Can you guess it?
I have been through a lot of Virginia. All of it? No, of course not. There are some famous places I haven’t been yet. But I have been to Shenandoah National Park (numerous times, obviously, if you read this blog) and to parts of Southern Virginia. When my son and I went to Grayson Highlands State Park back in March of 2018, I was blown away. I knew I would need to return, multiple times, to experience the area.
The day after we hiked The Channels, we drove over to Grayson. My daughter was a big jealous we had gotten to see the ponies who live in the park. Keep in mind that she was feeling jealous while visiting The Galapagos in Ecuador… (insert laugh here) I told her we’d go and check another box before she leaves for college. When we first arrived to the park, we headed straight for the visitors center so my girl could get a shirt. I told my daughter that I expected to hear, “Wow!” at least once, unprompted. That’s how beautiful the area is and if she didn’t notice it, I’d be mad. And then we had to go to the camp store to get some pain medication for my son. Finally, we arrive at Massie Gap to start looking for ponies. We climbed up the Rhododendron Trail and on to the horse trail. We saw a white spot out in the distance and got excited. The climb seemed so easy. When my son and I hiked the area it was thick with snow and seemed to take us forever.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
We got closer and closer to the white spot and then…. it was a steer. Cows also roam the highlands and we got fooled from far away. Thankfully, as we looked over to the Appalachian Trail we saw more! Off we went! We were treated to a group of about 5-6 ponies who were happily munching on the grass and vegetation. We stood for awhile watching them. It is always a thrill to me to encounter animals on a trail and ponies are no exception.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Finally, we decided to hike back. We still had to drive 5.5 hours back home on a Sunday on the dreaded I-81. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to climb higher elevation and see the mountains go on forever. I wanted to hike on to Mt. Rogers and finally stand at the highest elevation in Virginia. Basically, I didn’t want to leave. I see a lot of mountains from blogs that I read. I have visited the Rocky Mountains. The Tetons. The Great Smokey Mountains. I have been in Arizona and Yosemite. All beautiful. The Blue Ridge Mountains, though, give me a feeling I can’t quite describe.//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Just two weeks left before I take her to college…. *tears*
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.