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Visiting Virginia’s Newest State Park

Aquia Creek

Last Friday, as I have for the past few years, I decided to #optOutside rather than hit the stores that morning.  I had wanted to visit the newest state park in Virginia:  Widewater State Park.  The morning was chilly but there was little to no wind so it wasn’t bad wandering around the park.

The park is small.  And it is a little difficult to find. I would suggest reading directions on the Virginia State Park’s site or using Google Maps.  The other map services didn’t have quite the right location. Once you arrive you end up next to the Potomac River and Aquia Creek.  If you like water, this is a great park.  There is a location to launch a boat and, when it is warmer, it will have paddling available.  When we entered the park I noticed there were no envelopes available.  Also, I did not see any park rangers working so there was no way to pay the fee.  Hopefully, they will have envelopes in the future because I always want to pay my way at State Parks.

Once we parked, I noticed there was also no large map on a sign anywhere.  It made it difficult to know where the trails were. Thankfully, we had seen one on our way in and walked to that. It is a short trail at only 1 mile.  It is currently the only trail available in the park. It winds by Aquia Creek, into a small wooded area, next to a pond, and back to the parking lot.  We also went off trail a bit just to get some more steps into our day. 

Looking back at the map online, I see that we could have driven to an alternate location on the Potomac River. I would have liked to do that as we did see two eagles fly overhead. Maybe we could have seen more over on the river. 

Overall, the park has great potential. It was completely quiet.  My friend and I were the only two at the park.  When it warms up, however, I think the park will be busy.  Hopefully they will add more trails to the park because the land is beautiful.  When you get a chance, I definitely suggest heading out to check out the park.

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Lands Run Falls

I was happy to have Indigenous People Day to get out for a short hike. I asked my daughter to go with me and she actually agreed to wake up early and go. This was exciting because it has been over a year since she’s gone hiking with me.  I told her we wouldn’t go too far and it would be pretty.  Check and check.

We woke up at 5:00 am to get to an overlook by sunrise.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) there was a lot of fog.  Since we would be in the North District for Shenandoah National Park for our hike, the overlooks were few and far between on the east side.  They get better as you head south in the park.  I found one and we waited. Finally, the sun came up and illuminated the fog.  I had not brought my 18-200 mm lens and wish I would have for this morning.  I could have gotten a better shot of the fog against the mountains.  My wide shot was okay but sometimes zooming in is also good in landscapes.

foggy sunrise 2

Morning Fog

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Overlook Illuminated

We drove back towards our hiking location as I worried about the sun being too bright for a waterfall.  As we started down our path, I was happy with the cover and the fact that the waterfall was located on the west side of the trail. This means the light wouldn’t reach it for a couple of hours.  The hike to Lands Run Falls is very short. It took us no more than 10 mins or so to reach the falls (or the first part of the falls).  Some fall colors were showing and leaves were scattered around the rocks.  This made for great photos.

I am normally alone when I hike but having my daughter with me allowed me to crawl down the rocks. She handed my tripod to me and I took photos from further down. I debated going farther down the rocks but they were slippery and there was no way my daughter would know if I fell (the falls were that loud).  I took some shots and whistled loudly.  Thankfully, she appeared.  I handed her my tripod again and climbed back up the rocks.  As I climbed up, I knew I wouldn’t have made it alone.

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Towards the bottom of the first drop

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Cascades at the top

The falls were really pretty.  I think that if we had continued down the trail we would have come to more falls but I kept my promise.  We hiked back up to the car.  The whole hike took about an hour. Super short and sweet.  On our way home, we traveled through the Virginia countryside.  My girl is a lover of small, quaint towns. We drove through The Plains, Virginia and on towards Loudoun County.  We had a wonderful time chatting and driving slow.

I get to go back to Shenandoah soon and I’m hoping the trees are popping with color. Fingers crossed.

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.

A Hike to Doyle’s River Falls & Jones Run Falls

If you are a Virginian and reading this, then you are well aware and probably sick of all the rain we have received. It has been a lot. All I kept thinking is, “I need to get to some good waterfalls!” When hiking in Shenandoah it is easy to find a cascade or a waterfall but often there is a trickle of water – especially in the late fall or summer. All of this rain was good for those of us who love photographing waterfalls.

I decided to return to Doyle’s River Falls. While I enjoyed the photos I took there last year, I yearned for more water and this was my chance. I had originally planned to only hike to the lower falls and return but wondered how Jones Run would look. So I tacked that on to my day since I was alone.

