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A Return to The Channels

Three years ago I failed… I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

If you are anything like me, you plan your hiking trips to the last detail. You know where the trailhead is, you know the length, the terrain, etc. This relieves a lot of stress and anxiety when starting out on the hike. I did 99% of this last time I took my kids to The Channels of Virginia. I still ended up failing because I couldn’t find the sign that would lead us to the actual channels. We looked around but I was full of fear. I hadn’t lead my kids on a hike quite like that. We had done short hikes. Easy hikes. One really long, dumb, flat hike. This was different. We were all by ourselves in the middle of no where. There was the large fire tower looming above me and it made me a bit dizzy to look up at it. And I didn’t see the sign. We had a wonderful lunch on the top of the mountain and returned and I always felt so frustrated that we hiked all that way and missed it.

My daughter is getting ready to leave for college in three weeks. I try not to think about it too hard because I will cry. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy for her. I’m excited for her. But I will miss my girl. Badly. Especially when movies come out that we’d see together. Anyway… before I get too teary-eyed writing this… She plans on studying geology in college. I always told her we needed to get back to The Channels because they are a cool rock thing here in Virginia. She was a bit annoyed at having to complete the hike again. But we planned our weekend and tackled it this past Saturday.

The Trail

The trail to The Channels isn’t hard, per se. It is steep in part but not bad. I guess I find it pretty easy because I don’t have to step up to hike it. You can generally walk it but the incline can be hard at times. It will get your heart pumping. It is, however, only 3 miles. We were laughing because it felt like we made it there pretty quickly (compared to last time). It took us just about 1.5 hrs to hike there. If you’re an avid hiker you can do it in less time. While there aren’t a lot of views from the trail during the summer, it is still beautiful. If you don’t talk, you have complete peace and quiet. There were wildflowers blooming all around us. And, lots of bugs. The flies were quite annoying (no wind). I’d say wear a hat in the summer – it seemed to help me.

Once you reach the top, you’ll see the fire tower and walk past it. You should, then, see the sign. It seemed so easy this time. I don’t know how we missed it last time. There is a trail prior to the fire tower and that takes you to a flat portion of the mountain. I think I was just distracted by it. We took a couple of “three years later” photos and continued down the path to The Channels. They didn’t disappoint. They were so very cool. It was a good 10 degrees cooler in there and it was fun to walk around. You really can’t get lost as they do end from all directions. You can shimmy between rocks, climb over them, or just stand in awe of the formations. We spent a good amount of time exploring.

As we exited, there was a large black cloud above us. I ran over to the other portion of the mountain top for a few photos and we headed back to the car. Obviously, the trip back was really fast. We were sweaty. Hungry. And satisfied. I was so happy we were able to do this hike. I think she was really “wowed” by The Channels. My son did his 14 year old thing but she was really impressed and that made me happy. I can see myself hiking this trail again. I really enjoy it. I would like to plan it when the rhododendrons are blooming – they line the trail and the trail down to The Channels. I bet it would be beautiful!

You can find the trailhead at the intersection of Hayters Gap Road and Raven Ridge Road in Jefferson, VA. There is parking for quite a few cars. You’ll climb about 1200 ft in elevation and the round trip hike is around 6.2 miles (depending on how much you explore).

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Potomac Wayside Park

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.

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Piney Run Falls

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Further down the trail

Frozen Waterfall

Frozen Piney Run

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.

Piney Run

Harpers Ferry

Piney Run

The Bridge

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.

Hike to Blackrock Summit

Blackrock Summit in Shenandoah National Park has been on my list for a long time.  The southern portion of the park is sometimes hard to get to as it is over 2 hrs from my house.  However, I was driving home from Charlottesville this past Saturday so I knew it was the perfect opportunity to stop.

I enjoyed a leisurely drive to the parking area from the southern most entrance to the park.  I tried to take some backroads up from Charlottesville and think it is a wonderful way to see parts of Virginia most never do.  As I curved around one back road I came upon an old church. This is the Afton Chapel, built in 1898.  Would I have preferred to have better lighting for this photo? Of course but I still think it is very pretty. If you’d like to know a bit of history about the area, click here.

I stopped at a few overlooks as I made my way to the parking area for Blackrock. I just can’t help myself. Each view offers something a little different. A different mountain. A different valley. It was such a beautiful day that I lingered at many. I was also hoping to spot a monarch or other butterfly at one of the stops as the milkweed was blooming.

 

 

I reached the parking area of Blackrock to the sounds of a screaming child. The poor thing had fallen shortly before returning to the car. I offered any assistance (they had first aid kit – good job, parents!) and chatted with the family a bit. I am always warmed when people are friendly at the park. I would say 90% of the people I’ve encountered are and that’s how it should be. The place should make everyone happy.

The trail to the summit it short. I pushed myself to hike it quickly to get in a short workout. And then, you walk out where the rocks form a river, and are encountered with one of the most beautiful views in the park (personal opinion of course). The mountains go on forever. The trees so lush and green they appear to be a blanket laid ever so careful over the ridges. I was in awe. Again, I was met with the sounds of screaming. But this time, it was just a family screaming to each other from their positions on the rocks above. It was jarring. I try very hard to not be a snob while hiking. That defeats the purpose of it being relaxing. However, I find yelling like that in parks unnecessary and rude. As I climbed the rocks, I found that they were not far apart. They were just yelling. I secretly willed them to leave.

I carefully made my way further up the river of rocks. I saw small spiders scurry as I stepped on their favorite spot in the sun. As I climbed higher, the sounds of yelling grew quieter. I found a spot to sit and the family of 10 filed out of the area. Yes, they were still yelling. I softened a bit because they seemed very happy and how could I be mad at that. I will not deny having a huge sigh at the peace I enjoyed five minutes later.

 

 

I don’t even feel like my photos do the area justice. The sunlight was harsh for late afternoon. I don’t particularly like my angles but hopefully they will still show how amazing the view is. I sat on a large rock for quite some time. Another couple eventually climbed up near me and it was just the 3 of us for over 30 minutes. I sat there and debated how long I wanted to stay. I had over two hours before the sunset would even start and I was supposed to get up early in the morning for a hike elsewhere in the park. I finally decided to leave. I’d had a long day and knew the 11 miles on Sunday would be very difficult if I didn’t get some rest (funny… I ended up having bad asthma, didn’t sleep, and didn’t hike). I am looking forward to getting back to Blackrock for both a sunset and a sunrise. The views are amazing and with a 270 degree view, perfect for both. A highlight as I left… I saw a mama bear and her two little cubs. I was thrilled because I never see bears in the park. And then just a couple minutes later, I saw another big bear alone along Skyline.