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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.

52 Hike Challenge… Will I Finish it?

Since Veteran’s Day of 2015 I have been working towards a 52 Hike Challenge. The idea is that you hike once a week to get outside, get some physical activity, enjoy nature, etc. I figured I was outside a lot and loved hiking so this would be a fun challenge. I thought I wouldn’t have any issues completing all 52 hikes.  Well….

Here it is the third week of September and I have 11 hikes left. How did this happen? Partially it is because my son’s soccer practices were moved. They used to be at a location where I had access to a variety of trails. It made it easy. Now once a week he is at a very suburban location. There is a trail at the other location but it is very small and not too exciting. I use it for trail running however and trail runs count (I checked).

Granted, it isn’t the end of the world if I don’t get all 52 hikes done but I aim to finish what I start. I made a point to get out to a nature preserve that is near me last night. I was happy to have it be just me and the birds at one point. Because we have been in an alm0st-drought I could walk through the brush and stand on the edge of a pond. There isn’t a path out to it so I wasn’t worried about anyone else coming out there. The water had dried up a bit so there was plenty of dry sand. I didn’t sit because of bugs but I was there for quite some time just feeling the peace. I saw a heron, crane, hawk, and probably a turkey vulture fly over me. I heard many other birds and saw a fish jump. A dragonfly flew past me more than once. It was amazing. And that’s why I hike. That’s why I spend time in nature and committed to doing it 52 times this year.

I have 9 weeks left to get 11 hikes finished. I think I can do it. I may have to double up on a couple of weekends but I will do it!  My last hike will take place on Veteran’s Day – 1 year from when I started (just about). I have a special hike in mind but am weighing my options. And when I reach that summit on my 52nd hike I will rejoice and start all over again.

Attempting the Sunrise at Hawksbill Mountain

The last time I hiked Hawksbill I had planned to get there before the sunrise. That just wasn’t possible although I had captured the sunrise at an overlook (I don’t know that it turned out very good). Hawksbill is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park and you get about a 270 degree view at the top. I figured this was perfect.

The kids agreed to get up at 3:30 am for the drive out to the park and then the hike. As we arrived at the first visitor/restroom area we realized how windy it was. Hurricane Hermione was off the coast a bit but perhaps the winds were reaching the mountains. We took some time to stop and look up into the sky. My kids had never had the chance to see the sky with so many stars. It was a bit overwhelming. The last time I had seen a sky like that was when I went to Mexico on a work trip in college (many years ago). The sky there was even more magnificent but the kids were appropriately wowed.  As we drove down to the trailhead I started to worry that perhaps it was too windy for hiking in the forest area. There were small branches down on the road and the last thing I wanted was to be hiking in the dark and not being able to see branches falling.

When we got to the trailhead I left my car lights on and walked out onto the trail a bit to assess the situation. I didn’t see any branches – small or big – along the trail so I decided to make a go of it.  We gathered our packs, flashlights, and headlamps and started up the steep trail to Hawksbill. This was our first time hiking in the dark. It was just about 5:45 am and there was no one else out there. I had my SPOT (GPS locator and SOS device) ready and was prepared with bear spray and my knife. Perhaps overkill but I wasn’t going to let anything happen to my kids. At one point my daughter and I heard something in the distance. To me it had sounded a bit like coyotes but I’m not so sure they hang out in the Shenandoahs. It didn’t really sound like bears either. It freaked her out a bit but she decided it was the wind so we carried on.

The hike up Hawksbill is not long but it is steep. We had to wait for my son a bit as he started to complain (par for the course with him). We usually grab his hand and help him up the mountain. It didn’t take us long to get to the top. First light allowed us to put away our flashlights. The wind was insane. The gusts were probably upwards of 40-50 mph and it was chilly. Normally, it is fun to scramble around the rocks a bit but I chose caution over risk that morning. One wrong step and you’re down the mountain – having a gust of wind wouldn’t help. So we hung around the look-out area wondering if the sun would come up. I looked out and only saw clouds. I had lugged my tripod up in my backpack and it is a good thing. The lack of light made photos difficult (as I’m just a newbie and have no clue what I’m doing) and the tripod at least helped me get them in focus.



