Keys Gap to the David Lesser shelter is one of the lesser utilized sections of the Appalachian Trail as it passes through Loudoun County Virginia. With the better know Raven Rocks to the south, and Loudoun Heights to the north, the Keys Gap/David Lesser Shelter hike is a nice alternative to the crowds. The David Lesser Shelter is a popular overnight campsite, with an adjacent tent camping area and picnic gazebo with swinging chair. If you plan on camping here make sure to arrive a little early as it is well utilized in the warmer months.
Mile 1.23 – Arrive at the ridge, with Loudoun County to the east and Jefferson County to the west. The ridgeline is the boarder of Virginia and West Virginia. Continue along the ridge for another 0.44 miles where the AT crosses an old fire road.
Mile 1.67 – Climb to the top of a rise on the ridge.
Mile 3.2 – Descend to the David Lesser Shelter. There is a separate sheltered chair swing next to the main shelter, as well as a large group campground 50 yards below the shelter. A seasonal spring is also located below and to the right of the shelter. Return to the AT and turn right to retrace your route back to Keys Gap.
Mile 6.4 - Arrive back at the Keys Gap Parking area.
Keys Gap/David Lesser Shelter Hike Comments
Date of Hike: Sunday, November 10, 2019
Perfect half day hike. Well marked trails, good parking. Enough people to feel safe but not so many to spoil the solitude. Leaves were down which improved the views. (Views better farther north at Harpers Ferry). Easy elevation, although the leaves occasionally concealed tricky rock spots.
Date of Hike: Sunday, June 25, 2017
Nice little green tunnel hike after being off a month for an injured knee. Easy section of the AT. Views are just OK. This would be a much better hike when the leaves are down.
Be extremely careful crossing route 9 at Keys Gap. There are no sightlines for either you or the motorists.
Be sure to pop-in and visit the David Lesser shelter, a Hilton among AT shelters with its deck, deck seating, Adirondack chairs, and porch swing under a separate cooking shelter. The only downside to this shelter is that water is a long way down the hill.
One thing to note is that the blue-blazed trail to the overlook forks. Avoid the temptation to take the right fork which looks much more heavily traveled. It dumps you in a scree field with no view at all. Take the left, much less traveled, fork to get out to where you want to be.
I enjoyed this hike. Great views as the leaves were off the trees. You would not see a lot in the distance in the summer, but it is still a nice hike. The description said it was muddy at the start -- I did not find much mud there but found more starting at the 1 mile mark. It was only in short stretches and not very deep, about one-half inch. I did fine wth my trail runners. Several downed big trees to climb over.
Safety: RUN when you cross the highway. The road is hilly and curved, and traffic is fast. You do not see or hear vehicles -- and they do not see you -- until they are VERY close. Also, a sign on the bulletin board warns to leave NOTHING visible in vehicles, even chargers. It also says if you must leave a bag in the vehicle, open it up so would-be thieves can see it is just clothing or nothing valuable. Theft is clearly a problem here. While I was in the parking area before and after the hike I saw a total of three people just parked sitting in cars, smoking and looking around. I don't see that at other hike parking areas in this region. They could just be taking a break, but be careful anyway.
Date of Hike: Monday, September 5, 2016
This is a moderately easy hike. I enjoyed the slow elevation gain and the silence of the forest. As others have mentioned, there isn't a lot to see with leaves on the trees. Even when I got to the overlook I was a bit underwhelmed. However, I was able to sit on a rock by myself for quite some time so that made it all worth it. I will definitely be returning in the fall and/or winter.
Date of Hike: Sunday, June 26, 2016
First time hiking this route. It was a lot of fun. A perfect 1/2 hike. Some challenging spots but very doable in 3 hours round trip. The only disappointment was the lack of views at the Transmission Tower and Buzzards Rock due to foliage. I think I will try this hike again after the leaves fall and expect it to be even better.
Date of Hike: Saturday, March 19, 2016
We set out on this hike knowing that rain/snow was coming, but we thought we could beat it - wrong. We got as far as the set of stone stairs when the light drizzle turned into increasingly heavy snow. We decided to turn back, which was a good decision, since one of us was not dressed well for the cold soaking. In spite of the discomfort, this was a great experience. Hiking in the snow (only a couple of inches) was fun. We'll come back again when the weather is more promising.
One caution: there were a couple of sketchy characters hanging around the parking lot, and one of them approached our car before we pulled out. If this happens to you, remember that there is a small store where Sheriff's deputies seem to park just a quarter of a mile back toward Leesburg.