This section of the Appalachian Trail can look misleading on a map. On the road, it passes from mile marker 79 to 83, but the distance is longer on the actual trail since this section separates from the road to the east and winds around Loft Mountain and the Loft Mountain campground before rejoining the proximity of Skyline Drive again. Instead of cutting a straight line through the middle of the camping area, the Appalachian Trail swings a wide arc around the area, adding distance but keeping the trail more scenic. In fact, some of the nicest views came from rocky ledges not far off the trail behind the Loft Mountain campground.
To make sure you cover every inch of the AT through SNP, start off the trail by going down the fire road on the north side of the Loft Mountain wayside, across from the street. You hurdle a small chain blocking off the fire road and then shortly take a right to head down the fire road. You will pass the Ivy Creek Maintenance Hut and spring after about .3 miles. At .6 miles, this fire road joins the white-blazed Appalachian Trail. Take a right to head south and begin your climb up Loft Mountain. At 1.1 miles, you reach a nice view to the east and at 1.6 miles you reach a few nice views to the west (along with an intersection with the Frazier Discovery Trail). The trail then begins to take on a quick descent from Loft Mountain. At 2.7 miles, you reach a post that shows a short side-trail to reach the Loft Mountain camp store. At this point, you will begin to make your way around the Loft Mountain campground. There are even a few trails to the campground, but you will see tents on a busy weekend through the trees. Around 4.0 miles, you will also find some nice views if you step out on to the rocks near the campsites. The trail begins to descend again.
Most of the early part of this section is a gradual hike up Loft Mountain. The entire section is not too tough and has some nice views to both the east and west, which is not common for Skyline Drive. If you do this hike early in the morning or late in the evening, you should be able to see a good view for a sunrise or sunset. The views from the top of Loft Mountain are the best views from hiking in the southern section of SNP. You’ll get to see views of mountains for miles and you can even glimpse Skyline Drive snaking through the mountain ridge.
- Elevation Change – about 800 feet
- Difficulty – 2. The hikeis really pretty easy, but 14 miles might be long for some people.
- Trail Conditions – 4. The Appalachian Trail is typically in good shape, but this section was especially nice and not too rocky at all.
- Views – 5. Many excellent places to take in the scenery below.
- Streams/Waterfalls – 0. None