Run Mountain with another cell phone tower.


After a slight downhill, the blue blazed Ribble Trail intersection is on the left


and a bit overgrown. Watch for those ticks.


Shortly crossing the AT again,


the (g)Ribble Trail starts it’s steep and overgrown descent.


It would have been a bit harder going the other direction as the Ribble trail isn’t heavily trafficked. We did see a cool toad.


After a road crossing, the trail flattens out but again becomes super muddy.


We passed another campsite before finally reaching the opening to the parking area with our feet caked in mud.



On the way out we stopped by Dismal Falls where I got to chill my feet in the creek and wash off all that mud. Oh yea, the falls are pretty awesome too.


There was another campsite located just pass the falls. I imagine that’s a popular car camping spot.

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 2. Overall, this hike was a pretty typical Virginia hike as it wasn’t the most interesting for views. While hiking next to Dismal Creek, you don’t see it much other than a few crossings. The vistas are pretty typical of the Virginia valleys with majority of trail among the green trees. The Rhododendron were in full bloom in the area, which added some variety. We were the only ones on the trail since it’s not a well know section of the AT, which added to the experience. Also, a short jump to Dismal Falls was a nice end to the day.
  • difficulty: 2. There was one uphill to the spine of the mountain and a steeper down on the Ribble Trail. The 10.8 miles is a little bit longer, but few of the crew that don’t hike often at all did just fine. The mud was probably the most difficult part of the trail.
  • technical: 1.5. The Ribble trail isn’t the best marked and is not trafficked much, so know where you need to go before heading in.

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trip report: Maui, January 2017

This is part 5 of our holiday break trip around the Pacific from December 2016 to January 2017 where we traveled to New Zealand and Maui. You can also to other parts below in the index.

I’ve personally been on Maui on three different trips. Obviously, it is a place I enjoy. This part of the trip report will be based on experiences from my parents and myself on this current trip, but will also feature information from my previous visits and other research I’ve done about Maui over the years. As such, the flow will be a little bit different.

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sw virginia hikes: Apple Orchard Falls and Cornelius Creek Loop, July 10 2016


  • Apple Orchard Falls and Cornelius Creek Loop
  • type: loop
  • distance: 6.1 mi (listed at 5.6 mi)
  • elevation change: 1578 ft (listed at 1680 ft)
  • time: 3 hours with stops along the way
  • location: Jefferson National Forrest near Arcadia, VA
  • There are multiple ways you can do this loop including getting all the way up to the AT rather than taking the fire road connector and multiple trailheads to start at. My preferred trailhead is the trailhead at FS59 as described by hiking upwards in the link above. That way you do the climbing first before the downhills.
  • On the loop, there are many stinging nettles, especially on the Cornelius Creek Trail and the fire road. So it is recommend to cover your legs in the summer.


Summer is actually my least favorite of the hiking seasons here in Southwest Virginia. The weather is generally hot, humid, and rainy. All you really see is a lot of green from the tree cover, which prevents you from some views as you hike up the hills here. However, there are hikes that I do enjoy in the summer, and those all usually involve running water of some sort. One of my favorites here in this area is the Apple Orchard Falls and Cornelius Creek Loop.

So we thought it would be a nice Sunday hike after a night of drinking. Our friends Matt and Brennan joined for the hike. Brennan is a new transplant here to Southwest Virginia and this is her first hike here. Kevin and Shannon tried to join us also, but they got lost as they tried to search for Apple Orchard Falls on Google. In light of that, to reach he trailhead on FS59, leave I-81 at exit 168 onto 614 to head south. Continue on 614 pass the James River and a set of railroad tracks as you enter the Jefferson National Forrest. Jennings Creek will start out on your left and shortly after it crosses to your right, you turn on FS59 right after an parking area. Follow FS59 along North Creek all the way to the turnabout at the trailhead, including a 2 mile stretch of gravel road that’s not on Google Maps. Alternatively you can park at Sunset Field on the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 78.4 to start the loop at an alternative location.

