EXPEDITION PLANNER: Priest Wilderness, Virginia
DRIVE TIME: About 3 hours (160 miles) southwest of Washington, DC, and 2 hours (120 miles) west of Richmond, Virginia.
THE WAY: From the DC area, take US 29 south through Charlottesville to VA 56. Drive west on VA 56 for 10 miles to a trailhead where the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway or continue 4 miles farther to the Crabtree Falls trailhead.
TRAILS: Between VA 56 and US 60, a 27-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail traverses this section of the Blue Ridge. Start at the AT trailhead on VA 56 and hike south (the first 6 miles are in the wilderness area). A good weekend plan is to hike 5 miles to the top of The Priest, set up a basecamp, and explore along the AT and connecting trails.
ELEVATION: The high point is The Priest at 4,063 feet. Low point is the Tye River at about 900 feet.
CAN’T MISS: Crabtree Falls, one of the highest falls east of the Mississippi, and the spectacular view from Spy Rock.
CROWD CONTROL: Leave the crowds behind by climbing above Crabtree Falls. Avoid hunting season, November to January.
SEASON: Late May to early June is the best time to see the rhododendron and mountain laurel in bloom. Winter’s bare trees and frozen waterfalls are spectacular.
GUIDES: Hiking Guide to the Pedlar District, by Michael T. Shoemaker ($6); Map 13 in the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) series ($5). For book and map, contact the PATC, (703) 242-0693; www.patc.net.
WALK SOFTLY: Near Crabtree Falls and trailheads, camping is restricted. Don’t build fire rings anywhere in the wilderness.
CONTACT: Glenwood-Pedlar Ranger District, George Washington National Forest, (540) 291-2188; www.southernregion.fs.fed.us/gwj.