Portland Aerial Tram
Northwestern part of state, Augusta County. Closest town: West Augusta. From the town of Staunton in northwestern Virginia, head west on U.S. 250. In about seventeen miles you will reach the West Augusta Country Store. (There are a few restaurants and places to stay along this road.) Once past the country store, keep watch on the right for the Mountain House picnic area. The picnic area has tables, grills, trash receptacles, and toilets, but no drinking water. There is a place to camp in the back near the trailhead, although it is not an official camping area.
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Draft is an old-fashioned term for what we now call a creek. This official wilderness area, in a national forest, includes the creek, the floodplain that surrounds it, and the hillsides rising up around the floodplain. If you just want to see big trees, you can see plenty on a day hike. But if you want to go further and stay longer, as I did on this journey, then you must carry a backpack that holds food and shelter.
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Following a trail along the creek, I crossed the stream by stepping carefully from rock to rock. The trail continued on the other side for a distance, then crossed the creek again. Most of my day was spent like this, back and forth across the clear, rocky stream, mile after mile. In between crossings, the path was straight and level, and the giant trees cast a dense shade. I am in the old growth now.
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Every so often I saw a tree so remarkably large that I had to leave the trail and pay it a visit. At the base of the tree, I would tilt my head back and strain to see the shapes of the leaves so far up, silhouetted against the sky. I was most captivated by the tulip poplars, but there were also remarkable maples, hickories, and oaks. I appreciated each one, and then walked on slowly through the green wonderland.
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