Category Archives: Virginia Hiking
If you have read my site regularly you’ll know that I have had issues getting my son to get outside with me. He always loved to go hiking and exploring with me and then this past spring he announced that he didn’t like it at all and only went with me to make me happy. While it is sweet he wanted to make me happy – it also stung.
Last weekend we had a free afternoon. His soccer game got canceled so I announced to him that he was going with me outside and that was it. He couldn’t say no. He said, “Okay.” and gave no other argument. I feel like that is a small win. I didn’t have big hiking plans. I honestly wanted to get outside, take some photos, and wander around. Some of our most fun times have been when we just wander from spot to spot.
We ended up at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, VA. We’ve been here a few times and I promised him he could go fishing at the pond. We first stopped and visited the cows. I like cows and think they are funny creatures. I wasn’t too successful and getting them to moo as I usually am but it was fun taking their photos. We headed down a nearby path and honestly, we turned around. It was boring even to me (I had thought it was a different trail). This is what happens when you’re so confident and decline a map.
We decided to drive to a different portion of the park. If you leave the main area and go back to the road, you turn left and there is an old farm across the road with more trails. It is called the Lost Mountain area. We parked there and headed down a path. I guess if I really wanted a nice, pleasant walk I would return to this trail. It was flooded from all the rain and muddy. That really wasn’t an issue but it made it difficult to walk and, again, not much to see. So we turned back, again. I will make a note, though, to return and hike to the top of Lost Mountain.
I took photos of the barn and we headed across so my son could go fishing at Turner Pond. As we drove up, a man was taking photos of a large bass he had just caught. That gave us hope that he would also catch something similar. So we fished. And fished. And moved around. The older man kept catching fish and we caught nothing. But it was a lot of fun trying.
Again, we wandered down a trail that is marked as the start of a 5K. I was more interested in the barns behind the trail and wanted to see if I could get a good photo of them.
As I headed back, my son was on one of the ParCourse things (sections along a trail that allow for exercises). He was trying to balance on a pole and I finally saw glimpses of the boy who really loved the outdoors. He yelled at me, “Quick! Take my picture!” He reminded me of a photo I took years ago at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve where he wanted to “meditate in nature”. I was more than happy to take his photo. We ended up exploring and wandering for about 1.5 hrs and that satisfied me. I love spending time with him outside and seeing how excited he gets. I don’t think he realizes how much he likes it. He commented that the sun was too hot and he didn’t enjoy that. And so perhaps as it cools down he’ll be more open to going with me.
If you haven’t visited Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia, definitely put it on your list. The views are beautiful. They have wonderful trails and you can hike on the Appalachian Trail.
Blackrock Summit in Shenandoah National Park has been on my list for a long time. The southern portion of the park is sometimes hard to get to as it is over 2 hrs from my house. However, I was driving home from Charlottesville this past Saturday so I knew it was the perfect opportunity to stop.
I enjoyed a leisurely drive to the parking area from the southern most entrance to the park. I tried to take some backroads up from Charlottesville and think it is a wonderful way to see parts of Virginia most never do. As I curved around one back road I came upon an old church. This is the Afton Chapel, built in 1898. Would I have preferred to have better lighting for this photo? Of course but I still think it is very pretty. If you’d like to know a bit of history about the area, click here.
I stopped at a few overlooks as I made my way to the parking area for Blackrock. I just can’t help myself. Each view offers something a little different. A different mountain. A different valley. It was such a beautiful day that I lingered at many. I was also hoping to spot a monarch or other butterfly at one of the stops as the milkweed was blooming.
I reached the parking area of Blackrock to the sounds of a screaming child. The poor thing had fallen shortly before returning to the car. I offered any assistance (they had first aid kit – good job, parents!) and chatted with the family a bit. I am always warmed when people are friendly at the park. I would say 90% of the people I’ve encountered are and that’s how it should be. The place should make everyone happy.
