This past Sunday, Tammy and I hiked what I am calling the Rapidan Loop, in Shenandoah National Park. We also had a guest hiker: my friend Rich joined us.
Sunday was a fantastic day. Lots of sun. Unseasonably cool. Gentle breeze. All in all, it was a great day for a hike.
The Rapidan Loop, as I call it, is a 7.4 mile loop that starts at Milam Gap, milepost 53, on the Skyline Drive. The first part of the hike follows Mill Prong Trail, which, in an amazing coincidence, parallels a stream called Mill Prong as it cascades down hill. This stream joins another stream, Laurel Prong, to form the Rapidan River. All this water ends up in the Rappahannock River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
Where the two "prongs" come together to form the Rapidan River is the former summer getaway of President Hoover, called Rapidan Camp. He would come here, sometimes with his entire cabinet and dignitaries, for summer vacations during his tenure in office. Now it is preserved as part of Shenandoah National Park. For those not inclined to hike down to (and back up from) the camp, there is a van that will shuttle you down to the camp from Big Meadows Campground. History buffs would definitely enjoy the tour, graciously provided by a resident park ranger.
To complete the Rapidan Loop, we left Rapidan Camp along the Laurel Prong Trail, following Laurel Prong upstream. Where the Laurel Prong Trail ends at the Appalachian Trail, turn north and follow the Appalachian Trail back to Milam Gap.
Once you leave Camp Rapidan, you are climbing back up to the elevation of Skyline Drive, and then higher as you cross the summit of Hazeltop, the third highest peak in Shenandoah National Park. The last mile or two of the hike is a gentle descent from Hazeltop's summit down to Milam Gap. At the summit of Hazeltop, there is a nice stopping point where you can gaze into the hills and valleys to the west of the park.