Large national park in western Virginia stretching through most of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Contains a portion of the Appalachian Trail, very beautiful during fall with the leaves. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails, cabins, camping, many outdoor activities.
I had to travel to Atlanta on Sunday to get an office setup so later that same week I took Thursday off. For a June day the weather wasn’t that bad so I headed to the Shenandoah for a hike. I figured middle of the week the trails would be less traveled and I could get in one of the more popular hikes without much hassle.
A while back I hiked up Hawksbill and it didn’t go so well. The park was smashed with people that beautiful spring weekend. When I finally found a place to park it was on the backside of the mountain. Quickly I made it to the summit and it was smashed with people so I just skipped it.
This time I was able to park in the main lot at the start of the loop. I choose to take the slow and steady approach to climbing the mountain. One thing to always remember when hiking is the weather. When I checked it was going to be a no rain kinda day. As often happens I check the weather for where I am, not where I am going and it bit me in the butt again. This time the one tiny rain cloud in the entire state of Virginia was centered on my location as I hiked up Hawksbill. The one good thing about the rain was it was never to heavy. The trees helped blocked a lot of the rain as well and that allowed something really cool to happen. The entire hike up the mountain I was in a real life relaxation sound track like you would find in the App Store. With so few people on the trail all I could hear was the rain falling through the leaves and it was amazing. It was raining but the misery of being soaked faded as I focused on the sounds of nature.
Once I made it to the top the mountain was pretty fogged in. Thankfully with so few people at the summit I was able to hang out for a while in peace. Over time the summit kinda cleared for brief periods you could see the valley below. More importantly it had stopped raining so it was nice sitting on the edge of the mountain.
This is also the highest point in the park so a very popular hike. Hence my frustration the first time I tried to tackle this mountain. Hawksbill is rather an impressive hike in the sense that it is the highest point in the park. I wouldn’t say it has the best view but they are pretty decent. If you can hike this when there are less people definitely take advantage of the empty trail. You can find longer, more elevation change, and better views with other trails in the park that are generally less traveled. Still a solid hike and a great day out.
I needed to get out of the house for a few hours for reason that are not important. There are a couple of ways I like to kill time, beer and hiking. Today I choose a hike since it has been late fall since my last hike. In the winter months around here it can be quite nasty and not worth getting outside to hike. The forecast mentioned a possibility of afternoon rain and a high in the mid-50’s. Not great, but also not to horrible. On the mountain its colder but as long as you are prepared the cold doesn’t have to be a problem.
As I arrived at the 211 entrance I could see thick storm clouds enveloping the mountain to my left. Despite the very real potential for rain I decided to just keep going. All over the mountain there was still a thick layer of snow on the ground. I was hoping it would have melted a little more but it was fine. As I started up the mountain I quickly realize how much my boots are not water proof. They are very old and have hundreds of miles and yet for reasons unknown I still haven’t replaced them. It just made hiking the mountain a little more interesting. The best I could I tried to hike on the exposed rocks. This at least kept me out of the puddles of ice cold water that had started to collect.
The weather was the biggest thing to deal with while on the mountain. Not long after I got going it started to rain but thankfully nothing serious. Later when I finally had cell service I checked the weather radar. The storm I originally saw when coming in split the mountain I hiked. By the time I made it near the top of the mountain I could see the weather was changing again for the worse. I did manage to find a clear spot near the top that allowed me to get a pretty good shot of the valley. Not far from here is where I planted myself for a while to relax on the rocks. I spent a little longer then I should have sitting around. Eventually I noticed the clouds coming from behind me around the mountain. The top of the mountain was splitting the clouds in half so they were coming from both my left and my right. After a few minutes it dawned on me that the weather was coming from my back and when I turned around a storm was quickly approaching.
I gathered my crap and headed down the mountain as quickly as I could. Coming up was pretty difficult but I knew that going down would be harder. I would have to follow the same path but the snow made the trail slippery. I was constantly worried about losing my footing and slipping on the rocks. Just as I made it to my car it started to rain. I had enough time to get my boots off and then the heavens opened up. It was actually pretty incredible as it rained all the way home. While I was sitting in my car I noticed a group of hikers to my left. At first I thought they just an overnight and where packing to leave the park. By the time I left I realized they where actually getting read to head into the forest. I love camping but hiking or camping in the rain sucks. Good love them for doing it however.
I knew the weather wouldn’t cooperate with me and that the trail would be a mess but I didn’t let it discourage me. That day I actually ran into a lot more people then I expected for such a crappy day. One couple in fact was out hiking with their 6-month old baby which was pretty cool. This hike was only a couple hours but the view near the top was pretty kick ass. Makes me eager for nicer weather and the opportunity to get out for more hiking.