The trail to the summit it short. I pushed myself to hike it quickly to get in a short workout. And then, you walk out where the rocks form a river, and are encountered with one of the most beautiful views in the park (personal opinion of course). The mountains go on forever. The trees so lush and green they appear to be a blanket laid ever so careful over the ridges. I was in awe. Again, I was met with the sounds of screaming. But this time, it was just a family screaming to each other from their positions on the rocks above. It was jarring. I try very hard to not be a snob while hiking. That defeats the purpose of it being relaxing. However, I find yelling like that in parks unnecessary and rude. As I climbed the rocks, I found that they were not far apart. They were just yelling. I secretly willed them to leave.
I carefully made my way further up the river of rocks. I saw small spiders scurry as I stepped on their favorite spot in the sun. As I climbed higher, the sounds of yelling grew quieter. I found a spot to sit and the family of 10 filed out of the area. Yes, they were still yelling. I softened a bit because they seemed very happy and how could I be mad at that. I will not deny having a huge sigh at the peace I enjoyed five minutes later.
I don’t even feel like my photos do the area justice. The sunlight was harsh for late afternoon. I don’t particularly like my angles but hopefully they will still show how amazing the view is. I sat on a large rock for quite some time. Another couple eventually climbed up near me and it was just the 3 of us for over 30 minutes. I sat there and debated how long I wanted to stay. I had over two hours before the sunset would even start and I was supposed to get up early in the morning for a hike elsewhere in the park. I finally decided to leave. I’d had a long day and knew the 11 miles on Sunday would be very difficult if I didn’t get some rest (funny… I ended up having bad asthma, didn’t sleep, and didn’t hike). I am looking forward to getting back to Blackrock for both a sunset and a sunrise. The views are amazing and with a 270 degree view, perfect for both. A highlight as I left… I saw a mama bear and her two little cubs. I was thrilled because I never see bears in the park. And then just a couple minutes later, I saw another big bear alone along Skyline.
Where has June gone? It seems to have flown by and I feel lost without hiking. I feel like I had a lot more time to hike last year and I need it more this summer. Finally, I told my son that we were going to Shenandoah. I didn’t care what we did or what we saw but I needed the mountains.
As we drove there, we encountered a massive downpour. The kind where you can’t really see 10 feet in front of you. And then, as fast as it arrived, it left leaving blue skies and sunshine. Alas, no rainbow where I was. We continued on to the park and arrived at an overlook. I got excited, grabbed my camera and realized I had no memory card. GAH! As I silently cursed myself, I suggested we head to Skyland and see if it was still open. Thankfully, it was and I bought two tiny, overpriced memory cards. We made our way back to the Little Stony Man trail stopping at a few overlooks along the way. If you have never hiked up to Little Stony Man, I highly recommend it. It is a nice, short half mile hike. You can continue on to Stony Man or the Passamaquaddy Trail.
I was happy that there would be some clouds for the sunset. While we were on the trail, he let me know that he hikes with me to make me happy not because he enjoys it. My heart quietly broke. I know I should feel good that my son does something just to make me happy it also makes me sad. I felt like I was instilling a love of the outdoors in him and now I feel like a failure at that. All the times he was excited to plan our spring break hiking trip… the times he wanted to go explore… I thought he loved it. Maybe it is his age. He is 13 after all. I hiked in front of him trying not to cry (just as I am writing this right now). I attempted to focus on the “happy” part and kept going. We reached the small clearing at the cliffs. My son threw down the blanket and stretched out knowing he would have time to just chill while I snapped my photos. At first there were beautiful sunrays filtering through the clouds. It looked amazing even though I don’t feel like my photos do it justice. When the sun made an appearance, it was blazing bright. Almost too bright. I tried some new composition ideas (new to me) and am very pleased with how they turned out.