In this report, I will outline my preferred route which starts with the uphills rather then end with it. Also, I prefer to hike up the Cornelius Creek Trail because you face the creek this way rather than the views being at your back.


There are a few crossings, where my I really appreciate my Chacos.


Also along the way are a few swimming holes that can help cool you off. If you want to have a nice dip at the end of your trek, then I’d recommend going clockwise form the same trailhead.


After a few miles following Cornelius Creek, the trail heads upward in it’s steepest climb of the day away from the creek. You will pass a camping site right before the steep portion. It is one of the many nice backcountry sites in this area. With one zig zag, we reached the fire road connector that we’ll take to the Apple Orchard Trail. At this juncture, there is an alternative route that will take you up to the Appalachian Trail. You can also take that route for the loop and meet up with the Apple Orchard Trail also. Lastly, there use to be a fire pit and another camping site here, but it is overgrown in the summer. Same can be said for the fire trail. Again, there are plenty of stinging nettles.


Along the overgrown bushes, you’ll also find wild blackberries.


After crossing a set of downed trees and a couple creeks, you’ll reach the junction for the Apple Orchard Trail. Head downhills by turning left. Along the way down, you’ll see many interesting rock faces. We predicted Kevin and Shannon talked about bouldering them when they pass it.


As you continue to descend, you’ll pass a set of wooden bridges with a cool little cascade, pool, and campsite. Perfect for doing some mid hike yoga.


Right before you reach the stairs where they is the rocky remains of a bench, the trees open up for a nice vista.


Before you head down the wooden stairs, you can head upwards on a faint trail just above the bench remains.  This area is at the top of the falls and where a hidden campsite is located just across the creek. There is also a Geocache in the area, which is how I know about it. You can also get pretty close to the falls, so do be careful.

After the wooden stairs, you are at the bottom of the falls where there is a nice resting area. You can climb further up onto the rocks for a close look also.


After the falls, it is downhills on the Apple Orchard Trail.


The trail continues along North Creek passing several more campsites. When you come to a T junction, stay straight. After about 2 miles, you will reach Cornelius Creek again and the trailhead.

Make sure you check for ticks before heading out. The tall grass on the fire road and the optional bushwacking makes it likely for ticks to latch on.

ratings (1-5)

  • views: 3. This is among my favorite hikes here in SW Virginia, mainly because we don’t see a lot of people on this trail typically and the amount of creeks you see on the loop. Lastly, a few swimming holes along Cornelius Creek is pretty awesome.
  • difficulty: 2. It is generally a slow slopping uphill with a couple of steeper sections including some stairs downwards. However, not really too bad.
  • technical: 1.5. Pretty clear for the most part, the fire road is pretty over grown and there is a section of downed trees you have to climb over. A few signs have been added there to help with directions and to show hikers how to hook up with the AT. There are blue blazes on the Cornelius Creek Trail and Apple Orchard Trail, but they are a bit faded.


pictures through the years

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trip report: Brazil, March 2016 – Chapada Diamantina, Rio, Ilha Grande, and São Paulo

There are places you go to because it’s a place you’ve always dreamed of going. There are places you go because your friend told you about their great experience. There are places you go for the pure aesthetic. There are places you go because buzzfeed made a list. But another major reason for traveling is certainly for travel’s sake. In this case, Brazil was the place we went to because we’ve never been and I wanted to get in on a mistake business class fare. The end result of that business class saga turned out to be a lot of headache and it lead to a lot of planning by the seat of our pants.


This style of traveling is much different that our typical planned out trips. Research helps to save money and time, but it also helps me to get a sense of what I need to prepare for. This is especially true when it comes to backcountry trekking where you are balancing, literally, what you need and what you don’t. During my attempt to research about trekking in brazil proved very difficult, including trying to find any trail maps online. So it was clear this trip would be without a direct plan, however this style of travel has many  of its own benefits. There is much more freedom to just go and immerse into the local culture. From that perspective, you see new things, try new things, meet new friends, and drinking a lot of caipirinhas.


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