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A Return to South River Falls

I really wanted to visit a waterfall this past weekend. I never can decide where to go but decided to do a return trip to South River. If you’ve been following me for a few months, you may remember I went this past winter in 0 degree weather. I think I prefer that trip and I’ll explain why below. The South River Falls trailhead is located in the South River Picnic Grounds at mile marker 62.7.  The circuit I hiked is approximately 6 miles long and covers 2,300 feet of elevation.  I started on the South River Falls Trail and went all the way to the base of the falls. You’ll get to a post that says, “Base of Falls”.  Continue down that path. On my way back up, I stay on the fire road. This will cross the Appalachian Trail where you’ll make a left.  This will take you back to the South River Falls Trail where you’ll turn right and just about be at the parking lot.

South River Falls is not my favorite waterfall in Shenandoah National Park. It’s kind of weird looking and split. I much prefer Doyles River Falls but I love the hike to South River. There are many pretty cascades. I know it sounds silly but when I made my way to the river I was surprised at how different everything looked. I know. Duh. But in March we had a massive wind storm and the downed trees added to how it had changed. I had to spend time crawling on rocks, balancing on wet rocks and wading through water to get some of my photos. And I loved every minute. The green does add beauty to the photos but I also loved how wide open everything was during winter. I was able to get to some other small falls because I didn’t have to worry about poison ivy or as many ticks or stinging nettles. I had more to photograph and I like that. Also, I think the falls look really cool when they are partly frozen (better than they look now but that’s a personal opinion).

One of the many cascades

Jump in!

Is there anything prettier?

I kept telling myself to keep moving. It was partly cloudy and I was worried the sun would be too bright by the time I got to the falls. I just couldn’t help myself when I passed certain small falls and cascades. And unfortunately, a few of my shots ended up with dappled sun. And when I got to the falls the sun was hitting the top of the falls. A photographic disaster. (Laughing) I shot it in a few exposures and I guess the final image came out okay. Sometimes I rush and don’t really think about my compositions.

South River Falls

I prefer this side of the falls

Eventually the sun was out to stay so I had to hike back. But, before I forget, I almost ran into a bear on the trail. I was all alone on the trail. And I mean really alone. I didn’t see anyone for 3 hours. I came around a corner and there was a bear. It was as surprised as me. I backed away slowly as I greeted the bear. I expected to hear it run off but it didn’t. I called out a few more times. Eventually, I saw it walk through the woods at a lazy pace. I was thrilled! Bears don’t scare me. I do wish I had gotten a photo but I thought I should follow protocol. I haven’t ever seen a bear while hiking so this was exciting.

Hiking back I forced my pace. With an upcoming Spartan Race this weekend, I wanted to test my fitness and not stop. I did have to stop once or twice but the 2,300 foot climb back up wasn’t so hard. Loved it!

I still recommend South River Falls. If you want to be in the water, it’s a great option! And the hike is just about 6 miles. Any time spent in Shenandoah National Park is time well spent.

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Have you found The Outbound?

I have to confess. I don’t write about every single hike here on this blog.  Sometimes, I write them on a site called The Outbound. The Outbound is my number one place to go when I want to hike. It allows me to search a location and see what’s available. Once in awhile I will post here and there because an Adventure on The Outbound is most just facts.  Here, I can elaborate a bit more and add my flourishes and emotions.

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My Profile on The Outbound

I want to encourage everyone to join The Outbound. It is completely free and you’ll find great places to explore.  People also share tips for hiking, exploring, and taking photos.  You will not be disappointed.  Are you into Trail Running?  That’s there too.

This spring when my son and I embark upon our spring break trip, I will have fully explored the site so I can plan exactly where we want to go.  Additionally, I research what isn’t there so I can share my own Adventures when I return.

Once you sign up, follow me! You will then have full access to all of my hiking adventures. Thankfully, I hike enough to post in both places (plus I share my Spartan Training and other life adventures here).

