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.
If you have read my site regularly you’ll know that I have had issues getting my son to get outside with me. He always loved to go hiking and exploring with me and then this past spring he announced that he didn’t like it at all and only went with me to make me happy. While it is sweet he wanted to make me happy – it also stung.
Last weekend we had a free afternoon. His soccer game got canceled so I announced to him that he was going with me outside and that was it. He couldn’t say no. He said, “Okay.” and gave no other argument. I feel like that is a small win. I didn’t have big hiking plans. I honestly wanted to get outside, take some photos, and wander around. Some of our most fun times have been when we just wander from spot to spot.
We ended up at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, VA. We’ve been here a few times and I promised him he could go fishing at the pond. We first stopped and visited the cows. I like cows and think they are funny creatures. I wasn’t too successful and getting them to moo as I usually am but it was fun taking their photos. We headed down a nearby path and honestly, we turned around. It was boring even to me (I had thought it was a different trail). This is what happens when you’re so confident and decline a map.
We decided to drive to a different portion of the park. If you leave the main area and go back to the road, you turn left and there is an old farm across the road with more trails. It is called the Lost Mountain area. We parked there and headed down a path. I guess if I really wanted a nice, pleasant walk I would return to this trail. It was flooded from all the rain and muddy. That really wasn’t an issue but it made it difficult to walk and, again, not much to see. So we turned back, again. I will make a note, though, to return and hike to the top of Lost Mountain.
I took photos of the barn and we headed across so my son could go fishing at Turner Pond. As we drove up, a man was taking photos of a large bass he had just caught. That gave us hope that he would also catch something similar. So we fished. And fished. And moved around. The older man kept catching fish and we caught nothing. But it was a lot of fun trying.
Again, we wandered down a trail that is marked as the start of a 5K. I was more interested in the barns behind the trail and wanted to see if I could get a good photo of them.
As I headed back, my son was on one of the ParCourse things (sections along a trail that allow for exercises). He was trying to balance on a pole and I finally saw glimpses of the boy who really loved the outdoors. He yelled at me, “Quick! Take my picture!” He reminded me of a photo I took years ago at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve where he wanted to “meditate in nature”. I was more than happy to take his photo. We ended up exploring and wandering for about 1.5 hrs and that satisfied me. I love spending time with him outside and seeing how excited he gets. I don’t think he realizes how much he likes it. He commented that the sun was too hot and he didn’t enjoy that. And so perhaps as it cools down he’ll be more open to going with me.
If you haven’t visited Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia, definitely put it on your list. The views are beautiful. They have wonderful trails and you can hike on the Appalachian Trail.
If you’d like to read about Part 1 to Grayson Highlands, please click here.
Our original plans for Grayson Highlands (other than seeing all the ponies) was to hike to Mt. Rogers. Mt. Rogers is the highest point of elevation in Virginia. I kept thinking how cool that would be. I have been to Pike’s Peak in Colorado and thought adding another highest peak would be a nice note on my hiking successes.
Monday morning we woke up and waited a bit. It had turned pretty cold and everything had frozen. I wanted it to warm up before we started. We arrived at the park (after I stopped again for various photos) and we talked about what to do. There was a waterfall that we could hike to or we could try for Mt. Rogers. I let my son decide and he chose Mt. Rogers. Off we hiked.
Because it had gotten so cold, all the trees had rime ice. It was magical. In one area, the wooded area appeared to be a frosted fairyland. The cold also made it much easier to hike. In many areas, my son just walked on top of the snow. I sank down so I followed footsteps already created. I felt like we were going at a good pace, but, eventually my son started to get tired. Although he’s an avid soccer player, hiking legs are something different. He was having fun but going slow. The snow didn’t help. I would stop and take photos (I couldn’t stop). We ran into some ponies and that took time. We rested and had lunch. We arrived at one point and it said, “Mt. Rogers: 2 miles”. 2 more miles? That meant we had gone approximately 2.8 miles in 4+ hrs. Go ahead, you can laugh.
