Chester Gap: Treasure in the backyard

That’s right folks, there is indeed a treasure right here in our backyard. You see the top of our mountain borders right up to Shenandoah National Park, giving those of us who are willing access to nearly 196,000 acres of parkland — with 79,579 acres of that classified as wilderness.

The path leading up to the overlook off from the main trail that begins atop Chester Gap where Route 610 ends. Photo by Chris Ubben.

Betcha didn’t know that, did you now? While I must admit that I — just like a lot of you, I suspect — usually take it for granted, it is a special gift that we all not only should be thankful for but should be taking greater advantage of. I was reminded of the other day just how breathtakingly beautiful it can be up there, and I tell you, its no wonder that some of our ancestors chose to build their homes up there rather than the valley floor down below.

If you start walking from the point where Chester Gap Road (Route 610) ends, it’ll take a little sweat and some honest legwork to get up to the first little turnoff (at the Appalachian Trail), but trust me when I tell you that it’s entirely worth it. The view from the rock outcropping nearby with the smell of the pines that surround it is just amazing. The pines lend that spot a musky sweet scent that will linger with you for days afterward.

The view west from that overlook. Photo by Chris Ubben.

Should you be willing to take on more, as I was just last week, once you return to the main trail continue on up and you’ll come to the turning off point of the horse trail. This will lead you down some switchbacks with fairly scary dropoffs on the sides, I must say, and then across the Skyline Drive itself before you continue down a fire road to bring you to (yep, I’ve just got to say it again) a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall.

I visited this spot once as a teenager in the wintertime, as it is right now, and we got there as the snow was falling and it was just gorgeous. Should you not take that horse trail, though, you may continue on ahead and either take the lefthand trail to Gravel Springs, where there is an old burned-out home site right close by, or venture off to the right and visit Fort Windham rocks, which thrust up from the mountainside like some medieval castle.

Should you take in both of those sights and still want more, you can continue on up the trail and cross over the Skyline Drive and pick up the trail to the top of Compton’s Peak — which, as far as I’m concerned, is the true and official tiptop of our mountain. It caps off at an official height of 2,909 feet — and, by the way, the park maps label our mountain officially as Morris Mountain, with Chester Gap being a town/village located thereon.

The point of this story being, friends, that we have a valuable and fortunate resource right at our backdoor, and it’d be a shame for us not to make the most of it. I made a almost five-mile roundtrip hike the other day and while I paid for pushing my muscle a little top far, I can honestly say that it was more than worth it, and I will be spending a lot of my free time exploring the top of our mountain here. Until next time friends may the good Lord bless you and your children respect you!

1 Comment

  1. Beautiful photos, Chris! You have inspired me to take that hike. However, I guess I will have to wait until this big snow has come and gone!

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