My kids huddled down together to stay warm as I roamed around looking for good places for photos. Needless to say I didn’t do great. Eventually, I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Working the camera was difficult and it didn’t look like the sun would be up for quite a bit of time. The clouds were very high. So we decided to head back down the path. We made it about 10 mins down and the sun decided to appear. I contemplated going back up the mountain again but the looks on my kids’ faces said it all. They were frozen and hungry. So I took a forest shot of the sun and headed down the path. I wasn’t happy. I was pretty sad and disappointed because it is not easy to get out there for sunrises.


We made it back to the car and my son realized he couldn’t find his phone. Alas, he had left it at the restroom we stopped at on the way into the park. Thankfully, it was there and we drove all the way back to get it. All I was hoping was that no one else would visit the restroom and find it before we could get there. Whew. We hopped in the car and returned back on the road to return to Skyland Resort for breakfast. The dining room was beautiful and the food was fantastic. The windows offered great silhouettes although I couldn’t quite get what I wanted with my kids. They played along a couple of times but usually grow tired of me asking them to pose for photos.



On the way back we stopped at various overlooks for photos. There are quite a few that didn’t make it into my album. I need to add them because it shows us having fun and goofing around. Finally we reached the road to go home and made the 1.5 hr drive back to the house. All-in-all we had a good time. My son loved hiking in the dark while my daughter was freaked out about it. We agreed that we would try again in the future so that we could see the sun actually come up and bless the mountains with its light.




I always love this tree



All photos can be seen by clicking the link below:

Mason’s Neck State Park

My kids and I followed the REI initiative to #OptOutside for Black Friday. Instead of getting stressed out trying to find parking, waiting in long lines, and risking the chance of getting involved in some ridiculous throw down we headed to Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia.

We were interested in this park for a couple of reasons. First it has a small beach area. This was of particular interest to my son who loves to skip stones. He’s pretty good at it and the smooth water and flat rocks made skipping pretty easy.


The second reason for hiking Mason Neck State Park was the possibility of scouting eagles. They have three areas where it is possible to see eagles (and other birds) and this excited the kids.

We started at the beach. The kids enjoyed finding smooth rocks, shells, and clams.


I think we could have spent another 30 mins in that area. It wasn’t big but there was a lot to see and explore. Soon, a couple of families came with young kids who were yelling and screaming so that was our key to leave. As a side note, parents, please teach your children at a young age that screaming and yelling on hiking trails, while fun, can cause a disturbance. I understand kids are going to yell from time to time but I’ve always instructed my kids that we use normal voices or whispers. And often, silence. That’s why we are in nature.

From there we headed out to the trails and went straight for the Eagle Spur Trail. This was a nice and easy hike. There is little to no elevation so going the 1.5 miles or so to the bird blind is easy. This is a great trail for families with small kids.


When we reached the bird blind there was a large family with a large dog eating lunch in there. They said for us to come on up but that would have been awkward. There wasn’t any space and they looked like they were settled in for awhile. Again – trail rules – find somewhere other than a bird blind to eat. We took the time to scurry down an overgrown trail. From there I was able to see a Blue Heron take off.

Blue Heron//

Finally, the family left and we were able to sit in the bird blind with a father and his daughter for a good 30+ minutes. We saw the heron, a duck, some seagulls but no eagles. It was really amazing to sit there in silence and hear how the birds came alive. We did eat our lunch there are the father/daughter team left but still maintained a sense of quiet.

We headed back and the kids spent some time playing on the playground much to the dismay of some older folks there. I guess they thought my daughter was too old. One is never too old for a playground!

Overall, Mason Neck State Park is really beautiful. I’ll definitely want to come back next fall when the leaves are changing. Also, I’ll be learning about my camera and hopefully will grab better photos. Thank you to REI for promoting the #OptOutside event and closing their stores on Black Friday. It was a big risk for them but I think it has paid off.


Click below to see the whole album.
Mason Neck State Park//