I honestly felt disappointed. I knew that 2 more miles in the snow would be difficult for my son. Did I really want him to be upset? Sad? That wouldn’t make for good memories. My disappointment wasn’t as important. We turned around and headed back. We got passed by two trail runners in shorts and winter coats. At that point, I laughed. My son was decked out in a full snowsuit complete with trekking poles and snowboarding goggles. I was dressed very heavily as well. And there they were… two guys just running down the Appalachian Trail towards Mt. Rogers. I checked our elevation and we had reached almost 5,600 ft. I’d say that’s pretty close considering Mt. Rogers is 5700 and change.
In the end, it was good that we turned around when we did. It started to warm up. The sun and weather felt really good but that meant slush. The snow became difficult. I grabbed one pole from my son because I was sliding all over the place. To be honest, I don’t have winter, or well, any season of hiking boots. I have a couple pairs of trail shoes that I use. I was wearing my winter boots. I had nothing else. By the time we reached the car, the knee I sprained last year was feeling really bad. I can’t imagine if I would have had to hike 4 miles in the slush.
By the time we finished, we were both tired. It had been a quick trip back but the snow was tiring. I know that I’ll go back another time, with no snow, nice weather, and get to Mt. Rogers. It is just over 8 miles round trip and the hike itself was not difficult. Heck maybe I’ll even run some of it. The views could not be topped. I have included quite a few photos here but if you’d like to see all of them, click on the link below. Any photos that you like can be purchased. I haven’t added any to my website yet but will soon.
If you haven’t been to Grayson Highlands yet, please put it on your list. I think it is quite possibly the most beautiful area of Virginia.
You know that whole quote about best laid plans… that’s what spring break was for me and my son. As our leaving day grew closer, I noticed that southern Virginia planned to receive almost a foot of snow. I panicked a bit because I wondered what that would mean for our drive, hike, etc. I had rented a cabin near Grayson Highlands and was in contact with the owner. That helped. At first, they maybe suggested to hold off a day. I couldn’t do that as we had reservations elsewhere. Then, they said the roads were clear so off we went.
It was interesting because as we drove south on dreaded I-81 you could clearly see where the storm either stopped or diverged. Buchanan, VA – clear. Go just a bit more south and boom, 8 inches of snow. Thankfully, the roads were clear. We made one quick stop in Buchanan so I could show my son the swinging bridge. He made it all the way across. For some reason, I get nervous and don’t venture out too far. As we exited I-81, the roads were clear. In fact, I think VDOT does a better job clearing those roads than they do the ones near us.
We arrived at the cabin and unpacked. There is no true driveway to the cabin. It is grass. And it hadn’t been shoveled or plowed but my little car made it up there okay. Having grown up in Michigan I was confident that I wouldn’t get stuck (mostly). The cabin itself was amazing. My son instantly fell in love with it. The size of it was perfect for us. There was one bedroom, an open space with a tv, small kitchen, a bathroom, and a loft bedroom. One heater was enough for the whole space. If you are headed to Grayson Highlands and want a cabin, I highly recommend Highland Hideaways. They have a number of cabins available.
When we arrived, we drove over to Grayson to check it out. I wanted to check the conditions for hiking and see how the roads would be. I stopped twice on my way there because the views are incredible. Mountains for days.
When we finally arrived at the park, the road had been plowed – at least for one car. We got to the parking lot and the ponies were close by. I flipped. Thankfully, it wasn’t too cold because we didn’t exactly dress for too much walking around. When we got near the ponies, one basically came running up to me. I scratched it on its nose a bit and then realized that wasn’t allowed. It was hard to resist petting it more because it was so friendly. I spent some time taking photos. I seriously want to be a professional pony photographer now. They are extremely photogenic.
We walked up the Rhododendron Trail a bit and found even more ponies. Another came over to us to say hi. As I reviewed photos of the ponies on Instagram, I see why they come running. There are a lot of photos of people feeding, petting, and hugging them – all illegal and fineable. They are wild and hopefully, if you are reading this, you’ll know not to do that. The ponies have to rely on eating from the park – not people.
I will keep saying beautiful, incredible, amazing… over and over. I guess I could go with outstanding, phenomenal, or another word to describe how the mountains looked covered in snow. I was not thrilled with the idea of hiking in snow but had to admit the mountains looked… gorgeous. We made our way back down to the car. I hadn’t had service in quite some time but Grayson does have a little bit. I did what I had to do to let people know we arrived safely and we made our way back to the cabin. We played games, watched tv, and turned in early to prepare for the next day’s adventure.