I often lament that there are not that many waterfalls closer to me. Sure, there is Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and that is a really cool one. And of course, all of the ones in Shenandoah National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I just really wish I lived right next to one I guess.
However, Potomac Wayside Park is only 30 minutes away. I feel like calling this a “park” is a bit of a stretch. The first thing to know about this park is that there is parking for about three vehicles. That’s it. When you drive up to it, there is a large, long paved area but they (Loudoun County? NOVA Parks?) call most of it a roadway. And they don’t allow parking there except for the very end of it. If you decide to go, go early (no later than 9:00 am). It is unfortunate that there is so little parking because the area is beautiful. If you go during the summer, you’ll see that the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center uses the full length of the “roadway” to park for their tubing expeditions. I know, it seems unfair that they get to use it for commercial ventures while the rest of us cannot.
When you arrive… very early in the morning…you’ll see a sign at the start of the trail. The trail is incredibly short and it will take you directly to the waterfall. Each time I have been to the falls there has been a good amount of water. The name of the waterfall is Piney Run Falls. It dumps directly into the Potomac. I once visited during the winter and it was pretty much frozen solid. It looked amazing. There are some large rocks to climb on but just be aware that they are very slippery. On a hot day, feel free to wade into the water. It feels amazing.
If you continue down the trail, you’ll come to the Potomac River. From there, you’ll have a great view of the bridge that connects Maryland and Virginia to your right. And to your left, you’ll see Harpers Ferry. I suppose you could fish from this area. I would recommend swimming here as the current can be strong. The chances of seeing an eagle fly by are very high. When the water is lower, there are exposed rocks where you can sit and relax.
This is one of my favorite spots in Loudoun County. Because I go very early, I have it to myself each time. While it is a shame the parking lot is so small, I guess, it is also a blessing. It would probably be overrun with people if it was larger. It is a balance. I definitely recommend visiting Harpers Ferry after seeing the falls. There are a number of smaller trails to explore. Or you can do the Maryland Heights Trail which will give you an incredible view of the entire area.
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.
Wow. That’s my response to Breaks Interstate Park in Breaks, Virginia. My son and I showed up last weekend after a quick stop at Dismal Falls in Bland, Virginia. Our plan was to get there in time for the Elk Tour we had signed up for that was to take place that evening. The drive into the park was pretty amazing and then you turn the corner and there is this overlook that can almost take your breath away. They call it the “Grand Canyon of the South” due to the deep canyon that has been carved out by the Russell Fork River. We showed up, checked in, and made our way to the Catawba lodge. We were told by the woman at the front desk that our room had the best view out of all of the rooms. After walking in and looking over the balcony I’m sure she wasn’t lying. It was so impressive. We had a wonderful view of the river and the mountains over in Kentucky. We headed to the Visitor Center to prepare for the Elk Tour. In the last few years they have worked to reintroduce elk to Virginia. They hang out in an area that has been set aside for them. They ring 25 a year and the herd has grown to 400 elk. We rode in a van with others to the location. We could get out and walk around to see the elk and rode further around the wildlife management area. The elk did not care about the van but were skittish with people. It was impressive to see them so close, though. And we were treated to a beautiful sunset that evening as well. The tour provides you with a sack lunch. It was a very good tuna on croissant sandwich with an apple, chips, cookies, and a bottle of water. I think for the adult price of $25 it was well worth it.
The lodge room was very comfortable. Because it is still low season the place was virtually empty. We heard nothing during the night (which is how I like it). The next morning we got up and went to the restaurant for breakfast. They offered a buffet or ordering off the menu. We chose the menu and had a yummy start to our day. Our day was supposed to be an easy hike day. We started out on the Geological trail and were immediately impressed. The rock formations were exciting. We had so much fun exploring and climbing on rocks.
And then we decided we’d hike to the river. Oops. I guess I didn’t think it would be that bad. I mean it looked like a long ways down there but I didn’t anticipate heading straight down the side of the gorge. And yes, we just kept going. We are experienced hikers. We knew we’d have to go back up but I kept telling myself it wouldn’t be so bad. We found a nice big rock near the river for lunch and I realized my son had drank all of the water. Normally, we have two bladders for water but my other one was leaking. That left us with one Gatorade for the rest of the hike. Ugh.
We continued on and the sights were still amazing even at the bottom. We spent some time next to the river and decided we should start the hike back up. At first, we wound through rhododendrons and the climb was not bad. I thought, “Yes! We can do this!” And then the trail turned and it was straight up. By this time, the Gatorade was gone and we still had almost a mile to go. My breathing started to get worse (asthma) and my son was fading. At one point he exclaimed, “This is the worst hike I’ve ever done.” That felt really great even though I knew he said it in the moment.
Although the hike was incredibly hard, it was still beautiful. I was very happy to start seeing the very large rock formations because I knew that meant we were close to the top. When we reached the Geological trail again we opted to walk to the road. We still had more elevation to climb before reaching the car. What a wonderful sight that was. I checked my phone and it said only 3.3 miles. However, we had climbed 1600 feet in elevation. We had a nice big dinner of pizza and we drank a ton of water to make up for the lack of it over the hike. That evening I headed to Stateline Overlook to catch the sunset. I allowed my son to just chill in the room considering he was still a bit frustrated with me about the hike. Unfortunately, this meant we would not be able to complete the Sand Cave hike the next day. That hike is 8 miles with 2000 feet of elevation and I didn’t think I should put my son through that.
I really hope to get back to Breaks again in the future – perhaps in the summer so we can enjoy the lake and step foot in the river without freezing. The scenery is some of the best I have ever seen in Virginia. There is a nice run that feeds into the river and I’d love to take time to photograph that.