Mammoth Cave National Park

Our last stop for spring break was Mammoth Cave National Park. I thought this would be something my son would really enjoy. As I looked over their website it showed beginner spelunking classes for kids and a great tour of the old portion of the cave. Unfortunately tickets weren’t yet available for spring so I was patient.

Once tickets were released the spelunking for kids wasn’t available. My son was pretty bummed but still wanted to go. Unfortunately, many of the tours were already sold out. I grabbed tickets for the one tour that was available and figured we’d hike through the park afterwards.

When we arrived I saw that the tour I originally wanted was available. My son didn’t seem interested in taking two tours so we stuck with the one we had. Our drive was pretty short from our hotel so we stopped at a pond to kill some time. It had a nice little walk around the perimeter. I heard so many wonderful birds but they all seemed to be camouflaged in the trees. It sounded so nice though. As we walked we spotted a few birds, frogs (which made us jump as they got skittish and jumped into the water), a slug, and butterflies. I could have spent a longer time there but we had to head back to the Visitor’s Center for the tour.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Ribbit

We sat and waited for the busses to arrive. At the last moment, I realized I had forgotten my inhaler. The Park Ranger made a big deal about breathing issues and I didn’t want to take a chance. So I sprinted back to my car to grab it so I had peace of mind. As it turns out, my breathing was perfect within the cave.  When we arrived to the cave entrance we followed the long line to enter. One thing about me: I have arachnophobia. Bad. Just above the doorway there were large spiders. Like daddy long legs on crack. I’m so glad no one saw me gather up my courage to walk through that doorway. I waited until my son was inside the cave a bit and then walked quickly not caring that I was holding up the line. I noticed more of those ugly critters along the side of the cave as well. I just kept repeating, “They don’t care about me. They don’t care that I’m here.” Thankfully they ceased to exist a bit further into the cave.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Heading into the cave

I live quite close to Luray Caverns in Virginia. I think they are beautiful and was excited to see how Mammoth Cave compared. The first portion of the tour was rather boring. No offense to Mammoth Cave but it was just a cave in that area. Sure, in parts it was massive and it was cool to look deep down into holes but I guess I was excited to see stalagmites and stalactites. I also thought there was too much talking. I know the Park Ranger wants to educate people and visitors had questions but I feel like most of that information is easily found on the Internet. The 2 hour tour was really just about 45 mins of cave and 1.25 hours of waiting, walking and talking.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Layers of rock along the tour

Eventually we made it to a waterfall and Frozen Niagara.  Finally, my interest was peaked. This is when the tour started to pick up and there was a lot to see. My photos won’t win any awards (well, none of my photos will but these especially) but I did my best with shooting in the dark cave. The last portion of the tour was the best portion. I wanted to walk slower and really see everything but it is difficult when the passage way is narrow and there is a long line of people behind you.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Frozen Niagara

Overall, Mammoth Cave was fine. I would have preferred the other tour but my son wasn’t that interested. He enjoyed what he saw but I guess there’s only so much you can see in a cave before it all starts to look the same (to an 11 year old).  We perused the gift shop and I picked out something small for my favorite person (shhhh. It’s a surprise. He doesn’t know yet.) I looked at the trails and found one that I thought was short and went to a creek. We drove to it and started on the trail. Unfortunately, it was also a horse trail so we had to be careful. Finally, a horse and owner came upon us and after hearing that the creek was another mile, my son bailed. I guess the previous 5 days of hiking had worn him out. So we turned around and headed back to the hotel.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Dry Prong Buffalo Creek Trail

I’d definitely recommend going to Mammoth Cave. It has 450 miles of trails throughout. I think I’d probably say attempt to go on the tour that goes through the original entrance (the one I wanted but didn’t get). I think that sounds more interesting. However, make time to visit Virginia and Luray Caverns because they are top notch!

More photos:
Mammoth Cave National Park

Hiking Stony Man at Sunset

After our sunrise hike to Hawksbill, my daughter proclaimed she wanted to return to see a sunset. She, amazingly enough, had a free Saturday this past weekend so off we went to Shenandoah National Park. This time through I bought the annual pass! I should have done this the first time I went earlier in the summer. It is well worth it when making return trips.