I finally switched my lens so I could get some close-ups. In the past, I’ve cropped because I never think to bring my zoom lens for sunsets. They are some of my favorite Shenandoah photos. I will repeat it over and over: I love the ridges and layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am so happy with my shots and can’t wait to make prints.
My son finally joined me at the sunset. He sat on the rocks and looked out. We saw a Peregrine Falcon flying around and he couldn’t hide his thrill at seeing it. It wasn’t long before he went back to laying down. He has a fear of heights and the rocks turn into cliffs at that location. I went to set up my tripod and realized I had forgotten the nub for my camera. I swear I take photos on a regular basis! Truly I do! For some reason, I rushed packing my equipment this time. I had a specific idea for photos after the sunset but will have to return another time for those.
On the way home, I reflected on what my son said. I think I don’t believe him. I think he does love the outside. He may not enjoy long, difficult hikes, but I remember how excited he was for spring break. I know how happy he is when we’re out exploring. It wasn’t long before he was asleep and I drove home content with our afternoon and evening.
If you’d like to read about Part 1 to Grayson Highlands, please click here.
Our original plans for Grayson Highlands (other than seeing all the ponies) was to hike to Mt. Rogers. Mt. Rogers is the highest point of elevation in Virginia. I kept thinking how cool that would be. I have been to Pike’s Peak in Colorado and thought adding another highest peak would be a nice note on my hiking successes.
Monday morning we woke up and waited a bit. It had turned pretty cold and everything had frozen. I wanted it to warm up before we started. We arrived at the park (after I stopped again for various photos) and we talked about what to do. There was a waterfall that we could hike to or we could try for Mt. Rogers. I let my son decide and he chose Mt. Rogers. Off we hiked.
Because it had gotten so cold, all the trees had rime ice. It was magical. In one area, the wooded area appeared to be a frosted fairyland. The cold also made it much easier to hike. In many areas, my son just walked on top of the snow. I sank down so I followed footsteps already created. I felt like we were going at a good pace, but, eventually my son started to get tired. Although he’s an avid soccer player, hiking legs are something different. He was having fun but going slow. The snow didn’t help. I would stop and take photos (I couldn’t stop). We ran into some ponies and that took time. We rested and had lunch. We arrived at one point and it said, “Mt. Rogers: 2 miles”. 2 more miles? That meant we had gone approximately 2.8 miles in 4+ hrs. Go ahead, you can laugh.
I honestly felt disappointed. I knew that 2 more miles in the snow would be difficult for my son. Did I really want him to be upset? Sad? That wouldn’t make for good memories. My disappointment wasn’t as important. We turned around and headed back. We got passed by two trail runners in shorts and winter coats. At that point, I laughed. My son was decked out in a full snowsuit complete with trekking poles and snowboarding goggles. I was dressed very heavily as well. And there they were… two guys just running down the Appalachian Trail towards Mt. Rogers. I checked our elevation and we had reached almost 5,600 ft. I’d say that’s pretty close considering Mt. Rogers is 5700 and change.
In the end, it was good that we turned around when we did. It started to warm up. The sun and weather felt really good but that meant slush. The snow became difficult. I grabbed one pole from my son because I was sliding all over the place. To be honest, I don’t have winter, or well, any season of hiking boots. I have a couple pairs of trail shoes that I use. I was wearing my winter boots. I had nothing else. By the time we reached the car, the knee I sprained last year was feeling really bad. I can’t imagine if I would have had to hike 4 miles in the slush.
By the time we finished, we were both tired. It had been a quick trip back but the snow was tiring. I know that I’ll go back another time, with no snow, nice weather, and get to Mt. Rogers. It is just over 8 miles round trip and the hike itself was not difficult. Heck maybe I’ll even run some of it. The views could not be topped. I have included quite a few photos here but if you’d like to see all of them, click on the link below. Any photos that you like can be purchased. I haven’t added any to my website yet but will soon.
If you haven’t been to Grayson Highlands yet, please put it on your list. I think it is quite possibly the most beautiful area of Virginia.