I somehow know the right time to head to Shenandoah National Park. This day was another fee free weekend and the people were out in droves. Just getting into the park was a nightmare taking almost an hour. I hit a traffic jam long before the park entrance. It was a perfect weekend to be outside and with free admission, there was no reason not to visit the park. Actually today was the first time I saw the entrance fee, a whopping $20 per car! I have a national park pass so I haven’t paid to enter the park in close to 10 years so I was shocked when I saw the price. Definitely worth it if you come to visit, entrance is good for 7 days so its a deal and the park is amazing.
I had attempted this hike once before but couldn’t find a parking spot so this time when I saw an opening I jumped at the chance to hike this trail. It starts off rather easy as it is all downhill to the falls. This is an out and back hike so when you return to the parking lot, it’s all up hill. The trail was rather quite despite having all the people in the park. It is also a little confusing getting to the falls so be sure to have a map with you as you come to several forks in the road with not the best markings.
Once you finally get to the falls there is a very short and steep section of the trail that leads down to the river. From here you meander up the river to the falls which just appear out of nowhere when you round a corner. Not as impressive as some of the other falls in the parks but still a nice location. When I got the falls there is this sheer rock cliff that for some reason I just had to climb. I wanted to sit on the ledge and look down at falls so I was determined to make it to the top. After 20 minutes I finally made a path up the cliffs and reach my spot.
At the top of the cliff I sat around and just enjoyed the view. The sun was quickly setting behind the mountains so the entire valley was bathed in a soft glow of the setting sun which was really cool. Off in the distance I could see a couple of rock climbers getting in some practice on some other rocks and below me was a couple and their two dogs enjoying the falls as well. Off in the distance you could hear the wind blowing through the trees and the last of the birds singing before migrating south for the winter.
I wanted to spend more time sitting on the cliff but I had to hike back up the mountain and make it out of the park before dusk. Winter is coming and we already adjust the clocks forward so it gets dark real quick this time of year. Instead of hiking back down to the river and potentially falling off the cliff, I headed straight up the side of the mountain till I ran into the trail back to the top.
I left the house at a reasonable time but traffic getting to the park was horrible. My time at the falls was cut short because of this and the impending park closure as the sun set. While most of the leaves had already fallen off the trees it was a great fall hike in perfect weather with a tranquil view of the falls.
After a long weekend of music at Lockn’ Festival I was not yet ready to head home. Arrington is only three hours from my house so I had all afternoon to enjoy one last day of vacation before heading back to the grind. Being near the southern entrance to the Shenandoah, I found Turk Mountain for a quick hike before heading home.
I forget how long the hike was but it was a good one. Hiking on Monday it was rather quite along the trail. Most people were stuck in their cubical at the office but I was able to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. The hike was a perfect balance of length and intensity I must say. The really nice thing was getting to the top of the mountain and just hanging out. The summit is a rather large sprawling complex of rocks that faces to the west. I spent a long time just looking out across the valley while enjoying a cigar which was really relaxing.
This hike was the perfect way to end a fantastic weekend of music and fun. Phish nailed it and it was so kick ass to see My Morning Jacket for the first time and then the Lettuce late night set. Not sure when I will get this far south again but certainly looking forward to hiking this place again. Having a “destination” like the summit of Turk Mountain was really cool.
I actually hiked Stony Man a few months back. That time the entire mountain was fogged in so it made for some unimpressive views. It was not a bad hike the first time around and in fact sitting on the edge of a cliff watching the fog roll across the valley and up the mountain was really cool. This weekend the weather was going to be nice on Sunday with highs in the low 70’s. The time had come to get out and hike now that fall officially arrived.
While not a free weekend like the first time the park was packed. I must have run across three dozen people on the trail, all out enjoying nature. It was nice to see everyone outside but it made it really hard to simply enjoy nature. In fact, on the way down the mountain I ran across two deer. There was a couple not far behind me and I thought for certain they would scare the deer off but thankfully they did not. The deer just ignored us and continued to graze up the mountain side.
As I hiked up the temps really started to drop. While it might have been low 70’s at home it was in the low 50’s on the mountain. Fall is officially here but the leaves have only just begun to change. At the first overlook this time I could clearly see across the valley and really get a sense for the view. Unfortunately as I looked up to the summit it was still covered in fogged. I stayed here for at least twenty minutes just contemplating the meaning of life and soaking in the view.
Later when I did get to the summit it was fogged in, again. There were a few small gaps but I really couldn’t see much. I promise one of these days I will get to the summit and there won’t be any fog, guess I will just have to keep trying. At the top I spend another twenty minutes hanging out on the ledge enjoying nature. One reason I love to hike is for times like this, I spend all this time hiking to a beautiful spot and I just love sitting around taking it all in.
This fall I will certainly have to get out more to the mountains. I would like to view the park over several weeks and watch the leaves change as fall gives way to winter.