We are going to hike the AT an SNP beginning June 23, 2008.
We don't want to run but rather take some side trails to cool places.
Starting at Front Royal, how would you plan the hike?
The park is full of wonderful trails. If you have time to follow some of them, so much the better! If you like history, as I do, SNP is a great place to tramp around. There are all sorts of interesting remnants of life before SNP was an NP. Rapidan Camp, President Hoover's retreat camp, was recently renovated. It's a 4-mile round trip from the AT across the drive from the Milam Gap parking area. It's a lovely hike, a good bit of it along a stream, and when we explored back in September, there was a welcoming retired couple living down there and giving tours of the renovated buildings. I believe the gentleman was a retired history prof from UVA. The camp is a little remote, but in the summer, the park service runs a van down the fire road a couple of times a day. Aside from those tours, no one goes down there except by foot, and since it's newly opened in the past couple of years, not a lot of folks know about it.
As far as planning the trip, back in September I saw a nifty little book at the wayside on side trails in SNP. I was going to buy it, but since I didn't know when I'd be back, and I was with my penny-counting CPA-husband, I left it on the rack. (He'll pay for a room at Big Meadows but won't camp for free.) I bet you could find it online and check it out. As for me, most of the time that I'm down in SNP, I let the wind sort of blow me down a trail that looks interesting that day (once I've identified it on a map!)
One thing I'd say is, that you'll be there during the height of tourist season, and the Skyline Drive can be crazy. You might want to avoid the trails close to the road that promise great views. Dark Hollow Falls comes to mind. It's right at the edge of Big Meadows. A big parking lot and a paved start of the trail is a signal that the trail is used a lot. I tried to go down there last September because it just seemed the thing to do that day. The trail was clogged with people pushing baby strollers and indoor-type folks complaining about stones in their flip-flops.
I haven't hiked the entire AT in SNP since 1980, so as far as stringing trails together off the AT, I wouldn't be a good resource. It's such a great place, though. You'll enjoy it!