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.
Ok. Maybe ‘madness’ isn’t the right word but I did visit a ton this past weekend. I went Saturday morning to photograph the sunrise. I chose an overlook that I knew had a ton of beautiful ridges. Unfortunately, the angle was a bit off. So I didn’t get the sun directly. I guess that is ok because it gives you a different perspective. Plus, I can’t say that the sunrise was like super amazing or anything. But lack of drama doesn’t mean it wasn’t still gorgeous.
I chose Range View Overlook. It is probably one of my favorites in the park. If you look out directly from the overlook you are facing south so the sun comes up to the left. The trees block out quite a bit of it but once it comes up it illuminates the mountains nicely. It was a very chilly morning. The temperature read 48 degrees and the wind was whipping. It didn’t take long for my hands to freeze.
When I was finished I drove up through the north district. I have rarely driven this part of Skyline Drive and am not familiar with the overlooks. As they say – there isn’t a bad one in the whole of Shenandoah. Each one has something unique and beautiful about it. I took time to look at the different formations, the valleys, and communities below. It is also interesting to notice the different trees along the drive. I think that the trees in Shenandoah are unique – unique as you aren’t going to see the same ones along a trail where I live just 1.5 hrs away. They have beautiful shapes to them. Their shapes are one of the reasons I love going there in the winter. I once knew someone who proclaimed he hated all photos of trees in the winter because they have no leaves. Unfortunately, he’s unable to see the beauty in the angles, lines, and curvatures in branches.
I didn’t do a hike this day because I had to get home. I really wanted to just focus on photos of the overlooks. I don’t know how successful I was but it was a wonderful morning.
I was back hiking in Shenandoah last weekend. This time I was blessed to have my friend, Diana, and her daughter with me. It was a long drive down to the trailhead and we made a couple stops at some overlooks along the way. It was great seeing all the clouds below.
The hike to Doyles Falls wasn’t difficult even though it was all downhill. I think after hiking up White Oak Canyon and then doing this hike where I’m going down first – I prefer going down first. Or maybe it was that White Oak prepared my legs enough that going up didn’t seem so bad. But I digress…
I had hoped for a bit more water at the falls. It stormed bad at my house the night before but I wonder if that area didn’t get the storm. However, there was enough water to make my photos look nice. I mean, what else matters? Diana and Angelique were very patient as I snapped my photos. They really didn’t mind as it meant time for resting. At one of the falls we climbed up to the 2nd level and that was cool. Someday I’m going to get a great photo of myself in front of a waterfall. Saturday was not that day. There was the case of these little worms that were all over the rocks and trees. I don’t know what they are but they are disgusting. And they cover things. And they make rocks slippery. I could honestly do without them.
After reaching the lower Doyles Falls we discussed either going back up or making the trip to Jones Falls. They wanted to push on so we did. I was a bit worried about Diana because of her boots. I imagined they were hurting her feet (later she said they were). It can be hard to buy good hiking gear. It is expensive. But for long hikes with elevation it is imperative to have good footwear. Even if it is just a great pair of tennis shoes.
The hike along both trails was beautiful as usual. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love hiking along water. It is calming. I like it even more in the mornings when I’m alone on the trail. There’s a reason I fall asleep to the sound of water every night. Also along these trails were butterflies. And not just one or two but many. At the lower Doyles Falls there was a group of 6 or 7. It was amazing. They flew all around us. I don’t know what it is about that portion of the park because I didn’t see flowers that would provide pollen or nourishment to them. We also saw a rattlesnake – my first. A guy on the trail pointed it out to us and we took our photos. It just laid there and wasn’t making any sounds (whew!). I took my photo and backed away. The photo isn’t great but I don’t care – better than getting closer and startling the snake.
Eventually, we reached Jones Falls. It wasn’t really impressive but the rocky area around it was wonderful. There were great rocks for sitting and resting. I took my shoes off and stuck my feet in the water. It felt wonderful! I think cold water on tired hiking feet helps re-energize you. From this point, it is up, up, and up. We took our time – especially over the rocky areas. We’re both recovering from injuries and neither of us wanted to slip.
Finally, we made it to Skyline Drive. The original idea was to follow the Appalachian Trail back to my car. That was 3.4 more miles. I saw that my friend was tired and my knee was starting to bother me. So I convinced her to let me ask for a ride. I approached a couple who had just finished their hike. I explained our situation and just asked if they’d take me back to my car so I could come back and pick up my friends. It was just a 3 mile drive. They, instead, took all of us. They were so kind and friendly. This is something you often find at Shenandoah. When people aren’t screaming at me because their dog’s leash is caught in some rocks, they are more then willing to shuttle you to your car. Diana was disappointed to not finish the whole hike but I think when we were driving home she was relieved. I know I was. I would say that this hike is very high on my life of favorite hikes in the park. I think I’ll attempt to do it again in the spring when water if flowing more heavily. I have heard that Jones Falls gets really beautiful at that time.
Have you hiked this trail or do you have questions? Let me know in the comments section.
Go see the rest of my photos.
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.