There are a couple of different ways to reach Stony Man Summit. You can park at the overlook and do a longer hike or drive to Skyland Resort and pull into the parking lot that’s immediately to your right as you turn off of Skyline Drive. This makes for a very short and easy hike. We chose the shorter version since we’d be coming down in the dark. The trail map says the hike is 1.6 miles round trip. It does have some elevation gain but it is very minimal. This is why many say it is a perfect hike for families.

As we drove to Shenandoah National Park I was worried about rain. It had rained off and on for three or four days. It was supposed to have cleared up by Saturday but didn’t. The mist still lingered in the air. The rain started to fall, lightly, when we were about 20 mins from the park. I asked the kids if they wanted to proceed and to my delight they said, “Yes! Let’s do it!”  I offered up some alternatives in case it was raining. We could hike to a waterfall or just roam around the resort area until we saw if it would clear up for the sunset. My son was intent on hiking to the summit while my daughter wanted to see a waterfall. I figured I’d decide once we got up into the mountains a bit.

Sperryville, VA lies right outside of Shenandoah National Park. It is a small, picturesque town with a creek that runs beside it. I saw a pull-over area and asked the kids if they wanted to hike down to take pictures next to the creek. They agreed until we walked to the edge. Unfortunately, that pull-over seemed like an unofficial dumping ground for the area. Tires, dirty diapers, socks, sunglasses, and more were strewn all over. I often have a bag for trash but did not this time due to the short hike. We did our best to get past the trash and made it to the gorgeous creek. I attempted to take some pictures of the kids. I failed miserably but I did get some good ones of the running water.

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Thanks for not dabbing, kids.

 

As we drove up into the mountains the clouds were parting and there was sun and blue skies. I was so happy and relieved. We reached the parking lot and started our hike. It didn’t take us much time at all to reach the summit. I was a little disappointed to see it so crowded. I thought, perhaps, the rain would have kept people away. Taking photos was difficult. However, it wasn’t too long before they all left. The clouds were like a blanket over the mountains below us. At times it felt like you could jump and land on a big, comfy pile of clouds.

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Clouds. Clouds everywhere.

 

Sitting alone this whole time was a single dude. I felt bad for the guy. I’m sure we disturbed him a lot. My son kept messing around and I kept yelling at him. How peaceful… He didn’t seem that angry as he didn’t move. We explored the rocks and climbed around and attempted to take cool photos. I’m still a photographer-in-learning so some look great and some look stupid. And then the sun began to set. It was really beautiful and I know my kids loved it. Even my son took an amazing photo.

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Beautiful sunset

 

The wind began to pick up and it got chilly. We were prepared this time and put on gloves and my daughter wrapped herself in a blanket. The single guy stood as if to fully take in the whole sunset. He pulled out his flip phone and took a couple of pictures. And then he left. Then we did, too.

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The guy who stood/sat alone. He made for an amazing photo.

We hiked back down the short trail. My daughter looked like a warlord with the blanket billowing behind her with her light of her flashlight outlining the edges. My son felt the need to ask for photos along the way with the flash illuminating the whole area (and somehow kept his eyes open). At the bottom we piled into the car to drive to an overlook. We wanted to see the stars while we were there. We ended up at the Stony Man overlook. The sky had turned a beautiful color which I attempted to capture. And soon the stars flooded the sky. It is overwhelming to me to stand and look at the stars like that. Soon the Milky Way appeared above us. I laid down in the parking lot to fully immerse myself. Amazing. I don’t have the right instruments to take a night photo to show what I saw so you’ll just have to believe me.

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My first attempt at long exposure at night

Finally, we started the drive home. 8:40 pm. It felt like midnight.  My son had been struggling with hiking with me recently – even telling me he didn’t want to go anymore. So this trip made me incredibly happy. Not only because they wanted to go but even when it was raining they wanted to continue. I may end up with outside, adventuring kids after all!