Appalachian Trail: Roller Coasters Section


After a two-year hiatus for Karen’s hips being Very Bad When Walking/Existing, Karen had developed the opinion that She Would Hike, Damn It. It seemed like the hips were more amenable to difficult terrain with constant elevation changes and rocky, uneven surfaces, so the natural choice was the Appalachian Trail: Roller Coasters Section.

This section of the AT in northern Virginia, which we first hiked in March 2013, is the hike that made us buy hiking poles. On our triumphant ten-year anniversary, I didn’t need them. 💪 Although we only went half as far.

Total distance: 5.33 mi
Max elevation: 1339 ft
Min elevation: 724 ft
Total climbing: 1676 ft
Total descent: -1677 ft
Average speed: 2.38 mi/h
Total time: 02:57:54

Purcellville, the closest area of civilization, has fancy new downtown with restaurants and coffee, should you need sustenance after your hike.

Park at the Bears Den lot / Snickers Gap Appalachian Trailhead, on the south side of highway 7 where it intersects route 601. Get there early, it’s very popular. Fortunately for you, most of the vehicle occupants are only going as far as the Bears Den Overlook, less than a mile from the parking lot.

Up the mountain from the overlook is a privy. Volunteers keep it stocked with toilet paper and paper towels.

1.3 miles in, the AT takes a right turn to go downhill that is easy to miss and start down an unmarked trail into the Calcagnini Contemplative Center. As we realized our error (there are private property signs and a lack of blazes) and started to scramble back up, others were already making the same mistake.

Bear’s Den Overlook has some nice rocks to sit on and take celebratory foot photos.

Feets return!

Unsure of my hips’ capacity for distance, we turned around just shy of 3 miles after snacking on some rocks by a river, and returned to the car.


Distance5.28 miles
Elevation Gain132 feet
Moving Time2 hours, 44 minutes
Total Time3 hours, 00 minutes
Average Pace34 minutes per mile / 1.9 mph
Food BeforeOatmeal with berries
Food During2 Clif bars


PackCamelBak Blowfish hydration pack
NavigationiPhone 11 with AllTrails Pro
ShoesHoka One One Challenger ATR 5 trail running shoes
Used Poles?No
ClothesSocks: Wigwam Ironman Triathlon running socks
Gaiters: Outdoor Research Thru lightweight summer gaiters
Bottom: quick dry running shorts
Shirt: short sleeve wicking tee


See my current gear, clothing, and thoughts about it on the Hiking Gear page.