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.
One of the joys of hiking in southern Virginia is driving through all of the rural roads. When possible, I make sure to take the back roads and stay off of the highways. While I was growing up in Michigan, I lived in a somewhat rural area. We had our share of barns, farmland, cows, etc. and I always wanted to live in a big city. Funny how things change. I am not a “country” person in the stereotypical ways. I hate country music. I wouldn’t want to live on a farm. But I do dream of living in a rural area when I retire. I live pretty close to rural areas now but because it is forever-expanding, we still get a lot of traffic.
When I was driving on some of the roads around Bland, Virginia there was no one else on the road with me. I had the luxury of pulling over, jumping out of my car, and taking photos. Sometimes I still felt rushed and do wish I had taken just a couple of extra seconds to check my camera but I was able to capture some photos that give me that “feel”.
One of my favorite photos is of a church. I had passed it on our way to Bush Creek Falls. Lo and behold this was a rare moment I had someone behind me. I saw it too late and couldn’t pull over. However, on our way back, I made a point of it. I think about this whole 3 minutes of time and it still makes me laugh. The area where I pulled over was a parking lot of a closed business. I stepped out of my car and immediately some dogs on the property across the street started barking. That woke up the cows and sheep on the farm adjacent to them and they mooed and baaed. I was in the middle of an intersection trying to get my settings right while it sounded like a farm erupting. Then, at the house to my right, I heard a screen door slam. If you have spent any time in the country or a country town, you know the sound. They have different sounds. And this particular slam was one of, “Who is that out in the intersection, making all the animals go crazy, taking photos of this church?” I finished and ran back to my car before someone yelled at me.
Needless to say, I probably didn’t need to fear. I emailed the photo of the church to an email address I found on the small town’s website. The lady was very gracious and told me all about the church and history. I am sure no one would have been upset with me. Just a small anecdote to share how life is in some very small towns. When you travel, do you take the back roads? If you don’t, I highly suggest it. Especially with our mapping tools we have these days. It is almost impossible to get lost so taking side roads isn’t a big deal.
This past Saturday my kids and I set out to see some sights. Our first stop was in Waterford, Virginia. This a small historical town in rural Loudoun County. When you drive through you get a sense the town hasn’t changed much since the 1700s and that’s precisely the way they like it. Our stop was at the Old Mill to walk the Phillips Farm Trail. I happened upon this trail a couple of weeks by accident. Sometimes I like to drive aimlessly on country roads to see what I can find. As I had passed the mill I saw some signs and stopped to read them (doesn’t everyone?). They showed the trail and I went back to walk it. My son was at soccer practice so I had limited time. It was also growing dark with every step but I was intent on making it to the end.
At the end of this short trail is the most wonderful White Oak tree I have ever seen. Its branches sprawl out across the area by a cute little dam. They estimate that it has been around since the late 1700s. That’s a 200+ year old tree. Amazing. I wanted my kids to see it. They were also impressed. Immediately my son went to cross over the dam. The dam was built in the 1800s by a previous mill owner. You can see his name and date in some cement (dated 1908). The dam is built by boulders and it is easy to walk on it.
We took some time for photos and walked back to the car. From there we had intended to go to Stoneybrook Farm Market in Hilsboro, VA. They have the most delicious egg sandwiches and my son has been begging me to go. Alas, they are closed on Saturdays. We happened to end up by CEA Farms. We decided we would eat there instead. Inside their building you can try their own meat and order off of their menu. Everything tasted fresh (if you’re a vegetarian/vegan I recommend skipping this as I saw no vegetarian options).
After picking out pumpkins we left and started our drive to Shenandoah National Park. It was a beautiful day and driving on the country roads was a joy. As we passed through Berryville we came upon Dinosaur Land. Immediately, my son asked to go. I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to visit this landmark so we stopped. Dinosaur Land consists of a playground-sized area made up of hard plastic or metal replicas of dinosaurs. Some are in better shape than others. I realize it is intended to be educational but it was also pretty funny. We took some fun photos and left (I have not yet processed these photos. I will have to add them later).
Finally, we reached Shenandoah. It was so crowded. I generally stay away on days like Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc. because it is when everyone decides to go. Although it wasn’t a holiday the weather was warm and people were hoping to see the fall colors. Oops. The colors were worse than when I was there a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure how that works or if it was the way the light was hitting the trees or what. The kids and I roamed around in the big tree area that I love so much and stopped at Range View Overlook for a couple of photos.
Eventually we made our way back to Browntown Valley Overlook in the northern district. In hindsight, I think that the sunsets are far better in the central district. I say that because as the sky turned a bright pink it seemed like Hawksbill (I’m guessing here – I have no idea what mountain it was) was blocking the rest of the sky. I still got a couple of good photos but I bet it was better from my regular Spitler Knoll.
We stuck around for the stars. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and it got super chilly. It wasn’t pleasant outside of the car. I did my best to practice with my night photography and then we packed it up to go home. I have to say it was such a wonderful day. My kids didn’t fight (much). They posed for photos. We saw amazing things. And the end of the night, before going to bed, my came and gave me a big hug and said, “Thank you for taking me all around, Mama.” Cue heart melting.