As I started down the trail, I was happy. I was alone. The birds were chirping. And it wasn’t long before I heard the water. As you go down the trail, you follow the stream down to the falls. I could already tell the amount of water was far more than what I had experienced last year. There is a small waterfall before you reach the upper falls. I had the place to myself (a common occurrence on my hike) and could spend time trying new compositions and camera levels. Not every shot was a winner but it was fun trying. The water felt great as well.

It wasn’t long before I made it to the upper falls. I sloshed around in the water, sometimes up to almost my knees, trying compositions and ideas. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I am alone!” It is possible to climb up to the ledge on these falls. I did it last year but since I was alone, I decided to not take a chance. I would have loved to though. Eventually, a family came and their sons removed their shoes and provided to climb everything. It was a blast to watch them. They relished in letting the falls wash over their heads and declared that the water wasn’t that cold. I chatted with the father a bit before proceeding on down the path.

 

 

It was here where I took my second favorite shot of the day. Maybe my most favorite. I go back and forth. There was just something about the positioning of the logs and how the water ran over the rocks. There is moss and green and it was just beautiful. I enjoyed thinking back to my previous hike and comparing the scenes. As I stood taking this shot, the family passed me by on their way to the lower falls.

The lower falls took my breath away. They barely resembled the falls of my memory. Water was everywhere. Again, the boys had climbed up quite high. I wish I could have gotten a shot of them when they were letting the water fall all around them. It looked so cool! They were too speedy for me though. I was waiting patiently so I could have my time. I was careful with where I stepped because where they were waterfalls in Shenandoah, there are snakes. They didn’t spend a lot of time at the falls so once again, I was alone. Photography is something that relaxes me a lot. The moving from place to place. Trying new things. Reviewing shots. Making adjustments. It all takes my mind off of whatever is going on in my life. And then just stopping, looking up, and being one with nature. It soothes me. My only complaint about this location was that a tree had fallen over and it blocked out part of the upper portion of the falls. I imagine it probably fell during our big wind storm back in March. All part of the scenery I guess.

 

At this point, I could have turned and gone home satisfied with what I had seen. I decided I would just continue on because why not. I wanted to see what Jones Run looked like with a large amount of water. While Jones Run Falls is not my favorite in the park, the trail is very high on my list. I love hiking along a creek/run/river and this one is just beautiful. There were many places where I wanted to slip down the side of the trail for a photo but knew I had a long ways to hike. Thankfully, some large rocks provided good places for quick photos.

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Jones Run

 

It is a pretty easy hike to reach Jones Run Falls. Hooray! Water! I took some time to eat a snack and took a few photos. It is a great place for a rest as there are a lot of large, flat-ish rocks for sitting. Again, I made sure to look for snakes. Earlier, after walking out of the water, I did almost step on one. I don’t know what kind it was but I certainly didn’t stop and look. I got the heck out of the water.

jonesrun-wm

Jones Run Waterfall

 

Finally, satisfied with my photos, I took off. I knew the hike back up to the Skyline was steep. Thankfully, my training made the hike much easier than it was previously. My plan was to hitch a ride back to Doyle’s River parking lot. It is about a 3 mile drive but a 3.4 mile hike. I tried. No cars would stop fro me. So I started down Skyline thinking someone would see me and stop. This was actually pretty fun. I was able to see wildflowers that weren’t visible in the woods. No one stopped. I reached a portion of the trail and saw the white blaze (for the Appalachian Trail) and figured I’d just hoof it the rest of the way on the trail. Well, my mistake…. I didn’t realize it crossed the road. I should have known better since I was on a fire road. I was just excited that it was flat and fast. Soon, I realized I didn’t see any white blazes. I looked at my phone and nope…. I was on some other trail. Can we all say, “UGH!!!!” together? I had to retrace my steps.

So once again, when I reached Skyline, I tried to hitch a ride. This normally isn’t a problem but no one would stop. I once again reached the trail and just at that moment, a car slowed. I moved forward and they moved forward. And then they took off. Hope squashed. I sucked it up and eventually made it back to my car. If I had just stopped trying to hitch a ride, I probably would have made it back much earlier. Lame on my part.

I was still super happy with my day. 9 miles hiked. Waterfalls galore. Everything was green.

If you’d like to see the rest of my photos, take a look here:
Doyles Falls 2018