The last time I hiked Hawksbill I had planned to get there before the sunrise. That just wasn’t possible although I had captured the sunrise at an overlook (I don’t know that it turned out very good). Hawksbill is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park and you get about a 270 degree view at the top. I figured this was perfect.
The kids agreed to get up at 3:30 am for the drive out to the park and then the hike. As we arrived at the first visitor/restroom area we realized how windy it was. Hurricane Hermione was off the coast a bit but perhaps the winds were reaching the mountains. We took some time to stop and look up into the sky. My kids had never had the chance to see the sky with so many stars. It was a bit overwhelming. The last time I had seen a sky like that was when I went to Mexico on a work trip in college (many years ago). The sky there was even more magnificent but the kids were appropriately wowed. As we drove down to the trailhead I started to worry that perhaps it was too windy for hiking in the forest area. There were small branches down on the road and the last thing I wanted was to be hiking in the dark and not being able to see branches falling.
When we got to the trailhead I left my car lights on and walked out onto the trail a bit to assess the situation. I didn’t see any branches – small or big – along the trail so I decided to make a go of it. We gathered our packs, flashlights, and headlamps and started up the steep trail to Hawksbill. This was our first time hiking in the dark. It was just about 5:45 am and there was no one else out there. I had my SPOT (GPS locator and SOS device) ready and was prepared with bear spray and my knife. Perhaps overkill but I wasn’t going to let anything happen to my kids. At one point my daughter and I heard something in the distance. To me it had sounded a bit like coyotes but I’m not so sure they hang out in the Shenandoahs. It didn’t really sound like bears either. It freaked her out a bit but she decided it was the wind so we carried on.
The hike up Hawksbill is not long but it is steep. We had to wait for my son a bit as he started to complain (par for the course with him). We usually grab his hand and help him up the mountain. It didn’t take us long to get to the top. First light allowed us to put away our flashlights. The wind was insane. The gusts were probably upwards of 40-50 mph and it was chilly. Normally, it is fun to scramble around the rocks a bit but I chose caution over risk that morning. One wrong step and you’re down the mountain – having a gust of wind wouldn’t help. So we hung around the look-out area wondering if the sun would come up. I looked out and only saw clouds. I had lugged my tripod up in my backpack and it is a good thing. The lack of light made photos difficult (as I’m just a newbie and have no clue what I’m doing) and the tripod at least helped me get them in focus.
My kids huddled down together to stay warm as I roamed around looking for good places for photos. Needless to say I didn’t do great. Eventually, I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Working the camera was difficult and it didn’t look like the sun would be up for quite a bit of time. The clouds were very high. So we decided to head back down the path. We made it about 10 mins down and the sun decided to appear. I contemplated going back up the mountain again but the looks on my kids’ faces said it all. They were frozen and hungry. So I took a forest shot of the sun and headed down the path. I wasn’t happy. I was pretty sad and disappointed because it is not easy to get out there for sunrises.
We made it back to the car and my son realized he couldn’t find his phone. Alas, he had left it at the restroom we stopped at on the way into the park. Thankfully, it was there and we drove all the way back to get it. All I was hoping was that no one else would visit the restroom and find it before we could get there. Whew. We hopped in the car and returned back on the road to return to Skyland Resort for breakfast. The dining room was beautiful and the food was fantastic. The windows offered great silhouettes although I couldn’t quite get what I wanted with my kids. They played along a couple of times but usually grow tired of me asking them to pose for photos.
On the way back we stopped at various overlooks for photos. There are quite a few that didn’t make it into my album. I need to add them because it shows us having fun and goofing around. Finally we reached the road to go home and made the 1.5 hr drive back to the house. All-in-all we had a good time. My son loved hiking in the dark while my daughter was freaked out about it. We agreed that we would try again in the future so that we could see the sun actually come up and bless the mountains with its light.
All photos can be seen by clicking the link below:
I read a comment this morning that irked me. I had been reading reviews of different hikes in Shenandoah National Park. A woman wrote (and I paraphrase), “I read about this hike in a magazine. This wasn’t a very long hike. I think it was maybe 2.8 miles. It doesn’t seem like it was worth the $20 dollars to hike it.” I thought for a moment, “What? That makes no sense!” She wrote the comment in such a way that she felt like she paid $20 to hike Stony Man. If I could have replied to her comment I would have. But the site didn’t offer that option so let me reply here.
You did not pay $20 to hike Stony Man. You paid $20 to enter Shenandoah National Park. It is a very large park covering many acres with numerous trails, hikes, waterfalls, vistas, and overlooks. People work in the park. Rangers look out for your safety. People maintain the trails. And they do not get a lot of funding from the government. So yes, you paid $20 to cover all of those things. I happen to know that when you reach the top of Stony Man you saw beautiful views. Personally, I think those views are worth more than $20. I’m sorry that you felt that your hike wasn’t worth it. Because it was so short did you drive just a couple miles down the road to Hawksbill and hike that? It is also short. You could have driven even further and hiked Dark Hallows Falls. That’s not very long. In fact, you could do all three of those hikes in 4-5 hours or less and then perhaps you would feel like you’ve gotten your money worth.
I have been to Shenandoah 4 times this summer. Obviously, I need to buy a yearly pass. The thing is – I don’t mind paying. I buy things from the gift shops. I eat at the lodge. I put money into the park because it is a treasure. It is beautiful. I want it protected for a long time to come. So, please, commenter, the next time you decide to complain about paying $20 for a short hike, perhaps think about what else you spend $20 and what you get out of it… probably not much.
My first memory of a National Park is climbing around Rocky Mountain National Park with my father and brother. I was maybe 10-11 or so. However, before that time, I had visited a few. In addition to Rocky Mountain National Park we had also gone to Yosemite National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Badlands National Park, Glacier National Park, Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Yellow Stone National Park and Shenandoah National Park. Camping and visiting these parks was our summer vacations and I’ll always be thankful to my parents for introducing me to nature and the beauty that the USA has to offer.
Today is the National Parks 100th birthday! Hooray! The National Parks are a diverse and amazing view into this place we call Earth. From wetlands to canyons to mountains to trees to rivers to lakes to caves – you can see it all! I am blessed to have two very close to me: Shenandoah National Park and Great Falls National Park. I have been to Great Falls numerous times and it is always a wonderful visit. There are great trails on both sides of the Potomac but I prefer the Virginia side.
Shenandoah National Park is a magical place. It is about 1.5 hours from my house and is very doable for a day hike. I have visited three times just this summer and can’t get enough. Just a couple of weeks ago I drove out there just to watch the sunset and it was amazing. I hadn’t seen a sunset from a mountain before and I can’t wait to do it again. I am planning to go next weekend and watch the sunrise.
The National Parks do not get enough funding. I’m sure that is common knowledge. There is a backlog of fixes and repairs needed throughout the parks and we all know rangers do not get paid enough. It is unfortunate but that seems to be the state of our country these days. I am all for them raising the prices to get into the parks. Shenandoah is $20 for a 1-day entry. I am glad to pay it each time I go. I’m sure it would behoove me to get an annual pass – something I’ll probably do in 2017 – but I honestly don’t mind paying. Some parks cost less of course. I think the day pass for Great Falls is $10. If they raised it to $15 I would certainly still go.
I am itching to get back to places like Yosemite and Glacier National Park with my kids. I would love nothing more than to take 2 weeks and drive out there and camp and have them experience the parks like I did so many years ago. I don’t know if we’ll ever get that chance but I am going to try.
Happy Birthday National Parks! Here is to 100 more years of beauty, excitement and experiencing nature to its fullest!